Alexander Nikolayevich Ostrovsky was born April 12, 1823, in that part of Moscow in which disreputable lawyers, shopkeepers, and matchmakers plied their trade. He had ample opportunity to chronicle the customs and ethics of such figures, for his father, a government clerk at civil court, performed legal services in the area. His first plays faithfully reproduce the vices observed on “the other side of the river,” and most of his later works reflect some phase of the merchant mentality. The elder Ostrovsky eventually achieved the rank of collegiate assessor, which gave him the privileges of petty nobility. After being widowed, he married a baroness with property. These benefits procured a good education for his son. After private tutoring by seminarians, Ostrovsky entered the Moscow Gymnasium in 1835; he was graduated five years later with honors. He then ceded to his father’s wishes and enrolled at Moscow University Law School, where he soon slighted the dry legal documents for literature. Forced to repeat his entire second year, he dropped out altogether in the third year. His disappointed father, still insisting on a juridical career for his son, placed Ostrovsky as clerk first in the court of conscience and later, in 1845, in the court of commerce in Moscow. Ostrovsky used these years primarily to gather material for his plays, chronicling the petty intrigues, deceits, and questionable transactions that were brought to light in the courts. He entered the literary world by contributing occasional critical articles to the journal Moskvityanin (the Moscovite).
In 1847, Ostrovsky’s first work, a comic one-act play, “Kartina semeinogo schastya” (a picture of family happiness), was read to teachers and students of Moscow University in a professor’s apartment. The lavish praise of this private audience led to its publication a month later in the liberal newspaper Moskovsky gorodskoy listok (Moscow city notes), which presented the piece in the form of a dramatized chronicle from “across the river.” When Ostrovsky asked for permission to stage it, the censors refused, dissatisfied with the devastatingly negative portrayal of Moscow merchants. By 1849, the...
(The entire section is 898 words.)