Aleksandr Griboedov

Griboedov, Aleksandr Sergeevich

 

Born Jan. 4 (15), 1795, in Moscow; died Jan. 30 (Feb. 11), 1829, in Tehran. Russian writer and diplomat. Born into an old aristocratic family.

Griboedov received a well-rounded education. He studied music (two waltzes by Griboedov are extant). He entered Moscow University in 1806 and graduated from the department of literature and law in 1810 and later studied in the physics and mathematics department. In 1812 he enlisted in the army but was not involved in any fighting. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1817. In St. Petersburg he made the acquaintance of A. S. Pushkin, V. K. Kiukhel’be-ker. and P. Ia. Chaadaev.

His first literary efforts were the comedies Newlyweds (1815) and One’s Own Family (1817. coauthored by A. A. Shakhovskii and N. I. Khmel’nitskii). The future satiric realist is already discernible in the comedy The Student (1817, with P. A. Katenin).

In 1818, Griboedov was appointed secretary of the Russian mission in Tehran. In 1822 he went to Tbilisi as secretary of the diplomatic corps attached to A. P. Ermolov, commander of Russian troops in the Caucasus. There Griboedov began to write the comedy Woe From Wit, the idea for which had apparently already arisen in 1816. Work on the play was completed in St. Petersburg (1824), where Griboedov found himself in an atmosphere created by the ripening plot of the Decembrists. K. F. Ryleev, A. A. Bestuzhev, Kiukhel’be-ker, and A. I. Odoevskii were his close friends. Like the Decembrists, Griboedov hated the autocratic, serf-owning class, but he was skeptical of the possible success of a purely military plot.

Woe From Wit is Griboedov’s most important work. It reflects the whole history of an epoch. The Patriotic War of 1812 and the national-patriotic upsurge it evoked sharpened and strengthened the mood of antiserfdom among the popular masses and a leading sector of aristocratic society. It is no accident that Griboedov, apparently soon after finishing his comedy, conceived a popular tragedy, ¡812 (fragments were published in 1859); its hero would have been a peasant serf—a home-guardsman who, after the end of the war, chose death over slavery.

The conception of Woe From Wit and its content are connected with the Decembrists’ ideas. The dramatic conflict of the comedy was an expression of the struggle between two societal camps: feudal serf-owning reaction and advanced youth, from whose milieu the Decembrists emerged. The comedy also gives, in the words of Pushkin, “a vivid picture of the manners” of Moscow high society (see Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 10, 1958, p. 121). The “bygone age” of the Famusovs is inimical to culture, enlightenment, and social and spiritual progress. The features of the Arakcheev reaction are incarnated in the image of Skalozub: it was precisely the Skalozubs who were to shoot the Decembrists on the Senate Square in St. Petersburg. Molchalin became the generic designation for cringing servility and hypocrisy, a symbol of moral slavery.

The serf-owning aristocracy and the superficial aristocratic liberals (the image of Repitilov) are counterposed by Chatskii, whom A. I. Herzen called a Decembrist. In Chatskii, Griboedov reflected the revolutionary patriotism of the Decembrists, the protest against despotism, and the struggle for the national uniqueness of Russian culture and against slavish worship of all that was of foreign origin. The tsarist censor forbade the comedy to be published; in 1825, fragments were published in the almanac Russkaia Taliia; the first edition, cut by the censor, appeared in 1833 (full text published in 1862). The comedy began to circulate in manuscript form. The Decembrists spread it as propaganda for their ideas. In the eyes of following generations, Chatskii became a symbol of protest against everything anachronistic and reactionary and of struggle for the new and progressive.

The appearance of the comedy Woe From Wit was a harbinger of the coming victory of realism in Russian literature. Griboedov portrayed life and his characters in concrete historical terms. The strength of Griboedov’s realism came out in his portrayal of people and manners as dependent on social environment and in his ability to capture the essential aspects of reality, create type characters, and generalize social phenomena in living individual images. A master of dramatic composition, Griboedov developed the action of the comedy with growing tension, interweaving the drama of Chatskii’s love with social drama. Griboedov was an innovator, replacing the classic five-act division with a four-act arrangement, and using instead of the canonical Alexandrine verse a free and lively iambic line of varying length, which goes back to the verse of I. A. Krylov’s fables. “About the verses I will not speak: half of them ought to become proverbs.” noted Pushkin (ibid., p. 122). With Krylov and Pushkin, Griboedov created the Russian literary language.

Griboedov’s comedy, first performed in Moscow in 1831, has been a school of realism for many generations of Russian actors up to the present day.

Griboedov returned to the Caucasus in 1825 and heard of the defeat of the December 14 uprising in St. Petersburg. In January 1826, Griboedov was arrested in the Groznyi Fortress and was under investigation in St. Petersburg in connection with the Decembrist affair until June 2, 1826. It was impossible to prove his participation in the plot, but he was placed under secret-police supervision. Griboedov returned to Tbilisi in September 1826 and continued his diplomatic work; in 1827 he was charged with handling relations with Turkey and Iran. At the end of the Russo-Iranian War of 1826–28, he participated in working out the Turkmanchai Peace Treaty, favorable to Russia ; he delivered the text to St. Petersburg in March 1828. Griboedov brought the plan and fragments of a romantic tragedy he had begun, Georgian Night (published 1859), in which he exposed the feudal serf-owning class in the spirit of Decembrist ideas.

In April 1828, Griboedov was sent as plenipotentiary resident minister (ambassador) to Iran, an appointment he viewed as political exile. On the way to Iran, Griboedov again spent several months in Georgia; in Tbilisi he married Nina Chavchavadze, the daughter of his friend, the Georgian poet A. Chavchavadze. As ambassador, Griboedov’s policy was firm. “Respect for Russia and its demands, that is what I need,” he said (Soch., 1945, p. 550). Fearing strengthening Russian influence in Iran, English diplomatic agents and reactionary Tehran circles, unsatisfied with the peace with Russia, set a fanatical crowd on the Russian mission. Griboedov was killed during the destruction of the mission. He was buried in Tbilisi on the Hill of David.

WORKS

Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–4. Petrograd. 1911–17.
Soch. Moscow, 1956.
Gore ot uma. Edition prepared by N. K. Piksanov. Moscow, 1969.

REFERENCES

Belinskii. V. G. “Gore ot uma.” Poln. sobr. soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1953.
Goncharov, I. A. “Mil’on terzanii.” Sobr. soch., vol. 8. Moscow, 1952.
A. S. Griboedov v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov. Moscow, 1929.
Piksanov, N. K. Tvorcheskaia istoriia “Gore ot uma.” Moscow-Leningrad, 1928.
Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vols. 47–48 [Griboedov]. Moscow, 1946.
Nechkina, M. V. A. S. Griboedov i dekabristy, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1951.
Orlov. V. N. Griboedov, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1954.
Petrov, S. A. 5. Griboedov, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1954.
A. S. Griboedov v russkoi kritike. Moscow, 1958.
Popova. O. I. Griboedov—diplomat. Moscow, 1964.
Istoriia russkoi literatury XIX v.: Bibliografich. ukazatel’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.

S. M. PETROV

References in periodicals archive ?
24) Aleksandr Griboedov, Woe from Wit: A Commentary and Translation, trans.