As a recognized literary genius with major writings over a period spanning the 1820s and 1830s (until his death in a duel in early 1837), Pushkin has had a profound influence on the nature and content of Russian Romanticism. Nonetheless, assessing his contribution and relationship to Romanticism remains problematic, entailing the usual considerations of definition and emphasis. Even though his writings relate to all of the major themes of European Romantic writers--highlighting the role of the poet; exalting freedom from social and cultural restrictions; showing a new understanding of emotion; exhibiting irony, generic diversity, and an interest in folk literature and history; and urging political activism and opposition to the state--Pushkin remained dedicated to such Neoclassical virtues as clarity, reasonableness, common sense, and moderation, rarely yielding to the extremes in emotion or self-indulgence often associated with Romantic poetry.
Pushkin's literary reputation was late in establishing itself in the West, although shortly after his death some European writers recognized his value. Even today, though his place at the head of the Russian literary pantheon remains unchallenged, not all are convinced that he has the universal stature of a Johann Wolfgang von Goethe or a William Shakespeare. His stylistic qualities are muted in English translation: the conciseness, terseness, and economy of expression used in presenting plot and suggesting psychology work against him when compared to the more explicit and deliberate psychological and dramatic narratives of a Fyodor Dostoyevsky or a Leo Tolstoy. That seemingly deliberate lack of flashiness of his narratives in verse and in prose (many of which were adapted from Western models but shaped unusually), the subtlety, delicacy, and even humor of his evocation of a wide range of human feelings and presentation of human dilemmas, and the suggestive and spare characterization--all these can affect readers as rather flat and unexceptional. There is no striking imagery, no obvious passion borne in moral commitment that has come to be associated with the great Russian novelists of the second half of the nineteenth century.
Much, in fact, has been made of Pushkin's negative capability: his refusal to present in dramatic fashion the "eternal" questions and answers to them. This generalization perhaps deserves refinement and more discussion, for really Pushkin presents no simple solutions to moral dilemmas, mysterious happenings, or historical and political controversies. To say, however, that he accepted the world in all of its multiplicity (his works superficially give that impression) is overstatement. At the same time the dilemma pays tribute to the subtlety and power of his pen to evoke and suggest. The same evocativeness and subtlety account for why his works (as those of any great writer) leave themselves open to a wide variety of approaches and temperaments: everyone has his or her own Pushkin, as indeed the critics Valerii Iakovlevich Briusov, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Anna Andreevna Akhmatova have made clear.
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin was born on 26 May 1799 into a noble family with a pedigree extending for more than six hundred years. Various relatives had played roles in major historical events of Russia. His black heritage extended from his mother's side: she was a granddaughter of Hannibal, an Abyssinian prince who became a favorite of Peter I. At the time of Pushkin's birth, however, his family no longer enjoyed the power or prestige it had once held. His frequent references to his relatives in his letters and his spirited defense of his heritage in several polemical poems of the 1830s reveal that Pushkin was all too well aware of the contrast between the lack of status and influence of the Pushkins in the early nineteenth century and their earlier leading role in historical events.
Pushkin's education came by way of tutors and his father's extensive collection of books (mostly French), to which the boy had relatively free access. Building on this foundation, Pushkin at the age of twelve began his formal schooling at Alexander I's new school for children of the nobility, the Tsarskoe Selo Lyceum, not far from St. Petersburg. His application accepted, Pushkin became part of the first class of the Lyceum in 1811. Designed as a selective and prestigious institution for the sons of the privileged, the Lyceum was intended to turn young males into government officials and to provide them with opportunities for serving the state and creating brilliant futures for themselves. Pushkin accomplished the latter, but hardly in the expected way.
The Lyceum itself was situated in a wing of the palace at Tsarskoe Selo (renamed as the city Pushkin). At the Lyceum, Pushkin achieved his first successes as a poet: participation in student literary "publications"; a moving reading (in 1815) of one of his poems, "Vospominaniia v Tsarskom sele" (Recollections at Tsarskoe Selo) in the presence (and to the delight) of the leading poet of the Russian Neoclassical age, Gavriil Romanovich Derzhavin; publication of his first verses; and participation in the literary society Arzamas, whose members--established and much older literary figures--welcomed him with enthusiasm. Through Arzamas, Pushkin developed personal and later professional alliances with older, influential poets who would nourish his talent and protect him throughout his life. From this network, three were particularly close: the aristocratic writers Vasilii Andreevich Zhukovsky, Konstantin Nikolaevich Batiushkov, and Prince Petr Andreevich Viazemsky.
They were mentors and, in the case of Zhukovsky and Viazemsky, lifelong friends. Of course, they all were products of the salon tradition that inspired and sustained the young Pushkin, providing for him the same sort of stimulating milieu in which they themselves had flourished. Pushkin's early years were spent at the center of a confluence of forces extending from eighteenth-century (and earlier) French poetry and Russian Neoclassical and pre-Romantic poetry. All these forces combined and left their mark in subtle and not-so-subtle ways during his formative years on a wide variety of poems--mostly shorter, generically diverse, and light ones. Elegies, poetic songs, and poetic epistles occupied a prominent place. In this highly favorable atmosphere of camaraderie, books, literary and personal experiences, and occasional (but significant) contacts with leading literary figures of the day, Pushkin produced much of value; in fact, he returned to many of his earlier poems and reworked them for publication in his first collection of poetry in 1826.
After his graduation in 1817 Pushkin passionately immersed himself in the social life of St. Petersburg, succumbing to all of the delights in the capital: attending the opera and the theater, gambling, drinking, and pursuing women. These enticements were irresistible to the eighteen-year-old Pushkin, who after virtually monastic confinement in the Lyceum could now live a carefree life. Now he could associate with well-traveled military men, many of whom had taken part in the Napoleonic campaigns of 1805 to 1812. These young officers were fond of discussing political systems and their suitability for conditions in contemporary Russia. Pushkin adopted quite easily the fashionable liberalism of these circles. He did so, however, with an imprudent passion and outspokenness, expressing his views in poetry that he could not publish. What he gained in liberal credentials he lost in official standing. Such widely circulated poems (and unpublished, except with major changes) as his odic "Vol'nost'" (Liberty), written in 1817, and "Kinzhal" (The Dagger), written in 1821; the generically anomalous--elegiac and odic--"Derevnia" (The Village), written in 1819 and published in 1825 under the title "Odinochestvo" (Solitude); and "Skazki. Noel" (Fairy Tales. A Noel), written in 1818, made bold statements about the rule of law and the limits of autocracy. "Vol'nost'," for example, is quite presumptuous in its concluding advice to "tsars":
I dnes' uchites', o tsari:
Ni nakazan'ia ni nagrady
Ni krov temnits, ni altari
Ne vernye dlia vas ogrady.
Sklonites' pervye glavoi
Pod sen' nadezhnuiu zakona,
I stanut vechnoi strazhei trona
Narodov vol'nost' i pokoi.
(And from now on learn, oh, tsars:
That neither punishment nor rewards,
Nor the covers of dungeons, nor altars
Are true protection for you.
Bow your heads first
Under the reliable shade of the Law
And liberty and peace will become
The eternal guard of the throne.)
Pushkin also wrote biting epigrams directed at highly placed government officials of the day, including Alexander I and advisers such as Count Aleksei Andreevich Arakcheev. In general, Pushkin earned the reputation of a talented but intemperate youth and a political hothead.
But political poetry was not his only interest. In this same turbulent time period, from 1817 to 1820, he was writing his first major verse narrative, Ruslan i Liudmila (1820), a mock epic in iambic tetrameter verse with fairy-tale elements and a story line loosely linked with Kievan Rus's times. Woven among many improbable events (told with a delightful verve and lightness) is a tale of a bride magically taken from her spouse on their wedding night and transported to a magic realm by a wizard who holds her captive. Her husband, Ruslan, and his rivals seek her, eventually find her, and return her to her father, Vladimir; ultimately Ruslan, whom one of the rivals had slain earlier in the narrative, magically is restored to life and reclaims her. The poem made a strong impression on the reading public upon its publication and generated several literary controversies over its genre, language, tone, and obvious literary brilliance. Many critics noted its buoyancy, surprising twists, and mixed generic heritage of elements so different they just barely hung together. Although critics found fault with its lack of seriousness--its bizarre characters and devices, including a magic sword and hat, and a talking giant head and its sibling, the bald and bearded villain Chernomor--the surface is deceptive. The bouncy lines of the narrative somehow mute the disturbing themes of kidnapping, betrayal, disappointment, defeat, violence, sex, and death--death overcome and lovers reunited only with the help of magical resurrecting waters.
Some have pointed to this poem as one of the crucial Romantic episodes in Russian cultural history. With its bending of genres and its innovative language, the poem can easily be seen as disrupting literary expectations of the Neoclassical and pre-Romantic age. On the other hand, the mock epic is not a Romantic genre, and the defenders of the poem were quick to point to the distinguished heritage of this genre.
Pushkin was not in St. Petersburg long enough to experience the popular success of his poem, for his all-too-vocal expression of his political views had drawn officials' attention. The governor general interrogated him and saw to it that he was transferred, or "exiled" in an administrative sense. Alexander I apparently had a more serious exile in mind--Solovki or Siberia--but Pushkin's influential protectors persuaded Alexander to settle on the milder punishment. When graduated from the Lyceum, Pushkin had almost automatically acquired official employment in the Collegium of Foreign Affairs, and it was through the collegium that he received his transfer-exile. His "sentence" was to serve in the southern reaches of the empire under the supervision of General-Lieutenant Ivan Nikitich Inzov, administrative head of the Committee on Foreign Residents/Migrants of the southern region of Russia.
The first part of Pushkin's exile consisted of the time under Inzov in Bessarabia (1820-1823), primarily in the city of Kishinev (capital of contemporary Moldova). Inzov has become known as benevolent with respect to his charge, tolerating excesses as normal expressions of youth and giving the poet permission to travel relatively freely, as long as he was properly chaperoned. Within this period Pushkin made several excursions, most important among them a trip with the family of Gen. Nikolai Nikolaevich Raevsky to the Caucasus and Crimea. Members of that family played an important and complex role in Pushkin's life and works. The older son, Aleksandr Nikolaevich, though never a close friend, exerted a strong political and philosophical influence on Pushkin with his worldly cynicism and political liberalism. Such poems as "Demon" and "Angel" (1824), have been associated with Aleksandr Raevsky. Aleksandr's younger brother, Nikolai, became a close friend to whom Pushkin dedicated several important literary works, such as the narrative verse tale Kavkazskii plennik, povest' (Prisoner of the Caucasus, written in 1820 and published in 1822) and the historical elegy "Andrei Shen'e" (André Chénier, written in 1825 and published in a censored version in 1826). The Raevskys's daughters also provided stimulation for the young poet. He befriended and discreetly dedicated verses to most of them--Ekaterina, Elena, Maria, and Sof'ia. A major part of Pushkiniana, in fact, consists of speculation and argumentation relating to Pushkin's amatory history and the biographical links between his loves and his love poetry. Maria Raevskaia has often been the focus of such speculation.
Pushkin first met the Raevsky family in May 1820 in Ekaterinoslav, the first city of his exile. In June he went with them to Caucasus mineral waters and then in August and September made with them a brief excursion to the Crimea. In November he saw members of the family again at Kamenka (the estate of Raevsky family relatives, the Davydovs), and early in 1821 he saw them in Kiev and in Kishinev.
The short but stimulating trips to the Caucasus and Crimea ended with Pushkin's return to Kishinev, where he spent the next three years, with many sojourns to the nearby Kamenka estate. He visited there not just for social reasons--attractive women, champagne, cards, and conversation--but also for the intense political discussions. He came into contact with political liberals, including the Davydov brothers Aleksandr and Vasilii L'vovich, who were active in the Iuzhnoe Obshchestvo (Southern Society), a branch of the Decembrists (a loosely organized group of aristocrats who planned and unsuccessfully carried out a revolt against the autocracy in December 1825).
Pushkin's creative output for his three years or so in exile to this point consisted of many lyrics, much less derivative of his French and Russian mentors than those of the Lyceum period, and several narrative poems. Many of the lyric poems relate to his amatory experiences and feelings. These include "Redeet oblakov letuchaia griada" (The fleeting bank of clouds scatter, written in 1820), "Tavrida" (Tauris, written in 1822), "Nenastnyi den' potukh" (The gloomy day has passed away, written in 1824), and "Buria" (The Storm, written in 1825)--all linked by some commentators with Mariia Nikolaevna Raevskaia, who later married the Decembrist Sergei Grigor'evich Volkonsky and went with him to Siberia, where he was exiled following the ill-fated Decembrist revolt. She also came to be associated with post-exile lyrics such as "Ne poi, krasavitsa, pri mne . . . " (Don't sing, my beauty, in my presence . . . , written in 1828) and "Na kholmax Gruzii" (On the Georgian Hills, written in 1829) and the tales Bakhchisaraiskii fontan (Fountain of Bakhchisarai, written in 1821-1823 and published in 1824) and Poltava (written in 1828 and published in 1829).
The narrative poems of the exile period have been called Byronic verse tales because of their indebtedness to the poetry of George Gordon, Lord Byron, whose works (in French translation) Pushkin had become acquainted with in his travels with the Raevskys in the summer of 1820. The early tales Kavkazskii plennik and Bakhchisaraiskii fontan, published separately in St. Petersburg and in Moscow, became critical and financial successes. A third Byronic verse tale, Razboiniki (The Robbers, written in 1821-1822) was unfinished, although part of it was published with popular success.
The tales of these years represent Pushkin at his most Byronic and, in at least one important sense, Romantic, although his tales differ in many ways from Byron's Oriental verse tales. First of all, Pushkin usually includes different perspectives in his verse tales, typically in the epilogue. These perspectives often contrast with the tone of the narrative and thereby raise questions regarding the artistic unity of the whole. In Kavkazskii plennik a Russian soldier, captured by a Caucasian mountain tribe, befriends a native woman who falls in love with him. Willingly accepting her help in escaping, he swims across a river to freedom; disconsolate because he could not love her, she throws herself into the river and drowns. Pushkin barely hints at motivation, and the hero's past life remains mysterious. The epilogue, seemingly at odds with the preceding narrative, offers praise to Russian military prowess that has resulted in the conquest of the Caucasus.
In Bakhchisaraiskii fontan a Crimean khan has captured a Polish beauty, but her presence represents a threat to his previous beloved, a Georgian woman. Yielding to jealousy, the Georgian woman kills the new captive, and in revenge, the khan has the Georgian killed by dropping her into the sea in a sack of stones. Various Romantic devices and themes cluster in this tale: exotic settings, strong emotions, a suggestive atmosphere, violence, nocturnal scenes, and brooding Byronic heroes. In addition, as narrator Pushkin speaks of his own visit to Bakhchisarai and draws parallels with his own love life; a subsequent edition includes a letter about his visit and various other notes illuminating the story on which the poem is based. Literary conservatives were outraged by the elliptical descriptions and the morally questionable thematics of the poem. Many of the younger generation, however, welcomed the new "romanticism," the breaking of conventional genre categories and stylistic norms. One of the most enthusiastic defenders of Pushkin's tales was his friend Viazemsky, whose articles in the mid 1820s about Kavkazskii plennik and Bakhchisaraiskii fontan promoted the notion of the poet's "true romanticism."
Publishing his poetry in absentia was no easy task. Pushkin relied on the assistance of his brother and friends for editing, publishing, and distribution. He also wrote works at this time that were unpublishable. Another narrative poem, Gavriiliada (The Gabrieliad), written in 1821, because of its impious and blasphemous treatment of Christian thematics--the Annunciation and the Virgin birth (Mary is depicted as having sex with Satan, Gabriel, and God in the form of a dove on the same day)--could only be circulated in manuscript. Though not published until 1861, this tale was well known apparently throughout the 1820s, creating problems for Pushkin with Nicholas I that he eventually resolved (probably by admitting authorship and apologizing) in a private meeting with the emperor in 1828.
In the several months before leaving Kishinev in 1823 Pushkin began work on his novel in verse and magnum opus, Evgeny Onegin (Eugene Onegin, written 1823-1831), which he would publish serially in chapters, beginning in 1825 and continuing over the next seven years (published in full, 1833). After convincing authorities that he was languishing in Kishinev, Pushkin was able to obtain a transfer in the summer of 1823 to Odessa, where he served under the governor general, Count Mikhail Semenovich Vorontsov. For reasons both personal and professional Pushkin's relationship with Vorontsov developed poorly after a promising beginning. Vorontsov, some seventeen years Pushkin's senior, had a long and distinguished military and civil service record and had little understanding of or appreciation for poetry. Pushkin, moreover, imprudently pursued Vorontsov's wife, Elizaveta, for whom Pushkin wrote a whole cycle of lyric poems and of whom he made many drawings during the 1820s. Indeed, Elizaveta, who apparently returned Pushkin's affection, remained one of the principal loves of his life, although not many details of their post-Odessa relationship are known. The Vorontsova cycle (written primarily during 1824-1825) includes "Vse koncheno, mezh nami sviazi net" (All is finished, there's no link between us), "Priiut liubvi" (Love's shelter), "Khrani menia, moi talisman" (Preserve me, my talisman), "Puskai uvenchannyi liubov'iu krasoty" (Let him be crowned with the love of beauty), "Sozhzhennoe pis'mo" (The Burnt Letter), "Vse v zhertvu pamiati tvoei" (All is in sacrifice to your memory), "V peshchere tainoi, v den' gonen'ia" (In the secret cave, on a day of persecution), and possibly others. "Sozhzhennoe pis'mo" includes in its final lines a remarkably effective image closely associated with the feelings of separation evoked in the poem:
Svershilos'! Temnye svernulisia listy;
Na legkom peple ikh zavetnye cherty
Beleiut. . . . Grud' moia stesnilas'. Pepel milyi,
Otrada bednaia v sud'be moei unyloi,
Ostan'sia vek so mnoi na gorestnoi grudi . . . [.]
(It's done! The dark pages have curled;
On the light ashes their cherished writing
Turns white. . . . My breast constricts. Dear ashes,
Poor consolation in my sad fate,
Remain forever with me on my mournful breast. . . [.] )
Presumably annoyed by the poet's attention to his wife and also by the differences in their personalities, Vorontsov by early 1824 grew more insistent about Pushkin's fulfilling the responsibilities of his official position. By convention Pushkin expected his job to be only nominal. Embroiled in controversy engendered not just by personal friction with Vorontsov (which found expression in a number of rather pointed and unflattering epigrams) but also by an intemperate letter (intercepted) expressing a fondness for atheism, Pushkin found himself in the summer of 1824 dismissed from the service and exiled to his mother's family estate at Mikhailovskoe near Pskov. There he continued to write as well as visit neighbors at the nearby estate in the village of Trigorskoe. These neighbors included the young officer Aleksei Nikolaevich Vul'f, whom Pushkin came to know well during the latter's several visits in 1824 and 1825 (and in post-exile years), Aleksei's brother Mikhail, and also a lively and well-read group of women in or associated with the Vul'f household: Ekaterina, Mariia, and Aleksandra Osipova and Valeriana, Anna, and Evpraksiia Vul'f. Aleksandr Ivanovich Turgenev recorded that Pushkin "spent the best years of his poetic life" in Trigorskoe. The matriarch of the family was Praskoviia Aleksandrovna Osipova, who, widowed twice (her first husband was Nikolai Vul'f ), raised a large family that many commentators believe provided Pushkin with a more positive model for family life than he found in his own family.
Up to the time of his exile to Mikhailovskoe, Pushkin had produced many excellent lyric poems, some relating to experiences connected with love at various stages. In addition to his other love poems, one stands out: "K*** (Ia pomniu chudnoe mgnoven'e . . .) " (I remember a wondrous moment, written in 1825), a poem about a meeting recollected. It is considered one of the finest lyric poems in Russian; the first quatrain is "Ia pomnia chudnoe mgnoven'e: / Peredo mnoi iavilas' ty, / Kak mimoletnoe viden'e, / Kak genii chistoi krasoty" (I remember the wondrous moment / When you appeared before me; / Like a fleeting vision / Like a Genius of pure beauty). The poem marvelously expresses recalled feelings associated with an earlier relationship with a frequent Trigorskoe visitor (a niece of Praskoviia Osipovna), Anna Petrovna Kern. The final quatrain reflects the poet's response to his recollection: "I serdtse b'etsia v upoen'e / I dlia nego voskresli vnov' / I bozhestvo, i vdokhnoven'e / I zhizn', i slezy, i liubov'" (And my heart beats in ecstasy, / And for it has been resurrected again / Divinity and inspiration, / Life, tears, and love).
Not all of Pushkin's lyrics have clear referents: highly praised lyrics such as "Nereida" (The Nereid, written in 1820), "Noch'" (Night, written in 1823), and "Vinograd" (Grapes, written in 1824), sometimes associated with the influence of André Chénier's laconic style, are characteristically Pushkinian with their concrete images, clarity, conciseness, and musicality:
Ne stanu ia zhalet' o rozakh,
Uviadshikh s legkoiu vesnoi;
Mne mil i vinograd na lozakh,
V kistiakh sozrevshii pod goroi,
Krasa moei doliny zlachnoi,
Otrada oseni zlatoi
Prodolgovatyi i prozrachnyi,
Kak persty devy molodoi.
(I won't regret the roses
That withered with the light spring;
For me the grapes on the vines are also dear,
Ripened, in clusters, on the hillside,
A beauty in my fertile valley,
A solace of golden autumn,
Oblong and translucent
Like the fingers of a young maiden.)
Pushkin wrote more-general "philosophical" poems as well, such as one of 1823, "Telega zhizni" (Wagon of Life), which outlines the stages of human life. He also experimented with folk themes, writing "Pesnia o veshchem Olege" (The Song of Oleg the Wise) in 1822 and poems relating to other cultures such as "Podrazhaniia Koranu" (Imitations of the Koran) in 1824. Later he wrote a folktale ballad "Zhenikh" (The Bridegroom) in 1825, followed in 1828 by two more ballads--"Utoplennik" (The Drowned Man) and "Voron k voronu" (Raven Flies to Raven).
His more personal "exile" lyrics include the Byronic "Pogaslo dnevnoe svetilo" (The Luminary of the Day Has Gone Out) written in 1820; the poetic epistle to Ovid, "K Ovidiiu" (also written in 1821), in which he compares his lot to Ovid's; and in 1824 his so-called farewell to Byronism, "K moriu" (To the Sea), which, while echoing the crashing of the waves in its refrains, expresses a complex attitude of praise and regret for the passing of Byron and Napoleon I. The poem muses on the nature of government, personal freedom, and happiness while marking in the final two stanzas the passing of a stage in his own life:
Proshchai zhe, more! Ne zabudu
Tvoei torzhestvennoi krasy
I dolgo, dolgo slyshat' budu
Tvoi gul v vechernie chasy.
V lesa, v pustyni molchalivy
Perenesu, toboiu poln,
Tvoi skaly, tvoi zalivy,
I blesk, i ten', i govor voln.
(Farewell, then, sea! I shall not forget
Your solemn beauty,
And long, long shall I hear
Your roar in the evening hours.
Into forests, silent wildernesses
I'll carry, full of you,
Your cliffs, your bays,
And the glitter, shadow, and murmur of your waves.)
In the 1820s, in exile, Pushkin began a cycle of poems about the poet and inspiration; the first in the series was "Razgovor mezhdu poetom i knigoprodavtsom" (A Conversation Between a Poet and a Bookseller), written in 1824. This poem, which served as a foreword to early editions of chapters of Evgeny Onegin, consists of a dialogue proposing that a poet should write poetry out of inspiration but sell manuscripts for publication. "Prorok" (The Prophet), written in 1826, suggests that poetry is divinely inspired and politically charged (the poet should "burn" people with his Word). Other lyrics of the late 1820s and 1830s continued the cycle: in "Poet" (The Poet), written in 1827, the poet is shown as quite ordinary except when inspired; and in "Poet i tolpa"(The Poet and the Crowd), written in 1828, the poet defends the freedom of his inspiration from demands that he be morally uplifting and useful. "Ekho," written in 1831, suggests that the poet is like an echo and need have no effect on events to be of value. The last in the cycle, "Ia pamiatnik sebe vozdvig" (I raised to myself a monument), written in 1836, is based on Horace's Exegi monumentum and expresses the notion that the poet's name will long be remembered because of his thematics--freedom, kind feelings, and mercy for the oppressed: "I dolgo budu tem liubezen ia narody, / Chto chuvstva dobrye ia liroi probuzhdal, / Chto v moi zhestokii vek vosslavil ia Svobody / I milost' k padshim prizyval" (And long will my name be dear to people, / Because with my lyre I evoked good feelings, / Because in my cruel age I praised Freedom / And mercy for the fallen summoned).
While in Odessa, Pushkin wrote many lyrics, completed several poems begun earlier, began another narrative poem, Tsygany (The Gypsies, written in 1824 and published in 1827), and continued working on Evgeny Onegin. For the next two years, until August 1826, Pushkin lived and worked under the surveillance of local police and clerics at Mikhailovskoe. He continued to publish and republish his works--their popularity undoubtedly aided by an aura of the forbidden associated with his status as an exile. His publishing activity now benefited from the able assistance of Petr Aleksandrovich Pletnev, a minor poet and literary critic who eventually became a professor of Russian literature and rector of St. Petersburg University. Pletnev proved to be an excellent editor and publisher for Pushkin, taking on the responsibilities (at some risk, because of Pushkin's status with the authorities) in 1825 of supervising the printing and distribution of the first chapter of Evgeny Onegin and Pushkin's first collection of poetry, Stikhotvorenii Aleksandra Pushkina (1826). Up to this time, Pushkin had relied on the editorial services of his brother, Lev Sergeevich, and friends such as Anton Antonovich Del'vig and Sergei Aleksandrovich Sobolevsky. Del'vig was one of Pushkin's closest lifelong friends--a former Lyceum classmate, a poet, critic, and editor whose untimely death after a brief illness in 1831 had a strong and disturbing effect on Pushkin. Del'vig was one of only a few friends to visit Pushkin at Mikhailovskoe (April 1825). Sobolevsky remained a close friend who more than once saved Pushkin from difficult situations involving duels.
Pushkin's stay at Mikhailovskoe, especially in the beginning when the rest of the family was also there, was emotionally unsettling. He quarreled with his father, who, according to some accounts, had been charged by the government with monitoring his son's behavior. The atmosphere improved significantly when the family left in November and Pushkin could move about freely. He spent his time visiting friends at neighboring estates (Trigorskoe) and writing at home in the company of his peasant nursemaid, Arina Rodionovna. After Pushkin's death, and particularly in Soviet times, Arina Rodionovna achieved no little fame as a kind of "people's" muse. Literary works of this period of relative isolation include the verse tale Tsygany, Boris Godunov (an historical drama, 1825, published in 1831), Graf Nulin (Count Nulin, a humorous narrative poem written in 1825 and published in 1827), and chapter two of Evgeny Onegin, which was published separately as a book in 1826.
Tsygany , which Pushkin began in Odessa and finished in Mikhailovskoe, was the last and, in the eyes of many, the best of his southern Romantic tales. Pushkin's modification of the characteristic features of the genre is easily visible in the presence of many dramatic exchanges and an increased objectivity on the part of the narrator. Like the other southern tales, the poem develops themes of violence, betrayal, freedom, and contrasting social norms. The hero, Aleko, has fled civilized society (where he is sought by the authorities) and taken up with Zemfira, a woman in a band of gypsies. But she, having grown weary of him, has taken a new lover. The character of the Old Gypsy, her father, represents gypsy social norms that include tolerance and, in particular, acceptance of female infidelity. Finding Zemfira with her lover, Aleko is deaf to the Old Gypsy's wisdom and kills both Zemfira and her lover. For this he is ejected from the band. After Aleko is abandoned and alone, the narrator reminisces on his own experience with gypsies:
No schast'ia net i mezhdu vami,
Prirody bednye syny! . . .
Prirody bednye syny! . . .
I pod izdrannymi shatrami
Zhivut muchitel'nye sny,
I vashi seni kochevye
V pustyniakh ne spaslis' ot bed,
I vsiudy strasti rokovye,
I ot sudeb zashchity net.
(But there is no happiness with you as well,
Poor sons of nature! . . .
And under tattered tents
Tormenting dreams reside.
And your nomads' shelters
Have not been spared misfortunes in the wilderness,
And everywhere there are portentous passions,
And against the fates there's no defense.)
Interpretations of the tale have focused on the character and plight of Aleko and the implied view of civilization in the tale. Dostoyevsky in his famous Pushkin speech, generalized about the rootlessness of Russian intellectuals on the basis of the Old Gypsy's words about the alienation of the "European wanderer." Biographical interpretations center on the identity of character and author (taking Aleko as a thinly disguised version of Pushkin's own name, Aleksandr). The topics of revenge, civilized man versus natural man, and freedom (for whom? from what? for what?) have evoked much scholarship and criticism.
Fortunately for Pushkin, he was at the Mikhailovskoe estate when the Decembrist Revolt took place in 1825. Even though he was never invited to join the revolutionary societies implicated, he likely would have been involved in the revolt had he been in St. Petersburg. Since copies of his poetry--his early political verse--were in the hands of virtually all of the Decembrists, there was no hope that he would entirely escape the consequences of the revolt. This indirect participation in revolutionary activity caused anxiety for Pushkin and his friends Zhukovsky and Viazemsky. Fearing arrest, Pushkin burned anything he thought might be incriminating, including his diaries, and waited to see what would follow.
Although most of his political verse was written early, he had continued to express political sentiments, though with a more muted and ambiguous message, throughout the 1820s. His liberalism and hopes for reform had faded by the mid 1820s. He defended freedom in "K Chaadaevu" (To Chaadaev), written in 1818, and "Napoleon," written in 1821, in which he presents Napoleon as pointing the way to world freedom (and also giving an opportunity to Russia for world fame). In "Kinzhal" (Dagger) Pushkin suggests that the dagger is an ultimate arbiter in redress of grievances when the law will not help, but in "Svobodnyi seiatel' v pustyne" (Freedom's Sower in the Wilderness), written in 1823, he expresses disillusionment, skepticism, and pessimistic resignation to the status quo. Kavkuzkii Plennik (The Prisoner) and "Ptichka" (The Little Bird, 1823), though not political lyrics, exult in the virtues of freedom. His historical elegy "Andrei Shen'e," which represents a blend of genres combining political and personal themes, eloquently promotes liberation from tyranny. Post 1826 poems relating to the Decembrist Revolt include two poems written in 1827, his poetic epistle to the exiled Decembrists, "Vo glubine sibirskikh rud" (In the depths of Siberian mines), and his allegorical poem "Arion," which refers indirectly to the Decembrists, suggesting that he, the poet of the Decembrists, was miraculously saved from death: "Lish' ia, tainstvennyi pevets, / Na bereg vybroshen grozoiu, / Ia gimny prezhnie poiu / I rizu vlazhnuiu moiu / Sushu na solntse pod skaloiu" (Only I, the mysterious singer, / Swept ashore by the storm, / I sing the former hymns / And my damp garments / Dry in the sun under the cliff ).
With the execution of five of the Decembrists and the exile of several hundred the next spring, Pushkin may have concluded that he was at least temporarily safe from serious consequences. Indeed, he had waited almost a year for repercussions of the revolt to reach him. Instead of maintaining a humble profile, however, he petitioned Nicholas for release from exile late in the spring of 1826. His motivation was perhaps to bring matters to a head, to clarify his position with respect to the new monarch. Interpreted this way, his request achieved the results he aimed for. In September, Nicholas sent a courier to Mikhailovskoe and ordered Pushkin to appear before him in Moscow. The unusual and dramatic qualities of this summons probably unnerved Pushkin. He was anxious enough as it was, still suspecting that his personal ties with the Decembrists and their possession of his political poetry might bring further difficulties with the government.
The meaning of the summons and the subsequent audience with Tsar Nicholas I still pose tantalizing questions for Pushkin scholars. Although what was said is not altogether clear, the outcome seemed an enormous improvement: Pushkin gained release from exile, permission to live wherever he pleased, Moscow or St. Petersburg, and "relief" from the censorship. From then on Nicholas himself (but more probably, his aide Aleksandr Khristoforovich Benkendorff ) would act as censor for Pushkin's works. On his part, or to gain such sovereign favor, Pushkin is generally understood to have admitted his complicity as author of "incendiary" verses and his potential role as a Decembrist participant and to have promised to behave as a loyal subject in the future. Allowing Pushkin to return from exile, to travel with some degree of (but not total) freedom, and to publish with Tsar Nicholas as his personal censor--all these concessions in exchange for some expression of fidelity to the crown--made the situation a winning one for both parties.
With the end of exile and his return to urban society came the beginning of a new stage in Pushkin's life. His productivity in exile, however, had been noteworthy. One of the first major works to pass through his new "censor" was his historical tragedy, Boris Godunov , which he had been working on for about a year in Mikhailovskoe (he finished it in November of 1825). Only part of it was allowed publication in 1831: Nicholas and Benkendorff proved to be exacting critics with little taste for what was innovative. In addition, they were excessively suspicious of any reference to the political or the religious--even in a clearly historical work. The play has a complicated story, at least from the point of view of audience reception. Pronounced a failure by Vissarion Grigor'evich Belinsky, it nonetheless captured the praise of other critics and continues to attract critical and scholarly attention (for example, that of Stephanie Sandler and Caryl Emerson). Related most closely to Shakespeare's Richard III, Boris Godunov nevertheless differs a great deal from tragedies of character.
The story centers on the reign of Boris, chosen tsar after the death of Dmitrii. As Pushkin's contemporary Ivan Vasil'evich Kireevsky noted, the play does not present a tragic hero or conflict but a tragic mood; indeed, the mood that envelops all of the action (and in fact unifies the twenty-three scenes better than the personality of the hero or the consequences of the characters' actions) underscores the futility of ambition, the fragility of power, the vanity of temporal pursuits, and the insignificance of human striving in the face of forces beyond human control (for example, fate or destiny). A gloomy pall overwhelms all in the play, despite the comic interludes, the machinations of the many characters surrounding Boris, and several quite moving, and sometimes turbulent, personal scenes (for example, Boris giving advice to his sons, Pimen talking to Grigorii, Grigorii-Dmitrii talking to Marina, and Grigorii- Dmitrii talking to his horse). The play is amazingly suggestive in its thematics and in its formal properties and has generated many and varied interpretations and structural studies. In its freedom from restraints of genre, its innovations, and its sincerity, it is a paradigm of Romanticism according to Pushkin's understanding of the term.
Another work Pushkin labored over, though hardly as long as he worked on Boris Godunov, was the comic narrative poem Graf Nulin . Pushkin's turn to lighter verse tales in some respects parallels Byron's turn from his more serious Oriental verse tales to the less serious Beppo (1818). Set in the countryside, Pushkin's poem, in freely rhymed iambic tetrameter, tells of a landowner's wife who entertains with dinner and conversation a stranded stranger, retires to bed, and is surprised when the stranger comes into her room to press his amorous intentions. Rebuffed with a hardy slap, the stranger is amazed the next morning when nothing is said about the incident. With his carriage repaired and her husband returned, he leaves, still in love. She tells her husband what happened; he is enraged, but their neighbor, a young man of twenty-three, is amused. The literary roots of the poem are Italian, French, and British, with Byron's Beppo and Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece (1594) the most obvious sources. But, clearly, all is trivialized in Pushkin's poem--an anecdote set in the mundane world of provincial Russian society with figures who are far from heroic. Pushkin makes fun of the shallowness of his characters: Nulin's Gallomania and pretense (his name is derived from the Russian word for zero), the husband's blindness to what is really going on, and the heroine's superficiality and total dependence on the care of her servants. Beneath the humorous veneer lie the more serious themes of infidelity, betrayal, and honor. The lightness, good humor, and urbane wittiness of the narrative, however, keep the dark side at a comfortable distance. Pushkin continued in this lighter vein with another verse tale in 1830, Domik v Kolomne (The Little House in Kolomna).
Even though his prospects looked good in the beginning, Pushkin did not adjust well to his new freedom. Lionized in Moscow after his meeting with Tsar Nicholas, Pushkin took advantage of his prestige. Society found him a relatively safe "hero" in these cautious post-Decembrist times. He had managed to walk the thin line between political liberalism--just barely implicated with the Decembrists--and state favor. His audience with Tsar Nicholas was well known (although what was actually said in the conversation between tsar and poet was far from clear), and the fact that he was freed from exile and personally pardoned by the monarch enhanced his position in high society. From a personal standpoint, he must have felt that he expressed himself honorably with Tsar Nicholas and that the tsar understood and respected his position. Pushkin's poem "Stansy" (Stanzas), written in 1826 and published in 1828, expresses his hope (with a certain amount of flattery for the emperor) that Tsar Nicholas will rule with an enlightened and forgiving spirit:
V nadezhde slavy i dobra
Gliazhu vpered ia bez boiazni:
Nachalo slavnykh dnei Petra
Mrachili miatezhi i kazni.
No pravdoi on privlek serdtsa,
No nravy ukrotil naukoi,
I byl ot buinogo strel'tsa
Pred nim otlichen Dolgorukoi.
On smelo seial prosveshchen'e,
Ne preziral strany rodnoi:
On znal ee prednaznachen'e.
To akademik, to geroi,
To moreplavatel', to plotnik,
On veseobØemliushei dushoi
Na trone vechnyi byl rabotnik.
Semeinym skhodstvem bud' zhe gord;
Vo vsem bud' prastiuru podoben:
Kak on, neutomin i tverd,
I pamiat'iu kak on, nezloben.
(With hope for glory and good deeds
I look ahead without misgiving:
Rebellions and executions also shrouded
The start of Peter's glorious days.
But he attracted hearts with justice,
But he used learning to tame customs.
For him a Dolgorukii was distinguished
From the ungovernablestrelets.
With autocratic hand
He boldly sowed enlightenment;
He did not hate his native land:
He knew its predestination.
Now academic, now hero,
Now navigator, now carpenter,
With all-encompassing soul, he was
Eternal worker on the throne.
Be proud of your family likeness;
Be like your ancestor in everything:
Untiring and firm like him,
And of past wrongs forgiving.)
Praise and high hopes for the tsar, however, did not guarantee Pushkin's financial security or happiness. His Southern poems continued to be popular, providing him with badly needed financial support. Living in inns or with friends and taking part in the social whirl of high society made constant demands on his resources. Now, pressed by financial need and a desire to augment his earnings from his poetry, he took an active role in the publishing business, working closely with Pletnev, who had helped so much with Pushkin's business affairs while he was in exile, and his long-term Lyceum comrade, Del'vig. Pushkin acquainted himself or renewed acquaintance with leading publishers of the day--Pavel Petrovich Svin'in and Aleksandr Filippovich Smirdin--and influential editors--including Nikolai Ivanovich Grech, who published Pushkin's first verses in Syn otechestva (Son of the Fatherland) in 1815; Faddei Venediktovich Bulgarin (with whom Pushkin had a spirited journalistic polemic from 1830 to 1831); and Osip Ivanovich Senkovsky, editor of the popular Biblioteka dlia chteniia (Library for Reading) from 1834 through 1856. In the immediate postexile years Pushkin collaborated with Del'vig as editor, contributor, and assistant on issues of the almanacs Severnye tsvety (Northern Flowers, 1825-1831) and Podsnezhnik (Snowdrop, 1829), and the newspaper Literaturnaia gazeta (Literary Gazette, 1830).
Pushkin soon learned that the conditions of his freedom were more onerous than he had anticipated. Benkendorff watched his movements carefully, patronizingly admonishing him for any infractions, lecturing him on proprieties at every occasion and for every request, and censoring Pushkin's works for Nicholas. Several memoir accounts from these years indicate that Pushkin alternated between bouts of social revelry and lonely despair, exhilaration and desperation. Exacerbating all of these problems was the embarrassing return of Gavriiliada, brought to official attention in 1828 and requiring another series of "explanations" with the authorities. Although Pushkin initially denied he was the author, he presumably admitted he wrote it (and asked for forgiveness) in a sealed letter to Tsar Nicholas, who then called off the official government investigation. Also threatening Pushkin's fragile position with regard to the authorities was the widespread dissemination of politically suggestive lines from his pre-Decembrist historical elegy "André Chénier." He gave explanations, but the situation was far from settled.
Despite personal difficulties, Pushkin continued to write. Increasingly he turned to history for literary and narrative material. He devoted three weeks of October 1828 to his new verse tale, Poltava (1829). Written in freely rhymed iambic tetrameters, the three cantos and sixteen-line dedication (to Maria Raevsky or Anna Olenina, whom Pushkin was courting) represent a mixture of styles and genres (ode, drama, ballad, folk poetry, Romantic narrative poem, and epic) totally consistent with Pushkin's new attitude toward conventional genres. He virtually eliminated distinctions of genre in the format of his 1829 collection of verse, whereas he had used conventional labels in his 1826 collection.
The historical focal point of Poltava is an important battle in 1709 in the Great Northern War between Peter's Russia and Charles XII's Sweden. All the characters in the tale are historical personages, although the heroine's name was altered from Matriona to Maria. Pushkin himself thought highly of the work, believing it to be "almost totally original"--one of the principal positive qualities of poetry, in his aesthetic view--and of a much higher quality than the quite popular and financially rewarding Kavkazskii plennik.
The plot centers on Maria's love for and elopement with Mazepa, a military leader in Ukraine, and her eventual recognition that she had hopelessly idealized him. Her parents had forbidden the union, thinking Mazepa too old, and her father, Kochubei, vowed vengeance on Mazepa for the dishonor of marrying without his permission. Meanwhile, Mazepa plots against Peter, intending for Ukraine to join forces with Sweden. Kochubei attempts to warn Peter, but Peter does not believe his charges and sentences Kochubei to torture and execution. The intrigue mounts as Maria finds out too late what has happened to her father. Psychologically devastated by all that has happened, she leaves Mazepa. He soon realizes transferring his allegiance to Charles was a mistake. Nonetheless, he stays with his plan, admitting to his friend Orlik that he can never go back to Peter, who had humiliated him many years before. The battle develops as Mazepa anticipated, with Russia victorious and Charles and his forces retreating to Sweden. Mazepa, too, flees but is visited late at night by a crazed Maria, who raves disjointedly before running away. Mazepa, filled with remorse, abandons the empire. An epilogue then provides historical closure, referring in nationalistic terms to strong personages such as Peter who make their mark on history. The epilogue, along with other patriotic references to the monarchy and empire, have been understood, perhaps simplistically, as Pushkin's paying his respects to Tsar Nicholas at a time when Pushkin needed government support.
Poltava occasioned a great deal of critical controversy, beginning with Pushkin's contemporaries, who tended to be highly negative for historical or literary reasons when the work was first published in 1829. Some critics found the presentation of Mazepa's motivation unsatisfying, insisting that Ukrainian nationalism overrode all considerations of personal honor. Moreover, Charles was in real life a much more impressive figure than Pushkin had made him. Those who faulted Poltava for literary reasons also focused on Pushkin's characterization, critical of his presenting Mazepa as a stereotypical melodramatic Gothic villain. In addition, the scene in which Mazepa makes Maria choose him over her father evoked negative commentary. Critics also faulted the description of the battle, with its hyperbolic imagery and exaggeratedly positive picture of Peter; the silly picture of Charles and Mazepa plunged in thought during the battle; and finally the lack of a convincing unity of the personal and the historical. From Belinsky on, critics returned to the issue of "unity" when discussing Poltava. Pushkin's use of multiple perspectives (including the patriotic sentiments of the epilogue), as in his earlier verse tales, challenges critical sensibilities seeking unity and resolution to perceived paradoxes and ambiguities.
Frustrated and disappointed by his soured relations with the authorities, increasingly put under financial pressure (made more acute by his gambling), wearied by the social scene in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and hopeful that travel might again afford him opportunities for revitalization and inspiration, Pushkin sought permission to go abroad with various Russian missions. The travels in his early twenties with the Raevskys had led to the writing of his popular verse tales, which continued to be profitable. Turned down in his request, he nonetheless went off without authorization (but not secretly) to join the Army of the Caucasus in 1829, ostensibly to visit his brother and friends. Because he did not receive official permission, the trip occasioned official displeasure toward him when he returned. Nevertheless, this temporary escape freed him from pressures associated with his urban life, which made strong demands on his financial and psychological resources. In creative terms, his journey accounted directly for many fine lyric poems and for his Puteshestvie v Arzrum ( Journey to Arzrum), a fascinating travel journal. Pushkin's lyrics associated with his return to the south in 1829 are far more subdued and down-to-earth than his earlier poems set in the mountain regions of the empire. Examples are "Obval" (The Avalanche), "Monastyr' na Kazbeke" (Monastery on Mount Kazbek), and "Na kholmakh Gruzii lezhit nochnaia mgla" (On the Georgian hills lies the night mist):
Na kholmakh Gruzii lezhit nochnaia mgla;
Shumit Aragva predo mnoiu,
Mne grustno i legko; pechal' moia svetla;
Pechal' moia polna toboiu,
Toboi, odnoi toboi. . . . Unyn'ia moego
Nichto ne muchit, ne trevozhit',
I serdtse vnov' gorit i liubit--ottogo,
Chto ne liubit' ono ne mozhet.
(On the Georgian hills lies the night mist;
Before me the Aragva river roars.
I am both sad and light at heart; my sorrow is luminous;
My sorrow is full of you,
Of you, of you alone . . . Nothing torments,
Nothing troubles, my despondency,
And once again my heart burns and loves--because
It cannot not love.)
Returning to St. Petersburg, Pushkin took steps to change the course of his life. There is little doubt that marriage represented a last opportunity for Pushkin, a chance to escape overwhelming feelings that his life was over and that only the past remained as a source of joy. Pushkin had failed in an earlier courtship with Anna Olenina, a young woman nearly twenty whom he had known from childhood and for whom he developed a strong infatuation in the summer of 1828. Rejected probably for political reasons (Anna's father was part of the official investigation in the "André Chénier affair") Pushkin, after returning from his trip to Arzrum, turned now to Natalia Nikolaevna Goncharova, who was just making her entrance into Moscow society. Her beauty was matched only by her poverty and the general undesirability of the match. Pushkin also was no great catch, barely respectable, socially unstable, with a long history of profligacy and intemperate living. Nonetheless, Pushkin secured Benkendorff's help to assure his future wife's parents of his acceptability as a spouse, and the marriage took place in February 1831, though not before Pushkin had disposed of many practical problems. Natalia was nineteen and he was thirty-one at the time of their marriage.
The months preceding his marriage turned out to be quite productive for Pushkin--perhaps because he viewed his imminent betrothal as a summing up of a stage in his life. A more concrete reason relates his burst of creativity to the beneficial consequences of confinement on his father's Boldino estate, where he had gone on prewedding business and where he was quarantined by the cholera epidemic of late 1830. A creatively fruitful tension was occasioned by anticipation and hope for the future and regret, recollection, and despair over the past. The seriousness of the epidemic (which had to give rise to thoughts of mortality and the fragility of life) gave his stay an additional sense of urgency.
Two of Pushkin's most productive periods have been associated with the time he spent at Boldino. This particular stay, in the autumn of 1830, led to the creation of three of the four short dramas most often referred to as the "little" or "miniature" tragedies. The three written in Boldino (though conceived earlier) were Skupoi rytsar' (The Covetous Knight); Motsart i Sal'eri (Mozart and Salieri), a play based on the supposed rivalry of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri; and Kamennyi gost' (Stone Guest). The fourth, Pir vo vremia chumy (Feast During the Plague--a translation of part of an English play), was written after he left. All the plays share some formal properties: they are in unrhymed iambic pentameter with no regular caesura after the fourth syllable and with some thematic affinities. They are also commonly referred to as psychological studies, reflecting Pushkin's interest in the complexity and well-roundedness of Shakespeare's characters. Serving as a genre model for these little tragedies, ranging from 231 to 542 lines, were the short dramatic scenes of Barry Cornwall, a now little-read English writer. The reader should not be misled, however, by normal genre expectations; these works are not conventional dramas or tragedies. Indeed, Pushkin at one time thought of calling them "dramatic investigations." Their drama inheres not in the action but in what the scholar Walter N. Vickery calls their lyric highlights: what they "say about life, a specific problem, or an emotional attitude." Their style is quintessentially Pushkinian: extremely concise yet filled with associative power.
Skupoi rytsar' deals with generational conflict, father and son arguing about money and by extension over patrimony. To avoid unwanted biographical speculation, or to sidestep such charges in a convenient way, Pushkin subtitled it "Scenes from Shenstone's Tragicomedy." There is no evidence William Shenstone ever wrote such scenes. At odds because he can borrow no more money without security and blaming his miserly father, the baron, for his poverty, the son listens attentively to the moneylender's suggestion that poison may help him escape his poor circumstances. The second scene, dominated by a long soliloquy, shows the baron's motivation for his perceived miserliness: money for him represents power over all. But at the same time he is gravely disturbed by concerns over his heir, his son's gullibility and misplaced values, and the likelihood that he will squander all the riches gained through his father's enormous sacrifices. At the end of the baron's impressive monologue he specifies the one thing he can have no dominion over--death: "Could I but from the grave / Come hither as a ghostly sentinel, / Stand watch upon my chests, and from the living / Preserve my treasures as I can today . . . !" Consulting with the duke in the final scene, the son pleads his case against his miserly father. The duke then talks to the baron, asking why his son is never at the court. After several excuses, the baron blames his son for wanting to kill him and for trying to steal from him, whereupon the outraged son rushes in, calling his father a liar. In a highly charged scene, the baron throws down his glove and the son picks it up: the father has given a challenge and the son has accepted it with the view that it is his father's "first gift" to him. The baron then falls and dies uttering "Where are my keys, my keys!"
Critics have explored the biographical dimension, knowing well the sensitive relations between the author and his father; they have also sought to determine the dramatic center, whether in the baron's monologue, which is a masterpiece of psychological depth, or in the conclusion, which traces out in disturbing and suggestive ways the themes of parricide, patrimony, and displaced sexual rivalry. These were issues Dostoyevsky subsequently dealt with so effectively in his novels.
A profound problem also occupies the center of Motsart i Sal'eri , a problem effectively handled in modern times by Peter Shaffer's play (and the subsequent motion picture version) Amadeus. Envy of the hardworking and merely talented for the easy success of genius is raised to metaphysical levels by Salieri, who questions whether justice exists in the universe. The tragedy presents deep matters concisely and maximally compressed. Unhappy in his life, now racked with envy for the easy and unself-conscious genius of Mozart, Salieri poisons him, but not before a final scene that invokes the theme of whether genius and evil are compatible. Indeed, in the end Salieri is left with doubts. The central theme of the work, however, concerns justice and truth. Reiterated in this second miniature tragedy is the essential injustice of life, represented in Salieri's resentment that something valuable can be acquired without effort or even without consciousness of value. Part of Pushkin's brilliance in characterization is that he shows Mozart at the end somehow conscious of his own imminent death while playing his own Requiem to Salieri.
Kammenyi gost' is longer and more eventful than the other dramas. Its four scenes, set in or near Madrid, follow key incidents in Don Juan's life after his return, incognito, from exile. The theme of remorse finds expression in Don Juan's regret over past loves who apparently perished as a result of his attentions. He encounters Dona Anna, draped in a cloak and in mourning, making her daily visit to the monument she built in memory of her husband (whom Don Juan had slain in a duel). In the second scene he comes to see another woman, Laura, and slays another rival, Don Carlos. Don Juan and Laura make love in the presence of the corpse. In the third scene Don Juan, dressed as a monk, meets Anna by the statue, declares his love (pretending to be someone else), and persuades her to meet him later at her home. Confident of his abilities, he invites the statue to come and stand guard during the visit. The statue, much to Don Juan's horror, mysteriously nods its agreement. In the final scene, though she professes that she must remain faithful to her dead husband (chosen for her in an arranged marriage), she listens to Don Juan, hears him admit his identity, worries for his safety, agrees to see him again the next day, and kisses him farewell. The statue knocks, enters, reaches out to Don Juan, and disappears with him. Don Juan mutters Dona Anna's name until the end, suggesting that she may have been his true love.
Obviously Pushkin built on a long tradition (represented by Tirso de Molina, Molière, Mozart, and Lorenzo Da Ponte), but, as was his custom, he modified tradition to suit his purposes. One notable difference is that the Commander is presented as Dona Anna's husband, not her father. As scholars have noted, Pushkin's Don Juan differs from his predecessors in his appreciation for women as more than simply prizes, as individuals. A love for the spirit of the chase, a knowledge of the devices of seduction, and considerable patience while in pursuit, however, are also part of his psychological makeup. His beloveds in the drama represent a variety of types--characters whose individual beauties or strengths he appreciates and values. He is also capable of remorse, though hardly without bravado. He proves by his willingness to admit his identity that he is capable of risks and also opposed to presenting himself in the end as someone other than himself. He wants to be loved "as himself and for himself." He is also a poet.
Many have noted the self-referential dimension: the character traits, the exile, and the return from exile. Pushkin too had contemplated an illegal return to St. Petersburg in 1825. Intensely possessive on the eve of marriage, he apparently harbored morbid thoughts about being replaced by another man. Natalia Goncharova, like Dona Anna, was marrying a man her mother (not without hesitation) designated. Shifts from father to husband, of course, can also be explained within psychoanalytical frames. And finally, the question running through the final scene--whether love can bring happiness to the hero and whether it can turn his life around and give it new value--was quite plausibly Pushkin's question.
Critics have focused on the sincerity of Don Juan's declaration of love and the ambiguity or indefiniteness of his motivation as crucial issues. Ambiguity is characteristic of much of Pushkin's creation: some readers form conclusions that depend on their own views of human nature and psychology (and their view of Pushkin's sincerity at this important juncture in his life), while others withhold judgment, assuming that motivation in life and art is difficult to assess. The ambiguity in the tragedy, though productive of interpretations, may also affect the reader's sympathy for the hero and the reader's sense of tragedy. Don Juan, if he is understood as sincere, seemingly finds redemption--in a purely secular sense--at the very moment of his destruction by Nemesis in the form of a statue.
The fourth and final miniature tragedy is somewhat anomalous. It is a translation of John Wilson's "The City of the Plague" (1816), set in London in 1665. The biographical impetus was the analogous cholera epidemic in Russia confining Pushkin to his Boldino estate. At the center of the play is a group of young people celebrating in defiance of the ubiquitous threat of death, reveling in "living on the edge." The message is that those moments when life is intensified, because it is so seriously threatened, are particularly valuable. Pushkin introduced two songs that were not in the original--one by Mary, who sings an elegy filled with references to death, fidelity to loved ones, regret, and lost innocence, and another by the Master of Revels, the Chairman or Presider, who sings in honor of the plague, praising those who live boldly while threatened with death. A priest darkens the mood by reminding the revelers of their personal losses. The Presider, recalling his wife's death, then leaves the group. In offering a fascinating study of psychology in a life-threatening situation, the play shows its affinities with the other Don Juan works. Most scholarship has endeavored to identify features Pushkin's play shares with the others as well as its literary models and biographical dimensions.
Another project Pushkin brought to completion in the early 1830s was his novel, Evgeny Onegin , arguably his most important literary accomplishment. Work on Evgeny Onegin spanned some eight years of his creative life. Generally recognized as a masterpiece of world literature, it was begun in May 1823 while Pushkin was in Kishinev. Publishing chapters throughout the 1820s (as he completed them), he finished the work, adding one last passage (part of Onegin's letter to Tat'iana) in October 1831. The novel was published as a book in 1833 and 1837. Serving as a focus of Pushkin's creative energy for so many years, the novel reflects various life stages the poet passed through, from young manhood to mature adulthood. The final work consists of eight chapters, or cantos, though Pushkin worked on (but did not publish) additional cantos describing Onegin's journey and Onegin's further adventures as a Decembrist. The latter Pushkin burned in 1830 because of its political content, although some fragments have survived in coded form.
One critical problem the novel poses relates to its completeness. The reader's knowledge of the existence of plans for a continuation easily engenders speculation on what would have and should have happened to the main characters. Indeed, a good part of the Pushkin critical tradition is devoted to his projected continuation and to other works he did not complete, especially prose works, such as "Arap Petra Velikogo" (The Moor of Peter the Great), "Dubrovsky," "Egipitskie nochi" (Egyptian Nights), and "Istoriia sela Goriukhina" (Story of the Village of Goriukhino). By publishing fragments from Onegin's journey in the separate editions of the novel, Pushkin did not discourage speculation.
Chapter lengths in Evgeny Onegin run from forty to fifty-four fourteen-line stanzas with a regular (with some exceptions) rhyme scheme. The stanzas themselves represent something new in Russian literature. They are iambic tetrameter with alternating masculine and feminine rhymes (ababeecciddiff)--a form vaguely like the sonnet but closer to the eight-line stanza or ottava rima of Byron's Beppo and Don Juan (1819-1824). The language of Pushkin's poem has a remarkable lightness and spontaneity, a freshness and aptness that cannot be captured easily in translation and that have been highlighted as Pushkin's contribution to the development of the Russian literary language. (Pushkin is often given credit for his pioneering efforts in nurturing the growth of the Russian language in suppleness and potentialities for greater expressiveness.)
The very form of the novel indicates Pushkin's early discomfort with conventional genres, his striving to make his own mark in an original way. First of all he called his work not simply a novel but (he emphasized this) a "novel in verse" and termed sections "chapters" rather than cantos. While clearly seeking to be innovative, he also showed an awareness of European models. The novel can be viewed quite productively within the tradition of prose novels by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Constant and of Byron's novel in verse, Don Juan, as well as the whole picaresque tradition, French and Italian contes, and comic epics of Voltaire and Ludovico Ariosto. As far as its major provenance is concerned, however, the novel in verse combines the sentimental novel and the comic epic. The narrative aura is casual; the verses flow one after another almost unpoetically, not calling attention to themselves, deceptive in their apparent superficiality. Nonetheless, running deeply through the text are serious themes that have stimulated generations of critics and readers.
The novel follows the young Evgeny Onegin, a superficially educated and somewhat shallow dandy, through a social whirl that no longer thrills him and into a country milieu (his recently deceased uncle left him an estate) that quickly loses its charm for him. There he has one friend, an idealistic poet named Lensky, schooled in German philosophy and given to elegiac lyricizing. Lensky confides his love for Olga, one of two sisters living on a neighboring estate, to Onegin. Onegin, who clearly views himself as far beyond the stage in which he can lose himself in love, tolerates Lensky. Olga's older sister, Tat'iana--a dreamer, a loner, not at all as sociable as Olga--is smitten with Onegin, though the narrator (a poet much like Pushkin), who is a friend of Onegin, shows concern for such a liaison. In her naïveté Tat'iana (Tania) writes a letter to him declaring her love. Onegin, in turn, feels the need to be brutally honest with her; finding her in the garden of her parents' estate, he tells her that if he could settle down it would be with her, but, alas, he cannot. He then lectures her on the importance of restraint and the worldly dangers that threaten inexperienced women.
In subsequent developments, Onegin and Lensky arrive late to Tania's name-day party, with Onegin in a bad mood that he blames on Lensky. Determined to seek vengeance, Onegin begins to court Olga, who responds to his attentiveness. Lensky is outraged by this behavior, thoroughly disenchanted with Olga (and women in general), and challenges Onegin to a duel. Onegin kills Lensky in the duel, leaving only the narrator to mourn him and speculate on what might have happened to him had he lived. Olga eventually marries an officer and leaves Tania alone on the estate with her parents. Time goes by, and Tania wanders to Onegin's estate, long abandoned by him; she examines his study and his books, which suggest to her that he may be a parody of Byron or Childe Harold. Her family eventually takes her to Moscow and finds a husband for her. Onegin only finds her again in the final chapter; she is with her husband and is now a striking high-society hostess. After seeing her, Onegin writes her one letter after another declaring his love. Receiving no response, he impetuously rushes to her house and falls at her feet, putting himself at her mercy. She questions his sincerity, admits she still loves him, but says she will be faithful to her husband and leaves the room.
A schast'e bylo tak vozmozhno,
Tak blizko! . . . No sud'ba moia
Uzh reshena. Neostorozhno,
Byt' mozhet, postupila ia:
Menia s slezami zaklinanii
Molila mat'; dlia bednoi Tani
Vse byli zhrebii ravny . . .
Ia vyshla zamuzh. Vy dolzhny,
Ia vas proshu, menia ostavit';
Ia znaiu: v vashem serdtse est'
I gordost', i priamaia chest'.
Ia vas liubliu (k chemu lukavit'?),
No ia drugomu otdana;
Ia budu vek emu verna.--
(But happiness had been so possible,
So near! . . . But my fate is already
Perhaps, I acted.
With tears of incantations
My mother begged me; for poor Tania
All lots were equal.
I married. You must,
I implore you, leave me;
I know in your heart are
Both pride and genuine honor.
I love you [why dissimulate?],
But to another I have been given;
I shall be faithful to him all my life.--)
Her husband enters the room, and the story ends. The bare outline of the plot development does little justice to the spirit of the work, the frequent and playful digressions and ironic commentary of the narrator. Indeed, the narrator's presence and his observations temper, refract, and determine in significant ways the reader's perceptions of the characters, relationships, and events.
The varied reception of Evgeny Onegin has been noted by such scholars as Sona Stephan Hoisington. Critics have often cited the work's fundamental symmetries (rejected loves, ironic reversals, parallels in plot, and behavior of the characters). Some have focused on motivation of the major characters, while others have examined the meaning of particular significant events, such as Tania's disturbing dream after being rejected by Onegin. Many interpretations have centered on the character of Onegin, with the goal of assessing his culpability and potential for love. Belinsky showed more interest in revealing Pushkin as a critic of the age and in condemning Onegin's society than the man. Subsequently, the nineteenth-century critic Dmitrii Ivanovich Pisarev saw the novel as a defense of Nikolaevan society. Dostoyevsky in his famous Pushkin speech (1880) focused on Onegin as an alienated soul, divorced from his people and native Russian soil. The Russian novelist Dmitrii Sergeevich Merezhkovsky saw this alienated hero as a universal and fundamentally positive type, the self-willed individualist. Various interpretational strands involve the presentation of character and society in the work and implied criticism of each. These strands, even tendencies, became more rigid in the twentieth century. Soviet critics, exploiting the perceived critique of Russian social conditions and various textual clues to this effect, assessed Onegin's character in terms of his potential as a Decembrist. In addition, critics have pointed to Onegin as an early manifestation of the social type known as "superfluous man"--a man alienated from but also a natural byproduct of Russian society, stifled by social conditions and prevented by them from doing anything worthwhile. Superfluous men such as Onegin populate Russian novels and heroes' roles from this point on through Mikhail Iur'evich Lermontov and Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, though the type owes much to European literary figures such as Adolphe (hero of an 1816 novel by Benjamin Constant) and Childe Harold (hero of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, the first two cantos published in 1812 and 1818). Extending the social into the metaphysical, interpretations also have given a major role to destiny, which rules over and determines the fate of (and limits the responsibility of) individuals such as Onegin.
In psychological terms the two lead characters, Onegin and Tat'iana, are both under the spell of Western literary and social models. That they live an illusory life (or one characterized by self-delusion) is suggested in their reading and their tastes. On character, interpretations present a variety of views of Onegin, the narrator, Tat'iana, Lensky, and Olga. Onegin's culpability in provoking Lensky is often mitigated by reference to social determinism and Onegin's frustrated idealism (a point of view that is even supported by the narrator). The question of motivation has prompted questions about Tat'iana's attraction to Onegin, his toward her (at the end), and his provocation of Lensky. Answers to these questions are entwined in issues of environment, education, fate, and biological inevitability.
All the characters have been subjected to interpretations emphasizing their qualities on scales from the prosaic to the sublime and mysterious. There is a good enough case for condemning Onegin as a Childe Harold type: self-centered, good at nothing in particular, killer of Lensky in a duel that he could have easily prevented or even stopped, and pursuer of married women. Pushkin, in this novel as elsewhere, however, indicates an understanding of and even sympathy for the type. He may be quite aware of the hard edges and pitfalls of Onegin's lifestyle and aware of its affinities with his own but also conscious that abandoning them was not easy. Olga, more often than not reviled by critics for her shallowness, nonetheless has the virtue of being able to forget. She is seemingly unaware of the problems and burdens of life, for they appear simply to flow over her. She loses a beloved and then simply moves on, unburdened by sentimental notions of true love lost. Since she easily finds another mate, the novel can accordingly be read as a commentary on Romantic love and various approaches to it.
Many questions have arisen about the ending and Tat'iana's rationale for remaining faithful. Pushkin, as Prince D. S. Mirsky speculates, may well have intended Tat'iana's reaction to serve as a model for his own young wife, who, he must have thought, would be dealing with similar challenges to her fidelity. Other critical issues center on the authenticity and sincerity of Onegin's "love" for Tat'iana, questioning whether this love could save Onegin from his negative, ironic, and detached approach to life. Pushkin, with the assistance of his ironic and sympathetic narrator, offers two sides, two angles, two approaches to every interpretation.
Early on, critics noted the overall impact of the novel, underlining the metaphor of seasonal change and the overwhelming feeling of time passing. The movement of time evokes different perspectives and leaves its imprint on the narrator's personality. The narrator indeed is a unifying presence, underlining the importance of the flow of time in his digressions, sympathies, irony, personal experiences, and attitudes toward life in general. In the end Evgeny Onegin is much more than an unhappy love story or analysis of Romantic ailments. The critic Semen Frank, in characterizing Pushkin's works as expressing a "luminous sadness" (the expression from "Na kholmakh Gruzii lezhit nochnaia mgla . . .") offers a satisfying approach to defining this quality of the novel. Something positive and life-affirming remains, counteracting the increasingly somber mood that derived largely from the growing awareness that there was no return and what lay ahead would be worse than what lay behind. Part of what is positive lies in the unexpected (as Tat'iana's husband comes in unexpectedly at the end), the promise of sudden changes in fortune or twists of fate. Whatever the source, the brightness remains, for surely both positive and negative emotions are left with readers of this wonderfully evocative novel. In this work as elsewhere Pushkin leaves a rich, but suggestive, picture, one capable of several almost contradictory interpretations. This richness is surely a reflection of the long creative history of the work, spanning eight quite turbulent years of the poet's life.
Pushkin's productivity of the 1830s included other narrative poems, notably Domik v Kolomne (forty stanzas of ottava rima, comparable in this respect to Byron's Beppo and Don Juan), another 1830 product of Boldino. The poem is extremely digressive, even more casual in its tone than Evgeny Onegin, and its iambic pentameter lines are completely free of the obligatory caesura after the fourth syllable. Domik v Kolomne is a veritable poetics in verse, discussing rhyme (comparing rhymes to soldiers in martial imagery) and other poetic matters, with a flimsy plot. A widow and her daughter hire a cook found by the daughter (their regular cook has just died). The new cook, presumably a woman, does not demand a fixed wage, cooks poorly, and constantly breaks dishes. One Sunday the mother discovers "her" shaving. Caught in this masculine behavior, the cook runs away; when the daughter learns what has happened, she is properly outraged. Pushkin offers a double moral: first, do not hire a cook for little pay, and second, men should not put on women's clothes because in the end they will have to shave.
Beneath its seemingly frivolous surface, critics have discovered (and speculated on) serious issues. A Freudian subtext has been found, as well as a treatise on poetics. Certainly the story, no matter how flimsy, can be related to Pushkin's concerns (as expressed in many other works) with people presenting themselves as something they are not (pretenders), using deceptive behavior for sexual purposes (Don Juan), and eventually disclosing their true natures.
Andzhelo (Angelo, written in 1833), another "Shakespearean" narrative poem (based on Measure for Measure) with dialogue (like the little tragedies and Poltava), is Pushkin's only verse tale written in iambic hexameter. Pushkin removed much in his adaptation of the original, giving particular attention to the character of Angelo. Critics of Pushkin's time did not think highly of this work, but later critics and scholars have come to quite different conclusions. It is not a bright and sunny work but one that implies a rather cynical view of human nature. The plot involves a duke who has been somewhat lax in law enforcement; he temporarily yields the reigns of power to Angelo. He hopes that Angelo will reinstate law and order. Angelo is up to the task and quickly enforces laws against fornication, bringing charges against a patrician named Claudio. Claudio asks his sister Isabella to intercede on his behalf; she agrees and intercedes, but Angelo propositions her. She tells her brother, who is willing to trade her virtue for his life. The duke overhears all this and replaces Isabella with Angelo's wife for a late evening rendezvous. (Angelo and she had separated because he believed false rumors about her behavior.) Although the plan is carried out, Angelo still orders the death of Claudio. The plot is foiled when the duke confronts Angelo, and he asks to be executed. The duke forgives him, as Isabella has forgiven her brother.
What troubles some critics (for example, Vickery) is the implication that principles do not stand for much: Claudio measures his own life against his sister's virtue, and Angelo clearly is willing to go against his word. The tone is also somewhat jarring: the poem begins in a jocular spirit but quickly turns to more sordid matters. One cannot help but think of the biographical affinities: the play of power and principles and sexual desire that had to reflect matters in Pushkin's personal life--his relationship with Nicholas and his attitude toward his wife and her involvement in court society.
Indeed, Pushkin's marriage did not bring that idyllic peace he had dreamed of. Although not totally insensitive to literature, Natalia was unsophisticated in her approach and understanding of it and resentful when her husband discussed his literary projects with other women. Her interests were largely social, and her mode in social life was largely (by training) based on flirtation. Pushkin himself showed ambivalence on this score, on the one hand proud of his wife's status in court society (achieved early, in the first summer of their marriage while they stayed in Tsarskoe Selo) but on the other hand inevitably jealous and warily concerned about the attention of young men she attracted. These concerns became more obvious and explicit in his correspondence to her as the years went by. In the beginning, however, all seemed well.
Pushkin married in February 1831, finished Evgeny Onegin in October, and in May of 1832 had his first child, Maria. Nicholas--evidently pleased with Pushkin's marriage, apparent stability, and dedication to the state (which Pushkin expressed in jingoistic poems supporting Russia's quashing of the Polish rebellion of 1831)--reinstated Pushkin in state service as a historiographer with a salary and access to state archives. The situation changed gradually as Pushkin grew more dependent on Nicholas's favors, as his debts increased, and as more children came. Yet his presence (and that of his wife) at society functions was made obligatory by Pushkin's unflattering appointment at the end of 1833 to the rank of Kammerjunker (gentleman of the emperor's bedchamber), usually given to much younger men. Matters came to a head when he found out Tsar Nicholas had been reading letters Pushkin had written to Natalia, and Pushkin's indignant attempt to resign to save face was met with threats of access to archives denied and the monarch's disfavor. Indeed, Pushkin requested permission twice, in 1834 and again in 1835, with a persuasive rationale based on financial need. Each attempt met with refusal.
Throughout these difficult years Pushkin continued writing lyrics, narrative tales, and then prose. Among the more interesting works of his early married years are his skazki (fairy tales in verse), "Skazka o tsare Saltane" (The Tale of Tsar Saltan, written in 1831), "Skazka o rybake i rybke" (The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish, written in 1833), "Skazka o mertvoi tsarevne i semi bogatyriakh" (Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Heroes, written in 1833), and "Skazka o zolotoi petushke" (The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, written in 1834). Scholars usually point to Pushkin's growing interest in authentic folk poetry as the motivation for his turn to this genre. At the same time they refer to his exile at Mikhailovskoe and the beneficial presence of his nurse, Arina Rodionova, who could recite many tales and poems, some of which Pushkin wrote down. Rather than literally transcribing what he heard, Pushkin created new poems of hybrid sources, incorporating sophisticated literary and folk themes and devices in unusually original narratives.
The poems have little plot and apparently little in the way of ideology; their claim to fame is their formal excellence, manifested in the structures of their rhythms and rhymes. All were written in trochees with verse paragraphs of uneven lengths and rhyming couplets; some critics say that because of these qualities, the skazki are "better read than discussed." Another view holds, however, that an author's choice of material is never fortuitous and that indeed much of importance can be detected beneath the magical surface. Thus, any poem that talks of deceiving the tsar, expresses concerns about patrimony, and includes transformations, things that are not what they seem to be, untruthful advisors, and truth winning out in the end could easily have application to Pushkin's life.
Pushkin wrote fewer lyrics in the 1830s than in earlier periods, but what he wrote was of high quality. His "Èlegiia" (Elegy, 1830), unusual because of its genre used as title at a time when Pushkin tended to avoid such labels, suggests that the meaning of life lay in thought and suffering:
Bezumnykh let ugasshee vesel'e
Mne tiazhelo, kak smutnoe pokhmel'e.
No, kak vino--pechal' minuvshikh dnei
V moei dushe chem stare, tem sil'nei.
Moi put' unyl. Sulit mne trud i gore
Griadushchego volnuemoe more.
No ne khochu, o drugi, umirat';
Ia zhit' khochu, chtob myslit' i stradat';
Ia vedaiu, mne budut naslazhden'ia
Mezh gorestei, zabot i trevolnen'ia
Poroi opiat' garmoniei up'ius',
Nad vymyslom slezami obol'ius',
I mozhet byt'--na moi zakat pechal'nyi
Blesnet liubov' ulybkoiu proshchal'noi.
(The extinguished merriment of madcap years
Weighs on me like a hangover's dull ache.
But--as with wine--the sadness of past days
With age its strength increases in the soul.
My path is dark. The future's troubled sea
Holds little for me, mostly sorrow, toil.
But no, my friends, I do not wish to die;
I wish to live that I may think and suffer;
And I know too that pleasures will be mine
Amid my troubles and my tribulation:
At times again the Muses will delight,
Creation's work will cause my tears to flow;
Perhaps once more my waning star will shine
Beneath the fleeting, farewell smile of Love.)
"Besy" (Devils, written in 1830) is a ballad-like lyric, powerful in its sound instrumentation and personal and political symbolism relating to pernicious forces in the world. Pushkin wrote a sonnet, "Madonna" (Madonna), to his fiancée in 1830 and many poems suggestive of Greek and Roman models. He also continued with "imitations," writing "Pesni o zapadnykh slavianakh" (Songs of the Western Slavs) in 1834, based to some degree on Mérimée's "Illyrian translations" (or inventions) of 1827. Some of the more important lyrics of the last years include "Ne dai Bog soiti s uma" (God grant that I don't go mad), written in 1833 or later; the fragment "Osen'" (Autumn), written in 1833; "Pora, moi drug, pora . . . " (It's time, my friend, it's time . . . ), written in 1834; and "Kogda za gorodom, zadumchiv, ia brozhu. . . . " (When outside the city pensive I wander. . . . ), written in 1836.
Pushkin had yet another productive fall at the Boldino estate, where he completed Mednyi vsadnik (The Bronze Horseman) in the fall of 1833. He stopped at Boldino after researching in the Urals the history of the revolt led by Emilian Pugachev in the years 1773 to 1775. His research led to the historical study Istoriia pugachevskogo bunta (History of the Pugachev Revolt, written in 1833, published in 1834). Mednyi vsadnik , not published in its entirety until 1837 after Pushkin's death, easily deserves status as a masterpiece among his narrative poems. It has had an extraordinary life in the hands of critics, generating untold numbers of studies from a variety of perspectives. The principal critical question concerns the central emphasis of the poem.
There are three major characters--the narrator, who provides a commentary and panegyrical introduction; the civil servant Evgeny; and Peter I, who first appears as an historical figure and then is represented by an equestrian statue (the Falconet statue commissioned by Catherine II) in St. Petersburg. One dimension of the poem is historical: the narrative is set in the time of the flood of November 1824, although the introduction goes back in time to picture Peter surveying the Baltic and the surrounding forests and marshes and deciding to build his city "to open a window to Europe." When the narrative begins a century later, the city is thriving.
The narrator's views figure prominently in his seeming praise of Peter and of St. Petersburg and in his sympathetic portrayal of Evgeny. Part 1 focuses on Evgeny's dreams of success, independence, and marriage to Parasha. She and her mother unfortunately live on one of the islands, whose access to the city an impending storm threatens. The storm leads to a flood that brings massive destruction. Evgeny, distraught by what is happening around him, finds shelter sitting on a marble lion near Peter's statue. He fears his beloved may have perished. In the next part of the poem--as the flood begins to subside--Evgeny travels to the island where Parasha lived, finds only destruction, and begins to lose his mind. He eventually becomes a homeless wanderer, living through the winter and into the next autumn, one day finding himself again by the lion and the statue of Peter. In a moment of clarity he accuses the statue, defies it, and the statue seems to respond angrily and turn toward him. Cowed by this display of regal anger at his insolence, Evgeny loses his spirit, runs (with the statue in pursuit), eventually dies and is found lying on the threshold of what is left of his fiancée's house.
The poem utilizes a variety of styles, depending on the section and its focus: odic in the introduction, abrupt and disjointed in describing the actions of Evgeny, and filled with rhetorical devices and imagery that enhance the emotional effect. Although the poem can be interpreted as a conflict between the rights of the individual and the claims of historical necessity, there is far too much complexity to make this abstract formulation satisfying. Scholars and critics have tried to determine where the narrator's sympathies truly lie, with Peter or Evgeny. One answer has been that the author is essentially neutral in his artistic expression, endeavoring to keep both sides in balance throughout. Although such a solution may be satisfying to some, there are many subtexts that show quite definite partisanship: the poem as a response to Adam Mickiewicz in its defense of Russian imperialism (which Pushkin would call historical destiny), the poem as an expression of sympathy for the sacrifices that went into the building of St. Petersburg, and the poem as showing sympathy for the impoverished nobility and those living in the oppressive atmosphere of the capital. In a broader sense, the poem suggests the indifference of the state and the paranoia of the citizenry, highlighting their persecution, irrational anger, defiance, and repression. Moreover, the view that sees Evgeny's feelings of being persecuted and powerless, that sees him going mad in the face of the government or emperor's demands, certainly gives basis for an identification of Pushkin with Evgeny. Indeed, Evgeny's misery, because it is so powerfully evoked, cannot help but play a central role in the poem and its interpretations. To say that Pushkin was merely being neutral does a gross disservice to the strength of conviction the poem communicates. In the end, even Peter's "victory" is ambiguous, for nature (as the elements) appears to be the all-powerful force, not Peter or his creations.
Probably Pushkin's most significant creative development in the 1830s was his turn to prose. He tended to formulate broad theories of genre before actually implementing them concretely; accordingly, he approached the problem of drama in Russian by delineating what was appropriate and what was not, using Shakespeare's dramas as his models. Similarly, he considered prose carefully, looking not only for identifying principles but also for what Russia's literature required in this genre. Thus, he showed considerable interest in Voltaire's precise style and Viazemsky's translation of Constant's Adolphe. He also evidenced a desire to keep prose clearly separated from poetry, which in his mind had quite different values. Pushkin had always been a master of the prose of epistolary writing, and in later years he showed increased interest in literary criticism. His attempts at fiction in the 1820s were marked by many false starts and incomplete projects. "Arap Petra Velikogo" (The Moor of Peter the Great), for example, which he started in 1827, remained unfinished. He really did not complete a prose work until he was in Boldino in 1830; from that time on he devoted more and more of his time to prose, completing the fictional works Povesti pokoinogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina, izdannye A. P. (Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, edited by A. P., written in 1830, published in 1831), "Pikovaia dama" (The Queen of Spades, written in 1834), and Kapitanskaia dochka (The Captain's Daughter, written in 1836). His nonfiction belletristic writings before 1830 included some journalistic criticism and the travel journal Puteshestvie v Arzrum. After 1830 his historical study Istoriia pugachevskogo bunta is noteworthy.
Povesti Belkina is a collection of five tales, told to and then recast in prose by the fictitious Ivan Petrovich Belkin. The Belkin frame represents a literary obfuscation that was enhanced by additional removes: different authors and different narrators play roles in the tales. All five stories and the introduction (which also has been viewed as a tale) were written in Boldino during the fall of 1830. The stories are "Vystrel" (The Shot), "Metel'" (The Snowstorm), "Stantsionnyi smotritel'" (The Stationmaster), "Grobovshchik" (The Undertaker), and "Baryshnia-krest'ianka" (Lady to Peasant). All are masterpieces of precision, with nothing ornamental or superfluous. Narration and explicit psychologizing, though not entirely absent, are minimal. The apparent simplicity, however, belies a depth and suggestive power--even mystery--awaiting solution by the serious reader. At a minimum they represent parodies or ironic commentaries on popular fiction of Pushkin's time.
"Vystrel" deals with problems of honor and the nature of bravery in the face of death. An officer, Silvio, patiently waits years to take his shot in a postponed duel; not until his opponent is married and has a different perspective on and new respect for the value of life does Silvio resume the duel. "Metel'" deals with a couple mistakenly married because of a storm and confused identities. A series of fortuitous events reveals that they indeed were destined for each other, and what had been a mistake ends as good fortune. "Stantsionnyi smotritel'" offers a twist on the prodigal son story by having the "prodigal" daughter actually end up with a seemingly good life while the father, who had predicted his daughter's ruin, dies unhappily, an alcoholic until the end. "Grobovshchik" treats the hero of the title to a visit (at least in his nightmare) from his former customers, who come serving Nemesis. And finally, "Baryshnia-krest'ianka" plays with identity and class issues as well as disputes between families. The poem has a happy resolution, although along the way important issues relating to death, honor, pretense, fate, justice, and pride are raised.
Some readers see the stories as relatively innocent parodies of existing prose models, twists on ordinary plots, a building and defeating of expectations. On this level the stories parody works of such writers as Nikolai Mikhailovich Karamzin and Byron. On another level the stories are far more serious, treating (at a comfortable distance) problems of honor, deception of parents, marital fidelity, revenge, and the values of life. Some critics have given the tales a prominent place in affecting the development of Russian prose while others have given them much less credit, characterizing them as skillfully told anecdotes.
"Pikovaia dama" is another matter, however, even though some critics warn of exaggerating the virtues of the work. With a plot revolving around the quest of the hero Hermann to discover the secret of winning at cards--and thus to assure his wealth, patrimony, and happiness--the tale presents a picture of obsession degenerating into madness. Along the way a wealth of suggestive details provides ample material for a variety of literary and psychological approaches. The story is paradoxically simple yet dense with tantalizing and mysterious hints. It even yields fascinating insights to those seeking codes in the text, according to Lauren Leighton. The troubled hero, in his quest for the secret, uses one woman to advance his plans and unintentionally is responsible for the death of another, the old Countess, whom he frightens to death. Once he has learned the secret from her (in a dream or in her postdeath appearance before him), he makes a mistake utilizing it, loses everything, and goes mad. With elements from fiction of the age--dreams, secrets, Napoleonic ambitions, mysterious life histories, references to fate, unresolved oedipal issues, numerological puzzles, and eventually madness for the hapless hero--the work presents an extremely engaging story with formidable material for critical analysis.
Pushkin's last major completed prose work, Kapitanskaia dochka , is a novel of notable scope and merit. The literary provenance is not E. T. A. Hoffman, who had a discernable relationship to some of Pushkin's earlier fiction, but Sir Walter Scott, whose historical novels were quite popular in the late 1820s and early 1830s. The stage was already set for novels in Russia, which had quickly warmed to prose novels of, for example, Bulgarin, whose works enjoyed an extremely good reception. In fact, Bulgarin's work represented some of the first Russian novels published abroad in English translation. Choosing the time of the Pugachev rebellion (the early 1770s) as his setting, Pushkin tells of the separation and reunion of his hero and heroine, with Catherine II and Pugachev playing cameo roles. As usual, interpretational questions concerning genre and central theme loom large. The narrative, though thoroughly enjoyable on its own, leaves much room for speculation on profound issues associated with the best prose fiction. A list of the various themes--violence, revolt, the threat of death, honor, relations with parents, the beneficence of sovereigns, and finally the sovereign's involvement in marital happiness--makes difficult maintaining that the work is simply an engaging Romantic novel. Though short for a novel, it can easily stand as one of the first and best historical novels in Russian literature, fascinatingly suggestive in its psychology and thematics.
For Pushkin to find time and the proper circumstances for writing became increasingly difficult in the mid 1830s. His personal anxieties--not just the "official" pressures of attendance at court social events but matters far more serious--made enormous demands on him. In the fall of 1834 Natalia's two sisters came to live with the Pushkins, adding another financial burden to the onerous responsibilities Pushkin had already assumed when he agreed to pay his brother's debts and manage the Boldino estate. Desperate for additional means, Pushkin sought opportunities in journalism. He had long been familiar with the journalistic scene in Russia (and to a certain degree in France and in England), having personally negotiated with editors for more than ten years and having edited Literaturnaia gazeta with his friend Del'vig in 1830. Believing he could make a financial and popular success out of his own journal, Sovremennik (The Contemporary), Pushkin sought and was granted publication permission from the government in 1835. The first issues appeared in 1836, but hardly with the success he had hoped for. In no way could he compete with leading periodicals of the day, Biblioteka dlia chteniia (edited by Senkovsky) and Severnaia pchela (The Northern Bee, edited by Bulgarin). Pushkin saw four issues to press and prepared a fifth, which was published posthumously.
Beyond his anxiety relating to finances, the most serious life complication for Pushkin in his last years was dealing with his wife's apparent flirtation with Baron Georges d'Anthès-Heeckeren, a French émigré who worked in the Russian service and who played a prominent role in court society. By 1834, when d'Anthès first met Natalia, the Pushkins had two children, Maria and Aleksandr. Natalia had a third child, Grigory, in May of 1835, and a fourth, Natalia, in May of 1836. He openly pursued Natalia after their first meeting, and apparently not sufficiently discouraged by her behavior toward him (or her almost constant state of pregnancy), rumors of an affair emerged. Indeed, in the fall of 1836 Pushkin received notice that he had been nominated as the "coadjutor of the Society of Cuckolds and Historiographer of the Order." For one so sensitive to his own and his family's honor, a challenge was required. The details make morbidly fascinating reading, for the personages involved are striking in their individuality. D'Anthès had been adopted by the Dutch Ambassador, Louis van Heeckeren (rumored to be homosexual), and it was through Heeckeren that Pushkin passed his provocations to a duel. Efforts were made, at first successfully, to postpone and even avoid the duel when d'Anthès indicated it was Natalia's sister Ekaterina he loved; in fact, in January 1837 he married her, although Pushkin refused to attend the ceremony. This event, if anything, made Natalia even more accessible to d'Anthès, and he continued the pursuit. Finally, Pushkin learned that Natalia and d'Anthès had been discovered alone together by one of his children. He promptly wrote an insulting letter to Heeckeren, blaming him for the "nomination" and accusing him of being the panderer for his bastard son. At the now inevitable duel, on 27 January 1837, Pushkin suffered mortal wounds, dying two days later on 29 January. D'Anthès was also wounded (though not seriously), and the opinion of high society tended to be sympathetic toward him. To avoid large crowds at Pushkin's funeral, the authorities limited the audience to those with tickets (largely, the d'Anthès sympathizers). The body was removed to Mikhailovskoe in a cart at midnight to avoid difficulties with crowds, and Pushkin was buried 6 Februrary 1837 next to his mother at Sviatye gory, a monastery not far from the estate.
The place of Pushkin in Russian letters is secure, although his relationship to Romanticism, whether conceived in a Russian or European sense, is problematic. By chronology, his rejection of the "archaizers" and Neoclassical writers of his age, his outspoken defense of freedom from rules (whether those of style or those of genre), and his embrace of characteristic themes and attitudes toward literature, he is clearly a Romantic. But critics always have had problems reconciling all these characteristics with the stylistic qualities of his writing--its conciseness and precision, its spareness, and its moderateness. Also difficult to resolve is Pushkin's refusal to adopt and express a universal worldview (he is usually termed a protean genius) that can be linked with Romantic philosophy, since his distaste for German metaphysics is well known. The fact remains that he was influenced by Romantic writers, particularly Byron and Goethe, and by Shakespeare, recognized by Romantics as their spiritual and artistic father. Although Pushkin, according to some of his pronouncements, conceived of Romanticism largely in formal terms--as a rejection of Classical genres--he also gave special importance to artistic sincerity (suggestive of an organic view of art) and freedom from rules--paradigmatic Romantic qualities. When his propensity for irony and many other affinities with the Romantics are added, his status as a Romantic writer cannot be challenged.
From: Gutsche, George J. "Alexander Pushkin." Russian Literature in the Age of Pushkin and Gogol: Poetry and Drama, edited by Christine Rydel, Gale, 1999. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 205.