Wilhelm KüChelbecker

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KüChelbecker, Wilhelm Karlovich

 

Born June 10 (21), 1797, in St. Petersburg; died Aug. 11 (23), 1846, in Tobol’sk. Russian writer; Decembrist.

Küchelbecker was born into a Russianized German gentry family. In 1817 he graduated from the lycée at Tsarskoe Selo, where his friendship with A. S. Pushkin and A. A. Del’vig began. He served in the Collegium of Foreign Affairs. He also taught Russian and Latin. From 1820 to 1821 he traveled abroad. In Paris he gave public lectures on Russian literature, in which he substantiated the need for political reforms in Russia. The lectures were cut short by order of the Russian Embassy. Küchelbecker served in the Caucasus in 1822 as a special commissioner under A. P. Ermolov.

In November 1825 he was admitted to the Northern Society of the Decembrists by K. F. Ryleev. During the Decembrist Uprising of Dec. 14, 1825, in St. Petersburg, he fired at Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich and tried to draw up the soldiers for a counterattack. He attempted to go abroad after the uprising was suppressed, but he was arrested in Warsaw. Küchelbecker’s death sentence was commuted to hard labor. He served his sentence in a number of prisons, including the Dinaburg and Sveaborg fortresses. In 1836 he went into exile in Siberia.

Küchelbecker’s early verses (first published in 1815) followed the traditions of V. A. Zhukovskii’s elegiac poetry. In the early 1820’s he vigorously attacked sentimentalism, adopting the position held by the group of Decembrist romantics whose chief spokesman was P. A. Katenin. A number of Küchelbecker’s works argued in an openly civic spirit against intensely subjective lyric poetry: the programmatic article “On the Tendencies in Our Poetry, Especially Lyric Poetry, in the Last Decade,” which appeared in 1824 in Mnemosyne, the literary miscellany published by Küchelbecker and V. F. Odoevskii; the antityrannical tragedy The Argives (1822–25); and the poems “To Achates” (1821) and “To the Friends on the Rhine” (1821).

During his imprisonment and exile Küchelbecker created works that give evidence of his loyalty to the ideals of his youth (the poems “Elegy” [1832] and “On the Death of Iakubovich” [1846], for example). However, motifs of loneliness and doom are stronger in his creative works of this period than in his earlier works (for example, the poems “October 19” [1838] and “The Lot of Russian Poets” [1845] and the tragedy Prokofii Liapunov [1834]). The mystical idea of a predetermined, tragic fate was also reflected in his most important prose work, the novel The Last Column (1832–42).

Iu. Tynianov (author of the novel Kiukhlia, 1925) and other Soviet specialists in the study of literature have rendered a great service in collecting and publishing Küchelbecker’s works.

WORKS

Poln. sobr. stikhotvorenii. Moscow, 1908.
Poslednii Kolonna. Leningrad, 1937.
Izbr. proizv., vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1967.

REFERENCES

Tynianov, lu. N. Arkhaisty i novatory. Leningrad, 1929.
Bazanov, V. G. Poety-dekabristy. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Semenko, I. M. Poety pushkinskoi pory. [Moscow, 1970.]
Istoriia russkoi literatury XIX v.: Bibliograficheskii Ukazatel’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.