Chavchavadze, Ilia Grigorevich


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Chavchavadze, Il’ia Grigor’evich

 

Born Oct. 27 (Nov. 8), 1837, in Kvareli; died Aug. 30 (Sept. 12), 1907. Georgian writer and public figure.

The son of a prince, Chavchavadze entered the University of St. Petersburg in 1857. In 1861 he returned to Georgia, where he became the head of the revolutionary democratic school of Georgian literature. He helped found the Tergdaleulebi movement. Beginning in 1864, Chavchavadze served in state and civic institutions as well as engaging in literary activity. He was a member of the commission that regulated relations between the gentry and the peasants after the emancipation of 1861; he also served as a mirovoi posrednik (mediator of the peace) and as a judge. For many years, Chavchavadze was chairman of the Society for the Dissemination of Literacy Among Georgians. From 1877 through 1902 he was the editor of the newspaper Iveriia, and in 1879 he was chairman of the administrative board of the Georgian Dramatic Society.

Chavchavadze lived in St. Petersburg for a number of years, and in 1906 was elected a member of the Council of State; he belonged to its academic faction, which included mainly members of the progressive bourgeoisie. Chavchavadze considered it his duty to defend the interests of Georgia and its people. As an opponent of the autocratic system of serfdom and a prominent representative of the Georgian national liberation movement, Chavchavadze was constantly under police surveillance. Many of his works were banned by the censorship. Chavchavadze was murdered by assassins hired by the tsarist Okhranka while on a journey from Tbilisi to Saguramo.

To Chavchavadze, literature was a means of understanding reality. He agreed with the aesthetic views of the revolutionary democrats, believing that art, and particularly literature, while reflecting reality, were subordinate in their development to its laws. Chavchavadze asserted that the study of life itself was the main prerequisite for artistic creativity. A staunch foe of the theory of art for art’s sake, Chavchavadze demanded that art have social significance and an ideological content and that it participate actively in the struggle for social progress. These views, which significantly influenced the Georgian shestidesiatniki (men of the sixties), were expressed in Chavchavadze’s Notes of a Traveler (1861).

As a writer, Chavchavadze responded with sensitivity to contemporary Georgian life. His works attacked serfdom and reflected the disintegration of the feudal way of life. The narrative poems The Vision (1859) and Several Scenes, or An Incident From a Robber’s Life (1860) and the novella Tale of a Pauper (1859–62) depicted the toiling people’s lack of rights as well as the conflicts among Georgia’s social classes. Chavchavadze firmly believed that the future belonged to the working people but realized that the contradictions inherent in serfdom could not be eliminated as long as the system of serfdom itself existed. Although he did not advocate abolishing these contradictions through revolution, he foresaw that serfdom would inevitably be destroyed. Chavchavadze’s indictment of the landowning way of life in the novella Is He a Human Being? (1859–63) evoked the displeasure of the Georgian gentry.

Chavchavadze’s works dealt with major social and historical issues. In 1887 he completed the novella Otar’s Widow, which elucidated the relations between peasants and landowners after the abolition of serfdom in Georgia. Chavchavadze’s poetry is largely patriotic and civic. Many of his lyrics, beginning with “To the Mountains of Kvareli” (1857), depict his native landscape. However, these works also have civic motifs; the poem “Musha” (1863), for example, is permeated with ardent sympathy for poverty-stricken laborers. In 1872, Chavchavadze wrote poems about the Paris Commune of 1871. The idea of devotion to public service was the inspiration for the narrative poem The Hermit (1883), in which Chavchavadze presented a philosophical reinterpretation of a folk plot.

Chavchavadze’s poetic language is vivid, picturesque, and permeated with a genuine national spirit. His works have been translated into many foreign languages. Memorial museums devoted to Chavchavadze have been founded on his estate in Saguramo (1951), in the village of Kvareli (1937), and in Tbilisi (1957).

WORKS

Chavchavaze, I. T‘xzulebat‘a sruli krebuli, vols. 1–10. Edited by P. Ingoroqva. Tbilisi, 1950–61.
In Russian translation:
Ihbrannoe. Tbilisi, 1947.
Izbrannoe. Tbilisi, 1952.

REFERENCES

Zandukeli, M. Ocherkipo istorii gruz. lit-ry XIX v., 2nd ed. Tbilisi, 1955.
Baramidze, A., Sh. Radiani, and B. Zhgenti. Istoriia gruz. lit-ry: Kratkiiocherk. Tbilisi, 1958.
Jiblaze, G. Ilia Chavchavaze. Tbilisi, 1966.
Zandukeli, M. Ilia Chavchavazis mxatvruli ostatoba. Tbilisi, 1968.
Nakashize, T‘., and N. Korzaia. Ilia Chavchavaze: Biobibliograp‘ia. Tbilisi, 1966.

SH. D. RADIANI