The formation of Russia's first literary traditions goes back to the first century. The adoption of Christianity boosted the development of literacy, philosophy and theological literature. Old Church Slavonic was the literary language of Russia and remained in use until the 17th century. Church literature including and historical chronicles were written or translated from Greek into Old Church Slavonic.
The first original work of Russian literature is believed to be "Slovo O Zakone I Blagodati" (1050; "Sermon on Law and Grace"), written by Metropolitan Illarion, the head of the Orthodox Church in Russia at that time. Old Russian literature consists of several masterpieces written in the Old Russian language.
The chronicle "Povest' Vremennykh Let" (1113; "The Tale of Bygone Years," also known as "The Russian Primary Chronicle"), anonymous works of this nature include "The Tale of Igor's Campaign" and "Praying of Daniel the Immured". The so-called "lives of the saints" formed a popular genre of the Old Russian literature. (for example "Life of Alexander Nevsky"). Other Russian literary monuments include Zadonschina, Physiologist, Synopsis and A Journey Beyond the Three Seas. Bylinas - oral folk epics - fused Christian and pagan traditions.
Medieval Russian literature had mainly religious character. Most prominent works of this period include: "Messages of Ivan the Terrible" and the autobiography of Arch Priest Avvakum. One of the most important and notable literary works of the 16th century was "Domostroi" ("House-Orderer"). It set the rules for moral behaviour and gave instructions for running a household.
The modernization of Russia, started in the 17th century and is commonly associated with Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, who affected the Russian literature as well. This period was characterised by reform of the Russian alphabet and employing the popular language for general literary purposes as well as the influence by Western European values. Modern Russian literature started to emerge as more and more writers began to develop their own unconventional style. By the 18th century written Russian finally came into wide use, replacing Old Church Slavonic.
The acknowledged masters of this period were authors like Antiochus Kantemir, Vasily Trediakovsky, and Mikhail Lomonosov (important figure of Russian intellectual life in the 18th century) poet Gavrila Derzhavin, playwrights Alexander Sumarokov and Denis Fonvizin, and prose writers Alexander Radishchev (the author of non-fiction works of the period was "Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu") and Nikolay Karamzin; the latter is often credited with creation of the modern Russian literary language.
The 19th century was probably the most fruitful period in the history of Russian literature, often referred to as "Golden Era" of Russian literature. This period granted such geniuses as Aleksandr Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Nikolay Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov.
The century began with the rise of Romanticism, which was most vivid in poetry. Zhukovsky was perhaps the first great poet of the nineteenth century, but it was his protege Aleksandr Pushkin, who is most closely identifiedd with the rise of Russian Romanticism and Russian poetry in general. Pushkin's first triumph was the poem Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820).
It was followed by a number of romantic poems imbued with impressions of his staying in the South of Russia, and finally Pushkin created his genius "Eugene Onegin" (finished in 1830). This splendid work is a unique "novel in verse" and presents a narration about contemporary Russian life. The images of the main characters, Eugene and Tatiana, and the story of their ruined love have had a great impact on all the latest Russian literature.
In it he depicts the life of the Russian gentry of his time and introduces Onegin as the "superfluous man." This "superfluous man" is the subject of many 19th-century Russian works. One of these, "A Hero of Our Time", was the first Russian psychological novel. It was written by Russia's second great poet, Mikhail Lermontov. He also wrote "The Demon" and "The Novice".
Pushkin created several big poetic works, among them the inimitable poem "The Bronze Horseman" (1833), a whole range of prosaic writings and several hundreds of verses notable for their classical fine simplicity of form and deep lyrical feeling.
An entire new generation of poets including Mikhail Lermontov, Evgeny Baratynsky, Konstantin Batyushkov, Nikolay Nekrasov, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, Fyodor Tyutchev, and Afanasy Fet followed in Pushkin's steps.
Especially notable is a fable author, poet Ivan Andreyevich Krylov, whose witty fables gained wide popularity as lessons of wisdom and paragons of language mastery. The name of Fedor Tyutchev must be mentioned as that of a "modern" poet before his time, an anticipator of the Russian school of symbolism.
After Pushkin's death in 1837 the Golden Age of Russian poetry drew to an end. Leadership in letters fell gradually to the prose writers, with a more realistic approach to life. Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol is the most puzzling and the most frequently misinterpreted figure between the romantic and the realistic periods of Russian literature. His prose progressed from the romantic tales and the folklore of his native Ukraine ("Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka") to the searching, aggressive, sarcastic realism of "Dead Souls".
Before the 19th century, drama received very little attention from Russian writers. It continued until two pillars of Russian drama Aleksandr Griboedov("Gore ot Uma" 1833; "The Woes of Wit") and Aleksandr Ostrovsky ("Groza" 1860; "The Thunderstorm") stepped into the spotlight.
But by the end of the century, several timeless plays were written by Anton Chekhov, for example "Chaika" (1896; The Seagull).
The Golden Age of Russian prose reached its climax in the works of the two greatest representatives of Russian fiction. They were Fedor Dostoevski and Leo Tolstoi. Fedor Dostoyevsky's novels examined political and social issues as well as philosophical and moral problems of Russian society. His "Crime and Punishment" (1866) is considered to be one of the best novels of all time.
Leo Tolstoy, like his contemporary Dostoyevsky, was not just a brilliant novelist but a political thinker and philosopher as well. His novel "Voina i Mir" (1865-1869; "War and Peace") is a family and a historical novel in one and is said to be one of the greatest literary works in the history of world literature.
Tolstoi's novels are counted among the world's greatest. Another best known novel is "Anna Karenina", a vast work of psychological analysis and social observation.
There were other important figures in this period. Among them was the civic poet Nikolai Nekrasov, Nikolai Leskov, a novelist and short-story writer.
After the great age of prose there was a resurgence of poetry. This is called the Silver Age. It began at the end of the 19th century with the emergence in Russia of the school of symbolism. A new breed of Russian poets was inspired by Western European cultures, while Russian culture was gaining in popularity in Europe.
Valeri Bryusov and Dmitri Merezhkovski are symbolism's most illustrious exponents in prose. Aleksandr Blok (His greatest work, "Dvenadtsat" (1918; "The Twelve," 1920), described the mood of Petrograd in the winter of 1918 in the wake of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.), Andrei Bely (Boris Bugaev), Nikolai Gumiliev, Konstantin Balmont, and Fedor Sologub (Teternikov) were the chief poets of this school.
Some of the greatest poets of the 20th century who opposed the Bolshevik Revolution and Soviet rule were Anna Akhmatova ("Requiem", 1964), Maria Tsvetaeva and Osip Mandelstam. The last of these was arrested in the 1930s and died in a labour camp.
Among those who supported the 1917 Revolution was a prominent Soviet novelist and playwright, Maksim Gorky ("Mother" 1907). He was also a founder of socialist realism.
After the Revolution, many writers left Russia for Europe and the West. Perhaps one of the most gifted among them was novelist Vladimir Nabokov who emigrated to the United States in 1940 and began writing in English.
Another Russian writer in exile that achieved a considerable degree of recognition before the Revolution and continued his work abroad was Nobel prize-winner Ivan Bunin. In his masterful novels and short stories Bunin carried on the literary tradition of Turgenev, Goncharov, Leo Tolstoi, and Chekhov.
The first years of the Soviet regime were marked by the works of Nikolay Zabolotsky, Alexander Vvedensky, Konstantin Vaginov and the most famous Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. Other famous authors of that period were novelists Andrei Platonov and Yuri Olesha and short story writers Isaac Babel and Mikhail Zoschenko.
In the 1930's Socialist realism became the officially approved style, its guidelines was enforced even more strictly after the end of WW2. Thus the period from 1946 until the death of Stalin in 1953 was probably the bleakest in Russian literature of the 20th century. It however added such brillinat names to the Ryussian literature as, Nobel Prize winner Mikhail Sholokhov, and Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy; and poets Konstantin Simonov and Aleksandr Tvardovsky are being read in Russia to this day. Other Soviet celebrities, such as Alexander Serafimovich, Nikolai Ostrovsky, Alexander Fadeyev, Fyodor Gladkov have never been published by mainstream publishers after 1989.
However, the decades after Stalin's death saw several thaws. Restrictions over literature were eased. Boris Pasternak finally published his legendary novel "Doctor Zhivago," although outside the Soviet Union. He was awarded a noble prize in literature, yet forced to refuse by the Sovuiet authorties.
The Khrushchev Thaw brought some fresh wind to the literature. Poetry became a mass cultural phenomenon: Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrey Voznesensky, Robert Rozhdestvensky and Bella Akhmadulina read their poems in stadiums and attracted huge crowds.
Some writers dared to oppose Soviet ideology, like short story writer Varlam Shalamov and Nobel Prize winning novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote about life in the gulag camps, or Vasily Grossman, with his description of World War II events countering the Soviet official historiography. They were dubbed "dissidents" and could not publish their major works until the 1960s.
Among other prominent anti-Soviet authors was the poet Joseph Brodsky, who left the Soviet Union in 1972. In 1987 Brodsky too was awarded the Nobel Prize. Like Solzhenitsyn, he moved to the United States.
In the 1970s there appeared a relatively independent Village Prose, whose most prominent representatives were Viktor Astafiyev and Valentin Rasputin. Detective fiction and spy fiction was also popular, thanks to authors like brothers Arkady and Georgy Vayner and Julian Semenov.
The Soviet Union produced an especially large amount of Science fiction literature, inspired by the country's space pioneering. Early science fiction authors, such as Alexander Belayev, Grigory Adamov, Vladimir Obruchev, Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Alexander Kazantsev, stack to hard science fiction, being influenced by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne
Soviet science fiction developed in its own manner with Social science fiction being its the most popular subgenre. Books of brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and Kir Bulychov, among others, are reminiscent of social problems and often include satire on contemporary Soviet society.
The early 1990s saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it the end of 70 years of state control over literature. Official censorship was over and the government proclaimed freedom of the press. This long-awaited independence had profound effects on Russian literature. Works by writers which had previously been banned reappeared in major editions.
Up-and-coming, promising and controversial writers such as Liudmila Petrushevskaya, Ludmila Ulitskaya, Vladimir Sorokin and Viktor Erofeev, to name a few, appeared on the Russian scene.
Fantasy and Science fiction literature is still among best-selling with authors like Sergey Lukyanenko, Nick Perumov and Maria Semenova.
Detective stories and thrillers have proven a very successful genre of new Russian literature: in the 90s serial detective novels by Alexandra Marinina, Polina Dashkova and Darya Dontsova were published in millions of copies. In the next decade a more highbrow author Boris Akunin with his series about the 19th century sleuth Erast Fandorin became widely popular.
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