“This One Bright Name”: Review of Pushkin: A Biography by Elaine Feinstein

pushkin

At the very end, Elaine Feinstein’s book Pushkin: A Biography quotes the famous Russian poet Alexander Blok: “The gloomy names of Emperors, generals, inventors of weapons of murder, the torturers and the martyrs of life. And next to them – this one bright name: Pushkin.” Today, especially in Russia, many know whole blocks of his poems by heart. When I asked my mom, who is, like me, a Russian immigrant to America, to recite some Pushkin to me, she immediately launched into a few verses of the famous Tatiana’s letter from Eugene Onegin.

Pushkin rose from being at almost the bottom of his class at the Imperial Lycée (or school) where his parents sent him, to being the most beloved poet of Russia. He overcame the severe censorship of “Emperors” and forced exile to the south of Russia, to become the most renowned Russian poet of his day. Students and fans both noble and non-noble alike flocked to his funeral Mass at his early death in a duel with D’Anthès, whom Pushkin had ch6allenged to a duel to protect his wife’s honor.

Elaine Feinstein, the biographer, is also a well-regarded poet in Great Britain, and it shows through her writing: which is engaging, descriptive at all the right times, and fluid. She quotes much of Pushkin’s poetry, such as from a favorite of mine, from his well-known poem, “Night”:

Eyes immense in darkness, glow

As I listen to your voice repeating: love

My love … I love you … I am yours.

Pushkin, also, progressed from being a profligate rake, staying up till the late hours frequenting operas and brothels alike, to finding religion and marital bliss (at least for a while) towards the end of his life. “But I love your soul even more than your face,” he wrote to his wife. His verse runs the gamut from heart-breakingly poignant to extravagantly, downright funny. He was the descendant of an African slave, Abram Gannibal, who ascended in the Russian military to General In Chief and to the rank of a landowner. As a result, throughout his life, Pushkin had a conflicting relation to his appearance, and, though thinking himself ugly, managed to seduce dozens of women. Whether he seduces women or readers of this day, Pushkin had and has a talent for words. This biography does an amazing job of describing to the reader what inspired the great man.

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