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Russian literature

An Age of Masterpieces: Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

The works of Russia's golden age of prose literature were written against a background of czarist autocracy. Falling generally within the realist framework, the masterworks of this era exhibit a strong bent toward mysticism, brooding introspection, and melodrama. I. S. Turgenev achieved world stature with sophisticated novels that were profoundly critical of Russian society. Great critical and popular acclaim were bestowed upon the tormented genius and moral and religious idealism expressed in the works of Feodor Dostoyevsky, and upon the monumental, socially penetrating novels of Leo Tolstoy; these two authors stand among the giants of world literature. With the brilliantly sensitive stories and plays of Anton Chekhov the golden age essentially came to a close, passing into a time noted for poetic works.

A reaction against realism manifested itself in the rise of symbolism, which flourished from the 1890s to about 1910 in the works of Feodor Sologub, V. K. Brynsov, I. F. Annensky, Andrei Bely, A. A. Blok, K. D. Balmont, and A. M. Remizov. The reaction was also evident in the religious and philosophical works of Vladimir Soloviev and in the historical novels of D. S. Merezhkovsky.

In 1912 the Acmeist school, led by N. S. Gumilev and S. M. Gorodetsky, proclaimed a return to more concrete poetic imagery. The poets Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova belonged to this group also. In fiction the outstanding figures included V. M. Garshin and V. G. Korolenko. Maxim Gorky dominated fictional literature just prior to the Revolution of 1917. His passionate realism was echoed in the stories and dramas of his disciple Leonid Andreyev, while Ivan Bunin, also a member of Gorky's circle, wrote in a more conservative realistic vein.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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