Russia Literature in the 19th Century Part 4
Above all these writers, in their grandiose solitude, rise Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, both so humanly linked to the time that was theirs and at the same time so out of it in their universality of genius. More perhaps the second than the first linked to the events of the Russian land, from the day when, serving a youthful illusion, the soul of this land knew the most painful vibrations (Memories from the house of the dead), until the day, in which on the eve of his death, he confirmed in a famous interpretation of Pushkin his faith in Russia, matured through the spiritual, ideological and artistic experiences that his novels reveal to us (from Humiliated and offended to The demons, from Crime and Punishment toThe Karamazov brothers), in which the problems of Russia and of Russian men live in the very act of their artistic recreation, like an incandescent material in which everything is confused while, however, above everything is the flame that burns and creates. Apparent, and perhaps more than apparent, chaos at times, but the chaos in which thoughts, ideas, feelings, impulses directed towards a single end are fought: the obsessive need for truth, and with this the need for God, only in function of the which it is possible to understand not only the characters of Dostoevsky but Dostoevsky himself. “Inexorable genius” said a critic, Mikhailovsky; but inexorable with himself and with reality was also Tolstoy; only that for the former this same reality is art in its dynamic whirling; and according to reality and the human soul are objects of art,War and Peace to Anna Karenina) so much so that, having become aware of the detachment of the artist himself, he renounced art to devote himself to preaching.
According to Localtimezone, Dostoevsky died in 1881 and Tolstoy departed almost entirely from creation at the same time, external events overwhelmed literature, and the 1980s and 1990s were almost like the twilight of a bright day. Some of those who in the period of the realistic triumph had collected in poetry the legacy not only of Pushkin and Lermontov, but also of a Tyutčev (1803-1873) survived themselves. The latter, who had never yielded to realism, until his death had believed in pure lyricism in a communion with nature, which, sung almost like a human being, could attenuate but not overcome the profound sense of the tragic life that he shared with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.
Together with Tyutčev, Senšin-Fet (1820-1892), Alexei Tolstoy (1817-1875), Apollon Majkov (1821-1897) and Jakov Polonskij (1820-1898) had formed the ranks of poets of arias for art. to the group of social poets, such as A. Pleščeev (1825-1893) and G. Nadson (1862-1887). Their importance is in every way more comprehensive than individual, even if some of them have given Russian literature works of indisputable value and sometimes even original ones: thus A. Tolstoy, who, animated, as well as by a lyrical feeling of reality, also from a certain nostalgia for the past of his homeland, he celebrated it in tragedies (partly in the Pushkinian tradition), in a novel Prince Serebryannyjand in popular ballads; so the Majkov that the reality covered of the Greek and Latin classical ways in the Neapolitan Diary, in the Sketches of Rome, and in the two historical-lyric dramas Tre morti e Due mondi.
The fate of the two groups of poets must have been quite different in the decades following the period of depression with which the reign of Alexander III ended, because while a Nadson, who had had a success that can only be explained by the immediate correspondence of his Melancholy at the depression of souls in the eighties, the indifference of the new generation fell upon the lot, indifference that overwhelmed even those who had shared its success, such as Aleksej Apuchtin (1841-1890) considered by some to be an epigone of the Puškiniana school, Konstantin Slučevskij (1837-1904) and Konstantin Fofanov (1862-1911), who found the only solace to pessimism in fantasy and illusion; to the poets of the art school for artinstead this same generation had to refer to literary history under the signs of so-called “decadence” and symbolism.
The new literary movement began as a reaction to that political, social and spiritual depression that found its most effective echo in Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the “loner between two epochs”, heir to virtue and wealth but also to weight and of their tiredness, and at the same time a prophet of the new times whose labor he felt and glimpsed the new demands. In fact, both in Chekhov’s stories and plays can be heard resounding and both notes, but the importance of his work is not so much in this correspondence, negative or positive, to his time, as in the characteristic artistic form into which it pours, and which was rightly called the lyrical transfiguration of everyday reality. Another writer, Maksim Gor′kij (pseudonym of A. Peškov, 1869) seemed to proceed in his first steps to a lyrical transfiguration of reality, reflecting that period of transition and almost only among his fellow travelers remained a direct witness of all the political, social, spiritual transformations of Russia. But the difference between Chekhov’s lyrical transfiguration of reality and Gorky’s initial one was seen almost immediately, because the more it turned out to be directed at the spirit, the more it was aimed at the external world. And the transition to traditional realism, even if enriched by the new experience of recent times, was quite rapid in Gor′kij. This fundamentally psychological experience, both of the individual and of the environment,My childhood, Among the people, etc., and at its peak the very recent ones of the historical-psychological re-enactment such as The Artamonovs and The life of Klim Samgin.