Korolenko, Vladimir Galaktionovich

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Korolenko, Vladimir Galaktionovich

Korolenko, Vladimir Galaktionovich (vlədyēˈmĭr gələktyôˈnəvĭch kərəlyĕnˈkə), 1853–1921, Russian short-story writer and publicist. A member of a Populist circle, he was arrested in 1879 and exiled to Siberia until 1885. There he wrote many of his lyrical tales, notable for their descriptions of desolate nature. His most famous story, “Makar's Dream” (1885, tr. 1892), describes a dying peasant's dream of heaven. After 1895, Korolenko devoted himself to liberal journalism. Greatly honored in Russia, he welcomed the revolution but later opposed the Bolshevik regime.


See his autobiography, ed. by N. Parsons (1972).

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Korolenko, Vladimir Galaktionovich


Born July 15 (27), 1853, in Zhitomir; died Dec. 25, 1921, in Poltava. Russian writer, publicist, and public figure.

Korolenko’s father was a court official of gentry origin, and his mother was the daughter of a small Polish landowner. In 1871, Korblenko entered the St. Petersburg Technological Institute, and in 1874 he transferred to the Petrovskoe Agricultural School in Moscow. Under the influence of revolutionary propaganda, he became a follower of Lavrov and prepared to “go to the people.” In 1876, however, after presenting a collective student protest, he was expelled, arrested, and exiled for a year to Kronstadt under police surveillance. In 1877, after his release, he enrolled in the St. Petersburg Mining Institute. In 1878 he began his literary career as a journalist for the newspaper Novosti (News). The next year he published his first story, “Episodes From the Life of a ’Seeker,” in the journal Slovo (Word). From 1879 to 1881 he was again imprisoned and exiled to various places in European Russia and the Urals. In 1881, for his refusal to swear allegiance to Alexander III, he was exiled to Yakutia. After 1885 he lived in Nizhny Novgorod.

In prison Korolenko wrote the story “Strange Girl” (1880; published 1905), in which he portrayed a strong and uncompromising girl revolutionary in exile and revealed how a great gulf of mistrust separated the people and the populist intelligentsia. Korolenko himself was free of populist illusions, and his works for the most part faithfully reflect Russian reality of the late 19th and early 20th century. He showed how life refutes the basic dogmas of “revolutionaries without the people.” In contrast to the Narodnik imitators, however, he did not depict the peasantry as a homogeneous mass; alongside the poor peasant stood the kulak (sketch, “Unreal City,” 1880). He portrayed the people’s growing protest (”lashka,” 1880), desire for justice and truth (”The Killer,” 1882), and belief in their ultimate victory (”Makar’s Dream,” 1883).

Korolenko’s Siberian experiences greatly enriched his work for many years—for example, “The Falconer” (1885), “Fedor the Homeless” (1885), “The Cherkess” (1888), “At-Davan” (1892), “Marusia’s Homestead” (1899), “Small Lights” (1901), and “Frost” (1901). In these works, as well as in such stories of his Volyn’ cycle as “In Bad Company” (1885), “The Murmuring Forest” (1886), and “Paradox” (1894), he portrayed freedom-loving tramps, convicts, settlers, and beggars, men who had broken away from and opposed “decent” society. The theme of the novella The Blind Musician (1886) is the overcoming of physical and moral handicaps that prevent man from becoming an active member of society, a recurrent motif in Korolenko’s works. His faith in the hitherto hidden strength of the people was reflected in his story “The River Sparkles” (1892). A trip to America in 1893 gave the writer material for a number of literary and publicistic works, of which the most important is the novella Without a Language (1895; 2nd ed., 1902).

Korolenko became a leading Russian democratic publicist, writing in defense of handicraft artisans exploited by middlemen (Pavlovsk Sketches, 1890) and starving peasants (the sketches In a Hungry Year, 1892) and helping to exonerate Udmurt peasants who had been falsely accused of ritual murder (the series of articles entitled The Multan Sacrifice, 1895-96).

From 1896 to 1900, Korolenko lived in St. Petersburg, and contributed to the liberal populist journal Russkoe Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth), serving, with some interruptions, as its editor from 1904 to 1918. In 1900 he moved to Poltava. There, in 1902, he defended peasants who had taken part in local disturbances. In 1903 he traveled to Kishinev, where a pogrom of Jews had taken place; he denounced the pogrom in his sketch “House No. 13” published in Russia in 1905. A premonition of the coming popular revolution infuses his sketch “On a Cloudy Day” (1896) and his story “A Moment” (1900). Elected an honored academician in belles-lettres in 1900, he renounced his title in 1902, along with A. P. Chekhov, in protest over the academy’s illegal annulment of M. Gorky’s election. In the article The Sorochintsy Tragedy (1907), Korolenko accused the leader of a punitive expedition, Filonov, of the murder of peasants, and demanded that he be publicly tried. In the articles “An Everyday Occurrence” (1910) and “Aspects of Military Justice” (1910-11) he attacked capital punishment and denounced field court-martial. His intervention in the “Beilis Case” helped to unmask its organizers and to bring a verdict of not guilty. Korolenko the publicist was highly esteemed, and for many years he was the personification of the conscience and merit of Russian democratic litera-. ture.

From 1905 to 1921, Korolenko worked on his memoirs, The History of My Contemporary (published 1922), in which he portrayed the development of the personality of a young man at the time when the raznochintsy (intellectuals of no definite class) dominated the liberation movement. His articles devoted to literary criticism are also significant, notably his “Reminiscences of Chernyshevskii” (1890), “On Gleb Ivanovich Uspenskii” (1902), “A. P. Chekhov” (1904), “The Tragedy of a Great Humorist” (on N. V. Gogol, 1909), and two articles on L. N. Tolstoy (1908).

Korolenko’s attitude toward the Great October Socialist Revolution was complex and contradictory. Proclaiming himself a “nonparty socialist,” he did not subscribe to the ideas of the Bolshevik Party, but he opposed the counterrevolutionaries and their arbitrary executions and pogroms. Although he esteemed Korolenko’s literary and public activity as a whole, V. I. Lenin criticized him in 1919 for his failure to understand the goals and tasks of the revolution and of the dictatorship of the proletariat (Letter to M. Gorky, Poln. Sobr. soch. , vol. 51, p. 48).

While continuing the traditions of classical Russian literature, including the Turgenev school, Korolenko’s realism paved the way for new developments. The writer sought to give artistic expression to his premonition of the inevitable renewal of life. Literature, he believed, must be enriched with heroic elements, “We acknowledge heroism also. And then a new trend in literature will arise from the synthesis of realism and romanticism” (Izbr. pis’ma, vol. 3, 1936, p. 29).

The literary and social activity of Korolenko—a democrat and humanist who hated autocracy and struggled against the abuses of the tsarist authorities and a defender of the oppressed—had a significant revolutionary influence on the progressive strata of Russian society. In a speech entitled From My Recollections of V. G. Korolenko (1918), M. Gorky expressed his belief that “in the great work of building a new Russia, the brilliant work of that most upright of Russian writers, V. G. Korolenko, a man with a great and strong heart, will be properly appreciated” (Sobr. soch. , vol. 14, p. 245).

In 1928 the Korolenko memorial literary museum was opened in Poltava.


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Zapisnye knizhki, 1880-1900. Moscow, 1935.
V. G. Korolenko o literature. Moscow, 1965.
Istoriia moego sovremennika. Moscow, 1965.


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