Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia or its emigrés, and to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part of what was historically Russia or the Soviet Union. With the break up of the USSR different countries and cultures may lay claim to various ex-Soviet writers who wrote in Russian on the basis of birth or of ethnic or cultural associations.
Old Russian literature consists of several sparse masterpieces written in the Old Russian language (not to be confused with the contemporaneous Church Slavonic). Anonymous works of this nature include The Tale of Igor's Campaign (Слово о Полку Игореве, Slovo o Polku Igoreve) and the Praying of Daniel the Immured (Моление Даниила Заточника, or Moleniye Daniila Zatochnika). The so-called жития святых (zhitiya svyatikh, lives of the saints) formed a popular genre of the Old Russian literature. The Life of Alexander Nevsky (Житие Александра Невского, or Zhitiye Aleksandra Nevskogo) offers a well-known example. Other Russian literary monuments include Zadonschina, Physiologist , Synopsis and A Journey Beyond the Three Seas. Bylinas -- oral folk epics -- fused Christian and pagan traditions. Medieval Russian literature had an overwhelmingly religious character and used an adapted form of the Church Slavonic language with many South Slavic elements. The first work in colloquial Russian, the autobiography of archpriest Avvakum, emerged only in the mid-17th century.
The "Westernization" of Russia (commonly associated with the names of Tsar Peter the Great and Tsarina Catherine the Great) coincided with a reform of the Russian alphabet and increased tolerance of the idea of employing the popular language for general literary purposes. Authors like Dmitri Kantemir, Vasily Trediakovsky, and Mikhail Lomonosov in the earlier 18th century paved the way for poets like Derzhavin, playwrights like Sumarokov and Fonvizin , and prose writers like Karamzin and Radishchev.
Romanticism permitted a flowering of especially poetic talent: the names of Zhukovsky and Pushkin came to the fore, followed by Mikhail Lermontov.
Nineteenth-century developments included Ivan Krylov the fabulist; non-fiction writers such as Belinsky and Herzen; playwrights such as Griboedov and Ostrovsky; poets such as Evgeny Baratynsky, Konstantin Batyushkov , Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Fyodor Tyutchev, and Afanasij Fet; Kozma Prutkov (a collective pen name) the satirist; and a group of widely-recognised novelists such as Nikolai Gogol, Lev Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leskov, Ivan Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin and Goncharov.
Other genres came to the fore with the approach of the 20th century. Anton Chekhov excelled in writing short stories and drama, and Anna Akhmatova represented innovative lyricists.
The beginning of the 20th century ranks as the Silver Age of Russian poetry . Well-known writers of the period include: Anna Akhmatova, Innokenty Annensky , Andrei Bely, Alexander Blok, Valery Bryusov, Marina Tsvetaeva, Sergei Esenin, Nikolay Gumilyov , Daniil Kharms, Velimir Khlebnikov, Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Boris Pasternak, Fedor Sologub and Maximilian Voloshin.
Sovietization of Russia affected literature after 1917. Maxim Gorky, Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, Valentin Kataev , Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Ilf and Petrov came to prominence as part of Soviet literature . Whilst Socialist realism gained official support in the Soviet Union, some of the writers -- such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Andrei Platonov, Osip Mandelstam, Isaac Babel and Vasily Grossman -- secretly continued the classical tradition of Russian literature, writing "under the table", with no hope of publishing such works until after their deaths. The Serapion Brothers insisted on the right to create a literature independent of political ideology: this brought them into conflict with the government. Nor did the authorities tolerate the experimental art of the Oberiuts. Meanwhile, émigré writers such as Nobel Prize winner Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin, Alexandr Kuprin , Andrey Bely, Marina Tsvetaeva and Vladimir Nabokov continued to flourish in exile.
In post-Stalin Russia Socialist realism remained the only permitted style; writers like Nobel Prize winners slowly started to grow, especially during the Khrushchev Thaw. Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov published some material in the 1960s. Social criticism, as in the science fiction of the Strugatsky brothers and the literature of the Mitkis became popular (see also Nobel Prize Winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was exiled). As another post-Stalin development, bard poetry developed.
In the late Soviet era émigré authors like Nobel prize winner Joseph Brodsky and short story writer Sergei Dovlatov became successful in the West, but remained known in the Soviet Union only in samizdat.
The end of the 20th century and the early 21st century has proven a difficult period for Russian literature, with relatively few writers raising above the mass of pulp fiction, such as Victor Pelevin or Vladimir Sorokin. Of course, only history will reveal the final worth of this period .
In the early 21st century the reading public in Russia has shown considerable interest in new quality literature. Many new authors have emerged, along with new publishing companies, new brands and new literature series. Traditional Russian prose remains popular, and distinctive work has come out of the Russian provinces: for example Nina Gorlanova from Perm has written stories about the everyday problems and joys of the provincial intelligentsia.
Detective stories and thrillers have proven a very successful genre of new Russian literature: note the interesting phenomenon of the huge interest in ironical detective stories by Darya Dontsova . She has written about 50 novels, and her books have appeared published in millions of copies and even translated in Europe.
Generations of winter ( in Russian: ”Moskovskaya saga” ), a novel by the Russian writer Vasily Aksyonov, has appeared in the USA. Many critics have praised this novel as a new Doctor Zhivago large-scale Russian novel, which tells the story of the Russian Gradov family struggling to survive in the Stalin era.
Several Russian writers have become rather popular in the West, such as Tatyana Tolstaya and (especially) Lyudmila Ulitskaya. Detective-story writer Boris Akunin, with his series about the 19th century sleuth Erast Fandorin, publishes in Europe and in the USA. Alexandra Marinina, the most popular female detective-story writer in Russia, has succeeded in publishing her books around Europe, especially in Germany.
The 2003 Frankfurt Book Fair selected Russia as its special guest of the year.
See List of Russians and List of Russian authors for more names.
Last updated: 08-18-2005 05:07:36
Last updated: 08-26-2005 09:17:57