Pushkin was born into Russian nobility in Moscow. Нis father, Sergey Lvovich Pushkin, belonged to Pushkin noble families. His matrilineal great-grandfather was Abram Petrovich Gannibal. He published his first poem at the age of fifteen, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum. While under the strict surveillance of the Tsar's political police and unable to publish, Pushkin wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was serialized between 1825 and 1832.
Pushkin was fatally wounded in a duel with his brother-in-law, Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès, also known as Dantes-Gekkern, a French officer serving with the Chevalier Guard Regiment who attempted to seduce the poet's wife, Natalia Pushkina.
Pushkin's father, Sergei Lvovich Pushkin (1767–1848), was descended from a distinguished family of the Russian nobility that traced its ancestry back to the 12th century.
Pushkin's mother, Nadezhda (Nadya) Ossipovna Gannibal (1775–1836), was descended through her paternal grandmother from German and Scandinavian nobility. She was the daughter of Ossip Abramovich Gannibal (1744–1807) and his wife, Maria Alekseyevna Pushkina (1745–1818).
Ossip Abramovich Gannibal's father, Pushkin's great-grandfather, was Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696–1781), an African page kidnapped to Constantinople as a gift to the Ottoman Sultan and later transferred to Russia as a gift for Peter the Great. Abram wrote in a letter to Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter, that Gannibal was from the town of "Lagon". Largely on the basis of a mythical biography by Gannibal's son-in-law Rotkirkh, some historians concluded from this that Gannibal was born in a part of what was then the Abyssinian Empire. Vladimir Nabokov, when researching Eugene Onegin, cast serious doubt on this origin theory. Later research by the scholars Dieudonné Gnammankou and Hugh Barnes eventually conclusively established that Gannibal was instead born in Central Africa, in an area bordering Lake Chad in modern-day Cameroon. After education in France as a military engineer, Gannibal became governor of Reval and eventually Général en Chef (the third most senior army rank) in charge of the building of sea forts and canals in Russia.
Born in Moscow, Pushkin published his first poem at the age of fifteen. By the time he finished school as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo near Saint Petersburg, his talent was already widely recognized within the Russian literary scene. After school, Pushkin plunged into the vibrant and raucous intellectual youth culture of the capital, Saint Petersburg. In 1820 he published his first long poem, Ruslan and Ludmila, amidst much controversy about its subject and style.
Pushkin gradually became committed to social reform and emerged as a spokesman for literary radicals. This angered the government, and led to his transfer from the capital in May 1820. He went to the Caucasus and to Crimea, then to Kamianka and Chișinău, where he became a Freemason.
Here he joined the Filiki Eteria, a secret organization whose purpose was to overthrow Ottoman rule in Greece and establish an independent Greek state. He was inspired by the Greek Revolution and when the war against the Ottoman Turks broke out he kept a diary recording the events of the great national uprising.
He stayed in Chișinău until 1823 and wrote two Romantic poems which brought him wide acclaim; The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. In 1823 Pushkin moved to Odessa, where he again clashed with the government, which sent him into exile on his mother's rural estate of Mikhailovskoye (near Pskov) from 1824 to 1826.
In Mikhaylovskoye, Pushkin wrote nostalgic love poems which he dedicated to Elizaveta Vorontsova, wife of Malorossia's General-Governor. Then Pushkin continued work on his verse-novel Eugene Onegin.
In Mikhaylovskoye, in 1825, Pushkin wrote the poem To***. It is generally believed that he dedicated this poem to Anna Kern, but there are other opinions. Poet Mikhail Dudin believed that the poem was dedicated to the serf Olga Kalashnikova. Pushkinist Kira Victorova believed that the poem was dedicated to the Empress Elizaveta Alekseyevna. Vadim Nikolayev argued that the idea about the Empress was marginal and refused to discuss it, while trying to prove that poem had been dedicated to Tatyana Larina, the heroine of Eugene Onegin.
Authorities allowed Pushkin to visit Tsar Nicholas I to petition for his release, which he obtained. However, insurgents in the Decembrist Uprising (1825) in Saint Petersburg had kept some of Pushkin's earlier political poems, and he quickly found himself under the strict control of government censors, unable to travel or publish at will.
During that same year (1825), Pushkin also wrote what would become his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, while at his mother's estate. He could not however, gain permission to publish it until five years later. The original and uncensored version of the drama was not staged until 2007.
Around 1825–1829 he met and befriended the Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, during exile in central Russia. In 1829 he travelled through the Caucasus to Erzurum to visit friends fighting in the Russian army during the Russo-Turkish War. In the end of 1829 Pushkin wanted to set off on a journey abroad, the desire reflected in his poem Poedem, ia gotov; kuda by vy, druz’ia... He applied for permission for the journey, but received negative response from Nicholas I on January 17, 1830.
Around 1828, Pushkin met Natalia Goncharova, then 16 years old and one of the most talked-about beauties of Moscow. After much hesitation, Natalia accepted a proposal of marriage from Pushkin in April 1830, but not before she received assurances that the Tsarist government had no intentions to persecute the libertarian poet. Later, Pushkin and his wife became regulars of court society. They officially became engaged on 6 May 1830, and sent out wedding invitations. Due to an outbreak of cholera and other circumstances, the wedding was delayed for a year. The ceremony took place on 18 February 1831 (Old Style) in the Great Ascension Church on Bolshaya Nikitskaya Street in Moscow. When the Tsar gave Pushkin the lowest court title, the poet became enraged, feeling that the Tsar intended to humiliate him by implying that Pushkin was being admitted to court not on his own merits but solely so that his wife, who had many admirers including the Tsar himself, could properly attend court balls.
In the year 1831, during the period of Pushkin's growing literary influence, he met one of Russia's other great early writers, Nikolai Gogol. After reading Gogol's 1831–1832 volume of short stories Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, Pushkin supported him and would feature some of Gogol's most famous short stories in the magazine The Contemporary, which he founded in 1836.
By the autumn of 1836, Pushkin was falling into greater and greater debt and faced scandalous rumours that his wife had a love affair. On 4 November he sent a challenge to a duel for Georges d'Anthès (Dantes-Gekkern). Jacob van Heeckeren, d'Anthès' adoptive father, asked the duel be delayed by two weeks. With efforts by the poet's friends, the duel was cancelled. On 17 November Georges d'Anthès made a proposal to Natalia Goncharova's (Pushkina's) sister – Ekaterina Goncharova. The same day Pushkin sent the letter to refuse the duel. The marriage didn't resolve the conflict. Georges d'Anthès continued to pursue Natalia Goncharova in public. Rumours that Georges married Natalia's sister just to save her reputation started to spread. On January 26 (7 February) of 1837 Pushkin sent a "highly insulting letter" to Heeckeren. The only answer for that letter could be a challenge to a duel, and Pushkin knew it. Pushkin received the formal challenge to a duel through his sister-in-law, Ekaterina Gekkerna, approved by d'Anthès, on the same day through the attaché of the French Embassy Viscount d'Archiac. Since Dantes-Gekkern was the ambassador of a foreign country, he could not fight a duel – it would mean the immediate collapse of his career. The duel with d'Anthès took place on January 27 at the Black River. Pushkin was wounded in a hip and the bullet penetrated into the abdomen. At that time that kind of wound was fatal. Pushkin learned about it from the medic Arendt, who did not conceal the true state of affairs. Two days later, on January 29 (February 10) at 14:45 Pushkin died of peritonitis.
By Pushkin's wife's request he was put in the coffin in an evening dress – not in chamber-cadet uniform. The funeral service was assigned to the St. Isaac's Cathedral, but it was moved to Konyushennaya church. The ceremony took place at a large gathering of people. After the funeral, the coffin was lowered into the basement, where it stayed until 3 February, before the departure to Pskov. Alexander Pushkin was buried on the territory of the monastery Svyatogorsk Pskov province. His last home is now a museum.
Pushkin had four children from his marriage to Natalia: Maria (b. 1832), Alexander (b. 1833), Grigory (b. 1835) and Natalia (b. 1836) the last of whom married, morganatically, into the royal house of Nassau to Nikolaus Wilhelm of Nassau and became the Countess of Merenberg.
Of Pushkin's children only the lines of Alexander and Natalia continue. Natalia's granddaughter, Nadejda, married into the British royal family (her husband was the uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh). Descendants of the poet now live around the globe in Great Britain, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and the United States.
Critics consider many of his works masterpieces, such as the poem The Bronze Horseman and the drama The Stone Guest, a tale of the fall of Don Juan. His poetic short drama Mozart and Salieri (from the same work as The Stone Guest, Little Tragedies) was the inspiration for Peter Shaffer's Amadeus as well as providing the libretto (almost verbatim) to Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Mozart and Salieri. Pushkin is also known for his short stories. In particular his cycle The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, including "The Shot", were well received. Pushkin himself preferred his verse novel Eugene Onegin, which he wrote over the course of his life and which, starting a tradition of great Russian novels, follows a few central characters but varies widely in tone and focus.
Onegin is a work of such complexity that, while only about a hundred pages long, translator Vladimir Nabokov needed two full volumes of material to fully render its meaning in English. Because of this difficulty in translation, Pushkin's verse remains largely unknown to English readers. Even so, Pushkin has profoundly influenced western writers like Henry James. Pushkin wrote The Queen of Spades, which is included in Black Water, a collection of short stories of a fantastic nature by major writers, compiled by Alberto Manguel.
Pushkin's works also provided fertile ground for Russian composers. Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila is the earliest important Pushkin-inspired opera, and a landmark in the tradition of Russian music. Tchaikovsky's operas Eugene Onegin (1879) and The Queen of Spades (La Dame de Pique, 1890) became perhaps better known outside of Russia than Pushkin's own works of the same name.
Mussorgsky's monumental Boris Godunov (two versions, 1868–9 and 1871–2) ranks as one of the very finest and most original of Russian operas. Other Russian operas based on Pushkin include Dargomyzhsky's Rusalka and The Stone Guest; Rimsky-Korsakov's Mozart and Salieri, Tale of Tsar Saltan, and The Golden Cockerel; Cui's Prisoner of the Caucasus, Feast in Time of Plague, and The Captain's Daughter; Tchaikovsky's Mazeppa; Rachmaninoff's one-act operas Aleko (based on The Gypsies) and The Miserly Knight; Stravinsky's Mavra, and Nápravník's Dubrovsky.
Additionally, ballets and cantatas, as well as innumerable songs, have been set to Pushkin's verse (including even his French-language poems, in Isabelle Aboulker's song cycle "Caprice étrange"). Suppé, Leoncavallo and Malipiero have also based operas on his works.
The Desire of Glory, which has been dedicated to Elizaveta Vorontsova, was set to music by David Tukhmanov (Vitold Petrovsky – The Desire of Glory on YouTube), as well as Keep Me, Mine Talisman – by Alexander Barykin (Alexander Barykin – Keep Me, Mine Talisman on YouTube) and later by Tukhmanov.
Pushkin is considered by many to be the central representative of Romanticism in Russian literature; however, he can't be labelled unequivocally as a Romantic. Russian critics have traditionally argued that his works represent a path from Neoclassicism through Romanticism to Realism. An alternative assessment suggests that "he had an ability to entertain contrarities [sic] which may seem Romantic in origin, but are ultimately subversive of all fixed points of view, all single outlooks, including the Romantic" and that "he is simultaneously Romantic and not Romantic".
According to Vladimir Nabokov,
Pushkin's idiom combined all the contemporaneous elements of Russian with all he had learned from Derzhavin, Zhukovsky, Batyushkov, Karamzin and Krylov; these elements are:
- The poetical and metaphysical strain that still lived in Church Slavonic forms and locutions;
- Abundant and natural gallicisms;
- The everyday colloquialisms of his set; and
- Stylized popular speech. He made a salad of the famous three styles (low, medium elevation, high) dear to the pseudoclassical archaists, and added to it the ingredients of Russian romanticists with a pinch of parody.
Pushkin is usually credited with developing Russian literature. Not only is he seen as having originated the highly nuanced level of language which characterizes Russian literature after him, but he is also credited with substantially augmenting the Russian lexicon. Where he found gaps in the Russian vocabulary, he devised calques. His rich vocabulary and highly sensitive style are the foundation for modern Russian literature. His accomplishments set new records for development of the Russian language and culture. He became the father of Russian literature in the 19th century, marking the highest achievements of the 18th century and the beginning of literary process of the 19th century. Alexander Pushkin introduced Russia to all the European literary genres as well as a great number of West European writers. He brought natural speech and foreign influences to create modern poetic Russian. Though his life was brief, he left examples of nearly every literary genre of his day: lyric poetry, narrative poetry, the novel, the short story, the drama, the critical essay, and even the personal letter.
Pushkin's work as a journalist marked the birth of Russian magazine culture which included him devising and contributing heavily to one of the most influential literary magazines of the 19th century, the Sovremennik (The Contemporary, or Современник). Pushkin inspired the folk tales and genre pieces of other authors: Leskov, Yesenin and Gorky. His use of Russian language formed the basis of the style of novelists Ivan Turgenev, Ivan Goncharov and Leo Tolstoy, as well as that of subsequent lyric poets such as Mikhail Lermontov. Pushkin was analysed by Nikolai Gogol, his successor and pupil, and the great Russian critic Vissarion Belinsky who has also produced the fullest and deepest critical study of Pushkin's work, which still retains much of its relevance.In 1929, Soviet writer, Leonid Grossman, published a novel, The d'Archiac Papers, telling the story of Pushkin's death from the perspective of a French diplomat, being a participant and a witness of the fatal duel. The book describes him as a liberal and a victim of the Tsarist regime. In Poland the book was published under the title Death of the Poet.
In 1937, the town of Tsarskoye Selo was renamed Pushkin in his honour.
There are several museums in Russia dedicated to Pushkin, including two in Moscow, one in Saint Petersburg, and a large complex in Mikhaylovskoye.
Pushkin's death was portrayed in the 2006 biographical film Pushkin: The Last Duel. The film was directed by Natalya Bondarchuk. Pushkin was portrayed on screen by Sergei Bezrukov.
The Pushkin Trust was established in 1987 by the Duchess of Abercorn to commemorate the creative legacy and spirit of her ancestor and to release the creativity and imagination of the children of Ireland by providing them with opportunities to communicate their thoughts, feelings and experiences.
A minor planet, 2208 Pushkin, discovered in 1977 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Chernykh, is named after him. A crater on Mercury is also named in his honour.
MS Aleksandr Pushkin, second ship of the Russian Ivan Franko class (also referred to as "poet" or "writer" class).
A station of Tashkent metro was named in his honour.
The Pushkin Hills and Pushkin Lake were named in his honour in Ben Nevis Township, Cochrane District, in Ontario, Canada.
UN Russian Language Day, established by the United Nations in 2010 and celebrated each year on 6 June, was scheduled to coincide with Pushkin's birthday.
A statue of Pushkin was unveiled inside the Mehan Garden in Manila, Philippines to commemorate the Philippines–Russia relations in 2010.
The Alexander Pushkin diamond, the second largest found in Russia and the former territory of the USSR, was named after him.
On November 28, 2009, a Pushkin Monument was erected in Asmara, capital of Eritrea.
1820 – Ruslan i Ludmila (Руслан и Людмила); English translation: Ruslan and Ludmila
1820–21 – Cawcazskiy plennik (Кавказский пленник); English translation: The Prisoner of the Caucasus
1821 – Gavriiliada (Гавриилиада) ; English translation: The Gabrieliad
1821–22 – Bratia razboyniki (Братья разбойники); English translation: The Robber Brothers
1823 – Bahchisarayskiy fontan (Бахчисарайский фонтан); English translation: The Fountain of Bakhchisaray
1824 – Tsygany (Цыганы); English translation: The Gypsies
1825 – Graf Nulin (Граф Нулин); English translation: Count Nulin
1829 – Poltava (Полтава)
1830 – Domik v Kolomne (Домик в Коломне); English translation: The Little House in Kolomna
1833 – Anjelo (Анджело); English translation: Angelo
1833 – Medny vsadnik (Медный всадник); English translation: The Bronze Horseman
1825–1832 (1833) – Evgeniy Onegin (Евгений Онегин); English translation: Eugene Onegin
1825 – Boris Godunov (Борис Годунов); English translation by Alfred Hayes: Boris Godunov
1830 – Malenkie tragedii (Маленькие трагедии); English translation: The Little Tragedies
Kamenny gost (Каменный гость); English translation: The Stone Guest
Motsart i Salieri (Моцарт и Сальери); English translation: Mozart and Salieri
Skupoy rytsar (Скупой рыцарь); English translations: The Miserly Knight, The Covetous Knight
Pir vo vremya chumy (Пир во время чумы); English translation: A Feast in Time of Plague
1828 – Arap Petra Velikogo (Арап Петра Великого); English translation: The Moor of Peter the Great, unfinished novel
1831 – Povesti pokoynogo Ivana Petrovicha Belkina (Повести покойного Ивана Петровича Белкина); English translation: The Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin
Vystrel (Выстрел); English translation: The Shot, short story
Metel (Метель); English translation: The Blizzard, short story
Grobovschik (Гробовщик); English translation: The Undertaker, short story
Stantsionny smotritel (Станционный смотритель); English translation: The Stationmaster, short story
Baryshnya-krestianka (Барышня-крестьянка); English translation: The Squire's Daughter, short story
1834 – Pikovaa dama (Пиковая дама); English translation: The Queen of Spades, short story
1834 – Kirjali (Кирджали); English translation: Kirdzhali, short story
1834 – Istoria Pugachyova (История Пугачева); English translation: A History of Pugachev, study of the Pugachev's Rebellion
1836 – Capitanskaa dochka (Капитанская дочка); English translation: The Captain's Daughter, novel
1836 – Puteshestvie v Arzrum (Путешествие в Арзрум); English translation: A Journey to Arzrum, travel sketches
1836 – Roslavlyov (Рославлев); English translation: Roslavlev, unfinished novel
1837 – Istoria sela Goryuhina (История села Горюхина); English translation: The Story of the Village of Goryukhino, unfinished short story
1837 – Egypetskie nochi (Египетские ночи); English translation: Egyptian Nights, unfinished short story
1841 – Dubrovsky (Дубровский); English translation: Dubrovsky, unfinished novel
1825 – Жених; English translation: The Bridegroom
1830 – Сказка о попе и о работнике его Балде; English translation: The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda
1830 – Сказка о медведихе; English translation: The Tale of the Female Bear (was not finished)
1831 – Сказка о царе Салтане; English translation: The Tale of Tsar Saltan
1833 – Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке; English translation: The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
1833 – Сказка о мертвой царевне; English translation: The Tale of the Dead Princess
1834 – Сказка о золотом петушке; English translation: The Tale of the Golden Cockerel