Nikolay Nekrasov – 1821 – 1878
Nikolay Nekrasov, one of the greatest Russian authors of the 19th century, is best known for his political poems about the Russian peasantry which confronts social injustice.
In his poems, Nekrasov emphasized the real hardships that are faced by those living in poverty and created controversial narratives in order to portray the sacrifices that they have to make every day. Several of his poems address the issue of prostitution, which becomes, in some cases, the only method for women to earn money and support their families. The urgency of making money and the becoming of prostitution the only means to an end is emphasized in a poem that tells the tale of a mother who has to sell herself in order to procure a coffin for her dead baby.
Capitalism is severely condemned and its immoral promoters are critiqued through a series of satires, Nekrasov innovating the Russian social satire. The poet also opened new ways for Russian Modernists, introduced the ternary meters and the technique of the dramatic monologue, and enriched the language used in poetry by introducing folklore elements and song-like structures. One of his poems, Korobeiniki, became one of the most popular folk songs (outside Russia, it came to be recognized as the Tetris Theme). Other of his most famous works include Grandfather, Russian Women, or Who Is Happy in Russia?
Fyodor Dostoevsky – 1821 – 1881
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky is one of the greatest names in world literature, being renowned for his psychological novels which became a philosophical and moral encyclopedia. Some of his most acclaimed works include The Double, Humiliated and Insulted, The House of the Dead, Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, The Gambler, The Idiot, Demons, The Adolescent, and The Brothers Karamazov. In his works, Dostoevsky exploited innovative narrative techniques, such as meta literature, intertextuality or the technique of anticipation. His novels are not meant to offer the readers the much-desired answers, but instead, they compose an invitation to reflection and raise questions about human nature and the functioning of society.
Dostoevsky’s ambiguous characters are presented from multiple perspectives, inviting the readers to dive into the complexity of the human psyche. The controversial heroes are not able to maintain a certain mental state, which leads to successive emotional catastrophes. In order to portray the human psychological potential and grasp all of its nuances, Dostoevsky chooses to present his characters while facing critical situations, which bring to light their most hidden traits.
The deepest fears or desires of characters may even take human form, the theme of the double being recurrent in Dostoevsky’s works. The preferred characters are the outcasts, who are unfairly tortured in an absurd world, such as the children, the prostitutes, or the homeless. He also attributes some of the noblest qualities to these types of characters, thus portraying the discrepancy between essence and appearance.
Dostoevsky’s literary works address political and social issues while also engaging with philosophical and religious themes and exploiting the human psyche, thus becoming a source of inspiration for any type of reader and influencing many great writers and philosophers, such as Anton Chekhov, Friedrich Nietzsche, or Jean-Paul Sartre.
Leo Tolstoy – 1828 – 1910
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy is one of the greatest authors of all time, highly acclaimed for his realist writings. His experiences and beliefs constantly shifted over the years, this being observable in his literary works. The worldview presented in the semi-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth is different from the one in novels such as War and Peace, Anna Karenina, A Confession, or short stories such as The Death of Ivan Ilych, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Father Sergius.
His controversial lifestyle was followed by a severe moral crisis, which leads to Tolstoy’s eventual spiritual awakening and discovery of moral values which are propagated throughout his late works. In his writings, the characters go through the same journey of self-discovery. The quest of understanding God and the meaning of life, as well as the capacity of distinguishing good from evil, are recurrent themes in Tolstoy’s works.
The author addresses a critique of the way of functioning of the traditional Church, claiming that it leads to people distancing themselves from the pure form of faith and truly important moral values. He pleads for love, peace, and understanding, which are the most important qualities for a harmonious life and closeness to God.
Tolstoy also critiques the functioning of society, which follows a strict social hierarchy and is characterized by a firm distinction between the class of the privileged rich and the oppressed poor. Those in power are portrayed as individuals who have a luxurious lifestyle, dominated by laziness, depravity, hypocrisy, and evil, while the peasants cannot fight the absurd social laws and are obliged to live in poverty. Other themes exploited in Tolstoy’s works are the relationship between sin and forgiveness, the stages of moral decay or the self-assumed punishment.
The ideas, values, and moral lessons propagated in his works lead to Tolstoy’s becoming a paragon of virtue and a source of inspiration for many.
If you want to read about the other authors mentioned in the first two parts of the list, you can find them here.