Uspenskii, Nikolai

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Uspenskii, Nikolai Vasil’evich


Born May 1837 in the village of Stupino, in what is now Efremov Raion, Tula Oblast; died Oct. 21 (Nov. 2), 1889, in Moscow. Russian writer.

The son of a village priest, Uspenskii studied at the St. Petersburg Medical and Surgical Academy and later in the faculty of history and philology at the University of St. Petersburg. Uspenskii’s first two sketches, published under the title “From the Daily Life of the Common People,” appeared in 1857 in the journal Syn otechestva (Son of the Fatherland). In 1861, Uspenskii contributed regularly to the journal Sovremennik (The Contemporary). After leaving Sovremennik he taught Russian language and literature at the Iasnaia Poliana school (1862), as well as at district schools and Gymnasiums. He became a vagabond in the 1870’s and finally committed suicide.

Uspenskii’s short stories and sketches depicted the poverty and injustice in the lives of the common people, particularly the peasants. He was the first Russian writer to reveal with harsh objectivity the people’s backwardness and mental stagnation, as seen in “The Old Woman,” “On the Road,” “The Serpent,” “A Good Life,” “The Train of Carts,” and “The Sorceress.” In 1861, N. G. Chernyshevskii praised Uspenskii’s realism as “the unvarnished truth” in the article “Is This the Beginning of a Change?” (Sobr. soch., vol. 7, 1950, p. 856).

Other denunciatory works by Uspenskii were his postreform sketches on the countryside, the zemstvo (local self-government) institutions, the clergy, and the raznochintsy (persons of no definite class). These works included “The Jura Formation,” “The Investigation,” “Fedor Petrovich,” “Egorka the Shepherd,” and “On the Zemstvo Board.” Uspenskii’s sober realism was not recognized by the Narodnik (Populist) critics. As a result, Uspenskii gradually lost his literary inspiration, and the last years of his life were marked by creative sterility.


Soch., vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1883.
Sobr. soch. [Introductory article and notes by K. Chukovskii.] Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Povesti, rasskazy i ocherki. [Introductory article by E. Pokusaev.] Moscow, 1957.


Dostoevsky, F. M. “Rasskazy N. V. Uspenskogo.” Poln. sobr. khudozh. proizv., vol. 13. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930.
Chukovskii, K. “Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo Nikolaia Uspenskogo.” In Liudi i knigi. Moscow, 1960.
Bunin, I. A. “K budushchei biografii N. V. Uspenskogo.” Sobr. soch., vol. 9. Moscow, 1967.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.