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Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837)

Generally recognized as Russia's greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin was born into an aristocratic family with a long and distinguished lineage. He attended an exclusive school for the nobility in Tsarskoe Selo, outside the capital city, St. Petersburg. While still a student at the Lyceum, Pushkin wrote poetry that drew the acclaim of his teachers and peers. Around 1819-20, he fell under the spell of Byron's work, and he wrote a series of narrative poems that reflect this influence&endash;exotic Southern settings, tragic romantic encounters, etc. Some of his poetry seemed too liberal for Tsar Alexander I, and Pushkin was banished from the capital, first to the south of Russia, and later to Mikhailovskoe, an estate belonging to his mother. His years in Mikhailovskoe saw the maturation of Pushkin's talent, and he moved away from the sensuous, mellifluous poetry of his Southern poems toward a more austere and incisive form. Among the well-known poems he wrote in the mid to late 1820s were "The Prophet" and "The Poet." Also during these years he worked on a "novel in verse" that he had begun in 1823 &endash; Eugene Onegin. Written in iambic tetrameter, the novel provides a dazzling yet insightful portrait of a jaded young member of the nobility who fails to appreciate a woman's love until it is too late and she is married to another. Pushkin also tried his hand at drama, and in 1825 he wrote the sweeping tragedy, Boris Godunov.

In 1827 Pushkin was allowed to return to St. Petersburg. Two years later he met the beautiful Natalia Goncharova, whom he wished to marry. In the autumn of 1830, however, he was separated from Goncharova by a cholera epidemic and he was forced to remain at his estate in Boldino. There, during a period of incredible creativity, Pushkin finished Eugene Onegin, wrote four "little tragedies" in verse, and the cycle of short stories, The Tales of Belkin. Pushkin finally married Goncharova in 1831, but he was not entirely happy in his married life. Natalia was very popular at the imperial court, and Pushkin was forced to spend more time in the capital than he wished. His creative output began to diminish, although he wrote the witty short story "The Queen of Spades" and the dynamic narrative poem "The Bronze Horseman" in 1833, and the historical novel The Captain's Daughter in 1836. By the mid-1830s, Pushkin was regarded by some readers and critics as old-fashioned, and this opinion rankled him. Then, he became the target of an even more personal insult&endash;a rumor that his wife had been unfaithful to him. Stung beyond the limit of his self-control, Pushkin provoked his presumed persecutor, Baron Georges d'Anthes, to challenge him to a duel. The event took place on January 27, 1837, and Pushkin was mortally wounded. He died two days later. Fearing a public outcry over the senseless loss of this great figure, the authorities falsely declared that a funeral service would be held in St. Isaac's Cathedral, but the real service was held in secret a day before the announced service was to have taken place, and Pushkin's body was smuggled out of the capital.

   

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