C onceive the joy of a lover of nature who, leaving the art galleries, wanders out among the trees and wild flowers and birds that the pictures of the galleries have sentimentalised. It is some such joy that the man who truly loves the noblest in letters feels when tasting for the first time the simple delights of Russian literature. French and English and German authors, too, occasionally, offer works of lofty, simple naturalness; but the very keynote to the whole of Russian literature is simplicity, naturalness, veraciousness. Critic August Nemo selected seven short stories from authors who bring all the richness and quality of Russian literature: The Nose by Nikolai Gogol The Queen of Spades by Alexander Pushkin God Sees The Truth, But Waits by Leo Tolstoy The Bet by Anton Chekhov The Christmas Tree And The Wedding by Fyodor Dostoyevsky One Autumun Night by Maxim Gorky Lazarus by Leonid Andreyev
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Russian author, a master of realistic fiction and one of the world's greatest novelists.
Tolstoy is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written. War and Peace in particular seems virtually to define this form for many readers and critics. Among Tolstoy's shorter works, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is usually classed among the best examples of the novella. Especially during his last three decades Tolstoy also achieved world renown as a moral and religious teacher. His doctrine of nonresistance to evil had an important influence on Gandhi. Although Tolstoy's religious ideas no longer command the respect they once did, interest in his life and personality has, if anything, increased over the years.
Most readers will agree with the assessment of the 19th-century British poet and critic Matthew Arnold that a novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life; the 20th-century Russian author Isaak Babel commented that, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy. Critics of diverse schools have agreed that somehow Tolstoy's works seem to elude all artifice. Most have stressed his ability to observe the smallest changes of consciousness and to record the slightest movements of the body. What another novelist would describe as a single act of consciousness, Tolstoy convincingly breaks down into a series of infinitesimally small steps. According to the English writer Virginia Woolf, who took for granted that Tolstoy was “the greatest of all novelists,” these observational powers elicited a kind of fear in readers, who “wish to escape from the gaze which Tolstoy fixes on us.”
Those who visited Tolstoy as an old man also reported feelings of great discomfort when he appeared to understand their unspoken thoughts. It was commonplace to describe him as godlike in his powers and titanic in his struggles to escape the limitations of the human condition. Some viewed Tolstoy as the embodiment of nature and pure vitality, others saw him as the incarnation of the world's conscience, but for almost all who knew him or read his works, he was not just one of the greatest writers who ever lived but a living symbol of the search for life's meaning.
Maxim Gorky was born in 1868 in Nizhny Novgorod. After a grim childhood and some years of wandering he began to write stories and by his thirties had become famous both for fiction and plays.
He became involved in revolutionary activity against the tsarist regime in Russia and had a confused, difficult relationship with the Soviet dictatorship, partly living abroad and yet becoming the USSR's most feted and widely read author.
He died in 1936 under suspicious circumstances and Stalin and Molotov were among the bearers of his coffin. He is today most famous for his great autobiographical trilogy (of which My Childhood is the first part).
The brilliant Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81) is celebrated for such classics as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov whose psychological examinations of the human soul had a profound effect on the 20th-century novel. His influence resonates in the works of such latter-day authors as Proust, Faulkner, Hemingway, and Kafka. Dostoyevsky also wrote many shorter works that are masterpieces in their own right.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), Russian physician, dramatist and author, is considered to be one of the greatest writers of short stories and modern drama. Born in Taganrog, a port town near the Black Sea, he attended medical school at Moscow University.
He began writing to supplement his income, writing short humorous sketches of contemporary Russian life. A successful literary careered followed, before his premature death of TB at the age of 44. He is best-remembered for his four dramatic masterpieces: The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1899), Three Sisters (1901) and The Cherry Orchard (1904).
Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was born in Moscow in 1799. He was liberally educated and left school in 1817. Given a sinecure in the Foreign Office, he spent three dissipated years in St Petersburg writing light, erotic and highly polished verse. He flirted with several pre-Decembrist societies, composing the mildly revolutionary verses which led to his disgrace and exile in 1820. After traveling through the Caucasus and the Crimea, he was sent to Bessarabia, where he wrote The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain at Bakhchisaray, and began Eugene Onegin. His work took an increasingly serious turn during the last year of his southern exile, in Odessa.
In 1824 he was transferred to his parents' estate at Mikhaylovskoe in north-west Russia, where he spent two solitary but fruitful years during which he wrote his historical drama Boris Godunov, continued Eugene Onegin and finished The Gipsies. After the failure of the Decembrist Revolt in 1825 and the succession of a new tsar, Pushkin was granted conditional freedom in 1826. During the next three years he wandered restlessly between St Petersburg and Moscow. He wrote an epic poem, Poltava, but little else.
In 1829 he went with the Russian army to Transcaucasia, and the following year, stranded by a cholera outbreak at the small family estate of Boldino, he wrote his experimental Little Tragedies in blank verse and The Tales of Belkin in prose, and virtually completed Eugene Onegin. In 1831 he married the beautiful Natalya Goncharova. The rest of his life was soured by debts and the malice of his enemies. Although his literary output slackened, he produced his major prose works The Queen of Spades and The Captain's Daughter, his masterpiece in verse, The Bronze Horseman, important lyrics and fairy tales, including The Tale of the Golden Cockerel. Towards the end of 1836 anonymous letters goaded Pushkin into challenging a troublesome admirer of his wife to a duel. He was mortally wounded and died in January 1837.
Nikolai Gogol was a Russian writer and dramatist. He was born in the Ukraine in 1809.
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