Alexander Pushkin Analysis

Other Literary Forms

ph_0111201573-Pushkin.jpg Alexander Pushkin Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In addition to his masterful short dramas and more famous long play, Boris Godunov, Alexander Pushkin was the author of numerous short lyrics that have achieved critical acclaim as well as wide popularity. He was the author of a novel in verse, Evgeny Onegin (1825-1832, 1833; Eugene Onegin, 1881), and several long poems including Ruslan i Lyudmila (1820; English translation, 1936), Kavkazskiy plennik (1822; The Prisoner of the Caucasus, 1895), Gavriiliada (1822; Gabriel: A Poem, 1926), Graf Nulin (1827; Count Nulin, 1972), Poltava (1829; English translation, 1936), Domik v Kolomne (1833; The Little House at Kolomna, 1977), and Medniy vsadnik (1841; The Bronze Horseman, 1936). Pushkin also wrote a number of prose works later in life; his Povesti Belkina (1831; The Tales of Belkin, 1947) includes five beautifully wrought short stories, and his Kapitanskaya dochka (1836; The Captain’s Daughter, 1946) is a masterful treatment of the Pugachev Rebellion of the eighteenth century.


Alexander Pushkin has always been regarded as the greatest Russian poet. He began writing when still a student and matured as a poet while a young man in St. Petersburg. His verse is distinguished for its clarity and simplicity, yet Pushkin was a complex thinker whose insights into the human psyche, great ethical and moral issues, and political questions of the day were sophisticated and profound. His famous novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, is an unparalleled depiction of the society of early nineteenth century Russia, while his greatest longer poem, The Bronze Horseman, demonstrates a penetrating understanding of the relationship between the private citizen and the state.

In addition to being a poet of genius, Pushkin was a great prose writer. Written in the 1830’s, at a time when Russian literature was beginning to be dominated by prose rather than poetry, The Tales of Belkin are short story gems that demonstrate exciting twists of plot and were conceived as literary polemics as well as belles lettres. The hero of his longer story, Pikovaya dama (1834; The Queen of Spades, 1896), can be considered a precedent for the tortured protagonists of Fyodor Dostoevski.

One of Pushkin’s most significant contributions to Russian literature was that his works could be regarded as models for the writers who came after him. In addition to providing a prototype for Dostoevski’s hero-villains, Pushkin wrote in a clear, straightforward prose style that had an enormous impact on such nineteenth and twentieth century writers as Ivan Turgenev, Anton Chekhov, and Ivan Bunin. Pushkin’s worth as an exemplar is a measure of his greatness.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Generally considered the greatest poet in the Russian language, Alexander Pushkin is known not only for his lyrical and narrative poems but also for his brilliant verse novel Evgeny Onegin (1825-1832, 1833; Eugene Onegin, 1881), as well as his play Boris Godunov (1831; English translation, 1918), which was the inspiration for the opera by Modest Mussorgsky.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Often termed the father of Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin occupies a unique position in Russian literary history. During his age, the language of the Russian aristocracy was French, not Russian, and Pushkin’s literary sensibility was largely formed by French writers, particularly writers of the eighteenth century. He combined their classical approach with the Romantic elements of the English poet George Gordon, Lord Byron and native Russian materials such as folktales in a transformation that produced a number of masterpieces, primarily in poetry. Yet Pushkin’s general influence on nineteenth century Russian prose writers is immeasurable because his primary contribution was neither to character type nor to technique but to the very language of fiction itself. Precision and brevity, he believed, are the most important qualities of prose—elements which the eighteenth century French essayists also held in high regard—and his tales are characterized by a concise, plain language which set the standard for Russian prose writers who followed. Although character analysis was not Pushkin’s primary achievement, his insight into the protagonist in The Queen of Spades is considered a precursor to the development of the psychological analysis of character which was the hallmark of the great Russian novelists of the nineteenth century. Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Fyodor Dostoevski all acknowledged the influence of various aspects of his work. Russian critics have long expected Pushkin’s reputation to become more firmly established in other countries, but since Pushkin’s primary achievement is in poetry, and his particular, precise language is so difficult to translate, his reputation outside Russia has remained limited.

Other literary forms

Although Alexander Pushkin (POOSH-kuhn) wrote in almost every genre a nineteenth century author could attempt, he was primarily a poet. In a literary career spanning twenty-four years, he published a rich and varied collection of verse. He wrote two important historical poems, three major comic poems, a half dozen versenarratives, four skazki (fairy tales in verse), and numerous lyric poems.

Pushkin’scanon contains several dramatic works: Boris Godunov (pb. 1831; English translation, 1918) is a long play, written in the manner of William Shakespeare’s historical plays, about a crucial period in Russian civilization, the “Time of Troubles.” Four short plays make up Pushkin’s “Little Tragedies”: Pir vo vryemya chumy (pb. 1833; The Feast in Time of the Plague, 1925), Motsart i Salyeri (pr., pb. 1832; Mozart and Salieri, 1920), Skupoy rytsar (pr., pb. 1852; The Covetous Knight, 1925), and Kamyenny gost (pb. 1839; The Stone Guest, 1936); each of these plays concentrates on a crucial moment in an individual’s life. Though cast as drama, all five works are more lyric than theatrical; they are more intent on presenting character than on keeping the stage busy.

In addition to his long fiction, Pushkin wrote several short stories. The most famous and skillful of these works is Pikovaya dama (1834; The Queen of Spades, 1858), a...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Alexander Pushkin is Russia’s poet as Homer is Greece’s, Dante is Italy’s, and John Milton is England’s. The nation mourned when he died, and Nikolai Gogol, a writer of the next generation, called him a unique manifestation of the Russian spirit. Four decades later, Fyodor Dostoevski proclaimed Pushkin a prophetic phenomenon whose characters embodied the people Russians would become in the late 1800’s. After the 1917 Revolution, Soviet scholars produced an extraordinary amount of research and criticism on Pushkin. Modern Russian readers still turn to Pushkin’s poetry for a distillation of their hopes and fears and for its lyricism. Virtually every one of Pushkin’s works is regarded as a classic by his admirers, and, for once, the idolaters are mostly correct.

Unlike Russian writers of the previous century who imitated Western classicism and produced mostly pale reflections, Pushkin used European literary models to discover—or even to create—a literary Russia. When he began to write in the first decade of the nineteenth century, Russian literature was at a turning point. For the previous sixty years, it had imitated the forms and themes of French classicism and English sentimentalism. A new sensibility was then sweeping Europe, the Romanticism of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Lord Byron, André-Marie Chénier, and Sir Walter Scott. Pushkin responded with amazing alacrity. Reading Pushkin’s letters, one is struck by how aware he was of not only the literary currents of his own country but also those of the Continent.

Still, Pushkin brought into his country’s literature places, characters, and themes unmistakably Russian. His reading of Byron inspired...

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Other literary forms

(World Poets and Poetry)

Often considered the founder of modern Russian literature, Alexander Pushkin (POOSH-kuhn) was a prolific writer, not only of poetry but also of plays, novels, and short stories. His malenkiye tragedii, or “little tragedies”—brief, dramatic episodes in blank verse—include Skupoy rytsar (pr. 1852; The Covetous Knight, 1925), Kamyenny gost (pb. 1839; The Stone Guest, 1936), Motsart i Salyeri (pr. 1832; Mozart and Salieri, 1920), and Pir vo vryemya chumy (pb. 1833; The Feast in Time of the Plague, 1925).

Boris Godunov (pb. 1831; English translation, 1918) is Pushkin’s famous historical tragedy constructed on the...

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(World Poets and Poetry)

Alexander Pushkin was the first poet to write in a purely Russian style. Aleksandr Tvardovsky calls him “the soul of our people.” Considered as one of Russia’s greatest poets, if not the greatest, he does not hold the same place in foreign countries, because his greatest achievement is in his use of the Russian language, with a flavor impossible to capture in translation. His verses continue to be regarded as the most natural expression of Russian poetry. After a lengthy period of stiff classicism and excessive sentimentality in eighteenth century literature, as seen in Konstantine Batyushkov, Vasily Zhukovsky, and Nikolai Karamzin, Pushkin breathed freshness and spontaneity into Russian poetry. Zhukovsky, the acknowledged...

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Discussion Topics

What French poets influenced Alexander Pushkin most?

How did St. Petersburg society differ from that of Moscow?

Were the aristocratic influences on Pushkin more helpful or damaging to his literary career?

Is Eugene Onegin more of a novel or more of a poem?

In what respects is the influence of Lord Byron most emphatic in Eugene Onegin?

What has been Pushkin’s influence on later Russian writers?

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bayley, John. Pushkin: A Comparative Commentary. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971. Offers erudite commentaries on Pushkin’s works. Chapter 7 deals with his prose and its relationship to his entire canon.

Bethea, David M. Realizing Metaphors: Alexander Pushkin and the Life of the Poet. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998. Bethea illustrates the relation between the art and life of Pushkin and shows how he speaks to modern times.

Bethea, David, and Sergei Davidov. “Pushkin’s Saturnine Cupid: The Poetics of Parody of The Tales of Belkin.Publication of Modern...

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