Pisemskii, Aleksei Feofilaktovich

Pisemskii, Aleksei Feofilaktovich


Born Mar. 11 (23), 1821, in the village of Ramen’e, in present-day Chukhloma Raion, Kostroma Oblast; died Jan. 21 (Feb. 2), 1881, in Moscow. Russian writer. Member of an old and impoverished line of dvoriane (nobility or gentry).

Pisemskii graduated from the mathematics division of Moscow University in 1844 and spent about ten years in state service in Kostroma and Moscow. He first appeared in print in 1848. His first novel, Boiarshchina (1846, published 1858), was written in the spirit of the natural school of the 1840’s. Pisemskii became famous after the publication of his novella The Muff (1850). Subsequent novellas depicted the provincial life of dvoriane and bureaucrats. Among these works are The Comic, The Rich Bridegroom (both 1851), Mr. Batmanov (1852), The Braggart (1854), and Is She to Blame? (1855). Other works include the comedies The Hypochondriac (1852) and The Allotment (1853) and short stories about peasant life. Because Pisemskii could not find individuals among the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry) who were capable of resisting the influence of the milieu’s inhumane morality, irony is a hallmark of the author’s style. Only among the common people did Pisemskii find men of integrity.

The novel A Thousand Souls (1858), Pisemskii’s most significant work, paints a broad picture of Russian life before the emancipation of the serfs and focuses on business relations between people. The drama A Bitter Fate (1859, staged 1863) is one of the best plays in Russian. It combines exactness in social characterization with a profound disclosure of a tragedy in a peasant family and the spiritual life of the heroes.

From 1857 to 1860, Pisemskii and A. V. Druzhinin coedited the journal Biblioteka dlia chteniia, with Pisemskii later (1860–63) becoming sole editor. During this period he wrote feuilletons under the pen name Nikita Bezrylov and a novel A Troubled Sea (1863), all crudely attacking the revolutionary movement. Condemned by progressive public opinion, Pisemskii quit the journal. In the novel People of the 1840’s (1869) the antinihilist tendency was somewhat muted. The novel In the Whirlpool (1871) was devoted to the events of the 1860’s. In this work Pisemskii did not abandon his conviction that genuine revolutionaries were naïve loners, but he no longer questioned their moral nobility. The novel was highly thought of by L. N. Tolstoy (see Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 61, 1953, p. 273). At the end of Pisemskii’s life his principal theme became bourgeois moneygrubbers; from this period came the plays Baal, An Enlightened Time, and The Financial Genius and the novel The Townspeople (1877). Pisemskii also wrote a historical novel, The Masons (1880).


Poln. sobr. soch, vols. 1–24. St. Petersburg-Moscow, 1895–96.
Sobr. soch. [Introductory article by M. P. Eremin], vols. 1–9. Moscow, 1959.
Pis’ma. Moscow-Leningrad, 1936.


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Pisarev, D. I. “Pisemskii, Turgenev i Goncharov.” Soch, vol. 1. Moscow, 1955.
Ivanov, I. I. Pisemskii. St. Petersburg, 1898.
Evnin, F. A. F. Pisemskii. Moscow, 1945.
Martynov, I. A. “Pisemskii.” In Istoriia russkoi literatury, vol. 8, part 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1956.
Pustovoit, P. G. A. F. Pisemskii v istorii russkogo romana. Moscow, 1969.
Istoriia russkoi literatury XIX v.: Bibliografich. ukazatel’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.