Aleksey Feofilaktovich Pisemsky

Aleksey Feofilaktovich Pisemsky

Pisemsky, Aleksey Feofilaktovich, 1821-81, Russian novelist and playwright. In his realistic descriptions of country life he portrayed the peasant sympathetically. His novel A Thousand Souls (1858, tr. 1959) is the story of an ambitious man who marries the owner of a thousand "souls," or serfs. His best-known works include the play A Bitter Fate (1859, tr. 1933), a tragic story of the seduction of a peasant's wife by a landowner, and the novels A Love Match and The Doormat.

See study by C. A. Moser (1969).

Aleksey Feofilaktovich Pisemsky (Алексей Феофилактович Писемский in Russian) (1821 - 1881) was a Russian novelist who was regarded as an equal of Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoevsky during his lifetime, but whose reputation suffered a spectacular decline in the 20th century.

Aleksey Pisemsky was born on his father's estate in the province of Kostroma. In his autobiography, he describes his family as belonging to the ancient Russian nobility, but his more immediate progenitors were all very poor and unable to read or write. His grandfather ploughed the fields as a simple peasant, and his father, as Pisemsky himself said, was washed and clothed by a rich relative, and placed as a soldier in the army, from which he retired as a major after thirty years of service. During childhood, Pisemsky read eagerly the translated works of Walter Scott and Victor Hugo, and later those of Shakespeare, Schiller, Goethe, Rousseau, Voltaire and George Sand.

From the gymnasium of Kostroma he passed through Moscow State University, and in 1844 entered the government service as a clerk in his native province. Between 1854 and 1872, when he finally quit the civil service, he occupied similar posts in St.Petersburg and Moscow. His early works exhibit a profound disbelief in the higher qualities of humanity, and a disdain for the other sex, although he appears to have been attached to a particularly devoted and sensible wife.

His first novel Boyarschina (Боярщина) was forbidden for its unflattering description of the Russian nobility. His principal novels are A Muff (Тюфяк), 1850; A Thousand Souls (Тысяча душ), 1862, which is considered his best work of the kind; and A Troubled Sea (Взбаламученное море), giving a picture of the excited state of Russian society about the year 1862.

He also produced a sinister comedy A Bitter Fate (Горькая судьбина), depicting the dark sides of the Russian peasantry, which obtained for him the Uvarov prize of the Russian Academy. In 1856 he was sent, together with other literary men, to report on the ethnographical and commercial condition of the Russian interior, his particular field of inquiry having been Astrakhan and the region of the Caspian Sea. His scepticism in regard to the liberal reforms of the sixties made him very unpopular among the more progressive writers of that time. He started to drink heavily, and avoided appearing in public during the last decade of his life.


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