Creator / Alexander Pushkin

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"The unusual thing about Russia is that it reached cultural maturity in the nineteenth century. Russia didn’t have the Middle Ages of Dante and Chaucer, the Renaissance of the Italians, or the Elizabethan age of the British. They weren’t even sure what language to write in. Pushkin more or less created the Russian literary language, and Pushkin was born in 1799. They were doing for the first time what other cultures had been doing for hundreds of years."
Richard Pevear

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Серге́евич Пу́шкин; 6 June [Old Style 26 May] 1799 – 10 February [Old Style 29 January] 1837) was a famous Russian poet, playwright, and novelist. Revered and studied throughout his home country, his works are held so highly he's often noted as "the Russian Shakespeare".note 

Much like Shakespeare, he was so badass at writing he actually changed the shape of the Russian language, by basically making up words to fill lexical gaps in Russian, and writing in ways that previously hadn't been even considered in Russia. Without him, we probably wouldn't have Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, or Vladimir Nabokov.

It may be correct to call Pushkin the Russian Lord Byron, as this is the role he aspired to. However, his work is immensely more than "Byronic hero meets Slavic gentleman of leisure." Among the genres Pushkin pioneered in Russian culture are: fantasy (or, rather, romanticized Fairy Tale), historical novel, realistic drama. Several extremely indecent poems are attributed to him; an argument for authenticity is his talent for the obscene known by his classmates.

Probably most famous outside Russia for his novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin, and his play Boris Godunov.

Pushkin's personality is a subject of never-ending discussion. Over time, his public image has shifted from talented rascal to noble victim of evil machinations to perfect manifestation of Russian soul to the more "realistic" morally weak person and an extremely talented poet.

Pushkin is probably the most notable African-Russian: his great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, was an Ethiopian prince from present-day Eritrea, a former slave adopted as a godson by Peter the Great. Gannibal later became a general and married into Russian nobility, and is often credited with having given Imperial Russia its greatest general, having convinced Alexander Suvorov's father to allow him to enter the military.

Pushkin was a classmate of many notable characters of his generation, including future participants of the Decemberist rebellion of 1825. He was also a friend of several older military officers. His school nickname was "Frenchman", a reflection of his very confused cultural affiliation. As a young aristocratic man, he held a number of civil service positions and performed miserably in every one, to the point of open mockery of public good. As a poet and writer, however, he managed to carve himself a professional field that did not previously exist in Russia. Before Pushkin (and a few contemporaries), poetry was either an aristocratic hobby, or a part of formal ceremonies. His writings alone managed to move written Russian from templates of Latin and classical German with their heavy and lengthy way of expression, to lively and flexible language to rival French and Spanish. He managed to introduce the previously scorned folk motives and humor, and to show patriotism without the obligatory worship of the state and royal family.

Pushkin did not participate in major political events of his time - he was either carefully kept out of seditious talk by his friends, or was thought to be too irresponsible and fragile to be trusted with secrets. The fact that due to the perceived seditiousness of his writings he was one of the people the government watched most closely did not exactly help. In 1820 he was told to leave the capital and forced to a kind of glorified exile first in the Caucasus, then in Odessa, and finally on his family estate at Mihailovskoe near Pskov. He was only allowed to return after the Decembrist rising had been put down, one important condition being that he would submit anything he wanted to publish in future to Czar Nicholas I beforehand for personal censorship. He married a very attractive woman, participated in social life and entertainments far above his income level, and left thousands of rubles of debt after his death (later to be paid by the imperial family he despised). Seriously obsessed with duels, he met his death in one, shot by one Georges Danthes. The formal reason was husband's jealousy: Danthes was rumored to be involved with Pushkin's wife. Probably not true and not relevant, since the lady in question was suspected of having affairs before, just not with the people Pushkin could hope to harm and survive the experience. The fact that Danthes (another sensitive young aristocrat living above his means and largely useless in civil service) was Pushkin's usual target for insults and harassment probably had more to do with it.

Thousands showed up for Pushkin's funeral; doubting that Pushkin was anything but the most prominent and perfect Russian became a crime in academic circles until maybe 1980s. His image was used to rally the Russian nation multiple times, most recently in 1999 where many social and political advertisements on television included a count-down to his 200th birthday.

Pushkin's works that have their own page:


Tropes concerning his work include:

  • All Just a Dream: The Undertaker
  • Anti-Villain: Boris Godunov. He is a regicide who murdered Dmitry Ivanovich, and he attains the throne of Russia. However, he sincerely wishes to be a good ruler and is hounded by guilt.
  • Amoral Attorney: Shabashkin from Dubrovsky.
  • Beard of Evil: Chernomor, Big Bad in Ruslan and Ludmila can be the most triumphant example.
  • Big Bad: Chernomor in Ruslan and Ludmila, Troekurov in Dubrovsky.
  • Blatant Lies: At the end of Boris Godunov Mosalskiy with the soldiers enters Godunov's house. Then the sound of fighting and woman's scream are heard. Then Mosalskiy returns and proclaims to the crowd that Godunov's widow and son poisoned themselves before his visit...
  • Bowdlerise: The Bronze Horseman is perhaps the most egregious example, only being published in its intended complete form in the early 20th century. Most notably, Yevgeni's remonstrations against Peter were cut and the descriptor "idol" (in the sense of "false god") was replaced by "giant" in all 19th century editions.
  • Cargo Envy: He has a short poem dedicated to a tobacco sniffing girl. In the end, he states he wishes to be that tobacco, for her to spill a bit over herself.
  • Character Title: Boris Godunov, Dubrovsky, Count Nulin, Angelo etc.
  • Combat Breakdown: Ruslan and Rogdai's duel in Ruslan and Lyudmila.
  • Downer Ending: The Bronze Horseman. And The Little Tragedies called "tragedies" for a reason.
  • Dress Hits Floor: In Ruslan and Ludmila.
  • Driven to Madness: Protagonist in The Bronze Horseman.
  • Dude, She's Like, in a Coma!: Lampshaded and averted in Ruslan and Ludmila.
  • Duel to the Death: Dueling comes up in the story The Shot, among other works. As it turned out, Pushkin himself won 28 duels, and was killed in his 29th duel. This documentary (the title translates to A. Pushkin: The 29th Duel) explores Pushkin's fascination with duels and also analyses some of his own duels.
  • Greedy Jew: Moneylender from The Miserly Knight.
  • Groin Attack: That's how Archangel Gabriel defeats Satan in The Gabrieliad.
  • Happily Ever After: In the Ruslan and Ludmila even the Big Bad lives happily ever after.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Pushkin developed a taste for this trope in his later work, as evidenced by Belkin's Novellas, The Captain's Daughter, and the unfinished History of the Village of Goryukhino.
  • Living Statue: The Stone Guest is based on the legend of Don Juan and El Comendador. Also, The Bronze Horseman
  • Lost in Translation: Due to the complexity of Pushkin's words, translations can widely vary in quality, and a lot of his work isn't widely available to non-Russian speakers.
  • The Musical: A surprising number of Pushkin's stories, plays, and poems have operatic equivalents. These operas include (deep breath) Eugene Onegin, Boris Godunov, Ruslan and Ludmila (the first Russian opera), Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Captain's Daughter, Aleko (based on The Gypsies), Rusalka, The Miserly Knight, The Queen of Spades, The Stone Guest, Mazeppa, and Dubrovsky. That's not even mentioning the ballet versions.
  • Only Sane Man: The Priest in the Feast in Time of Plague, the Duke in The Miserly Knight.
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: averted with Chernomor. "Karla" was the standard Russian word for a fantasy dwarf before there was Tolkien. Chernomor is a wizard (a very non-standard class for a dwarf) as well as evil (a quite non-standard alignment for a dwarf).
  • Scenery Gorn: Flood-devastated Saint Petersburg in The Bronze Horseman.
  • The Scrooge: The eponymous character in The Miserly Knight.
  • Self-Deprecation: In the narrative poem Little House in Kolomna Pushkin ironically calling out himself for using an Excuse Plot.
  • Stealth Parody: Ruslan and Liudmila (of chivalric romances and narrative poems).
  • This Is a Song: Half of the narrative poem Little House in Colomna is not about the narrative, it's about the verse metre used by Pushkin in the very same poem.
  • Too Many Halves: He epigrammatically describes one of his contemporaries as "half-milord, half-merchant, half-fool, half-ignoramus, half-scoundrel, but there's a hope he'll finally be full."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Pushkin wrote a short play called Mozart and Salieri loosely based off of the life of the two composers. This was sparked off by news reports at the time that Salieri had confessed to murdering Mozart on his deathbed. This did much to promote the (false) notion that Mozart and Salieri were lifelong rivals and enemies (as repeated much later in the play and film Amadeus).
  • Villain Protagonist: Salieri in Mozart and Salieri, possibly Boris Godunov.
  • "Weird Al" Effect: Ruslan and Ludmila contain large parts that invoked referencing to and parodying Vasiliy Zhukovsky's ballad "The Twelve Sleeping Maidens" (Zhukovsky, apparently, loved the parody). One guess which is better known today.


Alternative Title(s): Aleksandr Pushkin, Pushkin

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