Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeyevich (pŏshˈkĭn, Rus. əlyĭksänˈdər syĭrgāˈyəvĭch pōshˈkĭn) [key], 1799–1837, Russian poet and prose writer, among the foremost figures in Russian literature. He was born in Moscow of an old noble family; his mother's grandfather was Abram Hannibal, the black general of Peter the Great. Pushkin showed promise as a poet during his years as a student in a lyceum for young noblemen.
After a riotous three years in St. Petersburg society, Pushkin was exiled to S Russia in 1820. His offenses were the ideas expressed in his Ode to Liberty and his satirical verse portraits of figures at court. The same year his fairy romance Russlan and Ludmilla was published; Glinka later adapted it as an opera. In exile Pushkin was strongly moved by the beauty of the Crimea and the Caucasus. The poems The Prisoner of the Caucasus (1822) and The Fountain of Bakhchisarai (1824) describe his response to this beauty and reveal the influence of Byron. The Gypsies (1823–24) expresses Pushkin's yearning for freedom. In 1824 he was ordered to his family estate near Pskov, where he remained under the supervision of the emperor until he was pardoned in 1826.
Pushkin established the modern poetic language of Russia, using Russian history for the basis of many works, including the poems Poltava (1828) and The Bronze Horseman (1833), glorifying Peter the Great; Boris Godunov (1831), the tragic historical drama on which Moussorgsky based an opera; and two works on the peasant uprising of 1773–75, The Captain's Daughter (a short novel, 1837) and The History of the Pugachev Rebellion (1834). Pushkin's masterpiece is Eugene Onegin (1823–31), a novel in verse concerning mutually rejected love. A brilliant poetic achievement, the work contains witty and perceptive descriptions of Russian society of the period.
Pushkin's other major works include the dramas Mozart and Salieri and The Stone Guest (both 1830); the folktale The Golden Cockerel (1833), on which Rimsky-Korsakov based an opera; and the short stories Tales by Belkin (1831) and The Queen of Spades (1834). Tchaikovsky based operas on both Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades. Pushkin died as a result of a duel with a young French émigré nobleman who was accused, in anonymous letters to the poet, of being the lover of Pushkin's flirtatious young wife. He was buried secretly by government officials whom Lermontov, among others, accused of complicity in the affair. Most of Pushkin's writings are available in English.
See V. Nabokov's translation of Eugene Onegin (4 vol., 1964); biographies by E. J. Simmons (1937), D. Magarshack (1968), W. N. Vickery (1968), H. Troyat (1946, tr. 1970), R. Edmonds (1995), S. Vitale (tr. 1998), E. Feinstein (2000), and T. J. Binyon (2003); study by J. Bailey (1971).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.