Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Russian literature

Old Russian literature consists of several sparse masterpieces written in Old Russian Language (not to mix with Old Church Slavonic). Anonymous "The Word of Igor's Campaign" (Слово о Полку Игореве, Slovo o Polku Igoreve) is one of these.

Westernization of Russia (particularly associated with the name of Tsar Peter the Great coincided with reform of the Russian alphabet and increased tolerance of the idea of employing the popular language for general literary purposes. Writers like Dmitri Kantemir and Mikhail Lomonosov in the earlier 18th century paved the way for poets like Derzhavin, playwrights like Sumarokov and prose writers like Karamzin and Radishchev.

Romanticism permitted a flowering of especially poetic talent: the names of Zhukovsky and Pushkin came to the fore, followed by Mikhail Lermontov.

Nineteenth-century developments included Ivan Krylov the fabulist; non-fiction writers such as Belinsky and Aleksandr Herzen; poets such as Evgeny Baratynsky, Konstantin Batyushkov, Alexander Nekrasov, Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Fyodor Tyutchev, and Afanasij Fet; Kosma Prutkov the satirist; and a group of widely-recognised novelists such as Nikolai Gogol, Lev Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leskov, Ivan Turgenev, Saltykov-Shchedrin and Goncharov.

Other genres came to the fore with the approach of the 20th century. Anton Chekhov excelled in writing short stories and drama, and Anna Akhmatova represented innovative lyricists.

The beginning of the 20th century is known as a Silver Age of the Russian poetry. Anna Akhmatova, Innokenty Annensky, Andrej Belyj, Alexander Blok, Marina Cvetaeva, Sergei Esenin ,Lev Gumilev, Daniil Kharms, Velimir Khlebnikov ,Osip Mandelstam, Vladimir Mayakovsky,Boris Pasternak, Fedor Sologub are among the most famous authors of that period.

Sovietization of Russia affected literature after 1917. Maxim Gorky, Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, Valentin Kataev, Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoi, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Ilf and Petrov came to prominence. Whilst Socialist realism gained official support in the Soviet Union, some of the writers were secretly continuing the classical tradition of Russian literature: Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Andrei Platonov, Osip Mandelstam, Isaak Babel, Vasily Grossman, writing "under the table", with the only hope of being published after their deaths. The Serapion Brothers insisted on the right to create a literature independent of political ideology. This brought them into conflict with the government. The experimental art of the Oberiuts was also not tolerated.

Meanwhile, émigré writers such as Nobel Prize winner Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin, Alexandr Kuprin, Andrey Bely, Valeri Bryusov, Marina Tsvetaeva and Vladimir Nabokov continued to flourish in exile.

In post- Stalin Russia the Socialist realism was still the only permitted style; writers like Venedikt Erofeev and Nobel Prize winner Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who built his oeuvre on the legacy of the gulags, continued the tradition of clandestine literature. In the post-Communist Russia most of these works were published and became a part of mainstream culture

In the late Soviet era emigre authors like Nobel prize winner Brodsky and short story writer Dovlatov have been successful in the West and known in Soviet Union only in Samizdat

In the end of the 20th century Russias literature is having hard times, with maybe only two writers raising above the mass of pulp fiction. These are Victor Pelevin and Alexandr Sorokin.

In the early 21th century several Russian writers have been rather popular in the West, such as Tatyana Tolstaya and especially Lyudmila Ulitskaya

Detective story writer Boris Akunin with his series about 19th century sleuth Erast Fandorin is being published in Europe and USA, Alexandra Marinina, the most popular female detective stories writer in Russia has been successful in publishing her books around Europe, especially in Germany.

Frankfurt Book Fair 2003 elected Russia as its special guest this year

For a list of authors, see: List of famous Russians