Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) was one of the greatest Russian poets of this century. But during her life she was subjected to scathing critical attacks, denounced as "half-nun, half-whore," and then expelled from the Writers' Union. She also endured severe personal losses. Akhmatova's friend Lydia Chukovskaya (1907-96) kept intimate diaries of her conversations with the great poet. First published in the U.S.S.R. in 1987, The Akhmatova Journals offers a rare look into the day-to-day life of Akhmatova.
Anna Akhmatova and Her Circle
Konstantin Polivanov University of Arkansas Press, 2016 Library of Congress PG3476.A324Z53813 1994 | Dewey Decimal 891.7142
This powerful collection of fifteen memoirs by and about one of the greatest poets of our time weaves an unforgettable drama of friendship, grace, and courage, through long years of heartbreak and hunger.
Olga Berggolts, Translated by Lisa Kirschenbaum and Barbara Walker University of Wisconsin Press, 2018 Library of Congress PG3476.B45D613 2018 | Dewey Decimal 891.7144
For 872 days during World War II, the city of Leningrad endured a crushing blockade at the hands of German forces. Close to one million civilians died, most from starvation. Amid the devastation, Olga Berggolts broadcast her poems on the one remaining radio station, urging listeners not to lose hope. When the siege had begun, the country had already endured decades of revolution, civil war, economic collapse, and Stalin's purges. Berggolts herself survived the deaths of two husbands and both of her children, her own arrest, and a stillborn birth after being beaten under interrogation.
Berggolts wrote her memoir Daytime Stars in the spirit of the thaw after Stalin's death. In it, she celebrated the ideals of the revolution and the heroism of the Soviet people while also criticizing censorship of writers and recording her doubts and despair. This English translation by Lisa A. Kirschenbaum makes available a unique autobiographical work by an important author of the Soviet era. In her foreword, Katharine Hodgson comments on experiences of the Terror about which Berggolts was unable or unwilling to write.
Derzhavin: A Biography
Vladislav Khodasevich, Translated and with an introduction by Angela Brintlinger University of Wisconsin Press, 2007 Library of Congress PG3312.Z5K513 2007 | Dewey Decimal 891.713
Russian poet, soldier, and statesman Gavriil Derzhavin (1743–1816) lived during an epoch of momentous change in Russia—imperial expansion, peasant revolts, war with Turkey, and struggle with Napoleon—and he served three tsars, including Catherine the Great. Here in its first English translation is the masterful biography of Derzhavin by another acclaimed Russian man of letters, Vladislav Khodasevich.
Derzhavin occupied a position at the center of Russian life, uniting civic service with poetic inspiration and creating an oeuvre that at its essence celebrated the triumphs of Russia and its rulers, particularly Catherine the Great. His biographer Khodasevich, by contrast, left Russia in 1922, unable to abide the increasingly repressive regime of the Soviets. For Khodasevich, whose lyric poems were as commonplace in their focus as Derzhavin’s odes were grand, this biography was in a sense a rediscovery of a lost and idyllic era, a period when it was possible to aspire to the pinnacles of artistic achievement while still occupying a central role in Russian society.
Khodasevich writes with humor, intelligence, and understanding, and his work stands as a monument to the last three centuries of Russian history, lending keen insight into Russia’s past as well as its present and future.
“Khodasevich’s light narrative touch (as translated by Brintlinger) lends a novelistic quality to the biography, making it a genuine tour de force. All students and scholars – of history, literature, poetry, biography – will find something of interest here.”—Choice
"No more passionate voice ever sounded in Russian poetry of the 20th century," Joseph Brodsky writes of Marina Tsvetaeva. And yet Western readers are only now starting to discover what Tsvetaeva’s Russian audience has already recognized, "that she was one of the major poetic voices of the century" (Tomas Venclova, The New Republic). Born to a family of Russian intelligentsia in 1892 and coming of age in the crucible of revolution and war, Tsvetaeva has been seen as a victim of her politicized time, her life and her work marked by exile, neglect, and persecution. This book is the first to show us the poet as she discovered her life through art, shaped as much by inner demons as by the political forces and harsh realities of her day. With remarkable psychological and literary subtlety, Lily Feiler traces these demons through the tragic drama of Tsvetaeva’s life and poetry. Hers is a story full of contradictions, resisting social and literary conventions but enmeshed in the politics and poetry of her time. Feiler depicts the poet in her complex relation to her contemporaries—Pasternak, Rilke, Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, and Akhmatova. She shows us a woman embodying the values of nineteenth-century romanticism, yet radical in her poetry, supremely independent in her art, but desperate for appreciation and love, simultaneously mother and child in her complicated sexual relationships with men and women. From prerevolutionary Russia to Red Moscow, from pre-World War II Berlin, Prague, and Paris to the Soviet Union under Stalin, Feiler follows the tortuous drama of Tsvetaeva’s life and work to its last tragic act, exposing at each turn the passions that molded some of this century’s most powerful poetry.
Mayakovsky: A Biography
Bengt Jangfeldt University of Chicago Press, 2014 Library of Congress PG3476.M312J3413 2014 | Dewey Decimal 891.7142
Few poets have led lives as tempestuous as that of Vladimir Mayakovsky. Born in 1893 and dead by his own hand in 1930, Mayakovsky packed his thirty-six years with drama, politics, passion, and—most important—poetry. An enthusiastic supporter of the Russian Revolution and the emerging Soviet State, Mayakovsky was championed by Stalin after his death and enshrined as a quasi-official Soviet poet, a position that led to undeserved neglect among Western literary scholars even as his influence on other poets has remained powerful.
With Mayakovsky, Bengt Jangfeldt offers the first comprehensive biography of Mayakovsky, revealing a troubled man who was more dreamer than revolutionary, more political romantic than hardened Communist. Jangfeldt sets Mayakovsky’s life and works against the dramatic turbulence of his times, from the aesthetic innovations of the pre-revolutionary avant-garde to the rigidity of Socialist Realism and the destruction of World War I to the violence—and hope—of the Russian Revolution, through the tightening grip of Stalinist terror and the growing disillusion with Russian communism that eventually led the poet to take his life.
Through it all is threaded Mayakovsky’s celebrated love affair with Lili Brik and the moving relationship with Lili’s husband, Osip, along with a brilliant depiction of the larger circle of writers and artists around Mayakovsky, including Maxim Gorky, Viktor Shklovsky, Alexander Rodchenko, and Roman Jakobson. The result is a literary life viewed in the round, enabling us to understand the personal and historical furies that drove Mayakovsky and generated his still-startling poetry.
Illustrated throughout with rare images of key characters and locations, Mayakovsky is a major step in the revitalization of a crucial figure of the twentieth-century avant-garde.
Pushkin on Literature
Tatiana Wolff Northwestern University Press, 1998 Library of Congress PG3347.A2W6 1998 | Dewey Decimal 809.03
Pushkin on Literature approaches Pushkin's literary accomplishment from a unique perspective: it focuses on Pushkin the critic, and on his passionate enthusiasm, volatile judgments, joy, frustration, and fascination with the literary world that surrounded him. This is the only English-language edition of the complete set of Pushkin's critical writing, both on his own work and on the wide range of European literature--Byron, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Milton--which he read and studied, and which so profoundly influenced his own writing.
Serena Vitale University of Chicago Press, 2000 Library of Congress PG3350.5.D4V5813 2000 | Dewey Decimal 891.713
Pushkin's Button recreates the four months of Pushkin's life leading up to the fatal duel in the snow on January 27, 1837. Many theories have been advanced about the death of one of Russia's greatest artists, none of them wholly satisfactory. Serena Vitale has opened the archives and studies the case more closely, and more imaginatively, than anyone before her. Her brilliant detective work unearths fascinating, revealing details, including a button missing from Pushkin's Kamerjunker uniform.
"Pushkin's Button will keep all constituencies of reader fastened to their seats, as they watch Petersburg's lofty denizens leave no moment of the hurtling Pushkin scandal unrecorded or not speculated on."—Monika Greenleaf,Los Angeles Times
"[A] deliciously entertaining whydunit, a book in which every page seduces with a riddle. . . . Vivacious, seductive, original."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post
"A delightful combination of retrograde pleasures (court balls, the demise of a doomed genius) and primary sources. . . . Illuminating."—Richard Lamb, New York Times Book Review
"A book almost impossible to put down."—George Steiner, New Yorker
Readers often have regarded with curiosity the creative life of the poet. In this passionate and authoritative new study, David Bethea illustrates the relation between the art and life of nineteenth-century poet Alexander Pushkin, the central figure in Russian thought and culture. Bethea shows how Pushkin, on the eve of his two-hundredth birthday, still speaks to our time. He indicates how we as modern readers might "realize"— that is, not only grasp cognitively, but feel, experience—the promethean metaphors central to the poet's intensely "sculpted" life. The Pushkin who emerges from Bethea's portrait is one who, long unknown to English-language readers, closely resembles the original both psychologically and artistically.
Bethea begins by addressing the influential thinkers Freud, Bloom, Jakobson, and Lotman to show that their premises do not, by themselves, adequately account for Pushkin's psychology of creation or his version of the "life of the poet." He then proposes his own versatile model of reading, and goes on to sketches the tangled connections between Pushkin and his great compatriot, the eighteenth-century poet Gavrila Derzhavin. Pushkin simultaneously advanced toward and retreated from the shadow of his predecessor as he created notions of poet-in-history and inspiration new for his time and absolutely determinative for the tradition thereafter.
These are the first two volumes of the Croatian poet and novelist Irena Vrkljan's lyrical autobiography. Although each novel illuminates the other, they also stand alone as original and independent works of art. In The Silk, the Shears, Vrkljan traces the symbolic and moral significance of her life, and her vision of the fate of women in her mother's time and in her own. Marina continues the intense analysis of the poetic self, using the life of Marina Tsvetaeva to meditate on the processes behind biography.
Ilya Vinitsky's Vasily Zhukovsky's Romanticism and the Emotional History of Russia is the first major study in English of Vasily Zhukovsky (1783–1852)—a poet, translator of German romantic verse, and, crucially, mentor of Pushkin. It focuses overdue attention to an important figure in Russian literary and cultural history.
Vinitsky’s "psychological biography" argues that Zhukovsky very consciously set out to create for himself an emotional life that reflected his unique brand of romanticism, different from what we associate with Pushkin or poets such as Byron or Wordsworth. For Zhukovsky, ideal love was harmonious, built on a mystical foundation of spiritual kinship. Vinitsky shows how Zhukovksy played a pivotal role in the evolution of ideas central to Russia’s literary and cultural identity from the end of the eighteenth century into the decades following the Napoleonic Wars.