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Alexander Pushkin

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Alexander Pushkin
Alexander Pushkin by Vasily Tropinin
Born Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin
(1799-06-06)6 June 1799
Moscow, Russian Empire
Died 10 February 1837(1837-02-10) (aged 37)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Occupation Poet, novelist, playwright
Language Russian, French
Nationality Russian
Alma mater Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum
Period Golden Age of Russian Poetry
Genres Novel, novel in verse, poem, drama, short story, fairytale
Literary movement Romanticism, pre- realism
Notable work(s) Eugene Onegin, The Captain's Daughter, Boris Godunov, Ruslan and Ludmila
Spouse(s) Natalia Pushkina (1831–1837)
Children Maria, Alexander, Grigory, Natalia
Relative(s) Sergei Lvovich Pushkin, Nadezhda Ossipovna Gannibal


Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин, tr. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin; IPA:  [ɐlʲɪˈksandr sʲɪˈrɡʲejɪvʲɪtɕ ˈpuʂkʲɪn]; 6 June [ O.S. 26 May] 1799 – 10 February [ O.S. 29 January] 1837) was a Russian author of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

Pushkin was born into the Russian nobility in Moscow. A remarkable fact about his ancestry is that one great-grandfather of his – Abram Gannibal – was brought over as a slave from Africa and had risen to become an aristocrat. Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum.

While under the strict surveillance of the Tsar's political police and unable to publish, Pushkin wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was serialized between 1825 and 1832.

Notoriously touchy about his honour, Pushkin fought a total of twenty-nine duels, and was fatally wounded in such an encounter with Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès. D'Anthès, a French officer serving with the Chevalier Guard Regiment, had been attempting to seduce the poet's wife, Natalya Pushkina. Pushkin's early death at the age of 37 is still regarded as a catastrophe for Russian literature.

Life and career

Pushkin's father, Sergei Lvovich Pushkin (1767–1848), was descended from a distinguished family of the Russian nobility that traced its ancestry back to the 12th century.

Pushkin's mother Nadezhda (Nadya) Ossipovna Gannibal (1775–1836) was descended through her paternal grandmother from German and Scandinavian nobility. She was the daughter of Ossip Abramovich Gannibal (1744–1807) and his wife, Maria Alekseyevna Pushkina (1745–1818).

Ossip Abramovich Gannibal's father, Pushkin's great-grandfather, was Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696–1781), a Black African page raised by Peter the Great. Abram wrote in a letter to Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter, that he was from the town of "Lagon". Russian biographers concluded from the beginning that Lagon was in Ethiopia, a nation with Orthodox Christian associations. Vladimir Nabokov, when researching Eugene Onegin, cast serious doubt on this Ethiopian origin theory. In 1995 Dieudonné Gnammankou outlined a strong case that "Lagon" was a town located on the southern side of Lake Chad, now in northern Cameroon. However, there is no conclusive evidence for either theory. After education in France as a military engineer, Abram Gannibal became governor of Reval and eventually Général en Chef (the third most senior army rank) in charge of the building of sea forts and canals in Russia.

Born in Moscow, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen. By the time he finished school as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo near Saint Petersburg, his talent was already widely recognized within the Russian literary scene. After school, Pushkin plunged into the vibrant and raucous intellectual youth culture of the capital, Saint Petersburg. In 1820 he published his first long poem, Ruslan and Lyudmila, amidst much controversy about its subject and style.

Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals. This angered the government, and led to his transfer from the capital (1820). He went to the Caucasus and to the Crimea, then to Kamenka and Chişinău, where he became a Freemason.

Pushkin's married lover, Anna Petrovna Kern, for whom he wrote the most famous love poem in the Russian language.

Here he joined the Filiki Eteria, a secret organization whose purpose was to overthrow Ottoman rule in Greece and establish an independent Greek state. He was inspired by the Greek Revolution and when the war against the Ottoman Turks broke out he kept a diary recording the events of the great national uprising.

He stayed in Chişinău until 1823 and wrote there two Romantic poems which brought him wide acclaim, The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. In 1823 Pushkin moved to Odessa, where he again clashed with the government, which sent him into exile on his mother's rural estate of Mikhailovskoe (near Pskov) from 1824 to 1826.

However, some of the authorities allowed him to visit Tsar Nicholas I to petition for his release, which he obtained. But some of the insurgents in the Decembrist Uprising (1825) in Saint Petersburg had kept some of his early political poems amongst their papers, and soon Pushkin found himself under the strict control of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will. He had written what became his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, while at his mother's estate but could not gain permission to publish it until five years later. The original, uncensored version of the drama was not staged until 2007.

Georges d'Anthès

In the year 1831, during the period of Pushkin's growing literary influence, he met one of Russia's other great early writers, Nikolai Gogol. After reading Gogol's 1831–1832 volume of short stories Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, Pushkin supported him critically and would feature some of Gogol's most famous short stories in the magazine The Contemporary, which he founded in 1836. Later, Pushkin and his wife Natalya Goncharova, became regulars of court society. After much hesitation, Natalya finally accepted Pushkin's proposal in April 1830, but not before she received assurances that the tsarist government had no intentions to persecute the libertarian poet. They officially became engaged on 6 May 1830, and sent out wedding invitations. Due to an outbreak of cholera and other circumstances, the wedding was delayed for a year. The ceremony took place on 18 February 1831 (Old Style) in the Great Ascension Church on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street in Moscow. When the Tsar gave Pushkin the lowest court title, the poet became enraged, feeling that the Tsar intended to humiliate him by implying that Pushkin was being admitted to court not on his own merits but solely so that his wife, who had many admirers including the Tsar himself, could properly attend court balls.

By 1837, Pushkin was falling into greater and greater debt and faced scandalous rumors that his wife had embarked on a love affair. In response, the poet challenged Natalya's alleged lover, her brother in-law Georges d'Anthès, to a duel which left both men injured. Shot through the spleen, Pushkin died two days later. His last home is now a museum.

The Tsarist administration, fearing a political demonstration at his funeral, had it moved to a smaller location and restricted attendance to close relatives and friends. The poet's body was spirited away secretly at midnight and buried on his mother's estate.

Natalya Goncharova, Pushkin's wife. Painted by Ivan Makarov (1849).

Pushkin descendants

Pushkin had four children from his marriage to Natalya: Maria (b. 1832, touted as a prototype of Anna Karenina), Alexander (b. 1833), Grigory (b. 1835), and Natalya (b. 1836) the last of whom married, morganatically, into the royal house of Nassau to Nikolaus Wilhelm of Nassau and became the Countess of Merenberg.

Of Pushkin's children only the lines of Alexander and Natalya continue. Natalya's grand-daughter, Nadejda, married into the British royal family (her husband was the uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh). Descendants of the poet now live around the globe: in Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and the United States.


Literary legacy

Critics consider many of his works masterpieces, such as the poem The Bronze Horseman and the drama The Stone Guest, a tale of the fall of Don Juan. His poetic short drama "Mozart and Salieri" was the inspiration for Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Pushkin himself preferred his verse novel Eugene Onegin, which he wrote over the course of his life and which, starting a tradition of great Russian novels, follows a few central characters but varies widely in tone and focus.

"Onegin" is a work of such complexity that, while only about a hundred pages long, translator Vladimir Nabokov needed two full volumes of material to fully render its meaning in English. Because of this difficulty in translation, Pushkin's verse remains largely unknown to English readers. Even so, Pushkin has profoundly influenced western writers like Henry James.

Musical legacy

Pushkin's works also provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila is the earliest important Pushkin-inspired opera, and a landmark in the tradition of Russian music. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name.

Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov (two versions, 1868-9 and 1871-2) ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas. Other Russian operas based on Pushkin include Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and The Stone Guest; Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Tale of Tsar Saltan, and The Golden Cockerel; Cui's Prisoner of the Caucasus, Feast in Time of Plague, and The Captain's Daughter; Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa; Rachmaninov's one-act operas Aleko (based on The Gypsies) and The Miserly Knight; Stravinsky's Mavra, and Nápravník's Dubrovsky.

This is not to mention ballets and cantatas, as well as innumerable songs set to Pushkin's verse (including even his French-language poems, in Isabelle Aboulker's song cycle "Caprice étrange"). Suppé, Leoncavallo and Malipiero, among non-Russian composers, have based operas on his works.


Although Pushkin is considered the central representative of The Age of Romanticism in Russian literature, he can't be labelled unequivocally as a Romantic: Russian critics have traditionally argued that his works represent a path from neo-Classicism through Romanticism to Realism, while an alternative assessment suggests that "he had an ability to entertain contrarities which may seem Romantic in origin, but is ultimately subversive of all fixed points of view, all single outlooks, including the Romantic" and that "he is simultaneously Romantic and not Romantic".

Influence on the Russian language

According to Vladimir Nabokov,

Pushkin's idiom combined all the contemporaneous elements of Russian with all he had learned from Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Batyushkov, Karamzin, and Krylov; these elements are: 1. The poetical and metaphysical strain that still lived in Church Slavonic forms and locutions; 2. Abundant and natural gallicisms; 3. The everyday colloquialisms of his set; and 4. Stylized popular speech. He made a salad of the famous three styles (low, medium elevation, high) dear to the pseudoclassical archaists, and added to it the ingredients of Russian romanticists with a pinch of parody.

Pushkin is usually credited with developing Russian literature. Not only is he seen as having originated the highly nuanced level of language which characterizes Russian literature after him, but he is also credited with substantially augmenting the Russian lexicon. Where he found gaps in the Russian vocabulary, he devised calques. His rich vocabulary and highly sensitive style are the foundation for modern Russian literature. His talent set up new records for development of the Russian language and culture. He became the father of Russian literature in the 19th century, marking the highest achievements of 18th century and the beginning of literary process of the 19th century. Alexander Pushkin introduced Russia to all the European literary genres as well as a great number of West European writers. He brought natural speech and foreign influences to create modern poetic Russian. Though his life was brief, he left examples of nearly every literary genre of his day: lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, the short story, the drama, the critical essay, and even the personal letter.

Pushkin's work as a journalist marked the birth of the Russian magazine culture, including him devising and contributing heavily to one of the most influential literary magazines of the 19th century, the Sovremennik (The Contemporary, or Современник). From him derive the folk tales and genre pieces of other authors: Leskov, Esenin, and Gorky. His use of Russian language formed the basis of the style of novelists Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov, and Leo Tolstoy, as well as that of subsequent lyric poets starting with Mikhail Lermontov. Pushkin was recognized by Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, his successor and pupil, the great Russian critic Vissarion Grigoryevich Belinsky, who produced the fullest and deepest critical study of Pushkin's work, which still retains much of its relevance.

Alexander Pushkin became an inseparable part of the literary world of the Russian people. He also exerted a profound influence on other aspects of Russian culture, most notably in opera. Translated into all the major languages, his works are regarded both as expressing most completely Russian national consciousness and as transcending national barriers. Pushkin's intelligence, sharpness of his opinion, his devotion to poetry, realistic thinking and incredible historical and political intuition make him one of the greatest Russian national geniuses.

The Secret Journal

In 1986, a book entitled Secret Journal 1836–1837 was published by a Minneapolis publishing house (M.I.P. Company), claiming to be the decoded content of an encrypted private journal kept by Pushkin. Promoted with few details about its contents, and touted for many years as being 'banned in Russia', it was an erotic novel narrated from Pushkin's perspective. Some mail-order publishers still carry the work under its fictional description. In 2001 it was first published in Moscow by Ladomir Publishing House which created a scandal. In 2006 a bilingual Russian-English edition was published in Russia by Retro Publishing House. Now published in 25 countries. Staged in Paris in 2006. In 2011 new editions were published in France by Belfond, in Spain by Funambulista and in the USA by M.I.P. Company.

Honours and legacy

  • In 1929, Soviet writer Leonid Grossman published a novel The d'Archiac Papers, telling the story of Pushkin's death from the perspective of a French diplomat, being a participant and a witness of the fatal duel. The book describes him as a liberal and a victim of the Tsarist regime. In Poland the book was published under the title Death of the poet.
  • In 1937, the town of Tsarskoe Selo was renamed Pushkin in his honour.
  • There are several museums in Russia dedicated to Pushkin, including two in Moscow, one in Saint Petersburg, and a large complex in Mikhaylovskoye.
  • Pushkin's death was portrayed in the 2006 biopic Pushkin: The Last Duel. The film was directed by Natalya Bondarchuk. Pushkin was portrayed onscreen by Sergei Bezrukov.
  • The Pushkin Trust was established in 1987 by the Duchess of Abercorn to commemorate the creative legacy and spirit of her ancestor Alexander Pushkin and to release the creativity and imagination of the children of Ireland by providing them with opportunities to communicate their thoughts, feelings and experiences.
  • A minor planet, 2208 Pushkin, discovered in 1977 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh is named after him. A crater on Mercury is also named in his honour.
  • MS Alexandr Pushkin second ship of the Russian Ivan Franko class (also referred to as "poet" or "writer" class).
  • Station of Tashkent metro was named in his honour.
  • A range of hills and a lake were named in his honour in Ben Nevis Township, Ontario Canada


Narrative poems

  • 1820 – Ruslan i Lyudmila (Руслан и Людмила); English translation: Ruslan and Ludmila
  • 1820–21 – Kavkazskiy plennik (Кавказский пленник); English translation: The Prisoner of the Caucasus
  • 1821 – Gavriiliada (Гавриилиада) ; English translation: The Gabrieliad
  • 1821–22 – Bratya razboyniki (Братья разбойники); English translation: The Robber Brothers
  • 1823 – Bakhchisaraysky fontan (Бахчисарайский фонтан); English translation: The Fountain of Bakhchisaray
  • 1824 – Tsygany (Цыганы); English translation: The Gypsies
  • 1825 – Graf Nulin (Граф Нулин); English translation: Count Nulin
  • 1829 – Poltava (Полтава); English translation: Poltava
  • 1830 – Domik v Kolomne (Домик в Коломне); English translation: The Little House in Kolomna
  • 1833 – Andjelo (Анджело); English translation: Angelo
  • 1833 – Medny vsadnik (Медный всадник); English translation: The Bronze Horseman

Verse novel

  • 1825–32 – Yevgeny Onegin (Евгений Онегин); English translation: Eugene Onegin


  • 1825 – Boris Godunov (Борис Годунов); English translation: Boris Godunov
  • 1830 – Malenkie tragedii (Маленькие трагедии); English translation: The Little Tragedies
    • Kamenny gost (Каменный гость); English translation: The Stone Guest
    • Motsart i Salyeri (Моцарт и Сальери); English translation: Mozart and Salieri
    • Skupoy rytsar (Скупой рыцарь); English translations: The Miserly Knight, The Covetous Knight
    • Pir vo vremya chumy (Пир во время чумы); English translation: A Feast in Time of Plague


  • 1828 – Arap Petra Velikogo (Арап Петра Великого); English translation: Peter the Great's Negro, unfinished novel
  • 1831 – Povesti pokoynogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina (Повести покойного Ивана Петровича Белкина); English translation: The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin
    • Vystrel (Выстрел); English translation: The Shot, short story
    • Metel (Метель); English translation: The Blizzard, short story
    • Grobovschik (Гробовщик); English translation: The Undertaker, short story
    • Stanzionny smotritel (Станционный смотритель); English translation: The Stationmaster, short story
    • Baryshnya-krestyanka (Барышня-крестьянка); English translation: The Squire's Daughter, short story
  • 1834 – Pikovaya dama (Пиковая дама); English translation: The Queen of Spades, short story
  • 1834 – Kirdzhali (Кирджали); English translation: Kirdzhali, short story
  • 1834 – Istoriya Pugacheva (История Пугачева); English translation: A History of Pugachev, study of the Pugachev's Rebellion
  • 1836 – Kapitanskaya dochka (Капитанская дочка); English translation: The Captain's Daughter, novel
  • 1836 – Puteshestvie v Arzrum (Путешествие в Арзрум); English translation: A Journey to Arzrum, travel sketches
  • 1836 – Roslavlev (Рославлев); English translation: Roslavlev, unfinished novel
  • 1837 – Istoriya sela Goryuhina (История села Горюхина); English translation: The Story of the Village of Goryukhino, unfinished short story
  • 1837 – Yegipetskie nochi (Египетские ночи); English translation: Egyptian Nights, unfinished short story
  • 1841 – Dubrovsky (Дубровский); English translation: Dubrovsky, unfinished novel

Fairy tales in verse

  • 1830 – Сказка о попе и о работнике его Балде; English translation: The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda
  • 1830 – Сказка о медведихе; English translation: The Tale of the Female Bear (was not finished)
  • 1831 – Сказка о царе Салтане; English translation: The Tale of Tsar Saltan
  • 1833 – Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке; English translation: The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
  • 1833 – Сказка о мертвой царевне; English translation: The Tale of the Dead Princess
  • 1834 – Сказка о золотом петушке; English translation: The Tale of the Golden Cockerel
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