Sumarokov, Alexander Petrovich

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(17171777), playwright and poet.

Ranked with Racine and Voltaire during his day, Alexander Petrovich Sumarokov was a founder of modern Russian literature, and arguably one of Russia's first professional writers. Together with Mikhail Lomonosov and Vasily Tredyakovsky, Sumarokov helped introduce syllabotonic versification, created norms for the new literary language, and established many literary genres and tastes of the day. Sumarokov created the first Russian tragedies, comedies, operas, ballet, and model poetic genres including the fable, romance, sonnet, and others. He established the national theater in 1756, with the help of Fyodor Volkov's Yaroslav troupe (it became a court theater in 1759, and lay the foundation for the Imperial Theaters). Sumarokov published the first private literary journal, Trudolyubivaya pchela (The Industrious Bee, 1759), inspiration for the "satirical journals" of the late 1760s and 1770s. An early supporter of Catherine II, after her ascension to power (or coup) he was given the right to publish at her expense, of which he made prolific use. Despite poetic admonitions to fellow noblemen to treat their serfs humanely, when Catherine asked his opinion of freeing the serfs at the time of the Nakaz, Sumarokov was dismissive. Gukovsky (1936) and others have tried to link Sumarokov to a so-called noble "fonde" and to the "Panin party," not altogether convincingly. Sumarokov's reputation went into total eclipse in the nineteenth century, when the literary movement he spearheaded was declared merely "pseudo-Classicism." It was not until the Soviet period that his achievement began to be reevaluated.

See also: catherine ii; lomonosov, mikhail vasilievich; theater


Levitt, Marcus C. (1995). "Aleksandr Petrovich Sumarokov." Dictionary of Literary Biography 150: 370381. Detroit: Bruccoli Clark Layman and Gale Research.

Marcus C. Levitt