Pushkin, Aleksandr (Sergeevich)

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PUSHKIN, Aleksandr (Sergeevich)

Nationality: Russian. Born: Moscow, 26 May 1799. Education: Home, and at lycée in Tsarskoe Selo, 1811-17. Family: Married Natalia Goncharova in 1831. Career: Civil servant, St. Petersburg, 1817-20; exiled in southern Russia and Pskov province, 1820-26; editor, Sovremennik (Contemporary), 1836-37. Died: (in duel) 29 January 1837.



Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, edited by B. V. Tomachevskim. 10 vols., 1977-79.

Complete Prose Fiction, edited by Paul Debreczeny. 1983.

The Captain's Daughter and Other Stories. 1992.

Short Stories

Povesti pokoinogo I. P. Belkina. 1830; as Tales of P. Bielkin, 1947; as The Tales of Belkin, and The History of Goryukhino, 1983.

Pikovaia dama (novella). 1834; as The Queen of Spades, with The Captain's Daughter, 1858.

Complete Prose Tales. 1966.


Kapitanskaia dochka. 1836; as The Captain's Daughter, 1846; as Marie: A Story of Russian Love, 1877. Dubrovskii (fragment). 1841. Russian Romances. 1875.


Boris Godunov. 1831; translated as Boris Godunov, in Translations from Pushkin, 1899.

Motsart i Sal'eri. 1831; as Mozart and Salieri, in Translations from

Pushkin, 1899. Pir vo vremia chumy. 1832; as The Feast During the Plague, in The Little Tragedies, 1946.

Skupoi rytsar'. 1836; as The Covetous Knight, in The Works, 1939.

Kamennyi gost'. 1839; as The Statue Guest, in Translations from Pushkin, 1899; as The Stone Guest, in The Works, 1939.


Stikhotvoreniia. 1826; revised edition, 4 vols., 1829-35, and later editions.

Evgenii Onegin. 1833; translated as Eugene Onegin, 1881.

Selections from the Poems, edited by Ivan Panin. 1888; as Poems, 1888.

Pushkin Threefold: Narrative, Lyric, Polemic, and Ribald Verse. 1972.

The Bronze Horseman: Selected Poems. 1982.

Narrative Poems by Pushkin and Lermontov. 1983.

Collected Narrative and Lyrical Poetry. 1984.

Epigrams and Satirical Verse, edited by Cynthia H. Whittaker. 1984.


Puteshestvie v Arzrum [The Journey to Arzrum]. 1836.

The Works: Lyrics, Narrative Poems, Folk Tales, Prose, edited by A. Yarmolinsky. 1939.

Letters. 1964.

Pushkin in Literature, edited by Tatiana Wolff. 1971.

The History of Pugachev. 1983.

Secret Journal 1836-1837. 1986.


Critical Studies:

Pushkin and Russian Literature by Janko Lavrin, 1947; Pushkin's Bronze Horseman: The Story of a Masterpiece by W. Lednecki, 1955; Pushkin by E.J. Simmons, 1964; Pushkin: A Biography by David Magarshack, 1967; Pushkin by Walter Vickery, 1970; Pushkin: A Comparative Commentary by John Bayley, 1971; Pushkin by Henri Troyat, 1974; Pushkin and His Sculptural Myth by Roman Jakobson, 1975; Russian Views of Pushkin edited by D. J. Richards and C. R. S. Cockrell, 1976; Pushkin: A Critical Study, 1982, and Eugene Onegin, 1992, both by A. D. P. Briggs; The Other Pushkin: A Study of Pushkin's Prose Fiction by Paul Debreczeny, 1983; Distant Pleasures: Pushkin and the Writing of Exile by Stephanie Sandler, 1989; The Contexts of Pushkin edited by Peter I. Barta and Ulrich Goegel, 1990; Pushkin's Evgenii Onegin by S. Dalton-Brown, 1997; Realizing Metaphors: Alexander Pushkin and the Life of the Poet by David M. Bethea, 1998; Pushkin's Historical Imagination by Svetlana Evdokimova, 1998.

* * *

Though known mainly as Russia's national poet, Aleksandr Pushkin set the standard for that country's prose. When he began in earnest to write prose in the late 1820s, Russian fiction, still dependent on Western models, had reached only its adolescent stage. Prose first gained importance in Russia during the late eighteenth century with the advent of sentimentalism; it continued to develop during the age of romanticism when various prose genres gained popularity. This period saw the rise of adventure stories, society tales, supernatural episodes, travel accounts, künstlernovellen, and love stories. Pushkin tried his hand at all of them; some he parodied, others he surpassed with masterpieces of genius such as The Queen of Spades and "The Stationmaster."

Pushkin's first serious foray into fiction, "The Blackamoor of Peter the Great" (of which only a lengthy fragment survives), exhibits a great deal of narrative sophistication for its day. Flouting the popular convention of a narrator/fictional personality who must reveal the sources of his stories, the omniscient, highly objective narrator begins without excuses and generally stays in the background. The writing is spare, without any special adornment, a consequence of Pushkin's attitude that prose, as opposed to poetry, should remain a humble medium. He continued to experiment with straightforward narration in a couple of fragments, whose focus on complex psychology and serious ideas simply did not correspond to the mode of storytelling he chose. In addition Pushkin had not yet mastered the techniques of objective narration.

Yet another fragment, "A Novel in Letters," which consists of only ten short missives, reverts to the more facile epistolary form. Unlike works that rely on letters between the protagonists of the tale, usually lovers, Pushkin's attempt at an epistolary narrative relies on letters among friends to advance the story. Here a young girl, Liza, writes to her acquaintance to explain her reasons for leaving Petersburg. At first she conceals the truth, but later she reveals she was fleeting a romantic entanglement. Her young man, however, follows her to the provinces and writes to his friend to report on his activities in the country. The letters are engaging and pique the reader's interest. Pushkin's female letter writer/heroine Liza is highly articulate and discerning in her literary tastes, which are clearly Pushkin's own.

On the other hand the narrator of Pushkin's only collection of stories, the late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, lacks sophistication, literary or otherwise. With him Pushkin ostensibly goes backward to rely on literary conventions of the day. A publisher, known only by the initials A.P., provides an introduction to the tales as well as to the narrator. He employs a convoluted, pompous style to tell the readers he has no substantial information about Belkin. He does, however, manage to write to a friend of Belkin's whose letter he appends without comment. The muddle-headed friend informs A.P. that on the 23rd of the month he was pleased to receive the publisher's letter of the 15th. This would not be remarkable except for the fact that the friend's letter is dated the 16th, a clue that our second narrator may be less than reliable.

Nevertheless we do find out from him in spite of his overly digressive style that Belkin received an elementary education from the sexton, served in the military, came back to manage the estate after the death of his parents, enjoyed reading, tried his hand at writing, and was sober in habits and very rarely tipsy; he also admitted a certain fondness for the ladies, though he was as "shy as a maiden." This "dear friend of our author" also provides us with clues to the identities of the original storytellers who had entertained Belkin with their tales. In the stories themselves we can see the voices and attitudes of the original narrators, but occasionally we can discern Belkin's voice.

All of the stories, in one way or another, parody prevailing modes and trends in romantic fiction. "The Shot" debunks the mysterious Byronic hero in its portrayal of Silvio, whose own actions ultimately trivialize the revenge he metes out to a young nobleman who had offended him years before. In "The Undertaker," while attending a neighbor's party, Adrian Prokhorov takes offense when a guest suggests that he propose a toast to the health of his clients. The drunken undertaker goes home and invites the corpses he has buried to a housewarming party. He takes fright when they arrive but then awakes from his dream just as he pushes away an advancing skeleton. Pushkin treats a potentially grisly tale with grotesque humor and thereby undercuts its fantastic and macabre features. The two comic tales, "The Blizzard" and "The Squire's Daughter" (or "Mistress into Maid"), both stories of mistaken identity that ultimately result in recognition scenes and happy endings, parody female narrators. Belkin's flat style diffuses the enthusiastic raptures of the original narrator, Miss K.I.T., over these sentimental romantic tales. Also a parody of sentimental stories of romantic love, "The Stationmaster" transcends the model and stands out among Povesti pokoinogo I. P. Belkina (The Tales of Belkin) as the best and most original of the lot.

Pushkin resurrected Belkin to narrate the unfinished "History of the Village of Goriukhino," a parody of works by two contemporary historians, Karamzin and Polevoi. In the introduction to his history, Belkin provides us with a more detailed picture of his life than we had previously received. Unfortunately the anecdotes he relates, while making him more endearing, render him a more ridiculous and ludicrous character than we had already imagined. In spite of the fact that he might be a most inappropriate candidate for historian, Belkin's account reveals genuine social abuses of the times.

For a while Pushkin devoted his time to serious study of history and found Peter the Great and the rebel Pugachev subjects worthy of investigation. Indeed, Pugachev also appears as a pivotal character in his novel Kapitanskaia dochka (The Captain's Daughter). In his last years Pushkin combined historical facts with fiction, legend, and ethnographical digressions in the short story "Kirdzhali." However complex its structure may seem, it ends up basically as an anecdote glorifying a brigand. An anecdote about Cleopatra in a fragment of one tale becomes the basis for one of Pushkin's last and most intriguing prose works, the unfinished "Egyptian Nights." A meeting between a poet and Italian improvisator investigates a theme long prevalent in Pushkin's work—the role of the poet in society. The "collaboration" between the two artists at a literary soirée, which the poet helps organize in aid of the impoverished improvisator, results in a stunning improvisation on Cleopatra, another theme Pushkin earlier investigated at some length.

Even a brief survey of Pushkin's fiction brings to light the rich variety of his relatively small body of prose. While not always as devoid of ornament as some critics have said, nothing superfluous appears in his works. His precise use of details provides clues to further understanding of characters and themes. Pushkin's seemingly simple tales always demand close reading and rereading.

Though more than half of Pushkin's prose output consists of fragments, he exerted a profound influence on the development of Russian fiction. Writers as diverse as Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevskii, and Tolstoi have all acknowledged their debt to him. In his first experimental fragments as well as in Pikovaia dama (The Queen of Spades) and his novel in verse Evgenii Onegin (Eugene Onegin), Pushkin laid the groundwork for what was to become the great Russian psychological novel of the nineteenth century.

—Christine A. Rydel

See the essays on The Queen of Spades and "The Stationmaster."