Life and Death of Alexander Pushkin

Author: Druzhnikov, Yuri
“That I was born in Russia with feeling and talent is the devil’s curse!” Alexander Pushkin wrote in the last letter to his wife. Eight months later he died. This new scholarly book on Russia’s greatest poet is an electrifying reinterpretation of the official Imperial, Soviet, and Post-Soviet Pushkin studies. While investigating the last and unhappy period of Pushkin’s biography (1830-1837), e.g. ‘the end of Pushkin’s life,’ the author restores paradoxical circumstances that eventually led to the poet’s death. In this book the author constructs a new scholarly version of Pushkin as an artist profoundly at odds not only with his society but also with himself.

The author is by no means the first to expose the weak points of Russian traditional myths, Pushkin’s enrollment into historic and social studies of Russian tyranny, a comparative analysis of Pushkin’s recognition in France, as well as some untouchable aspects of the biography of the poet, paradoxes of a Russian umber – one classic who considered himself in his diary a Russian Dangeau.

Genius constitutes the domain of freedom, whereas any political body (such as the totalitarian state) is an area of constraint. Conflict between genius and authorities is treated as metaphysically inevitable. Pushkin’s final drama and his mental problems were a network of intrigues that inextricably and tragically entangled his personality. Finally in the book, this recognized Pushkin scholar offers a new documented evidence for his paradoxical version of Pushkin’s duel as suicide.

The idolization of the poet in his own country and even abroad raises some troubling issues. What lies behind the need to create national heroes and falsify their biographies, and to what lengths must a country go to discover its national identity and goals? Being an original and provocative analysis of the unknown Pushkin, this monograph will be in many respects an eye-opener to both Slavic scholars, students, and the well-educated general readers.


“This new book on Russia’s greatest poet is an electrifying reinterpretation of all the official Imperial, Soviet, and Post-Soviet Pushkin studies. A few years worth of research have led up to some startling new discoveries. The text is based on a meticulous study of Pushkin’s life and work, drawing on the huge masses of material accumulated by generations of scholars. Hence the discovery of an “unknown Pushkin” is a matter of selecting and interpreting evidence in a new way ... Unfortunately, Russia’s poets tend to have had short and troubled lives. Yet nowhere in the world have poets contributed so much to their national legends as in Russia, where the poet’s creations and his personal life are much more likely to have been in the public eye than in the West – to the myths of Shakespeare, Goethe, Byron, and Hugo – one should add at the very least Alexander Pushkin. Professor Druzhnikov tells a story of the tragic end of a controversial genius, the greatest Russian writer, who was baited and yet at the same time showered with blandishments and honors by the tyrants in power. It is the monograph of an eagle whose wings had been cut. The book is deep scholarly, original, clever, trustworthy, and exciting to read ...” – (from the Foreword) Sidney Monas, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas at Austin

“ ... Dr. Druzhnikov has left no stone unturned in investigating the facts of Pushkin’s life. His work is not a romanticized biography or a fanciful reconstruction based on conjectures, but a serious contribution to our understanding of Pushkin in 1830-1837. This book is written in a language that is rarely met with in modern literary studies. It combines the rigor of academic research with the elegance of a piece of fiction. [This work] will appeal in equal measure to specialists and lovers of belles-lettres ... Dr. Druzhnikov was refused the right to leave the Soviet Union and spent years as a political detainee, even though he was not imprisoned. His works on Pushkin are not born only of his admiration for the poet’s genius but also of empathy: he knows what Pushkin must have experienced ...” – Professor Anatoly Liberman, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

“This work is based on a deep and serious research of Alexander Pushkin’s life and work, drawing on the huge masses of material accumulated by generations of Pushkin scholars and also on previously unknown archival material ... Alexander Pushkin’s entire adult life is presented as the agony of a man who can barely stand existence in the conditions of captivity and finds new ways to plot an escape in a compulsive manner ... Dr. Druzhnikov carefully researched the subject of Alexander Pushkin paradoxes that suited the political ideologies of Slavophiles, Populists, Soviet and post-Soviet experts, who all sought to provide that the false image of Russia’s national poet as ‘useful’ for the Russian people ...” – Victor Terras, Professor Emeritus, Brown University

Table of Contents

Foreword by Sidney Monas
1. The New Year of 1830: From Skepticism to Apathy
2. “A Secret Police Surveillance”
3. A Paradox: “The Superfluous Man” in the Mirror
4. In Search of a Niche
5. Reconciling the Spirit with the Reality
6. A Paradox: The Untrustworthy Loyal Subject
7. A Paradox: The Internal Émigré
8. “I’ll Make Myself a Russian Dangeau”
9. “Amid Libels and Denunciations”
10. Is the Truth Dearer than the Motherland?
11. Passport to a Better World
12. Pushkin in 1837: Versions of Suicide
13. Posthumous Search
14. A Paradox: Russian Black Bread in France
Appendix: A Brief Chronology of Pushkin’s Crypto-Life
Selected Bibliography