Pushkin's Biography

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Pushkin's Biography

Adapted from J.Thomas Shaw's biographical sketch in The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, Volume 1

Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin was born in Moscow on May 26, 1799 (Old Style). In 1811 he was selected to be among the thirty students in the first class at the Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo . He attended the Lyceum from 1811 to 1817 and received the best education available in Russia at the time. He soon not only became the unofficial laureate of the Lyceum, but found a wider audience and recognition. He was first published in the journal The Messenger of Europe in 1814. In 1815 his poem "Recollections in Tsarskoe Selo" met the approval of Derzhavin, a great eighteenth-century poet, at a public examination in the Lyceum.

After graduating from the Lyceum, he was given a sinecure in the Collegium of Foreign Affairs in Petersburg. The next three years he spent mainly in carefree, light-hearted pursuit of pleasure. He was warmly received in literary circles; in circles of Guard-style lovers of wine, women, and song; and in groups where political liberals debated reforms and constitutions. Between 1817 and 1820 he reflected liberal views in "revolutionary" poems, his ode "Freedom," "The Village," and a number of poems on Aleksandr I and his minister Arakcheev. At the same time he was working on his first large-scale work, Ruslan and Liudmila.

In April 1820, his political poems led to an interrogation by the Petersburg governor-general and then to exile to South Russia, under the guise of an administrative transfer in the service. Pushkin left Petersburg for Ekaterinoslave on May 6, 1820. Soon after his arrival there he traveled around the Caucasus and the Crimea with the family of General Raevsky. During almost three years in Kishinev, Pushkin wrote his first Byronic verse tales, "The Prisoner of the Caucasus" (1820-1821), "The Bandit Brothers (1821-1822), and "The Fountain of Bakhchisaray" (1821-1823). He also wrote "Gavriiliada" (1821), a light approach to the Annunciation, and he started his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin (1823-1831).

With the aid of influential friends, he was transferred in July 1823 to Odessa, where he engaged in theatre going, social outings, and love affairs with two married women. His literary creativeness also continued, as he completed "The Fountain of Bakhchisaray" and the first chapter of Eugene Onegin, and began "The Gypsies." After postal officials intercepted a letter in which he wrote a thinly-veiled support of atheism, Pushkin was exiled to his mother's estate of Mikhaylovskoe in north Russia.

The next two years, from August 1824 to August 1826 he spent at Mikhaylovskoe in exile and under surveillance. However unpleasant Pushkin my have found his virtual imprisonment in the village, he continued his literary productiveness there. During 1824 and 1825 at Mikhaylovskoe he finished "The Gypsies," wrote Boris Godunov , "Graf Nulin" and the second chapter of Eugene Onegin.

When the Decembrist Uprising took place in Petersburg on December 14, 1825, Pushkin, still in Makhaylovskoe, was not a participant. But he soon learned that he was implicated, for all the Decembrists had copies of his early political poems. He destroyed his papers that might be dangerous for himself or others. In late spring of 1826, he sent the Tsar a petition that he be released from exile. After an investigation that showed Pushkin had been behaving himself, he was summoned to leave immediately for an audience with Nicholas I. On September 8, still grimy from the road, he was taken in to see Nicholas. At the end of the interview, Pushkin was jubilant that he was now released from exile and that Nicholas I had undertaken to be the personal censor of his works.

Pushkin thought that he would be free to travel as he wished, that he could freely participate in the publication of journals, and that he would be totally free of censorship, except in cases which he himself might consider questionable and wish to refer to his royal censor. He soon found out otherwise. Count Benkendorf, Chief of Gendarmes, let Pushkin know that without advance permission he was not to make any trip, participate in any journal, or publish -- or even read in literary circles -- any work. He gradually discovered that he had to account for every word and action, like a naughty child or a parolee. Several times he was questioned by the police about poems he had written.

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