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|Born||December 10 [O.S. November 28] 1821
Nemyriv, Russian Empire
|Died||8 January 1878 [O.S. 28 December 1877]
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov (Russian: Никола́й Алексе́евич Некра́сов; IPA: [nʲɪkɐˈlaj ɐlʲɪkˈsʲejɪvʲɪtɕ nʲɪˈkrasəf] ( ), December 10 [O.S. November 28] 1821 – 8 January 1878 [O.S. 28 December 1877]) was a Russian poet, writer, critic and publisher, whose deeply compassionate poems about peasant Russia won him Fyodor Dostoyevsky's admiration and made him the hero of liberal and radical circles of Russian intelligentsia, as represented by Vissarion Belinsky and Nikolay Chernyshevsky. He is credited with introducing into Russian poetry ternary meters and the technique of dramatic monologue (V doroge, 1845). As the editor of several literary journals, including Sovremennik, Nekrasov was also singularly successful.
Life and career
Nikolai A. Nekrasov was born in the town of Nemyriv (now in Vinnytsia Oblast, Ukraine), Podolia Governorate. His father, Alexei Nekrasov, was a descendant from Russian landed Gentry, and an officer in the Imperial Russian Army. His mother was a Polish noblewoman named Aleksandra Zakrzewska, who was from Warsaw and belonged to szlachta.
Young Nekrasov grew up on his father's ancestral estate, Greshnevo, Yaroslavl province, near the Volga River. There, he observed the hard labor of the Volga boatmen, Russian barge haulers. This image of social injustice, so similar to Fyodor Dostoevsky's childhood recollections, was compounded by the behavior of Nekrasov's tyrannical father. His father's early retirement from the army, and his public job as a provincial inspector, caused him much frustration resulting in drunken rages against both his peasants and his wife. Such experiences traumatized the young poet and determined the subject matter of Nekrasov's major poems—a verse portrayal of the plight of the Russian peasants and women.
Nekrasov admired his mother and later expressed his love and empathy to all women in his writings. Nekrasov's mother played a pivotal role in his development; her love and support helped the young poet to survive the traumatic experiences of his childhood. He attended the classic Gymnasium in Yaroslavl for five years, but showed little interest in formal studies. In 1838 his father, bent on a military career for his son, sent the 16-year-old Nekrasov to a military academy in St. Petersburg. There Nekrasov switched to St. Petersburg University as a part-time student, he was also able to audit classes, which he did from 1839 to 1841.
Nekrasov's father stopped supporting him after he quit the army in favor of university studies, so Nekrasov lived in extreme conditions, briefly living in a homeless shelter. Shortly thereafter Nekrasov authored his first collection of poetry, Dreams and Sounds, published under the name "N. N." Though his patron poet Vasily Zhukovsky expressed a favorable opinion of the beginner's work, it was promptly dismissed as Romantic doggerel by Vissarion Belinsky, the most important Russian literary critic of the first half of 19th century. Nekrasov personally went to the booksellers and removed all the copies of his first collection.
Career as publisher
Ironically, Nekrasov joined the staff of Отечественные Записки (Notes of the Fatherland) under his critic Belinsky, and became close friends with the critic. Soon Belinsky recognized Nekrasov's talent, and promoted him to position as a junior editor. From 1843-46 Nekrasov edited various anthologies for the magazine, one of which, "A Petersburg Collection," included Dostoyevsky's first novel, Poor Folk. At the end of 1846, Nekrasov acquired a popular magazine The Contemporary (also known as "Sovremennik") from Pyotr Pletnev. Much of the staff of the old NoF, including Belinksy, abandoned Andrey Krayevsky's magazine, and joined "Sovremennik" to work with Nekrasov. Before his death in 1848, Belinsky granted Nekrasov rights to publish various articles and other material originally planned for an almanac, to be called the Leviathan.
By the middle of 1850s Nekrasov had become seriously ill. He left Russia for Italy to recover. It was around this time that Chernyshevsky and Nikolai Dobrolyubov, two of the most radical and unabashedly revolutionary writers of the time, had joined the staff and became the major critics for the magazine. Nekrasov was attacked by his old friends for allowing his journal to become the vehicle for Chernyshevsky's sloppy and often poorly written broadside attacks on polite Russian society. By 1860 I. S. Turgenev, the naysayer of nihilism, refused to have any more of his work published in the journal.
After the closure of the Contemporary in 1866, Nekrasov made peace with his old enemy Kraevsky, and obtained from his ownership of Отечественные Записки (Notes of the Fatherland). He achieved new success with the journal over the next ten years.
Nekrasov's earlier works from the 1850s, such as his first big poem Саша (Sasha), deal with the challenges of Russian life, describing intellectuals and their never-ending conflicts with reality. His works of the 1860s, such as folk poems and poems for children, are among his best written works, such as Коробейники, Крестьянские дети (also translated as "Peasant children") and Мороз Красный Нос (also translated as "Grandfather Frost-the Red Nose" - a Russian version of Santa Claus).
Some of his deeper and philosophical poems are written in the style of confession, such as Рыцарь на час (also translated as "A Knight for an Hour"), as well as Влас (Vlas) and Когда из мрака заблуждения я душу падшую воззвал (also translated as "When from the darkness of the delusions, I called her soul").
Among his other important works are his later poems: Русские женщины ("Russian women"), written in 1871-1872, Кому на Руси жить хорошо? (Who is Happy in Russia?) (1863-1876). "Russian women" tells the true story of two princesses, Ekaterina Trubetskaya and Maria Volkonskaya, who followed their husbands, participants in the failed Decembrist revolt of 1825, to exile in Siberia.
Who is Happy in Russia?
Who is Happy in Russia? (1863–76) tells the story of seven peasants who set out to ask various elements of the rural population if they are happy, to which the answer is never satisfactory. The poem is noted for its rhyme scheme: "several unrhymed iambic tetrameters ending in a Pyrrhic are succeeded by a clausule in iambic trimeter" (Terras 319). This rhyme resembles a traditional Russian folk song.
Health and death
In 1875 Nekrasov, never healthy, was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. His friends paid for the surgery performed by the leading doctor of that time, Dr. Bilroth, who was invited from Vienna. However, the surgery did not cure the illness, but only prolonged his agony, and Nekrasov suffered for another two years. At that time, he wrote his Last Songs, filled with the wisdom and sadness of the dying poet.
Nekrasov's funeral at Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg was attended by many. Fyodor Dostoyevsky gave the keynote eulogy, noting that Nekrasov was the greatest Russian poet since Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. A section of the crowd, youthful followers of Chernyshevsky, who connected some verses of the deceased poet with the revolutionary cause, chanted "No, he was greater!"
Recognition and legacy
During his time, Nekrasov was best remembered as Fyodor Dostoyevsky's first editor, in 1845, and the long-standing publisher of Sovremennik (The Contemporary) (from 1846 until July 1866, making it the leading Russian literary magazine of his time. Sovremennik was originally founded by Pushkin, and Nekrasov continued the legacy.
During its 20 years of steady and careful literary policy, Sovremennik evolved into a literary salon and served as a cultural forum for all Russian writers. Sovremennik published the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev, and Leo Tolstoy, as well as Nekrasov's own poetry and prose, among many other writers. During the 1850s and 1860s, Sovremennik had the largest circulation of all Russian literary magazines, it was also distributed among Russian expatriate communities in Europe. The success of Sovremennik was mainly attributed to Nekrasov's talent as a publisher, as well as to the circle of talented writers in Russia and abroad. Sovremennik was one of the very few Russian magazines to publish the works of leading European authors, such as Flaubert and Balzac, translated into Russian. However, the lack of real political freedom in Russia, coupled with financial difficulties, led to the end in 1866, when the magazine was closed by the tsar's government in connection with the arrest of its radical editor, revolutionary Nikolai Chernyshevsky.
Nekrasov's estate in Karabikha, his St. Petersburg home, as well as the office of Sovremennik magazine on Liteyny Prospekt, are now national cultural landmarks and public museums of Russian literature.
- "Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov" in the Russian Biographical Dictionary (online)
- Terras, Victor. A History of Russian Literature. ISBN 0-300-04971-4
- History of Nineteenth-Century Russian Literature, by Dmitrij Cizevskij et al. Vanderbilt University Press, 1974. Page 104.
- An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, Volume 1, Taylor & Francis, 1991.
- Several poems by Nekrasov translated into English
- Works by Nikolai Alekseevich Nekrasov at Project Gutenberg
- English translations of 3 poems by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky, 1921
- English translations of 4 poems
- Some texts by Nikolai Nekrasov in the original Russian