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Most easily described as the Russian Shakespeare - his body of work is as revered and studied in Russia as Shakespeare's is in the English-speaking world.[1]

Pushkin's full name was Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (in Cyrillic, Алекcа́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин). Born 1799, died 1837, continuing the long held tradition of literary geniuses everywhere of dying before their fortieth birthday.

Much like Shakespeare, he was so badass at writing he actually changed the shape of the Russian language, by basically making up words to fill lexical gaps in Russian, and writing in ways that previously hadn't been even considered in Russia. Without him, we probably wouldn't have Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, or Vladimir Nabokov.

It may be correct to call Pushkin the Russian Lord Byron, as this is the role he aspired to. However, his work is immensely more than "Byronic hero meets Slavic gentleman of leisure." Among the genres Pushkin pioneered in Russian culture are: fantasy (or, rather, romanticized Fairy Tale), historical novel, realistic drama. Several extremely indecent poems are attributed to him; an argument for authenticity is his talent for the obscene known by his classmates.

Probably most famous outside Russia for his novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin, and his play Boris Godunov.

Pushkin's personality is a subject of never-ending discussion. Over time, his public image has shifted from talented rascal to noble victim of evil machinations to perfect manifestation of Russian soul to the more "realistic" morally weak person and an extremely talented poet.

Pushkin is probably the most notable African-Russian: his grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, was an Ethiopian prince from present-day Eritrea, a former slave adopted as a godson by Peter the Great. Gannibal later became a general and married into Russian nobility, and is often credited with having given Imperial Russia its greatest general, having convinced Alexander Suvorov's father to allow him to enter the military.

Pushkin was a classmate of many notable characters of his generation, including future participants of the Decemberist rebellion of 1825. He was also a friend of several older military officers. His school nickname was "Frenchman", a reflection of his very confused cultural affiliation. As a young aristocratic man, he held a number of civil service positions and performed miserably in every one, to the point of open mockery of public good. As a poet and writer, however, he managed to carve himself a professional field that did not previously exist in Russia. Before Pushkin (and a few contemporaries), poetry was either an aristocratic hobby, or a part of formal ceremonies. His writings alone managed to move written Russian from templates of Latin and classical German with their heavy and lengthy way of expression, to lively and flexible language to rival French and Spanish. He managed to introduce the previously scorned folk motives and humor, and to show patriotism without the obligatory worship of the state and royal family.

Pushkin did not participate in major political events of his time - he was either carefully kept out of seditious talk by his friends, or was thought to be too irresponsible and fragile to be trusted with secrets. The fact that due to the perceived seditiousness of his writings he was one of the people the government watched most closely did not exactly help. In 1820 he was told to leave the capital and forced to a kind of glorified exile first in the Caucasus, then in Odessa, and finally on his family estate at Mihailovskoe near Pskov. He was only allowed to return after the Decembrist rising had been put down, one important condition being that he would submit anything he wanted to publish in future to Czar Nicholas I beforehand for personal censorship. He married a very attractive woman, participated in social life and entertainments far above his income level, and left thousands of rubles of debt after his death (later to be paid by the imperial family he despised). Seriously obsessed with duels, he met his death in one, shot by one Georges Danthes. The formal reason was husband's jealousy: Danthes was rumored to be involved with Pushkin's wife. Probably not true and not relevant, since the lady in question was suspected of having affairs before, just not with the people Pushkin could hope to harm and survive the experience. The fact that Danthes (another sensitive young aristocrat living above his means and largely useless in civil service) was Pushkin's usual target for insults and harassment probably had more to do with it.

Thousands showed up for Pushkin's funeral; doubting that Pushkin was anything but the most prominent and perfect Russian became a crime in academic circles until maybe 1980s. His image was used to rally the Russian nation multiple times, most recently in 1999 where many social and political advertisements on television included a count-down to his 200th birthday.


Tropes concerning the man and the work include:

  • All Just a Dream: The Undertaker
  • Anti-Villain: Boris Godunov. He is a regicide who murdered Dmitry Ivanovich, and he attains the throne of Russia. However, he sincerely wishes to be a good ruler and is hounded by guilt.
  • Beard of Evil: Chernomor, Big Bad in Ruslan and Ludmila can be the Most Triumphant Example.
  • Bowdlerise: The Bronze Horseman is perhaps the most egregious example, only being published in its intended complete form in the early 20th century. Most notably, Yevgeni's remonstrations against Peter were cut and the descriptor "idol" (in the sense of "false god") was replaced by "giant" in all 19th century editions.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Narrator in Eugene Onegin does this constantly.
  • Byronic Hero: Like many Romantic poets of his time, Pushkin was deeply influenced by Byron in his earlier works, and many of his lyrical and narrative poems contain Byronic imagery. Later, he playfully lampshaded, parodied and deconstructed the concept in Eugene Onegin, and never looked back.
  • Character Title: Boris Godunov, Eugene Onegin, Dubrovsky, Count Nulin, Angelo etc.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The narrator in Eugene Onegin.
  • Downer Ending: The Bronze Horseman. And The Little Tragedies called "tragedies" for a reason.
  • Dress Hits Floor: In Ruslan and Ludmila.
  • Driven to Madness: Protagonists in The Queen of Spades and The Bronze Horseman.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma: Lampshaded and averted in Ruslan and Ludmila.
  • Duel to the Death: Dueling comes up in the story The Shot as well as Eugene Onegin, among other works. As it turned out, Pushkin himself was killed in a duel. This documentary (the title translates to A. Pushkin: The 29th Duel) explores Pushkin's fascination with duels and also analyses some of his own duels.
  • German Russians: Hermann in The Queen of Spades; potentially Lensky in Eugene Onegin, who is described as a "half-Russian" who spent some years studying in Germany.
  • Greedy Jew: Moneylender from The Miserly Knight.
  • Happily Ever After: In the Ruslan and Ludmila even the Big Bad lives happily ever after.
  • Karmic Twist Ending: The ending of The Queen of Spades.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Pushkin developed a taste for this trope in his later work, as evidenced by Belkin's Novellas, The Captain's Daughter, and the unfinished History of the Village of Goryukhino.
  • Living Statue: The Stone Guest is based on the legend of Don Juan and El Comendador. Also, The Bronze Horseman
  • Lost in Translation: Due to the complexity of Pushkin's words, translations can widely vary in quality, and a lot of his work isn't widely available to non-Russian speakers.
  • The Musical: A surprising number of Pushkin's stories, plays, and poems have operatic equivalents. These operas include (deep breath) Eugene Onegin, 'Boris Gudunov', 'Russlan and Lyudmilla' (the first Russian opera), Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Captain's Daughter, Aleko (based on The Gypsies), Rusalka, The Miserly Knight, The Queen of Spades, The Stone Guest, Mazeppa, and Dubrovsky. That's not even mentioning the ballet versions.
  • Only Sane Man: The Priest in the Feast in Time of Plague, the Duke in The Miserly Knight.
  • Rebel Leader: Pugachev in The Captain's Daughter
  • Refuge in Audacity: The Gabrieliad is a sexually explicit (but not really pornographic), blasphemous, light-hearted, and funny work about Virgin Mary, Archangel Gabriel, Satan, and God, all written in a fine high-spirited style.
  • Scenery Gorn: Flood-devastated Saint Petersburg in The Bronze Horseman.
  • The Scrooge: The eponymous character in The Miserly Knight.
  • Shown Their Work: Depiction of the Pugachev's rebellion in The Captain's Daughter is very historically accurate.
  • Spell My Name with a Blank: Old countess *** in The Queen of Spades.
  • Stealth Parody: Ruslan and Liudmila (of chivalric romances and narrative poems). Eugene Onegin (of the Byronic Hero).
  • Stylistic Suck: Lenskiy's poem in Eugene Onegin is a Cliché Storm.
  • Too Many Halves: He epigrammatically describes one of his contemporaries as "half-milord, half-merchant, half-fool, half-ignoramus, half-scoundrel, but there's a hope he'll finally be full."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Pushkin wrote a short play called Mozart and Salieri loosely based off of the life of the two composers. This was sparked off by news reports at the time that Salieri had confessed to murdering Mozart on his deathbed. This did much to promote the (false) notion that Mozart and Salieri were lifelong rivals and enemies (as repeated much later in the play and film Amadeus).
  • Villain Protagonist: Salieri in Mozart and Salieri, Hermann in The Queen of Spades, possibly Boris Godunov.
  • Weird Al Effect: Ruslan and Ludmila contain large parts referencing to and parodying Vasiliy Zhukovsky's ballad "The Twelve Sleeping Maidens" (Zhukovsky, apparently, loved the parody). One guess which is better known today.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Tatiana initially sees life as a romantic novel and Onegin as Byronic Hero.

Notes

  1. Within Russian literature, his position is perhaps that of Shakespeare plus Chaucer - poets who wrote before him are basically not important enough to matter.
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