Vasilii Alekseevich Sleptsov

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sleptsov, Vasilii Alekseevich


Born July 19 (31), 1836, in Voronezh; died Mar. 23 (Apr. 4), 1878, in Serdobsk, now in Penza Oblast. Russian writer.

Sleptsov was born into a family of the dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry). He studied at Moscow University in 1854 and 1855 and served as a government official from 1857 to 1862. Attracted by the socialist ideas of N. G. Chernyshevskii, and in particular by Chernyshevskii’s novel What Is to Be Done?, Sleptsov founded the first commune in St. Petersburg (1863), which engendered many similar living arrangements. In 1866 he became involved in the Karakozov case, as a result of which he remained under police surveillance for the rest of his life.

Sleptsov’s literary activity began in the late 1850’s. His first cycle of sketches, Vladimirka and Kliaz’ma (1861), attracted the attention of the leading figures of the journal Sovremennik (The Contemporary). Sleptsov’s next cycle of sketches. Letters on Ostashkov, denounced the model city lavishly praised in the liberal press; the cycle was published in Sovremennik in 1862 and 1863. From 1863 to 1866, Sleptsov published short stories and dramatic sketches about ordinary people, including “The Foster Child,” “A Night’s Lodging,” “The Cossacks” (“The Pigs”), and “A Dead Body.” These works, which truthfully depicted the common people, contained vivid scenes of everyday life and dynamic dialogues.

Sovremennik also printed Sleptsov’s most important work, the novella Hard Times (1865). Encompassing a wide range of material drawn from life, the work addressed itself to basic issues of that period of crisis: the dramatic situation of the common people and the raznochintsy (intellectuals of no definite class), the ideological struggle, and the spiritual development of women. The very form of narration—the inclusion in the author’s speech of the voice of the hero, the democrat Riazanov —enabled Sleptsov to express his own limitless faith in this hero, a man with an analytical mind and a well-developed sense of civic responsibility. The author clearly agreed with his hero’s opinions and profound and astute comprehension of the “hard times.”

Hard Times is similar in tone to Sleptsov’s topical surveys “St. Petersburg Notes” (1863), “A Provincial Chronicle” (1865), and “News of St. Petersburg Life” (1867), which also mirrored an atmosphere of reaction and “hard times.” Some works that Sleptsov planned to write during the 1870’s were not written, for example, the novel The Island of Utopia; other works were only partially realized, such as the first chapters of the novel A Good Man, published in Otechestvennye zapiski (Notes of the Fatherland) in 1871.

Sleptsov was also an actor, stage director, organizer of popular-science lectures, and advocate of equal rights for women. His works and his personality aroused the interest of many leading writers and persons involved in the arts—I. S. Turge-nev, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin, L. N. Tolstoy, M. Gorky, and K. S. Stanislavsky. The conciseness and restraint of Sleptsov’s narrative manner anticipated some features of A. P. Chekhov’s literary approach.


Soch., vols. 1-2. St. Petersburg, 1866.
Soch., vols. 1-2. [Introductory article and commentary by K. I. Chukovskii.] Moscow, 1957.
Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vol. 71: Vasilii Sleptsov: Neizvestnye stranitsy. Moscow, 1963.
Izbr.proiz. [Introductory article and notes by M. L. Semanova.] Leningrad, 1970.


Gorky, M. “O Vasilii Sleptsove.” Sobr. soch., vol. 24. Moscow, 1953.
Chukovskii, K. “Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo Vasiliia Sleptsova: Tainopis’ ‘Trudnogo vremeni’; Istoriia Sleptsovskoi kommuny.” In Liudi i knigi, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1960.
Semanova, M. L. “Tvorchestvo V. A. Sleptsova.” In the collection Proza pisatelei-demokratov 60-kh godov XIX v. Moscow, 1962.
Semanova, M. L. Khudozhestvennoe svoeobrazie povesti V. A. Sleptsova “Trudnoe vremia.” Leningrad, 1974.


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