Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин ) (June 6 (May 26, O.S.), 1799 - February 10 (January 29, O.S.), 1837), Russian author, whom many consider the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays, creating a style of storytelling -- mixing drama, romance and satire -- associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influencing later Russian writers.
Pushkin's father descended from one of the Russian gentry's oldest families who traced their history 600 years back, while his mother's grandfather Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal, a slave from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) sent as a gift from Constantinople, became the adopted godchild and Engineer-General of Peter the Great.
Born in Moscow, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen. By the time he finished as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo near St. Petersburg, the Russian literary scene recognized his talent widely. After finishing school, Pushkin installed himself in the vibrant and raucous intellectual youth culture of the capital, St. Petersburg. In 1820 he published his first long poem, Ruslan and Lyudmila, amidst much controversy about its subject and style.
Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals. This angered the government, and led to his transfer from the capital. He went first to Kishinev in 1820, where he stayed until 1823 and -- after a summer trip to the Caucasus and to the Crimea -- wrote two poems which brought him wide acclaim, The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. In 1823 Pushkin moved to Odessa, where he again clashed with the government, which sent him into exile at his mother's rural estate in north Russia from 1824 to 1826. However, some of the authorities allowed him to visit Tsar Nicholas I to petition for his release, which he obtained. But some of the insurgents in the Decembrist Uprising (1825) in St. Petersburg had kept some of his early political poems amongst their papers, and soon Pushkin found himself under the strict control of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will. He had written what became his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, while at his mother's estate, but could not gain permission to publish it until five years later.
Later, Pushkin and his wife Natalya Goncharova, whom he married in 1831, became regulars of court society. When the Tsar gave Pushkin the lowest court title, the poet became enraged: he felt this occurred not simply so that his wife, who had many admirers — including the Tsar himself — could properly attend court balls, but also to humiliate him. In 1837, falling into greater and greater debt amidst rumors that his wife had started conducting a scandalous affair, Pushkin challenged her alleged lover, Georges d'Anthès, to a duel which left both men injured, Pushkin mortally. He died two days later.
The government feared a political demonstration at his funeral, which it moved to a smaller location and made open only to close relatives and friends. His body was spirited away secretly at midnight and buried on his mother's estate.
Pushkin's work shows the influence, among others, of the satire of Voltaire, of the poetry of Lord Byron and of the tragedies of Shakespeare. Critics consider many of his works masterpieces, such as the poem The Bronze Horseman and the drama The Stone Guest, a tale of the fall of Don Juan. Pushkin himself preferred his verse novel Eugene Onegin, which he wrote over the course of his life and which, starting a tradition of great Russian novels, follows a few central characters but varies widely in tone and focus.
Perhaps because of his political influence on generations of Russian rebels, Pushkin remained one of only a few Russian pre-Revolutionary writers who escaped condemnation by the Bolsheviks during their attacks on bourgeois literature and culture: indeed, they re-named Tsarskoe Selo after him.
Pushkin's works also provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name, while Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov (1874) ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas.
- Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820) (poem)
- The Captive of the Caucasus (1822) (poem)
- The Fountain of Bakhchisaray (1824) (poem)
- Gypsies (1827)
- Poltava (1829)
- Little Tragedies (including "The Stone Guest", "Mozart and Salieri", "The Miserly Knight, and "A Feast During the Plague") (1830)
- Boris Godunov (1831) (drama)
- Stories of Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin (1831) (prose)
- The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1831) (poem)
- The Tale of the Golden Rooster (1834)
- The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish (1835)
- Eugene Onegin (1825-1832) (verse novel)
- The Bronze Horseman (1833) (poem)
- The Queen of Spades (1833)
- The History of Pugachev's Riot (1834) (prose non-fiction)
- The Captain's Daughter (1836) (prose)
T.J.Binyon has written the most acclaimed English biography:
- Pushkin: a biography London: HarperCollins, 2002. ISBN 0-00-215084-0 (US edition: New York: Knopf, 2003 ISBN 1-4000-4110-4)
- Elaine Feinstein (ed.): After Pushkin: versions of the poems of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin by contemporary poets. Manchester: Carcanet Prees; London: Folio Society, 1999 ISBN 1-57544-44-7
- Serena Vitale: Pushkin's button; transl. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998 ISBN 0-374-23995-5
- FEB-web's Digital Scholarly Edition (DSE) of A.S. Pushkin - complete works (in Russian)
- Works by Pushkin from Project Gutenberg
- The family history of Aleksandr Pushkin
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