Russia Literature in the 19th Century Part 3
Poetry also made a contribution to social literature which, having taken inspiration directly from the people and described the life of simple people, was called social, even where, as in the songs of Aleksej Kol′cov (1808-1842), the sufferings peasants are a matter of lyrical expression, through personal suffering, not motives or cues for problems cited in most of the poetry of Nikolai Nekrasov (1821-1877), for example in the poem Who lives well in Russia?
Kol′cov’s poetry, which had had its predecessors as knight of the two centuries both in some serf poets such as Sibirjanov and Cyganov, and in some nobles such as Dmitriev, Del′vig, Merzljakov, had no successors, if not perhaps in Ivan Nikitin (1824-1861). Nekrasov’s poetry, on the other hand, had an immediate echo in the group of satirical poets of the sixties who were also influenced by foreign poets such as Béranger and Heine.
But poetry, as has already been said, even if bent to the needs of the dominant atmosphere, was only a secondary instrument of the social action exercised by literature which made use above all of the narrative art. Even not wanting to overestimate the effectiveness of the stories by Dmitrij Grigorovič (1822-1899; The village and Anton Goremyka), and the Tales of a Hunter by Ivan Turgenev, one cannot ignore that in the formation of the atmosphere in which the abolition of the serfdom was realized, certainly came the greater knowledge of the conditions of the countryside, due to those tales. Of course the diversity of artistic value meant that while the Tales of a Hunterby Turgenev have preserved their charm beyond the time of their creation, the works of Grigorovič, and with his those of many other minor ones, are now forgotten.
According to Itypeauto, this fate has affected a large part of the so-called ethnographic literature, starting with the stories of the ethnographer and linguist Vladimir Dal ′ (1801-1872), to arrive at the numerous ranks of writers who also turned the scientific activity to make known in all its manifestations are the life of the people. Interesting as it was, the literature that accompanied this movement was essentially a secondary literature; in the foreground, narrative, realistic art always dominated; that is, the art of a Turgenev, a Goncharov, a Leo Tolstoy, a Dostoevsky, an Ostrovsky.
If a remark is to be made, it does not concern the artistic form of the individual writers but the background on which they worked, a background of a social nature with overall rather than individual manifestations. One of the most characteristic of these manifestations is precisely the fact that literature ceases to be the monopoly of a class, that of the nobility or that of the common people, and becomes the patrimony of the so-called “raznočinec”, of the non-noble coming from different strata of the population, without interests linked to a specific class. At first literally following the nobility, then at the head of the movement in which indeed it will be the nobility that will bow to its ideas, based on democracy and populism (narodni è estvo) in a reciprocity of relationships that is almost identity of origin and purpose, the “raznočinec” will become even after 1860 the connective element of the various social classes in the field of culture and art. The task of preserving the broadest artistic (and documentary, as far as art can be) memory of this period of ferment did not, however, fall to a “raznočinec” of origin, but, we will almost say, to an “raznočinec” of adoption, of faith: Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883). Before 1960 he had already marked some stages of the process with the representation of men who were not yet new, but who would have wanted and should have been; and his literary work, especially in novels, is the testimony of the various stages of the Russian social process, seen, however, almost from the outside, not in the sense that the author does not participate in it with his likes and dislikes, but in the sense that it is projected, with the simplicity and balance that are typical of great art, in the course of universal history. After all, not only in Turgenev this correct line between the correspondence, the echo, we would almost say the passion, of reality and artistic creation had established itself as a knight of the two eras, even before Russia started towards reforms, because Sergej Aksakov (1791-1859), the father of the two supporters of Slavophilism, had published theFamily chronicle, in which the magisterium of art manages to convince and move despite its tendentious idealization of the past; Ivan Goncharov (1812-1891) had written his masterpiece, Oblomov, certainly also a work of social documentation for the painting of one of the characteristic Russian qualities of the time: laziness, a painful consequence of serfdom; Fedor Dostoevskij (1821-1881) had aroused Belinsky’s enthusiasm with Povera people and had marked, although for the moment only to himself, his own destiny as a creator with the other stories that preceded his exile, stories that remained misunderstood, but later proved essential; Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) had definitely started his glorious journey withChildhood, Adolescence and Youth and with Sevastopol ; and finally also those among the writers who were to remain in the history of Russian literature as the typical representatives of the 3rd quarter of the century had begun their activity: M. Saltykov-Ščedrin (1826-1889) with the provincial sketches ; A. Pisemskij (1820-1881) with the novel Bitter Destiny, A. Ostrovskij (1823-1886) with the comedies One makes do with one’s own, Poverty is not a vice, The Hurricane.
Few literatures in the world present in such a short space of time, which is the one that goes from the reforms of Alexander II to almost the death of Alexander III, such a great harvest of writers and works as Russian literature offers us. The gradual weakening of the last decade of this period, as well as of external circumstances, would seem almost a consequence of the previous intensity. If a Saltykov ′, with whom the so-called “accusatory” literature opens and develops, that is, literature aimed at revealing the flaws of the political and social regime, only with a novel, The Golovevs, surpasses the mass of his other stories and sketches, so closely linked to the time of their origin as to be understandable only in terms of it, on the other hand an Ostrovsky creates and keeps alive for a good thirty years a very original theater of costumes which, reconnecting only partially to previous attempts, it had to remain unsurpassed both as a painting of national environments and types, as a tool for psychological and social education, and finally as a theater as a theater. If a Pisemsky fails to rise above the almost slavish reproduction of everyday life, made tendentious by the preconceived “accusers”, on the other hand a Leskov (1831-1895) knows how to overcome the naturalism of the painting of the ecclesiastical class, which made his novel famous Soborjane(Ecclesiastics), and also the sometimes didactic tone of some of his minor works, with pages of eternal vitality due to the profound knowledge of the human soul that they reveal. If Uspensky (1840-1902) in his fundamental work on the life of the peasants, The power of the earth, passes from the artistic description to the semi-scientific treatment of political-social problems, managing only at times to poetically reveal the gloomy spiritual sadness of the peasants themselves, merchants, peasants, workers, small employees, who form the human anthill of his stories (The ruin, The costumes of the Rasterjaevaja street, etc.), on the other hand a Korolenko (1853-1921) on this human anthill knows how to build admirable tales of balance and suffused with a very delicate poem (The dream of Makar, The blind musician) and a Garšin (1855-1888), from moods of the time, tragic and pessimistic, and especially from the painful experiences of war, draws pages of powerful poetry and profound pathos on the responsibility of each one for the sufferings of others, on the need for active love and on self-sacrifice same.