Natural School

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Natural School


the conventional designation of the initial stage of critical realism in Russian literature of the 1840’s. The term “natural school,” first used disparagingly by F. V. Bulgarin to describe the work of the young followers of N. V. Gogol (see the newspaper Severnaia pchela [The Northern Bee] for Jan. 26, 1846), was made a part of the vocabulary of Russian literary criticism by V. G. Belinskii, who reinterpreted “natural” to mean an unaffected, strictly truthful depiction of reality.

Even before Bulgarin, Belinskii had developed the idea of a literary “school” headed by Gogol; he saw the school as expressing the movement of Russian literature toward realism, for example, in his article “On the Russian Novella and the Novellas of Mr. Gogol” (1835). A detailed description of the natural school and its major works is contained in Belinskii’s articles “A Survey of Russian Literature in 1846,” “A Survey of Russian Literature in 1847,” and “Answer to the Moskvitianin [Muscovite]” (1847).

N. A. Nekrasov played an outstanding role in organizing the literary output of the natural school. He compiled and published its chief publications, the anthology Physiology of Petersburg (parts 1–2, 1845) and the Petersburg Anthology (1846). The journals Otechestvennye zapiski (Fatherland Notes) and Sovremennik (The Contemporary) became the mouthpiece of the natural school.

The natural school devoted its attention primarily to prose, for example, the “physiological sketch,” the novella, and the novel. Following Gogol’s example, the writers of the natural school satirized officialdom (Nekrasov’s verses), depicted the everyday life and mores of the gentry (A. I. Herzen’s Notes of a Certain Young Man; I. A. Goncharov’s A Common Story), criticized the seamy side of urban civilization (F. M. Dostoevsky’s The Double; the sketches of Nekrasov, V. I. Dal’, and Ia. P. Butkov), and depicted with profound sympathy the “little man” (Dostoevsky’s Poor Folk; M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s A Confused Case). The natural school adopted as its own the themes of the “hero of the time” (Herzen’s Who Is to Blame?; I. S. Turgenev’s The Diary of a Superfluous Man) and women’s emancipation (Herzen’s The Thieving Magpie; A. V. Druzhinin’s Polin’ka Saks) that had first appeared in the works of A. S. Pushkin and M. Iu. Lermontov.

The natural school interpreted the traditional themes of Russian literature in a new way; for example, the “hero of the time” became a raznochinets (an intellectual not belonging to the gentry) in Turgenev’s Andrei Kolosov, Herzen’s Doctor Krupov, and Nekrasov’s Life and Travels of Tikhon Trosnikov. The school advanced themes that were new for Russian literature, such as the truthful depiction of village life under serfdom in Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches and D. V. Grigorovich’s The Village and Anton Goremyka.

The striving of the writers of the natural school to be true to “nature” reflected divergent literary tendencies oriented either toward realism (Herzen, Nekrasov, Turgenev, Goncharov, Dostoevsky, Saltykov-Shchedrin) or naturalism (Dal’, I. I. Panaev, Butkov). In the 1840’s, these tendencies were not clearly defined; at times both tendencies were visible in a single writer, for example, the works of Grigorovich. As a consequence of the widespread antiserfdom movement, many talented writers were brought together in the natural school; this made it possible for the school to play an important role in the birth and flowering of Russian critical realism. The influence of the school may also be seen in Russian art (P. A. Fedotov) and Russian music (A. S. Dargomyzhskii, M. P. Mussorgsky).


Tseitlin, A. G. Stanovlenie realizma ν russkoi literature. Moscow, 1965.
Kuleshov, V. I. Natural’naia shkola ν russkoi literature XIX v. Moscow, 1965.
Mann, Iu. V. “Filosofiia i poetika ‘natural’noi shkoly.’” In Problemy tipologii russkogo realizma. Moscow, 1969.


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