Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799- 1837) was the most famous poet of Russia and the founder of modern Russian literature. He was a playwright, novelist, poet, and short story writer who was born in Moscow and died in a fatal duel at the age of 37, in St. Petersburg Russia. He was a great poet of the Romantic era and the poet of the Russian people.
Pushkin’s father was Sergey Lvovich Pushkin and his mother was Nadezhda Ossipovna Gannibal granddaughter of General Abram Gannibal. Pushkin’s maternal great-grandfather was an African descent. Abram’s father was the prince of present-day Cameroon.
Abram was kidnapped and presented as a slave to Peter, the Great. However, he adopted him as his Godson, and later, he became a major general. Thereafter, Abram’s descendants became part of the Russian noble family.
Pushkin was born into Russian nobility and like all other noble Russian families, spoke French. He was raised and looked after by his nanny Arina Rodionovna; it was due to her that he learned the Russian language. At 12 years of age, Pushkin was sent to Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo, near St. Petersberg.
It was an Imperial educational institution for children of aristocratic birth. His classmates knew that he was way ahead of them. He wrote his first completed long poem during his school days and it was published in 1820, titled Ruslan i Liudmila (Ruslan and Liudmila).
However, it had a controversial subject and style but it made him known to the literary world.
After graduating from Lyceum, in 1817, Pushkin involved himself in various literary circles and societies, pursuing pleasure and politics. He was employed in a Foreign Office at Petersburg but was not satisfied with the diplomatic work. He emerged as a spokesman; his political writings were widely circulated but never published.
Furious at his outspoken political views and writings, Pushkin was banished from Saint Petersburg and sent to exile in the southern Caucasus in mid-1820. He travelled to Crimea, Kamianka, and Chisinau; he wrote two romantic poems, The Fountain of Bakhchisaray and The Captive of Caucasus.
The magnificent view and the enchanting beauty of nature inspired the poet. He spent hours listening to the sound of water, walking around the greenwoods, and cherishing the moment with nature. In Chisinau, he devoted much time to his poetry and began writing The Gypsies.
In the last days of his travel, in 1823, Pushkin moved to Odessa, where he fell in love with Countess Elizaveta Vorontsova, wife of Governer-General of Odessa, Count Vorontsova. This deteriorated the relationship of Pushkin with his superior Count.
In Odessa, he was engaged in amorous activities, pleasures, and violence. He was accused of speaking ill of his superiors and abusing the government itself. He was exiled again to his mother’s estate, Mikhailovskoye, near Pskov for 2 years (1824-1826), owing to his grave misconduct and love affair.
During his exile in Mikhailovskoye, Pushkin started working on his most renowned work Eugene Onegin, in 1825. He listened to the folklore and remembered the tales which his nanny recited to him endlessly. Pushkin felt a deep belonging to that place, and these pleasant experiences inspired many of his poems.
He was called to the court after one of his poems Ode to Liberty was found in the belongings of people responsible for the Decembrist Uprising (1825). The December Revolt had the purpose of the abolition of serfdom and demanded freedom after the death of Tsar Alexander I. They displayed contempt of court and were against autocracy.
However, the revolt wasn’t a success but it made Nicholas I introduce some major changes into the system. It formed the basis of some major reforms which took place in Russia later.
Pushkin admitted that if he would have stayed in Mikhailovskoye, he would have supported the Decembrist cause, still Tsar Nicholas I called him to Moscow and pardoned him. Other people who supported the cause were either prosecuted or exiled to labour in Siberia.
Meanwhile, Pushkin was strictly under government surveillance and was prohibited from publishing any of his work or travelling to places at will.
One of the major things that Pushkin did in Mikhailovskoye is writing his most famous play, Boris Godunov, in 1825, which was published in 1831. Pushkin imitated Shakespeare’s style of the depiction of characters and Karamzin’s style of development of events to create this play. It consists of 25 scenes and its subject is the Russian tsar Boris Godunov.
A novel in verse by Pushkin was written over seven years and was finally published in 1833. It is the story of Eugene Onegin who rejected a girl who loved him and killed a friend in a duel.
After a few years when he saw the girl was happily married to someone else, he tried to convince her to elope with him but she rejected him. Onegin found no satisfaction in life and was doomed to loneliness.
His work was widely admired and considered a unique piece of art in Russian literature.
Other literary work
Pushkin represented Romanticism in Russian literature. He influenced not only Russian writers but many western writers. His contemporaries praised his work and consider them masterpieces of literature. He wrote-
- The Bronze Horseman
- Eugene Onegin
- Boris Godunov
- Ruslan and Liudmila
- The Gypsies
- The Tale of Tsar Saltan
- The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
- The Fountain of Bakhchisaray
He wrote many other poems, novels, tales, and plays. He was deeply inspired by the folklore, stories of peasants, and the folktales of his nanny.
Before Pushkin, the Russian language was very confusing, lacked the proper vocabulary, and was only a written language, not a spoken one. He took the best of language; he removed the unnecessary archaic figures and augmented the Russian vocabulary.
He made it more accessible to the common people. He removed all the unnecessary elements of the language and filled the lacking part without removing its beauty. He perceived language as a cultural asset and discovered the modern Russian literature.
Pushkin got engaged to Natalia Goncharova in 1830 and their marriage was delayed till 1831 owing to the cholera outbreak. Finally, they got married in 1831, at the Great Ascension Church, in Moscow. He again took a government service of writing the history of Peter the Great.
He received the lowest rank of the court, The Gentleman of the Chamber, probably to allow his wife to enjoy the court balls and other functions at the court. Natalia had a coquettish nature and the tsar was one of her many admirers.
Natalia started enjoying the court’s life but Pushkin was not happy. Pushkin was infuriated at her flirtatious behaviour and loathed his social life at court. He resented his life, tried to resign his post, applied several petitions to move to other countries, and dedicate his life solely to literature but all his petitions were rejected.
In 1836, Pushkin heard rumours about his wife’s affair with Georges d’Anthes. Pushkin challenged him into a duel which was somehow cancelled later. Georges, also known as Gekkem married Natalia’s younger sister to resolve the issue, however, it didn’t circumvent the conflict.
At the start of 1837, Pushkin provoked d’Anthes into a duel that finally took place. In the pistol duel, d’Anthes’ bullet penetrated Pushkin’s abdomen injuring him severely. While his right arm was lightly wounded by Pushkin’s shot. This fatal duel took Pushkin’s life as he died of peritonitis a few days later.
Why do Russians love Pushkin?
Pushkin invented the modern Russian language which was more precise and simpler. He was the Father of Russian Literature and poet of the Russian people. His poetry had the spirit of Russia; it emphasized more on the sufferings of people and influenced writers like Leo Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Lermontov, etc.
What kind of person was Alexander Pushkin?
He wasn’t a studious, disciplined boy, but rather a dandy who loved women, travel and followed his natural inclination for literary work. He was more of a creative person.
He lived a short but dramatic life. In such a short span, he composed several outstanding poems, stories, and novels, was engaged in social reforms, wrote political prose, was involved with several women, and most significantly gave a new form to the Russian language.
Why was he sent to exile?
He was sent to exile because of his controversial poems and grave misconduct. He spoke ill about his seniors and the government itself. His political writings were provocative and he supported the cause of the Decembrist Uprising.
Who influenced Pushkin?
There were many great writers whose style Pushkin tried to imitate and who influenced him profoundly. They were-
- William Shakespeare
- Lord Byron
- Dante Alighieri
- Gavrila Derzhavin and many others.