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Krylov, Ivan Andreevich
Born Feb. 2 (13), 1769 (according to other data, 1768), in Moscow; died Nov. 9 (21), 1844, in St. Petersburg. Russian author, fabulist, and journalist. Son of an army officer who had risen from the ranks.
Krylov’s childhood was spent in the Urals and in Tver’ (now Kalinin). He encountered financial hardship early in life and became a secretary in the civil service while still a teenager. He arrived in St. Petersburg in 1782 and worked as a minor clerk in the Kazennyi Prikaz (Treasury Office). He compensated for his lack of formal education by studying literature, mathematics, French, and Italian on his own. At 14 he wrote the comic opera The Coffee-stall Keeper (1782), which was a lively portrayal of the mores of provincial supporters of serfdom. Between 1786 and 1788, Krylov wrote the comedies The Frenzied Family, The Author in the Anteroom, and The Mischief-makers, which ridiculed the emptiness and corruption of the nobility in the capital, and the tragedy Philomela, which was directed against despotism.
In 1789, Krylov launched the journal Spirits’ Mail; he used it as a forum for his satirical letters that daringly exposed the vices of the nobility and the abuses of the bureaucratic machinery. His journalism, as well as such prose works as the novella Kaib (1792), demonstrated that Krylov was the successor to N. I. Novikov’s enlightened satire. Catherine II frowned on his bold satire, and Krylov was forced to discontinue his literary activity and remain out of sight for several years in the provinces. His vicious antigovernment comic-tragedy Trumf (Podshchipa, 1799–1800) was circulated in manuscript copies.
Krylov finally received permission to return to St. Petersburg in 1806. That year and the next he wrote the successful comedies The Fashionable Shop and A Lesson for Daughters, which ridiculed the nobility’s Gallomania. From 1812 through 1841, Krylov worked as assistant librarian in the Imperial Public Library.
Krylov’s first book of fables came out in 1809 and heralded the beginning of his carrer as a fabulist. According to N. V. Gogol (Sobr. Soch., vol. 6, 1953, p. 166), Krylov’s fables became the “book of the people’s own wisdom.” The genuine national character and inexhaustibly rich picturesque language that Krylov used in the Russian fable brought the genre to the peak of its development and made him one of the world’s leading fabulists. A. S. Pushkin noted the profound national originality in Krylov’s fables that he saw “expressed in the joyful slyness of the mind, in mockery, and in picturesque expressions” (poln. sobr. soch., vol. 7, 1958, p. 32).
Unlike his predecessors, for whom the moral was the focal point of the story, Krylov created fables that were satires or comic episodes. V. G. Belinskii described Krylov’s fable” The Peasant and the Sheep” as “a poetic picture of one side of society, a small comedy in which the descriptions of the characters are surprisingly true to life” (Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 8, 1955, p. 574). This was the basis of Krylov’s realistic approach to life. His fables express the people’s attitude to social injustice, and many are directed against the despotism of the autocratic rule and the predatory nature of bureaucrats—for example “The Wolves and the Sheep,” “Plague of the Beasts,” and “The Dances of the Fish.”
While some of Krylov’s fables (such as “The Horse and the Horseman” and “The Ear”) do justify meekness before the authorities and reveal the inconsistency of Krylov’s political views, his profound democratism, his expression of the moral ideals of the people, and his condemnation of egotism and false aristocratic society remained his constant and unending concern (”The Peasants and the River” and “Leaves and Roots,” for example). His fables linked to the theme of the Patriotic War of 1812 (”The Raven and the Hen,” “The Wolf Against the Huntsman,” and “The Division”) are imbued with his belief in the moral strength of the people.
In contrast to the traditional fable genre, in which the characters are strictly allegorical, Krylov introduced realistic traits into his characters; he brought them into the broad spectrum of Russian society and he depicted social strata from the tsar down to the shepherd.
Krylov introduced the spoken idiom into Russian literature. His art is organically linked to Russian proverbs, fairy tales, and sayings; it also contributed original maxims, many of which became proverbs themselves, to the treasury of the national language. A. S. Pushkin, A. S. Griboedov, and N. V. Gogol emulated his language. V. I. Lenin employed Krylov’s images and apt expressions. His fables have been translated into more than 50 languages.
WORKSBasni, books 1–9. St. Petersburg, 1843.
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1944–46.
Soch., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1969.
REFERENCESBlagoi, D. D. Velikii russkii basnopisets I. A. Krylov. Moscow, 1944.
Stepanov, N. L. I. A. Krylov:Zhizn’i tvorchestvo, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1958.
Stepanov, N. L. Krylov, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1969.
Desnitskii, A. V. “1766 god kak god rozhdeniia I. A. Krylova.” Russkaia literatura, 1962, no. 2.
Kenevich, V. F. Bibliograficheskie i istoricheskie primechaniia k basniam Krylova, 2nd ed. St. Petersburg, 1878.
Istoriia russkoi titeratury XIX v.: Bibliograficheskii ukazateV. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.
N. L. STEPANOV