Russian literature

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The term Russian-language or Russian literature describes the literary works from the Russian-speaking area of the past and present. Russian literature also includes non-poetic works with special literary demands, i.e. works of historiography, literary history , social sciences or philosophy , as well as diaries or correspondence.

Old Russian literature

The Old Russian literature is in the medieval Byzantine rooted literature and was predominantly Altostslawisch written. Religious subjects were often taken up, with the life of saints (жития святых) being a popular motif. The authors of the works are often no longer known today. Examples include: B. The Igor Song or Daniel's Prayer the Prisoner .

Gavriil Derschawin (1743-1816) and Nikolai Karamsin (1766-1826) are among the best-known and most successful Russian writers before Pushkin .

More recent Russian literature

Alexander Pushkin founded Russian national literature in the 1820s.

Classicism literature

The literary epoch of classicism forms a transition between baroque literature and sentimentalism . The term is derived from the Latin "classicus" and "classici" and is metaphorically extended to "exemplary". Just as antiquity was once regarded as a model for the French classical era, some authors in Russia also called for a mimesis of the “classical” models. However, since the reliance on antiquity was not an essential feature of Russian classicism, the epoch is also referred to as "pseudoclassicism". Russian classicism started much later than French classicism. One looks at the classicistic epoch in Russia from around 1740 onwards. This lasts until around 1780. The different temporal development of the epochs is historically shaped, because it was only very late, with the "opening of the window" to Europe by Peter I, that western literature could be received.

Classicist literature was initially a translation literature. Many works by Western authors have been translated or adapted into Russian by being Russified. The translated works came from Holland, Germany and France (after 1730). Russian literature was initially lacking in its independence. But also due to the inadequate infrastructure and the social conditions (lack of printing works, low number of readers due to illiteracy), the works could only be distributed with great difficulty. Most of these were written by noble authors for the nobility and for the court. Important authors and founders of classicism were Vasily Trediakowski , Mikhail Lomonossow and Alexander Sumarokow .

Pushkin and Romanticism

Wassili Schukowski's translation of Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard (1802) marked the beginning of Russian Romanticism . Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837), who emerged particularly through Versepen ( Ruslan and Lyudmila , 1820; Eugene Onegin , 1831), established modern Russian literature as a romantic by breaking with the tradition of Church Slavonic writing and creating a Russian literary language that simultaneously was beautiful and based on the language of the peasants. This made literature accessible to all strata of the population, and the following era is also known as the “golden age” of Russian literature. Pushkin was followed by romantic poets such as Fyodor Ivanovich Tjuttschew (1803–1873) and Michail Lermontow (1814–1841). With A Hero of Our Time (1840) the latter created the first Russian prose novel that was literarily independent and no longer based on French models.

After the romance

While the Romantics, who are considered the real greats of national literature in Russia, were and are little read abroad, other important writers from this epoch have also been widely received abroad. The first in this series, Nikolai Gogol (1809–1852), was at home with the grotesque and anticipated many motifs in his novels and short stories ( Die Nase , 1836; Die toten Seelen , 1842) that would later become typical of modern literature such as the collision between people and an impenetrable bureaucracy, unmotivated guilt complexes, or the refuge that the overwhelmed characters seek in overflowing and angry interpretations of their senseless experiences. Afanassi Fet (1820-1892) left a poetic work that, like the works of Tjuttschew, can be attributed to L'art pour l'art and which, despite its small size, had a great influence on the later poets of decadence and symbolism . Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891) published his influential novel Oblomow in 1859 , which - as Hans J. Fröhlich demonstrated - analyzed and pointedly expressed the attitude towards life of the Russian nihilists .

Second half of the 19th century: Dostoevsky and Tolstoy

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881; Debt and Atonement , 1866; the Karamazov brothers , 1880) and Lev Tolstoy (1828–1910; War and Peace , 1869; Anna Karenina , 1878; Resurrection , 1899) are considered the titans of modern Russian fiction. : both psychologists who used literary means to sound out the conflicts that happened to man at the dawn of modernity : Dostoyevsky as a patriot and completely on the ground of Russian orthodoxy, tense and dramatic, and interested like no other in the temporal upheavals of the individual's soul . Tolstoy as a great moralist and realistic portraitist of social conditions and interpersonal relationships; His main themes are the prevailing conventions, culture with its institutions and sexuality, all three of which he repeatedly castigates because they alienate people as spiritual beings from themselves. Together with Ivan Turgenew (1818–1883; Fathers and Sons , 1861), these authors are often perceived as a triumvirate from a Western perspective, with Turgenev's works - including his novels - being more lyrical, more open-minded, more liberal and less instructive and dogmatic than the works Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The Russian contemporaries, however, felt less Turgenev, who mostly lived abroad, than Nikolai Leskow (1831–1895) as the third of the greats. In contrast to the three aforementioned, Leskov's strength lay not in novels, but in his fabulous narratives based on fairy tales, folk tales, legends and anecdotes.

Nikolai Nekrasov (1821–1878) should be mentioned above all among the poets of Russian realism . The greatest playwright of the time was Anton Chekhov (1860–1904; Die Möwe , 1895; Drei Schwestern , 1901; Der Kirschgarten , 1903), who in a realistic and tragicomic way highlighted the banality of provincial life and the transience of the small nobility, and on a more general level Has shown loss of home, human relationships and self.

Early 20th century

The first two decades of the 20th century are considered the Silver Age in Russian literature . Its most important representatives include Alexander Blok , Iwan Bunin and Nikolai Gumiljow . Leonid Nikolajewitsch Andrejew wrote expressive, irrational stories and plays .

Soviet era literature

In the Soviet era from 1917 to 1991, a separate form of literature emerged. Maxim Gorky , Nobel laureate Mikhail Scholochow , Valentin Katajew , Alexei Tolstoy , Vladimir Mayakovsky , Tschingis Aitmatow or Ilf and Petrow became important representatives of Soviet literature. Samuil Marschak , Alexander Volkov , Nikolai Nossow and Kornei Tschukowski are noteworthy in children's literature . Other well-known authors of the era are Anatoly Pristawkin and Valentin Rasputin .

While socialist realism was officially promoted in the Soviet Union, some writers such as Mikhail Bulgakov , Boris Pasternak , Andrei Platonow , Ossip Mandelstam , Isaak Babel and Vasily Grossman continued the tradition of classical Russian literature contrary to the Soviet ideal. Often their works were only published decades later and in a censored version. The Serapion brothers around Nikolai Nikitin and Konstantin Fedin insisted on the right to produce an independent literature independent of political ideology, which brought them into conflict with the government. Nor did the authorities tolerate the partly symbolist, partly experimental-futuristic art of the so-called Oberiuten , members of the avant-garde association OBERIU , which was banned in 1930.

The term Soviet literature, which has often been used as a synonym for more recent Russian literature, is, however, unsuitable as a political term to describe the entire oeuvre of the epoch, since the attitude of the official authorities towards the authors changed rapidly and they explicitly the exile and excludes unofficial domestic literature. In this respect, the linguistic definition (Russian, Ukrainian etc. literature) should be given preference.

After 1945

Konstantin Paustowski's six-volume autobiography Tales of Life (Повесть о жизни) can be considered one of the most important works of the 1940s and 1950s , which, with its lyrical descriptions of the landscape, became a model for many authors in the thaw after Stalin's death. This period got its name from Ilja Ehrenburg 's novel of the same name (1954), published in 1954, which is directed against cynicism and adaptation in work and art. From 1956 to 1961 there was a brief flowering of Russian literature; Form experiments were also allowed again. Vladimir Tendryakov , one of the early and most important thaw writers, has the best of the class accused the school and teacher at the graduation ceremony in The Night After Dismissal . Yury Kazakov became known as a writer of lyrical short stories.

But in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union of the 1960s, socialist realism became the literary norm. Writers such as the Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn , Wenedikt Erofejew or Leonid Zypkin continued the tradition of underground literature, which was often spread by means of " samizdat ". In addition, the Soviet authorities arranged for the Nobel Prize Committee to ensure that it was not Paustowski who received the 1965 Nobel Prize for Literature, but the loyal Mikhail Scholokhov .

Emigrated writers like Nobel Prize winners Iwan Bunin , Alexander Kuprin , Andrei Bely , Marina Tsvetaeva and Vladimir Nabokov were successful in exile.

Since the late 1960s, everyday life has come to the fore in literature, objective documentation, often also of the trivial, paired with psychological analysis and stylistic conservatism. Chekhov is the great role model in this phase. The lyrical idyll and the retreat to the country play a major role - e.g. For example, with Sergej Nikitin or Boris Moschajew -, themes of the city and, above all, industry are less common, which is probably a reaction to the heroic construction epics of the 1940s and the dominant theme of the 1950s - the Great Patriotic War. One of the exceptions was the story published week after week about the hard everyday life of working mothers in the form of a (fictional) weekly diary by Natalja Baranskaya , which only began to write after her retirement.

The versatile poet and prose writer Yevgeny Yevtushenko does not fit into any drawer . The literary genres ranged from the classic realistic novel to science fiction, the best known representatives of which are the brothers Boris and Arkadi Strugazki . Yuri Trifonov's aesthetically mature works were much discussed in the 1970s because of the moral problems that he touched on, which were uncomfortable for many followers.

In the 1980s there was a new wave of emigration. Vasily Pavlovich Aksjonow went into exile in the USA in 1980, where he wrote the trilogy "Generations of Winter" (Russian: Московская сага) about the Stalinist persecution, and died in France.

Contemporary Russian literature

Postmodernism after 1990

After 1990, Russian literature was dominated by postmodern currents. In western countries, Vladimir Sorokin is known as the Russian representative of postmodernism . But important authors of the time after 1990 cannot be assigned to the playful postmodern trend; some of them were already in samizdat and had their experiences in detention and psychiatry. Wladimir Makanin , who became known for his grotesque novel Underground or A Hero of Our Time , provides psychological analyzes of the present . Also out of the mainstream are the lyricist Dmitri Prigow , Lyudmila Evgenjewna Ulitskaja , who is part of the Jewish narrative tradition , the author of the deconstruction novel The K. Monument Marija Sumnina and the popular Japanologist and author of historical detective novels Boris Akunin . Wiktor Pelewin's novels combine realistic modern motifs with mystical elements and depict a bizarre and surreal fairytale world.

Of the Russian-speaking writers living in Ukraine, Oleksandr Bejderman and Andrei Jurjewitsch Kurkov deserve attention. Svetlana Alexievich , who was born in Ukraine in 1948 and writes in Russian, lives in Belarus today . She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015 for her documentary, interview-based prose about biographies in socialist and post-socialist society .

Numerous other Russian authors live and work in western countries, such as Boris Falkow , Boris Chasanow , Alexei Schipenko and Julia Kissina in Germany, Nicolai Lilin in Italy and Michail Schischkin in Switzerland .

New realists

From the year 2000 a new generation of Russian authors appeared. Representatives of "New Realism" are Ilya Stogoff, Sachar Prilepin , Alexander Karasjow , Arkady Babchenko , Vladimir Lortschenkow, Alexander Snegirjow and the political author Sergej Schargunow . The left-nationalist Prilepin, who is oriented towards conservative values, considers the apocalyptic trait, as found around 2000 (e.g. in the work of the pop poet Alina Wituchnowskaja), to be a characteristic of more recent Russian literature.

Raised in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the new realists write about the everyday life of today's Russian youth, which is shaped by capitalism, but without using the mystical elements of their predecessors. The new generation of authors grew up in a free Russia. They have foreign language skills that were not accessible to generations before, live with free speech without censorship, travel all over the world and can read books that were forbidden for a long time.

In their works, the "new realists" show the latent violence, paradoxes and paralysis of the new society. We are neither conformists nor rebels in the sense of the 20th century (such as the anarchists, hippies, 68ers), but authors for whom Gogol rather than Chekhov is the model. They write and preach, but leave “direct action” to the responsibility of civil society. But they often draw their well-known motifs from Russian literary history.

Andrei Gelasimov , a master of laconic prose in the style of JD Salinger or Raymond Carver , also became known in Germany through his short novel Durst (2002; German translation 2011), which is episodic about the return of a person disfigured by the Chechen war to society .

The most widely read contemporary Russian author, Viktor Olegowitsch Pelewin , fluctuates between hyperrealism and surrealism , whose novel Tolstoy's nightmare was also published in German in 2013.

Even science fiction and fantastic literature is currently experiencing a boom; her most tester representative is through his Guardian novels became known Sergei Lukyanenko .

Book market

In numerous former republics of the Soviet Union, the importance of the Russian language and thus of Russian literature declined after 1990. In Russia itself, too, interest in literature fell. In 1990 books in Russia had a circulation of 1.6 billion books. In 2004 it was only 562 million, in 2012 it was 540.5 million. The share of fiction fell while the number of non-fiction and textbooks rose. The highest- circulation author in 2004 was Darja Donzowa with 99 volumes and a circulation of 18.1 million books. For years, the two largest publishers were EKSMO and AST, each with 7,000 to 8,000 titles per year, which merged in 2013.

However, since shipping books to distant regions of the vast country is difficult for logistical and cost reasons, the Internet has recently gained in importance as an important medium for disseminating literature. It functions as an autonomous field of experimentation, but also as an instrument in the struggle for the attention of the media elite and the entertainment-loving masses.

The emergence of Russian-language literature in the diaspora in the tradition of Nabokov is also remarkable.

In 2012 Russia was the partner country of the Frankfurt Book Fair ; but it is not easy to get German publishers interested in the publication of books by Russian authors. This is also related to the country's recent image problems. The mix of fantasy and socially critical contemporary literature is also unusual for German editors and readers.


  • Jan Petr Jordan: History of Russian Literature - According to Russian Sources. 1st edition. Biblio Bazaar, Munich 2008, ISBN 0559590792
  • Adolf Stender Petersen: History of Russian Literature. 5th edition. CH Beck, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-406-31557-7
  • Reinhard Lauer : History of Russian Literature. CH Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-45338-4
  • Wilhelm Lettenbauer: The Russian literature . In: Kindler's new literary lexicon . Ed. Walter Jens. Munich 1996, Vol. 20, pp. 379-385.
  • Wolfgang Kasack : The Russian literature of the 20th century. In: Kindler's new literary lexicon. Ed. Walter Jens. Munich 1996, Vol. 20, pp. 386-392.
  • Keyword Russian literature. Der Literatur-Brockhaus, 1988, Vol. 3.
  • Russia. Modern storytellers of the world. (= Spiritual encounter, vol. XL.) Erdmann Verlag, Tübingen / Basel 1973. (Focus on the 1950s / 60s)
  • Russia. The large reading book , S. Fischer Verlag , Frankfurt am Main 2017, ISBN 978-3-596-90666-6 .

Web links

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Pushkin as a surgeon of the Russian language. Retrieved December 12, 2014 .
  2. Buried cornerstone. Retrieved December 12, 2014 .
  3. Oblomov. Retrieved December 16, 2014 .
  4. Horst-Jürgen Gerigk : Turgenjew Today. Retrieved December 14, 2014 .
  5. ^ Ernst Weiss: literary criticism - Nikolai Leskow, short stories. Retrieved December 14, 2014 .
  6. Forever, maybe. Retrieved December 15, 2014 .
  7. Thomas Rothschild: Introduction , in: Russia. Modern storytellers of the world , p. 10ff.
  8. ^ German in: Russia. Modern storytellers of the world. Tübingen / Basel 1973.
  9. Аристов, Денис (Aristow, Denis) О природе реализма в современной русской прозе о войне (2000-е годы). In: Journal Perm State Pedagogical University, 2011 (2). Retrieved April 24, 2013. (ON NATURE OF REALISM IN MODERN RUSSIAN MILITARY FICTION OF 2000-S) (PDF; 231 kB)
  10. Popov, Yevgeny. Who can follow Gogol's footsteps. In: Russia now, April 21, 2009. Retrieved April 24, 2013. (PDF; 1.9 MB)
  11. Archived copy ( Memento from July 16, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  13. ^ Henrike Schmidt: Russian literature on the Internet: Between digital folklore and political propaganda. Bielefeld, transcript 2011.
  14. ^ Rainer Traub: Russian literature: Bridge between cultures. Part 2. Spiegel Online, October 2, 2003 [1]
  15. Interview with literary agent Thomas Wiebling (2013) , accessed September 18, 2016.