Ivan Bunin Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 406 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Ivan Alexeyevich Bunin was born on October 22, 1870, in the central Russian town of Voronezh, in a cultured but impoverished family of landowning gentry. He grew up in rural Russia, and his love and understanding of it enabled him to write about the countryside with authority. He left school at the age of fifteen and never finished his formal education. He started writing and contributing to leading literary journals at an early age. His first book of poems was published in 1891 and his first collection of short stories in 1897. Bunin developed a yen for traveling and in 1900 began visiting many countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, especially those along the Mediterranean. Many stories that came out of these travels were enriched by a peculiar exotic flavor. He was recognized early as one of the leading young writers in Russia, a reputation that remained relatively constant throughout his life. In fact, Gorky considered him in 1911 to be “the best contemporary writer.”

The turning point in Bunin’s life came during the revolution. Opposed to the Bolsheviks, he took part in the campaign against them, survived eight months of their rule, and in 1920 emigrated rather than live under them. After a brief stay in several countries, he settled in Paris in 1920, continuing to fight against the Bolsheviks. He also resumed his writing and published some of his best works. In 1933, he reached the pinnacle of his literary career as he received the Nobel Prize. As time passed, however, he withdrew increasingly from public life, cutting ties with fellow émigrés and living in poverty. During World War II, yearning for his homeland, he rooted for the victory of the Soviet Union over its enemies, yet he refused to return afterward. He died in Paris on November 8, 1953, in poverty but writing to the very end.