Russian literature is a fascinating realm to explore, with some of the greatest writers of all time proving this point with every line written. Poetry, prose, drama – these authors excelled in their field and became the figures of some of the most important breakthroughs in the literary world. Approaching a great range of topics and themes, some more controversial than the others, making use of various techniques and developing unique styles, these Russian authors promise to exceed the readers’ expectations.
The authors included in this list differ in terms of genre approached, perspective towards general matters or particular situations and also have very different writing styles and language. Thus said, every type of reader will certainly find a writer who resonates with their demands and sensibility. The authors are listed chronologically in order to provide a glimpse into the development of Russian literature.
Alexander Pushkin – 1799 – 1837
Alexander Pushkin, often referred to as The Russian Shakespeare, is a poet, novelist, dramatist and short-story writer and is considered to be the greatest Russian poet by many critics and writers. His tumultuous life and passionate spirit transpire in most of his writings. He is representative for the Romantic era, although some of his writings also consist of elements which are characteristic for realism. Some of his most famous works include the narrative poems The Prisoner of the Caucasus, The Gypsies and The Bronze Horseman, the drama Boris Godunov, the poetic short drama Mozart and Salieri and the novel in verse Eugene Onegin.
Pushkin’s patriotism and interest in the political problems of his country is emphasized in writings such as The Bronze Horseman, where he presents an idealized image of Petersburg and the figure of Peter the Great as an entity of great power, or Boris Godunov, where he stresses the manipulative nature of those ruling the country who do not refrain from lies and betrayal. Other themes exploited are freedom, nature, love, or the condition of the artist and the genius. Pushkin also introduced supernatural elements in his work by publishing the short story The Queen of Spades, a tale about human avarice with an open ending and freedom of interpretation.
Fyodor Tyutcev – 1803 – 1873
Tyutcev is one of the greatest Russian poets of the 19th century and is highly appreciated for his philosophic poetry. He was a Slavophile, a member of an intellectual movement which militated for Russia’s development on traditional values, and his views are also reflected in his work. He wrote about the discrepancy between the exceptional romantic hero and the rest of the world and the divine nature of creation, which is capable of transcending to a superior universe. Another recurrent theme is the meaninglessness of human beings, who can’t escape the passing of time and the imminence of death. His poems have been a source of inspiration for many renowned composers, such as Boris Tchaikovsky or Nikolai Medtner.
Nikolai Gogol – 1819 – 1898
Grotesque, satire, dark humor – these are only a few characteristics which make this writer’s style truly unquestionable. Gogol is best known for the harsh critique he addresses to the Russian society. The writer expresses the pain provoked by the unjust social hierarchy through stories in which he combines tragic elements with comic ones. He makes use of irony, hyperbole, distortion and paradox in order to unmask the human vices and cruelty. His stories are often absurd or exaggerated for the sake of emphasizing the main themes and ideas.
Some of his most famous works include the short stories The Nose, The Overcoat, Nevsky Prospekt, Diary of a Madman, the play The Government Inspector and the novel Dead Souls. In these writings, Gogol expresses his disapproval at the importance attributed to social rank. The Overcoat and Diary of a Madman portray the tragic destiny of people belonging to the lower class by creating pathetic characters, while The Nose and Nevsky Prospekt ridicule the significance assigned to social status by means of personification. Through his writings, Gogol revolutionized Russian literature and became a point of reference for many other famous authors, such as Fyodor Dostoevsky or Franz Kafka.