Walking through the History of Russian Literature

Though you may not speak Russian, you are likely already familiar with either some famous Russian authors or famous Russian literature. Many people have heard of Russia’s famous poet Alexander Pushkin, while others may be familiar with folklore stories that have been translated into a number of other languages. Russia produced very little literature before the 19th century but after this period Russia entered a golden age culturally, which is clearly reflected in her art, architecture, music and literature. This was the time when Pushkin came to the fore as a great poet amongst other literary contemporaries such as the novelists Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Pushkin is credited with developing the literary form of Russian, giving it more nuances and augmenting the Russian lexicon to a large degree. Many would say that Pushkin laid the groundwork for modern Russian literature.

Prior to Pushkin’s time, there were several masterpieces which were written in the Old Russian Language. These include the Tale of Igor’s Campaign, the Praying of Daniel the Immured and the Life of Alexander Nevsky. Few people wrote and likely fewer people read, and thus literature held little value in the lives of the common people. During the Petrine era, Peter and Catherine the Great reformed the Russian alphabet as part of efforts to westernize Russia. They also allowed the creation of a popular language for general literary purposes which made writing and poetry more accessible. Not long afterwards, in the 18th century, a number of authors, poets and playwrights started to emerge. By the 19th century, literature had entered a Golden Age with flowering romantic literature and prose becoming commonplace. The literary masters who came to the fore at this time did much to further the written Russian language.

The Golden Age ended at the turn of the century and Russia came to experience a Silver Age from the beginning of the 20th century. Other literary genres came to the fore, such as short stories and lyric writing. Writers from this time include Anton Chekhov, Anna Akhamatova, Innokenty Annesky, Alexander Block and Dmitry Merezhkovsky. Unfortunately this Silver Age came to a grinding halt with the start of the Soviet Period of Russia’s history in 1917. In the beginning a number of notable writers, such as Maxim Gorky, Mikhail Sholokhov and Aleksei Tolstoi, gained prominence for their literature. However a number of other writers who did not have official support went underground, continuing to write despite the fact that their works were unlikely to be published after their deaths. Political ideology meant everything and any literature which did not support this viewpoint was banned. A number of writers continued to produce literature in exile. Socialism continued to dominate literature until the eventual decline of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet era, literary fields were extended once more, but they did not receive immediate acceptance. Fortunately they now have grown in popularity and a number of notable writers have come to the fore – some even receiving Nobel prizes for their works.


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