Ivan Alexeyevich Bunin (BEWN-yihn), the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1933), led a hard life despite his international acclaim as one of the very finest writers of the novella. Born to a noble but poor family in Voronezh, Russia, Bunin was privately tutored in his native Yelets district before continuing his studies briefly at the University of Moscow. He first attracted attention with his translations of works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Lord Byron. For this work he was awarded the Pushkin Prize, the top honor of the Russian Academy. He seemed, with these translations and his own poems, to be continuing the classical tradition of Russian literature, but during the next few years his verse took a shift toward the symbolic.
He first won popular fame in Russia with the publication of his long, pessimistic novel The Village. Six years later, his reputation became international with the publication of “The Gentleman from San Francisco.” This tale was specially cited by the Nobel Committee and was long a model for aspiring writers. Its surface, so apparently realistic and detailed, is actually a brilliant method of sustaining the symbolism of Bunin’s theme of the hollowness of vanity. His rich American, after many years devoted solely to business, retires to Capri, where he plans to lead a gala life. He immediately dies, however, and is carried back across the Atlantic, having missed out on life entirely. In...
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