Alexander Ostrovsky Ostrovsky, Alexander - Essay


(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Alexander Ostrovsky 1823-1886

(Full name Alexander Nikolaevich Ostrovsky; also transliterated as Ostrovski, Ostrovskii, Ostrovskij, Ostrovsky) Russian dramatist, translator, and essayist.

Considered one of the most important Russian playwrights of the nineteenth century, Ostrovsky is credited with bringing dramatic realism to the Russian stage. In his best-known plays, he meticulously portrayed the Russian society of his time, focusing in particular on the morals and manners of the newly emerging merchant class. Extremely popular during his lifetime, Ostrovsky's works remain an integral part of the Russian repertoire and are esteemed for their skillful characterization and use of dialect.

Biographical Information

Born in Moscow, Ostrovsky was the eldest of nine children of an ambitious lawyer who frequently represented members of the merchant class. Ostrovsky developed an interest in literature from reading in his father's library and frequently attended performances at the Maly Theater, where many of his own plays would later be produced. He was admitted to the University of Moscow in 1840, and although he preferred to study literature, he reluctantly complied with his father's wish that he enter law school. Unsuccessful in his law studies, Ostrovsky withdrew from the university in 1843 to work as a clerk in the Court of Conscience, which dealt with family disputes, and later in the Moscow Commercial Court, where he observed many cases arising from the unscrupulous business dealings that had become common among Russian merchants.

Major Works

In 1847 Ostrovsky completed his first drama, Semeynaya kartina (A Domestic Picture), a one-act play about a Russian family of the mercantile class. Two years later he completed Svoi ljudisočhtemsya! (It's a Family AffairWe'll Settle It Ourselves), a four-act satirical comedy that exposed the use of fraudulent bankruptcies to hide assets from creditors. Objecting to Ostrovsky's negative portrayal of the powerful commercial class, government censors prohibited production of both plays. Ostrovsky appealed the decision, but the censors' judgment was upheld by Czar Nicholas I, who ordered police surveillance of the playwright. In 1851 Ostrovsky was dismissed from his position in the civil service. For the next two years he continued to write and often gave readings of his plays in private homes. In 1853 his play Ne ν svoi sani ne sadis! (Don't Get into Another's Sleigh!), a comedy considered inoffensive by the censors, was staged in an extremely popular production at the Maly Theater. Although he continued to have frequent disagreements with censors, throughout the next three decades Ostrovsky wrote a long series of successful plays. He also organized associations for actors and dramatists and wrote several essays on the rights of dramatists and effects of censorship. He was placed in charge of the Moscow Imperial Theaters and Drama School shortly before his death in 1886. He had written nearly fifty plays and translated some twenty plays into Russian, including several works by William Shakespeare.

Critical Reception

With the exception of Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden, 1873), a fantasy based on Russian folklore, Ostrovsky's work is usually divided into two categories: social dramas and historical plays. Believed to have been influenced by Shakespeare's chronicle plays, Ostrovsky's six historical plays were written in blank verse and are noted for incorporating Russian legends and folklore, as well as for their use of dialects from the Volga region. These plays are generally considered inferior to his social and satirical dramas, which portray a world described by contemporary critic Nikolai Dobrolyubov as a "realm of darkness," an oppressive social environment dominated by samodurs, or "petty tyrants," whose demands for obedience and conformity terrorize family members and employees, stripping them of their will to think or feel for themselves. For example, in Ostrovsky's most famous drama, Groza (The Storm, staged in 1859), Marfa Kabanova's domineering abuse of her family eventually drives her daughter to suicide. Although Ostrovsky's plays frequently emphasize negative aspects of Russian life, some critics note that they also celebrate those elements of his culture that Ostrovsky admired, most notably the rugged endurance of the Russian peasantry. Others contend, however, that the "realm of darkness" dominates Ostrovsky's works.

Ostrovsky's frank depictions of the social problems resulting from the autocratic and patriarchal features of Russian culture provoked frequent censorship of his works. While he agreed with the government's position that drama should serve a moral purpose, he believed that the theater should expose rather than ignore immoral conduct in order to provoke public outrage. Some critics have suggested that early censorship of his plays affected Ostrovsky's style, noting that many of his plays were banned until he agreed to substantial alterations and that his later works usually contain at least one character evincing a readily recognizable virtue.

Ostrovsky is today considered a master of the realistic drama. He is praised in particular for his insight into the psychology of the Russian people, and many of his well-drawn characters are favorites among Russian actors and audiences. While international recognition of his talent has been limited by the difficulties of translating his heavily idiomatic dialogue, his contributions remain central to the development of modern Russian drama.

Principal Works

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

Semeynaya kartina (drama) 1849

[A Domestic Picture published in A Treasury of Classic Russian Literature, 1961]

Svoi ljudisočhtemsya! (drama) 1850

[It's a Family AffairWe 'll Settle It Ourselves published in Plays by Alexander Ostrovsky, 1917; also translated as Our Own FolksWe 'll Settle It among Ourselves]

Bednaya nevesta (drama) 1853

[The Poor Bride published in Masterpieces of the Russian Drama, 1933]

Ne ν svoi sani ne sadis! (drama) 1853

[Don't Get into Another's Sleigh!; also translated as Keep to Your Own Station]

Utro molodogo cheloveka (drama) 1853

Bednost ne porok (drama) 1854

[Poverty Is No Crime published in Plays by Alexander Ostrovsky, 1917]

Ne tak zhivi, kak khochetsya (drama) 1854

V chuzhom piru pokhmelye (drama) 1856

[Hangover from Another's Feast]

Prazdnichny sondo obeda (drama)...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

N. A. Dobrolyubov (essay date 1859)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Realm of Darkness," in Selected Philosophical Essays, translated by J. Fineberg, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1956, pp. 218-44.

[In the following excerpt from an analysis of Ostrovsky's plays first published in 1859, Dobrolyubov reviews contemporary critical responses and praises the playwright's psychological insight and realistic portrayal of nineteenth-century middle-class Russian society.]

No modern Russian writer has met with such a strange fate in his literary career as Ostrovsky.63 His first work (A Picture of Domestic Bliss) passed entirely unnoticed; the journal did not say a single word either of praise or blame of the author. Three years later Ostrovsky's second work appeared: Our Own FolksWe'll Settle It Among Ourselves; everybody greeted the author as an entirely new man in literature and immediately recognized him as a writer of extraordinary talent, as the best representative of the dramatic art in Russian literature since Gogol.64 But owing to one of those accidents which are strange to the ordinary reader and a cause of extreme annoyance to an author, and which occur so often in our poor literature, Ostrovsky's play was not produced in a single theatre and did not even get detailed and serious consideration in any journal. Our Own Folks was first published in Moskvityanin and later it was published in book form, but the literary critics totally ignored it. And so, this comedy vanished for a time, as if it had been thrown into the sea. A year later Ostrovsky wrote another comedy: The Poor Bride. The critics spoke respectfully of the author, repeatedly mentioned the fact that he had written Our Own Folks, and even observed that they were paying him this attention more for his first comedy than for his second, which they all regarded as being inferior to the first. Later every new work of Ostrovsky's that appeared caused some stir in the journalistic world, and soon two literary parties, one radically opposed to the other, were formed in connection with them. One party consisted of the young editorial board of Moskvityanin, which proclaimed that "with his four plays Ostrovsky has created a people's theatre in Russia," that he is a

Poet, herald of new truth,
Of a new world the creator,
A new word has he brought us,
Though serving ancient truth,

and that this ancient truth depicted by Ostrovsky is

Simpler, but more precious,
More beneficial for the heart

than the truth contained in Shakespeare's plays.65

The above lines were published in Moskvityanin (No. 4, 1854) with reference to the play Poverty Is No Crime, and with particular reference to one of the personages in that play, Lyubim Tortsov. Many at the time laughed at the eccentricity of these lines, but this was not an expression of poet's licence; it was a fairly correct expression of the critical opinion of the party which went into raptures over every line Ostrovsky wrote. Unfortunately, this opinion was always expressed with such an amazing arrogance, vagueness and ambiguity that the opposite party found it impossible even to enter into serious controversy over it. Those who eulogized Ostrovsky claimed that he had introduced a new word; but when asked: "What is this new word?" they refrained from answering for a long time. When they did answer eventually, they said that the new word was nothing more nor less than—what do you think?—nationality! But this "nationality" was dragged on to the stage with reference to Lyubim Tortsov and woven around him so clumsily that the critics who were unfavourable towards Ostrovsky immediately pounced upon this, and poking their tongues out at the clumsy eulogists they taunted them, saying: "So your new word applies to Tortsov, to Lyubim Tortsov, to that drunkard Tortsov! So the drunkard Tortsov is your ideal!" etc. It goes without saying that it is not quite the proper thing to poke the tongue out in a serious discussion of the works of Ostrovsky, but it must be confessed that scarcely anybody could keep a straight face on reading lines like the following about Lyubim Tortsov:

The lively images of a poet
The comedian in flesh and blood has clothed. . . .
That is why a single current
For the first time runs through all.
That is why the theatre rings from roof to floor
With one loud cry of
Heartfelt joy.
Lyubim Tortsov stands there, alive,
Proud, with head erect,
Clothed in a dilapidated cloak,
With beard dishevelled,
Unhappy, drunk, emaciated,
But with a Russian heart so pure.
Is it comedy that weeps before us,
Or tragedy laughing with him?—
We cannot tell, nor do we care!
Hasten to the theatre! crowds are pushing through the doors,
Our life is flowing in full flood:
Russian songs resound quite freely,
A man there weeps and laughs at once,
All the world's there, full of joy and life.
And we, plain and humble children of the age,
No longer fear but rejoice at man's destiny:
A warm glow fills the heart, we breathe freely,
Lyubim Tortsov to us points out the road!
(Where to?)
Great-Russian life is feasting on the stage,
Great-Russian traditions triumph
And our Great-Russian tongue
In stirring refrain and playful song.
The Great-Russian mind, the Great-Russian view,
Like Mother Volga wide and free.
Glowing, free, a joy to us, who would eschew!
A life of morbid deception. . . .

These lines were followed by a denunciation of Rachel and of those who admired her and thereby revealed the spirit of blind and slavish imitation. She may be talented, she may be a genius, exclaimed the author of the above lines, "but her art does not suit our street!'' We are not like others, he said, we need truth. And he took the occasion to revile Europe and America and to praise Rūs in the following poetical strain:

Let falsity be dear to aged Europe
Or to toothlessly youthful America,
Ailing like an aged dog. . . .
Our Rūs is strong! Much ardour and strength has she;
Rūs loves truth, and upon her
The Lord bestowed
The gift of understanding truth.
She alone today a refuge gives
To all that which ennobles man!. . . .

Needless to say, outbursts of this kind, associating Tortsov with what ennobles man, could not lead to a sound and dispassionate discussion of the subject. They only gave the critics of the opposite trend good reason for expressing noble indignation and for exclaiming in their turn about Lyubim Tortsov:

And this is what some people call a new word; this is presented as the finest flower of our literary productions of the past few years! What has Russian literature done to deserve this ignorant abuse? It is true that it has not yet uttered such a word, that it has never dreamed of such a hero, but this is because it is still imbued with the old literary traditions which do not permit such a corruption of taste. Lyubim Tortsov could appear on the stage in all his hideousness only at a time when those traditions were passing into the realm of oblivion. . . . What is surprising and incomprehensible is that the figure of a drunken Tortsov could become an ideal, that people should want to take pride in it as if it were the purest expression of nationality in poetry, that Tortsov should serve as a criterion of success in literature, and that we are all called upon to love him on the pretext that he is 'one of our own,' that he lives 'in our street'! Does this not reveal a corrupted taste and utter forgetfulness of all pure literary traditions? After all, there is such a thing as shame, there is such a thing as literary decency, which remains even after the finest traditions have sunk into oblivion. Why should we disgrace ourselves by calling Tortsov 'one of our own' and extolling him as our poetic ideal? (Otechestvenniye Zapiski, No. VI, 1854.)

We have quoted this passage from Otechestvenniye Zapiski because it shows how much harm the polemics between his detractors and his admirers have always done to Ostrovsky. Otechestvenniye Zapiski was always an enemy camp for Ostrovsky, and its attacks were mainly directed against the critics who extolled his works. The author himself has always stood aloof until quite recently, until Otechestvenniye Zapiski announced that he, and also Mr. Grigorovich66 and Madame Eugenie Tour,67had already ended their poetical careers. (See .) And yet it was Ostrovsky who had to bear the brunt of the charge of admiring Lyubim Tortsov, of being hostile to European education, of admiring the good old days before Peter the Great, etc. Upon his talent fell the shadow of some sort of Old Believer-ism, almost of obscurantism. His defenders, however, kept on talking about a new word, without, however, pronouncing that word, and proclaimed that Ostrovsky was the foremost modern Russian writer because he had a special world outlook. . . . Their explanation of this special world outlook was extremely muddled, however. Most often they made shift with phrases like the following:

Ostrovsky alone in the present literary epoch has his own firm, new, and at the same time ideal world outlook with a special shade (!) resulting from the conditions of the epoch as well as, perhaps, from the nature of the poet himself. Without the slightest hesitation we call this shade a fundamentally Russian world outlook, sound and serene, humorous without being morbid, straightforward without running to extremes, and, lastly, ideal, in the true sense of idealism, without false grandiloquence or equally false sentimentality (Moskvityanin, No. 1, 1853).

"Thus he wrote—darkly and listlessly"68—without explaining in the least the specific features of Ostrovsky's talent or his importance in modern literature. Two years later the same critic started out to write a series of articles on "Ostrovsky's Comedies and Their Importance in Literature and on the Stage" (Moskvityanin, No. 3, 1855), but he wrote only the first article and even that was more a display of pretentious claims and bold assertions than of real knowledge. Quite unceremoniously he expressed the opinion that present-day critics were simply not big enough to deal with Ostrovsky's talent, and that this explains why they found themselves in such an awkward predicament. He even claimed that Our Own Folks was not reviewed only because it already contained the new word which the critics could see, but could not get their teeth into. . . . One would have thought that the author of this article would definitely know the reason for the critics' silence about Our Own Folks without going into abstract speculations! Then, after expounding his views on Ostrovsky, the critic goes on to explain what, in his opinion, the originality of the talent that he discerned in Ostrovsky consisted in—and this is his definition. "It expressed itself—1) in the new way of life which the author describes and which nobody had dealt with before him, if we leave out of account several essays by Veltman69and Lugansky70 (fine predecessors of Ostrovsky, forsooth!!); 2) in the author's new attitude towards the life and the personages he depicts; 3) in his new manner of depicting life; 4) in the novelty of his languageits colourfulness (!), specificalness (?)." And that is all. The critic does not explain these propositions. Later on in the article he hurls a few more contemptuous remarks at the critics; he says that "this life (which Ostrovsky depicts) tastes bad to them, so does his language, and his typestastes bad to them because of their own condition"—and then, without explaining or proving anything, the critic calmly goes on to discuss the Annals, Domostroi and Pososhkov71 in order to present "a review of the attitude of our literature towards nationality." And with this the critic who took up the cudgels on Ostrovsky's behalf against the opposite party ends. Soon after sympathetic praise of Ostrovsky reached the limit where it took the shape of a weighty cobblestone thrown at one's head by an obliging friend: the first volume of Russkaya Beseda contained an article by Mr. Terti Philippov72 on the comedy You Can't Live As You Like. Sometime ago the Sovremennik exposed the scandalously savage nature of this article, the author of which advocated that a wife should readily submit to being beaten by her drunken husband, and praised Ostrovsky for, as the author alleged, sharing this opinion and for expressing it so vividly. . . . Among the public this article roused universal indignation. In all probability Ostrovsky (who on this occasion again suffered as a consequence of the attentions of his unrecognized critics) was himself displeased with this article; at all events, since then he has given no grounds for having such things thrown at him again.

Thus, the enthusiastic admirers of Ostrovsky have not done much to explain his significance and specific features of his talent to the public; they have only prevented many from taking a plain straight look at him. Incidentally, enthusiastic admirers are rarely of real use in explaining the real significance of a writer to the public; in this respect, the detractors are far more reliable: in looking for defects (even where none exist) they, after all, present their own demands and enable one to judge to what extent the writer has or has not satisfied them. As regards Ostrovsky, however, his detractors have proved to be no better than his admirers. If we were to sum up all the reproaches that have been hurled at Ostrovsky from all sides for ten whole years, and which are being hurled at him today, we would positively have to abandon all hope of understanding what his critics wanted of him and what they thought of him. Each one put forward his own demands, and in doing so he reviled others who put forward opposite demands; and each invariably used the merits of one of Ostrovsky's works as a stick with which to beat another of his works. Some rebuked Ostrovsky for having deviated from his original trend and, instead of giving a vivid picture of the vulgar life of the merchant class, beginning to idealize it. Others, on the contrary, praised him for this idealization, but made the reservation that they regarded Our Own Folks as being not sufficiently thought out, one-sided, and even false.73 When the subsequent works of Ostrovsky appeared, complaints about the author's alleged sentimental embellishment of the banal and colourless reality from which he had taken the subjects for his comedies were accompanied, on the one hand, by praise for this very embellishment74 and on the other hand, by criticism to the effect that he depicted this sordid life with daguerreotype faithfulness.75 This contradiction in the fundamental views on Ostrovsky's literary activity would have been sufficient in itself to mislead simple-hearted people who might have taken it into their heads to trust the critics in their judgement of Ostrovsky. But the contradiction was not confined to this; it also extended to the numerous particular comments on the various merits and demerits of Ostrovsky's comedies. The diversity of his talent and the wide range of problems dealt with in his works constantly provided pretexts for the most contradicting reproaches. Thus, as regards his A Lucrative Post, for example, he was criticized for not making the bribe-takers he described sufficiently loathsome,76 and as regards his The Ward, he was criticized for making the personages depicted in that book too loathsome.77 In the case of The Poor Bride, Don't Get Into Another's Sleigh, Poverty Is No Crime and You Can't Live As You Like, Ostrovsky was obliged to listen to criticism from all sides to the effect that he had sacrificed the dramatic finish of these plays to his fundamental purpose,78 and in connection with the same works the author heard advice to the effect that he should not content himself with slavishly copying nature, but strive to widen his mental horizon.79 Not only that, he was even criticized for devoting himself exclusively to the true portrayal of reality (i.e., execution) without troubling about the idea that runs through his works. In other words, he was criticized for the absence, or insignificance, of the purposes which other critics regarded as being too broad, as far exceeding the means for achieving them.80

In short, it is difficult to conceive of any middle stand that one can take in order to, at least to some extent, harmonize the demands that have been presented to Ostrovsky for ten years by different (and sometimes by the very same) critics. On the one hand he was criticized for painting Russian life in too gloomy colours, and on the other for embellishing it, piling on the powder and rouge. On the one hand he was criticized for being too didactical, and on the other for the absence of any moral principles in his productions.... On the one hand he was criticized for too slavishly copying reality, and on the other for misrepresenting it. On the one hand he was criticized for displaying too much concern for outward finish, and on the other for being careless about this finish. On the one hand he was criticized because the action in his plays is too slow, and on the other because the changes are too fast and because the preceding actions do not prepare the reader for these changes. On the one hand his characters are too ordinary, and on the other they are too exceptional. . . . And often all this was said about the same productions by critics who evidently must have agreed on fundamental views. If the public were obliged to judge Ostrovsky only on the basis of what the critics have been writing about him for ten years, it would have been totally at a loss to know what, finally, it should think about this author. At one moment, according to these critics, he is a flag-wagging patriot, an obscurantist; at another moment he is the direct successor to Gogol in his best period. At one moment he is a Slavophil, at another a Westerner; at one moment he is the creator of the people's theatre, at another a shopkeeper Kotsebu, at another an author with a new and original world outlook, at another a man who fails to understand the reality which he copies. Far from giving a complete characterization of Ostrovsky, nobody, so far, has even indicated the features that constitute the main idea of his productions.

What is the cause of this strange circumstance? "There must have been some reason!" Perhaps Ostrovsky has, indeed, changed his direction so often that his character has been unable to take definite shape to this day? Or perhaps, on the contrary, he, from the very beginning, as the critics in Moskvityanin assert, reached a height which is beyond the understanding of contemporary critics? In our opinion, it is neither the one nor the other. The reason for the confusion of opinion about Ostrovsky that prevails up to now is that a determined effort has been made to present him as the representative of a certain set of convictions, and he has been either punished for disloyalty to these convictions or praised for remaining faithful to them. Everyone has admitted that Ostrovsky possesses remarkable talent and, as a consequence, all the critics wanted to see in him a champion and vehicle of the convictions which they themselves held. People with a touch of the Slavophil about them were extremely pleased with the excellent way in which he depicted Russian life, and to spite the corrupting West, they unceremoniously proclaimed Ostrovsky an admirer of the "good old days of Russia. " As a man who really knows and loves the Russian national traditions Ostrovsky has, indeed, given the Slavophils considerable ground for regarding him as "one of their own," and they took immoderate advantage of this. This, in turn, gave the opposite party good ground for regarding him as an enemy of European education and as a writer who belonged to the retrogressive trend. Actually, however, Ostrovsky has never been either one or the other, at all events, in his writings. Perhaps he has been influenced by his circle to recognize certain abstract theories; but this influence could not destroy his true sense of the realities of life, could not entirely close for him the road to which his talent pointed. That is why Ostrovsky's productions have constantly slipped away from the two totally different yardsticks with which attempts were made to measure them from two opposite ends. The Slavophils soon discerned in Ostrovsky features which did not in the least serve the purpose of preaching humility, patience, devotion to the customs of our ancestors and hatred for the West; and so they deemed it necessary to rebuke him either for failing to express his views fully, or for yielding to the negative view. The most absurd of the critics in the Slavophil party has very categorically stated that everything would have been all right with Ostrovsky were it not for the fact that "sometimes he lacks determination and boldness in executing his plan: he seems to be hindered by the false shame and the timid habits which he has imbibed from the natural trend. This explains why he, not infrequently, starts on something lofty and broad, but is frightened away from his plan by the vision of the natural yardstick that rises before his eyes. He ought to give free reign to his happy fancy but he, as it were, is frightened by the height to which he must climb, and the image comes out unfinished" (Russkaya Beseda). On the other hand, people who went into raptures over Our Own Folks soon observed that in comparing the ancient principles of Russian life with the new elements of Europeanism discerned in the life of the merchant class, Ostrovsky always inclines towards the former. This displeased them, and the most absurd of the critics in the so-called Western party also expressed his opinion in the following very categorical terms:

The didactic trend which determines the character of these productions prevents us from conceding that they reveal true poetic talent. This trend is based on those principles which our Slavophils call national. It is to them that Mr. Ostrovsky, in his comedies and drama, has subordinated the thoughts, the sentiments and the free will of man (Atenei, 1859).

These two opposite statements may provide us with the key to the problem as to why the critics have been unable up till now to regard Ostrovsky simply and straightforwardly as a writer who depicts the life of a certain section of Russian society, but always regard him as a preacher of a morality that conforms with the conceptions of this or that party. The critics should have abandoned this ready-made yardstick and have taken up Ostrovsky's productions simply in order to study them with the determination to take from them what the author himself gave. But had they done that, they would have had to abandon their desire to enlist him in their own ranks, they would have had to push their prejudices against the opposite party into the background, they would have had to ignore the smug and rather insolent sallies of the opposite side .. . but this would have been extremely difficult for either party. And so Ostrovsky, falling a victim to the polemics between them, struck several wrong chords to please both sides, and thereby confused them all the more.

Happily, the public paid little attention to the squabbles among the critics and read Ostrovsky's comedies, went to the theatre to see those that were permitted to be staged, read the plays again, and thus became fairly well acquainted with the productions of their favourite comedy writer. . . .

Thus, assuming that our readers are familiar with the contents and the development of Ostrovsky's plays, we shall merely try to recall the features that are common to all his productions, or to most of them, to reduce these...

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George Z. Patrick (essay date 1943)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A. N. Ostrovski: Slavophile or Westerner," in Slavic Studies, edited by Alexander Kaun and Ernest J. Simmons, Cornell University Press, 1943, pp. 117-31.

[In the following essay, Patrick analyzes the long-standing debate over whether Ostrovsky's writings reveal him to be a "Slavophile," rejecting Western values in favor of traditional Russian culture, or a "Westerner," recognizing "a spiritual kinship and solidarity between Russia and Europe. "]

In the history of Russian literature Alexander Nikolaevich Ostrovski (1823-1886) is known chiefly as the faithful recorder of the life and manners of the merchant class which he had observed and studied from his...

(The entire section is 5429 words.)

Albert Kaspin (essay date 1964)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Character and Conflict in Ostrovskij's Talents and Admirers," in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 1, 1964, pp. 26-36.

[In this essay, Kaspin argues that Ostrovsky's plays typically involve characters whose complex natures are the source of the dramatic conflict.]

A little over seventy-five years ago, in 1886, the critic and sociologist N. K. Mixajlovskij wrote in his obituary of A. N. Ostrovskij that it was difficult to assess the dramatist's literary activity, not because it created misunderstandings and was in need of untangling and clarification, but precisely because it was as obvious as the palm of one's hand.1 In fact,...

(The entire section is 5085 words.)

Janko Lavrin (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Ostrovsky," in A Panorama of Russian Literature, Barnes & Noble Books, 1973, pp. 147-53.

[In the excerpt that follows, Lavrin presents an overview of Ostrovsky's plays, focusing on the playwright's depiction of the Russian merchant class and his interest in moral and social values.]

While Russian realism was scoring its triumphs in prose, there was at least one dramatist whose work had affected the Russian theatre or theatres for generations, although his plays are still comparatively little known outside Russia. His name is Alexander Ostrovsky. Paradoxically enough, it was his very originality, his 'Russianness', that was the chief obstacle to an...

(The entire section is 3310 words.)

R. A. Peace (essay date 1989)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "A. N. Ostrovsky's The Thunderstorm: The Dramatization of Conceptual Ambivalence," in The Modern Language Review, Vol. 84, No. 1, January, 1989, pp. 99-110.

[In this essay, Peace closely examines the language of The Thunderstorm and concludes that the ambivalence of certain words mirrors the ambiguities of the society depicted in the play.]

Aleksandr Ostrovsky's play Groza (The Thunderstorm, 1859) is a classic of the Russian theatre. In its open-air settings, its exploitation of mood at the expense of plot, its use of guitar and song, of quotation and poetic symbol, as well as in the dramatic use of the pause1 it seems an...

(The entire section is 7871 words.)

Further Reading

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)


Cooper, Joshua. Introduction to The Government Inspector and other Russian Plays, translated by Joshua Cooper, pp. 9-33. London: Penguin Books, 1972.

Includes a short history of Russian theater and an overview of Ostrovsky's works. Book contains a translation of Ostrovsky's Groza (The Thunderstorm).

Kaspin, Albert. "A Re-examination of Ostrovsky's Character Lyubim Tortsov." In Studies in Russian and Polish Literature in Honor of Wacław Lednicki, edited by Zbigniew Folejewski, Michael Karpovich, Francis J. Whitfield, and Albert Kaspin, pp. 185-91. The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1962.


(The entire section is 280 words.)