Alexander Pushkin Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
ph_0111201573-Pushkin.jpg Alexander Pushkin Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Revered by generations of Russian writers, Pushkin’s largest legacy is in poetry, and his literary memory is compounded by the fact that his works inspired internationally celebrated operas, ballets, and films.

Early Life

Alexander Pushkin was born in Moscow to a father who was a tenant of a ministerial steward and to a mother descended from the Abyssinian black who became the adopted godson and personal secretary of Peter the Great. Sergey Lvovich, Alexander’s father, was more interested in drawing rooms and theaters than in his estate, which he left to the mismanagement of his wife, Nadezhda Osipovna Hannibal.

With curly, chestnut-colored hair, Alexander was a sallow, thick-lipped, and dreamy-eyed child. Neglected by his parents, who preferred his younger brother Leo and his elder sister Olga, he turned to his nanny, Arina Rodionovna, who regaled him with legends and songs about wizards, princesses, knights-errant, and elves. He also enjoyed the company of his maternal grandmother, Marya Hannibal, and it was at her country estate that Pushkin learned to love his native language.

As soon as he was old enough to read, he had a number of tutors, but he was a poor student. In 1811, he entered the lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo, a school instituted and sponsored by imperial decree, where he studied everything from religion and philosophy to swimming and horsemanship. At age fourteen, Pushkin published his first poem, “To a Poet-Friend,” in the well-respected European Herald. His official entry into the literary world occurred on January 8, 1815, when, as part of his qualifying examination for the upper school, he recited his own poem “Recollections of Tsarskoye Selo” before distinguished guests. His remarkable use of language, rhythm, onomatopoeia, and references to myth established him as a prodigy.

During 1817, Pushkin’s last year at school, he befriended hussars stationed at Tsarskoye Selo and joined them in bouts of drinking and gambling. After his graduation, he was appointed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but in 1818 he joined the Society of the Green Lamp, a literary club with liberal political leanings. The next year, he was suspected of collaborating with revolutionaries. Further complications arose with the publication in 1820 of his long poem Ruslan i Lyudmila (English translation, 1936). This poem created enormous controversy, winning praise for its epic quality but drawing condemnation for, among other things, its atheism. Pushkin was forced into exile on Ascension Day, May 6, 1820. He spent the next few years in the south of Russia, especially in Yekaterinenshtadt, the Caucasus, and Kishinev.

Life’s Work

Befriended by Nicholas Raevsky, the younger son of a general celebrated for his exploits in the Napoleonic Wars, Pushkin was invited to holiday with the Raevsky family in the Caucasus, which fueled his imagination for his poem Kavkazskiy plennik (1822; The Prisoner of the Caucasus, 1895). Raevsky’s elder brother Alexander was the model for the poet’s sneering Mephistophelean hero in “The Demon” of the same year.

As his literary fame increased, so did his social notoriety. He continued to be extravagant in misconduct, surviving a duel against an officer whom he had accused of cheating at baccarat and using the incident in his short story “Vystrel” (1831; “The Shot”). Pushkin finally resigned from the government in 1824, but the emperor transferred him to the Pushkin estate in the deserted province of Mikhailovka, near Pskov. There he lived in sparse, unheated quarters, without books or his customary amusements. He wrote to friends requesting copies of works by William Shakespeare, Friedrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, George Gordon, Lord Byron, Miguel de Cervantes, Dante, Petrarch, John Milton, and Tacitus.

Engrossed in his own idiosyncratic activities, he neglected the family farm. During this period, he completed Tsygany (1827; The Gypsies, 1957), a verse tale based on his experiences in Bessarabia, a story of defeated egotism. Strong on description, it had affected, bombastic dialogue. Graf Nulin (1827; Count Nulin, 1972), a thin, rather banal response to Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594), shocked readers with its sexual frankness. Pushkin wrote many lyric poems in the same year, including “André Chenier,” about the poet-martyr of the French Revolution. Its theme of heroic independence was regarded suspiciously by government censors, who deleted all references to the Revolution. Pushkin’s political consciousness was further exercised in his drama Boris Godunov (1831; English translation, 1918), a powerful story of ambition, murder, and retribution. Never produced in Pushkin’s own time, the play was savaged by critics, who thought it...

(The entire section is 2022 words.)

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born in Moscow, Russia, on June 6, 1799. His mother, Nadezhda Osipovna, née Hannibal, was a descendant of the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) godson of Peter the Great. Sergei Lvovich Pushkin, his father, was the son of an old noble family; his ancestor Afanasy Pushkin makes an appearance in Boris Godunov. Although close to his older sister, Pushkin never developed a warm relationship with his parents. French was the language of the household, and the family belonged to a society of aristocrats who lived beyond their means and engaged in an endless round of social activities, including theatricals and contact with the poets of the day. Pushkin is said to have done his first writing in French.

When Pushkin was twelve, his parents sent him to the newly opened lycée at Tsarskoe Selo. It was there that he received his six years of formal education, doing his best work in Russian and French literature. The friendships he formed at the lycée, especially with his fellow poet, Baron Anton Delvig, were the closest of his entire life. He was graduated in 1817 and entered into an undemanding position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in St. Petersburg. Pushkin immediately plunged into a life of the theater and ballet, drinking and women, spending his less frenetic hours on discussions of subversive liberal ideas with his friends. His liberal sympathies found their way into his verse, and he was sent to the Caucasus, to a...

(The entire section is 447 words.)

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born into the Russian aristocracy and lived the relatively privileged life of a member of the nobility. One element which set him apart from other aristocrats who gathered around the czar was his heritage on his mother’s side: His great grandfather was the black slave Hannibal, whom Peter the Great bought in Turkey and brought back to Russia. At an early age, Pushkin’s poetic talents were recognized, but the subject of some of his poetry was the desire for liberty, and for political reasons the czar banished him from Moscow to his mother’s estate when he was twenty years old. Although Pushkin eventually was called back to Moscow by the czar, for the remainder of his life he was subject to the czar’s direct censorship. At the height of his literary powers, Pushkin died a tragic death. He married a woman who was in favor with many members of the czar’s court because of her beauty; she was not an intellectual, however, and did not appreciate Pushkin’s writing. When Pushkin discovered that she was secretly meeting a member of the court in a liaison, he challenged the man to a duel in which Pushkin was wounded in the stomach. He died two days later.

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born into a Moscow family that boasted a six-hundred-year lineage of nobility. Each parent contributed something to his makeup. From his mother, descended from an Abyssinian princeling who had served Peter the Great, Pushkin received his fierce, dark looks and a passionate nature. From his well-educated father, who wrote poetry, Pushkin inherited a love of literature and gained early access to a family library well stocked with European classics.

In 1811, Pushkin was one of thirty boys chosen for the first class of the lycée at Tsarskoe Selo, a new school designed to train administrators for Czar Alexander’s government. Flourishing in a liberal arts curriculum, Pushkin...

(The entire section is 888 words.)

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(World Poets and Poetry)

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born in Moscow on June 6, 1799, the second of three children. His mother, Nadezhda Osipovna Hannibal, was of African descent through her grandfather, Abram Hannibal, who was immortalized by Pushkin in Peter the Great’s Negro. His father, Sergei Lvovich, and his uncle, Vasily Lvovich, were both writers. His father frequently entertained literary friends and had an excellent library of French and Russian classics, in which Pushkin by the age of twelve had read widely but indiscriminately. Pushkin’s childhood was marked by the lack of a close relationship with his parents, although he formed lasting ties with his maternal grandmother, Marya Alexeyevna, and his nurse, Arina Rodionovna, who...

(The entire section is 809 words.)

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (POOSH-kuhn) was born in Moscow, Russia, on June 6, 1799, the second of three children of Sergey Lvovich Pushkin and Nadezhda Osipovna Hannibal. Her grandfather was born in Africa and served as a page to Peter the Great. Both his father and his uncle, Vasili Pushkin, were writers, with the latter enjoying popularity among his contemporaries. Pushkin was exposed at a very early age to the literary world, in addition to having access to his father’s extensive library. Pushkin came from the old Russian aristocracy and was particularly proud of his heritage. The family had lost much of its wealth by Pushkin’s time but retained the title and continued to enjoy the lifestyle and the privileges of the...

(The entire section is 896 words.)

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexander Pushkin’s greatness lies essentially in his lyric gifts, but he has also been influential as a prose writer. Pushkin’s poetic world is striking for its multiformity. Through countless transformations of form and tone, however, his style is always marked by its compact, balanced, lyrical language, which expresses the poetic impact of love and life. His intrinsic, classical qualities and his seminal influence on future generations of Russian writers make him one of the most significant Russian writers of the nineteenth century.

(The entire section is 84 words.)

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (POOSH-kuhn), Russia’s first important poet, was descended on his father’s side from a family of impoverished nobility and on his mother’s from an Abyssinian officer in the service of Peter the Great. Pushkin was proud of both heritages, and the distinctive character of his verse, a combination of classical form and romantic feeling, may have been influenced by them.

Born in Moscow on June 6, 1799, he studied at home and at the Lyceum (1811-1817), where he absorbed Latin and eighteenth century French literature and began publishing verses: spirited anacreontics, political epigrams, and, in 1820, a long narrative poem, Ruslan and Liudmila. This work, like much of his later...

(The entire section is 687 words.)

Alexander Pushkin Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Pushkin's stature in the history of Russian literature is unparalleled; in fact, he is variously called Russia's ‘‘national poet’’...

(The entire section is 441 words.)