The literature of Old Russia includes THE CAMPAIGN OF IGOR, a purely literary work using the methods of oral poetry. It is cast in the Russo-Slavonic literary language of the twelfth century. Avvakum, a schismatic of the Russian Orthodox Church, circa 1666-67, (burned at the stake in 1682), was the first person to use colloquial Russian for a literary purpose. After 1569 White Russia, Galicia, and Ukraine came under Polish rule. Original novel-writing began in the time of Peter during the first half of the eighteenth century. No novel was printed in Russia before 1750. The first original novel was published in 1763. In that era the new French-bred literature was confined to the upper classes. French classical standards were adopted. The leaders were four men, Kantemir, Trediakovsky, Lomonosov, and Sumarokov. The highest form of literary art was poetry, the epic. Odes were important, also. The greatest poet of the century was Derzhavin. His work was lyric. He conveyed light and color. The first Russian drama, Sumarokov's tragedy KHOREV, was performed in front of Empress Elizabeth in 1749. The most remarkable playwright was Fonvizin. Tragedy relied on French models and was stilted. Comedy was more inventive.
Prose writing was promoted by the Empress Catherine. Satirical journals were founded. The political shift to reaction following the French Revolution resulted in the closing of a journal publishing serious social satire on the subject of serfdom. The editor, Novikov, proceeded to start a publishing company, 1775-1789, and formed the Russian reading public. Karamzin reformed Russian literary language. It was Europeanized and became the language of Pushkin. Karamzin wrote THE HISTORY OF THE RUSSIAN STATE, 1818. The most famous of his stories of the Russian monarchs is that of Boris Godunov. The style of the history is rhetorical. At the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century fable writing became a craze. Krylov's FABLES are contained in nine volumes. Narezhny's novel, A RUSSIAN GIL BLAS, appeared in 1814. After 1820 poetry monopolized the market. Byron was an influence. The repression of the Decembrist Revolt was a blow to the intellectual elite of the gentry. After 1829 novels in the manner of Scott became popular.
In 1837 Pushkin died in a duel. In 1824 he had been expelled from the Civil Service and made to live on his mother's estate. Forced seclusion made him productive. Later he was granted a special pardon. He fell in love with Natalie Goncharova and married in 1831. The couple ended up in St. Petersburg attending court balls. The author seesaws between THE STONE GUEST and THE BRONZE HORSEMAN as being Pushkin's supreme achievement. At the time of Pushkin's death, Gogol was more esteemed. Dostoyevsky and Turgenev were among those artists laying the foundation for the Pushkin cult, (as the artist terms it). One of the chapters in the book is entitled, 'The Age of Gogol'. The recognition of Tyutchev as a great poet was belated. Lermontov's poetic fame burst on the scene with a poem on the death of Pushkin. (In 1841 he was killed in a duel.) His THE DEMON was a source of inspiration to the modern poets, Blok and Pasternak. A HERO OF OUR TIMES is of greater importance than his poetry. Turgenev began his career writing verse, 1838 to 1845. His poetry is not comparable to his stories. In drama of the thirties and forties the comedies of Gogol stood alone. The summit of his career was his novel, DEAD SOULS. Gogol's imaginative work is marellous, unexpected. His prose is intense, saturated; he has verbal expressiveness.
The realistic novel dominated Russian literature from 1845 to 1905. In 1844-45 Dostoyevsky wrote POOR FOLK. Good notices and interest in it were received from Belinsky and Nekrasov. In 1849 Dostoyevsky was taken off to Siberia. He evolved a new style by the fusion of extremes. In 1859 Goncharov published OBLOMOV. Turgenev's mother, a heiress, was a domestic tyrant. In 1845 he fell out with his mother. She disapproved of his infatuation with Pauline Viardot. A SPORTSMAN'S SKETCHES appeared in book form in 1852. After FATHERS AND SONS, 1862, he abandoned Russia. SMOKE and VIRGIN SOIL emphasized his estrangement from living Russia. Of the poets, Fet was the great love poet and Nekrasov a great satirist.
Tolstoy was always a class-conscious nobleman. After the Crimean war he mixed with the literary world. He had an insatiable quest for moral stability. The married happiness of Tolstoy, taking place during the first fifteen years of marriage, is expressed in WAR AND PEACE. Writing was a struggle to master reality. WAR AND PEACE and ANNA KARENINA have the appearance of real life. Dostoyevsky brought out CRIME AND PUNISHMENT in 1866 and THE GAMBLER in 1867. THE POSSESSED, 1873, was a success. The high water mark for Dostoyevsky was THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, 1880. Tolstoy was a puritan and Dostoyevsky a symbolist. Leontiev's work, ANALYSIS, STYLE, AND ATMOSPHERE IN THE NOVELS OF COUNT L.N. TOLSTOY is a masterpiece of Russian criticism. Chekhov's first play, IVANOV, was produced in 1887. In 1895 he wrote THE SEAGULL. That play along with UNCLE VANYA, THE THREE SISTERS, and THE CHERRY ORCHARD was successfully produced by the Art Theater in Moscow, Stanislavsky. The author finds the stories 'In the Ravine' and 'My Life' the masterpieces of Chekhov's body of work.
The book is both charming and comprehensive. I have barely touched this book's expansive and learned treatment of its subject matter.