Russian literature

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Russian literature refers to the literature of Russia or its émigrés, and to the Russian-language literature of several independent nations once a part of what was historically Russia or the Soviet Union. Prior to the nineteenth century Russia produced very little, if any, internationally read literature, but in the nineteenth century Russian literature underwent an astounding golden age, beginning with the poet Pushkin and culminating in possibly the two greatest novelists in the history of world literature, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Russia has remained a leading nation in literature since that time, although Russian literature declined under the didactic limitations of the Soviet regime; nonetheless, dissidents like Solzhenitsyn and Boris Pasternak produced world-renowned Russian literature in the twentieth century. With the break up of the USSR different countries and cultures may lay claim to various ex-Soviet writers who wrote in Russian on the basis of birth or of ethnic or cultural associations.


[edit] Early history

Old Russian literature consists of several sparse masterpieces written in the Old Russian language (not to be confused with the contemporaneous Church Slavonic). Anonymous works of this nature include The Tale of Igor's Campaign (Слово о Полку Игореве, Slovo o Polku Igoreve) and the Praying of Daniel the Immured (Моление Даниила Заточника, or Moleniye Daniila Zatochnika). The so-called жития святых (zhitiya svyatikh, lives of the saints) formed a popular genre of the Old Russian literature. The Life of Alexander Nevsky (Житие Александра Невского, or Zhitiye Aleksandra Nevskogo) offers a well-known example. Other Russian literary monuments include Zadonschina, Physiologist, Synopsis and A Journey Beyond the Three Seas. Bylinas -- oral folk epics -- fused Christian and pagan traditions. Medieval Russian literature had an overwhelmingly religious character and used an adapted form of the Church Slavonic language with many South Slavic elements. The first work in colloquial Russian, the autobiography of archpriest Avvakum, emerged only in the mid-17th century.

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[edit] Petrine era

The "Westernization" of Russia, commonly associated with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, coincided with a reform of the Russian alphabet and increased tolerance of the idea of employing the popular language for general literary purposes. Authors like Antioch Kantemir, Vasily Trediakovsky, and Mikhail Lomonosov in the earlier 18th century paved the way for poets like Derzhavin, playwrights like Sumarokov and Fonvizin, and prose writers like Karamzin and Radishchev.

[edit] Golden Age

The 19th century is traditionally referred to as the "Golden Age" of Russian literature. Romanticism permitted a flowering of especially poetic talent: the names of Zhukovsky and Aleksandr Pushkin came to the fore, followed by Mikhail Lermontov and Fyodor Tyutchev.

Nineteenth-century developments included Ivan Krylov the fabulist; non-fiction writers such as Belinsky and Herzen; playwrights such as Griboedov and Ostrovsky; poets such as Evgeny Baratynsky, Konstantin Batyushkov, Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Fyodor Tyutchev, and Afanasij Fet; Kozma Prutkov (a collective pen name) the satirist; and a group of widely recognised novelists such as Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leskov, Ivan Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin and Goncharov.

The influence of Pushkin cannot be overstated. He is credited with both crystalizing the literary Russian language and introducing a new level of artistry to Russian literature. His most well-known work is a novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. In the field of the novel, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in particular were titanic figures, and have remained internationally renowned, to the point that many scholars have described one or the other as the greatest novelist ever.

[edit] Silver Age

Other genres came to the fore with the approach of the 20th century. Anton Chekhov excelled in writing short stories and became perhaps the leading dramatist internationally of his period, while Anna Akhmatova represented innovative lyricists.

The beginning of the 20th century ranks as the Silver Age of Russian poetry. Well-known writers of the period include: Anna Akhmatova, Innokenty Annensky, Andrei Bely, Alexander Blok, Valery Bryusov, Marina Tsvetaeva, Sergei Esenin, Nikolay Gumilyov, Daniil Kharms, Velimir Khlebnikov, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Zinaida Gippius, Fedor Sologub and Maximilian Voloshin.

[edit] Soviet era

Image:Masta n margarita.jpg
Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita has moved from underground cult classic to recognised satirical masterpiece

Sovietization of Russia affected literature after 1917. Maxim Gorky, Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, Valentin Kataev, Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoi, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Ilf and Petrov came to prominence as part of Soviet literature. Whilst Socialist realism gained official support in the Soviet Union, some of the writers -- such as Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Andrei Platonov, Osip Mandelstam, Yury Trifonov, Isaac Babel and Vasily Grossman -- secretly continued the classical tradition of Russian literature, writing "under the table", with no hope of publishing such works until after their deaths. The Serapion Brothers insisted on the right to create a literature independent of political ideology: this brought them into conflict with the government. Nor did the authorities tolerate the experimental art of the Oberiuts. Meanwhile, émigré writers such as Nobel Prize winner Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin, Alexander Kuprin, Andrey Bely, Marina Tsvetaeva and Vladimir Nabokov continued to flourish in exile.

In post-Stalin Russia, Socialist realism remained the only permitted style; writers like Nobel Prize winner Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (who built his works on the legacy of the gulag camps) or Venedikt Erofeev continued the tradition of clandestine literature. In addition, Soviet authorities put pressure on the Nobel Prize committee to deny Konstantin Poustovsky the Literature Prize in 1965. The prize was awarded instead to Mikhail Sholokhov as more loyal to the Soviet regime. Post-Communist Russia saw most of these works published and become a part of mainstream culture. However, even before the decay of the Soviet Union, tolerance to non-mainstream art had slowly started to grow, especially during the Khrushchev Thaw. Some works of Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn and Varlam Shalamov were published in the 1960s. Social criticism, as in the science fiction of the Strugatsky brothers and the literature of the Mitkis became popular. As another post-Stalin development, bard poetry developed.

In the late Soviet era émigré authors like Nobel prize winner Joseph Brodsky and short story writer Sergei Dovlatov became successful in the West, but remained known in the Soviet Union only in samizdat.

[edit] Post-Soviet era

The end of the 20th century and the early 21st century has proven a difficult period for Russian literature, with relatively few authors, such as Victor Pelevin or Vladimir Sorokin, producing distinctive fiction.

In the early 21st century the reading public in Russia has shown considerable interest in new quality literature. Many new authors have emerged, along with new publishing companies, new brands and new literature series. Traditional Russian prose remains popular, and distinctive work has come out of the Russian provinces: for example Nina Gorlanova from Perm has written stories about the everyday problems and joys of the provincial intelligentsia.

Widely popular in teen and early-twenty's audience gained a humoristic fantasy, sci-fi or mixed literature, mostly known for Andrey Belyanin's books. However the overall plot and humor are widely criticized by some, mostly calling it plain dumb.

Detective stories and thrillers have proven a very successful genre of new Russian literature: note the interesting phenomenon of the huge interest in ironic detective stories by Darya Dontsova. She has written about 50 novels, and her books have appeared published in millions of copies and even translated in Europe.

Generations of winter ( in Russian: Moskovskaya saga ), a novel by the Russian writer Vasily Aksyonov, has appeared in the USA. Many critics have praised this novel as a new Doctor Zhivago large-scale Russian novel, which tells the story of the Russian Gradov family struggling to survive in the Stalin era.

Several Russian writers have become rather popular in the West, such as Tatyana Tolstaya and (especially) Lyudmila Ulitskaya. Detective-story writer Boris Akunin, with his series about the 19th century sleuth Erast Fandorin, publishes in Europe and in the USA. Alexandra Marinina, the most popular female detective-story writer in Russia, has succeeded in publishing her books around Europe, especially in Germany. Important Russian language writers in Ukraine are Aleksandr Abramovic Bejderman and Andrey Kurkov.

[edit] Themes in Russian literature

Suffering, often as a means of redemption, is a recurrent theme in Russian literature. Dostoevsky in particular is noted for exploring suffering in works such as Notes from the Underground and Crime and Punishment. Christianity and Christian symbolism are also important themes, notably in the works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov. In the 20th century, suffering as a mechanism of evil was explored by authors such as Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago.

The 2003 Frankfurt Book Fair selected Russia as its special guest of the year.

See List of Russians and List of Russian authors for more names.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

de:Russische Literatur es:Literatura rusa eo:Ruslingva literaturo eu:Errusierazko literatura fr:Littérature russe ko:러시아 문학 he:ספרות רוסית ka:რუსული ლიტერატურა lb:Russesch Literatur nl:Russische literatuur ja:ロシア文学 pl:Literatura rosyjska pt:Lista de autores da Rússia ro:Literatură rusă ru:Русская литература fi:Venäläinen kirjallisuus sv:Rysk litteratur zh:俄国文学

Russian literature

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