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Russian literature

Western Influence: The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Western influence was manifest in the 17th cent. in numerous translations and in the establishment (1662) of the first theater in Russia. Under Peter I the Westernizing process was enormously accelerated; at the same time the Russian alphabet was revised and Russian works began to be published in the vernacular. Close contact with Europe began a century of the application of Western literary modes to Russian materials.

Prince Antioch Kantemir (1708–44) blended European neoclassicism with portraiture of Russian life and wrote poetry in the syllabic system common to French and Polish. Poetry in tonic form, more suitable to Russian, was written by V. K. Tredyakovsky and was brought to a brilliant level by M. V. Lomonosov. A. P. Sumarokov, the founder of Russian drama, combined European forms and Russian themes in his fables and plays.

The literature of the reign of Catherine II revealed the influence of the European Enlightenment. Catherine's own dramas compounded classical style and satirical tone, as did the journals of N. I. Novikov and the grandiose odes of G. R. Derzavhin. Satire was combined with realistic motifs in the plays of D. I. Fonzivin (1745–92), author of Russia's first truly national drama, The Minor (produced 1782), and in the fables of I. I. Khemnitser. Near the end of the century the beginning of political radicalism was given expression in tandem with Rousseauean sentimentalism by A. N. Radishchev. Sentimentality was developed by Vladislav Ozerov (1769–1816) in the drama and found its principal prose exponent in Nikolai Karamzin, who also initiated the Russian short story.

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

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