Uspenskii, Gleb

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Uspenskii, Gleb Ivanovich


Born Oct. 13 (25), 1843, in Tula; died Mar. 24 (Apr. 6), 1902, in St. Petersburg. Russian writer.

The son of a government official, Uspenskii studied at the University of St. Petersburg in 1861 and at Moscow University in 1862 and 1863; he did not complete the university course owing to insufficient means. Uspenskii’s works were first published in 1862, in L. N. Tolstoy’s journal Iasnaia Poliana and in the journal Zritel’ (Spectator). He soon became a prominent democratic writer of the 1860’s.

In 1864 and 1865, Uspenskii contributed to the journal Russkoe slovo (Russian Word), and in 1865 and 1866, to N. A. Nekrasov’s Sovremennik (The Contemporary). Uspenskii’s main themes at this time were the life and mores of minor officials and of the urban poor. In the cycle of sketches Manners of Rasteriaeva Street (1866), Uspenskii presented a many-sided portrayal of the life of Tula artisans and workers, as well as of the demoralizing life of officials, bourgeois entrepreneurs, and the meshchanstvo (urban middle class). In 1868, Uspenskii became one of the main contributors to the journal Otechestvennye zapiski (Notes of the Fatherland) and a literary collaborator of Nekrasov and M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin. Uspenskii’s cycle of novellas Impoverishment (1869–71) portrayed workers and the ideological aspirations of the raznochintsy (persons of no definite class) with great psychological penetration.

In the 1870’s, Uspenskii made several trips abroad and became acquainted with a number of prominent revolutionary Narodniki (Populists), including S. M. Stepniak-Kravchinskii, G. A. Lopatin, D. A. Klements, and P. L. Lavrov. Uspenskii’s impressions of Russian and foreign social realities, his contacts with groups of revolutionary intelligentsia, and his keen interest in the post-reform Russian countryside found expression in the sketches and short stories “The Checkbook,” “A Guilty Conscience,” and “He Was Not Resurrected,” works later included in the cycle New Times, New Troubles. From 1873 until the early 1890’s, when he developed a mental illness, Uspenskii was under secret surveillance by the police.

Beginning in the late 1870’s, Uspenskii’s main theme was the postreform Russian countryside. His cycles of sketches and short stories From a Country Diary (1877–80), The Peasant and Peasant Labor (1880), The Power of the Soil (1882), and A Word About Something (1886–87) depicted the impoverishment of peasant laborers, the rise of the kulaks, and the decline of the peasant commune. To a great extent, Uspenskii agreed with the views of the revolutionary Populists, but at the same time his truthful works about the countryside, in G. V. Plekhanov’s words, “signed the death warrant for Populism and for all ’programs’ and plans for practical activity that were even partly connected with it” (Izbr. filos. proizv., vol. 5, 1958, p. 71).

In the 1880’s, Uspenskii wrote cycles of sketches and short stories about the spiritual quest of the Russian intelligentsia during the period of reaction, including Without Definite Occupation (1881) and Willy-nilly (1884). His views on the moral role of art were clearly expressed in the sketch “She Straightened Him Out” (1885). Uspenskii’s last works on the life of the common people were the sketches “Living Numbers” (1888) and “Travels to the Migrants” (1888–89). Uspenskii’s realism combined painstaking research and intense topicality with vivid imagery, mastery of dialogue and of characterization by speech, and subtle humor.

In the early 1890’s a serious mental illness put an end to Uspenskii’s literary activity. An editorial of May 1, 1902, in V. I. Lenin’s newspaper Iskra commented on Uspenskii’s death. Lenin praised Uspenskii’s “perfect knowledge of the peasantry, and his extraordinary artistic talent that penetrated to the very heart of the phenomena” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 263). Uspenskii’s works were also praised by I. S. Turgenev, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, and M. Gorky; they later influenced a number of Soviet writers.


Soch., vols. 1–3. [Introductory article by N. K. Mikhailovskii.] St. Petersburg, 1889–91.
Poln. sobr. soch., vols. 1–14. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940–54.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–9. [Introductory article by V. P. Druzin and N. I. Sokolov.] Moscow, 1955–57.


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Prutskov, N. I. Tvorcheskii put’ Gleba Uspenskogo. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Prutskov, N. I. Gleb Uspenskii. Leningrad, 1971.
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Istoriia russkoi literatury XIX v.: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1962.


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