Bunin, Ivan

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Bunin, Ivan Alekseevich


Born Oct. 10 (22), 1870, in Voronezh; died Nov. 8, 1953, in Paris. Russian writer.

Bunin was born into an impoverished gentry family. His childhood was spent on the farmstead of Butyrka, Orel Province. In his youth Bunin worked as a proofreader, statistician, librarian, and newspaper reporter. He first appeared in print in 1887, and his collection Poems was published in Orel in 1891. Bunin’s collections Under the Open Sky (1898) and the winner of the Pushkin Prize Fallen Leaves (1901) provided examples of the perfection of verse in its “old,” classical forms, continuing the traditions of A. A. Fet, Ia. P. Polonskii, and A. K. Tolstoy. Bunin’s poetry is a hymn to his native land, its “poor country villages,” and its boundless forests. Bunin’s early stories about hunger- and poverty-stricken villages and half-deserted estates were written in this same thematic key. Bunin’s acquaintance with A. P. Chekhov dates from December 1895, and with M. Gorky, from 1899. The latter drew Bunin into collaboration with Znanie Publishing House and facilitated the emergence of democratic views in the young writer. In his best short stories written at this time—“Antonovka Apples” (1900), “The Pines” (1901), “A New Road” (1901), and “Chernozem” (1904)—Bunin’s social indifference can be sensed along with generalized thoughts on the destiny of Russia. Beginning with his tale The Village (1910), Bunin turned to a broad area of social subject matter. He conceived the destiny of Russia as the destiny of the peasants—for example, his short stories “An Ancient Man,” “Nocturnal Conversation,” “A Merry Courtyard,” “Ignat,” “Zakhar Vorob’ev,” and “Sparse Grass.” Unable to perceive anything new in the countryside, Bunin, by means of his realistic depiction of peasant life after the Revolution of 1905-07, nevertheless provided, in the words of V. V. Vorovskii, “his own kind of study concerning the causes of memorable failures” (Literaturno-kriticheskie stat’i, 1956, p. 334). The tale Dry Valley (1911) constituted a chronicle of the degeneration of the estate-owning gentry.

In 1909 the Academy of Sciences elected Bunin as an honorary academician.

Bunin traveled a great deal, and one result of his trips throughout the Orient was a cycle of sketches entitled The Temple of the Sun (1907-11). During the second decade of the 20th century new subject matter entered into Bunin’s creative work: the stifling daily existence of the petite bourgeoisie (“A Good Life”), the dregs of the cities (“Loop Ears”), and a penetration into the “dark alleys” of human passion (The Dreams of Chang). Bunin’s prose is permeated with a hostile attitude toward capitalistic civilization (The Gentleman From San Francisco, 1915) and colonialism (Brothers, 1914). A master of the “small” forms—the tale, short story, and novella—Bunin was an outstanding stylist who created a unique, “brocaded” (densely packed and ornamented) idiom. A picturesque quality, severity, musicality, and rhythmic expressiveness are characteristic of Bunin’s prose. Among Bunin’s translations of poetry is The Song of Hiawatha (1896; 2nd ed., 1898) by H. Longfellow.

Bunin was hostile to the October Revolution and emigrated to France in 1920. Here he turned to intimate, lyrical reminiscences of his youth. His novel The Well of Days (published in book form, Paris, 1930) completed the cycle of fictionalized autobiographies connected with the life of the Russian landed gentry. One of the central places in Bunin’s late creative work is occupied by the theme of the fateful passion of love—for example, “Mitia’s Love,” 1925; “The Elagin Affair,” 1927; and the cycle of novellas Dark Alleys, New York, 1943. In emigration Bunin also wrote a philosophical and literary treatise on L. N. Tolstoy (The Liberation of Tolstoy, Paris, 1937). His Memoirs (Paris, 1950) contain attacks directed against M. Gorky, A. Blok, V. Briusov, and A. N. Tolstoy. Bunin is the author of a book about A. P. Chekhov (New York, 1955). In 1933, Bunin was awarded a Nobel Prize. To a large degree Bunin’s contradictory creative legacy has great aesthetic and moral value. As an inheritor of the traditions of classical Russian literature, he was one of the major representatives of critical realism in Russia. Bunin’s creative art is highly valued and is studied throughout the USSR. His works are published extensively.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.