Pushkin transformed every form of Russian literature he touched. By Elaine Feinstein
Saturday 6 November 2010
He was exiled to southern Russia just before his 21st birthday for verse written against despotism. Those poems were found among the papers of many of the Decembrists. The failure of their rebellion against Tsar Nicholas I in 1825 led to executions that haunted Pushkin all his life. When Nicholas summoned him to inquire into his loyalties, Pushkin declared that, had he been in St Petersburg, he would have been on Senate Square with his friends. Nicholas appeared impressed by his frankness and allowed him back to the capital, but appointed Count Benkendorff to keep an eye on what he was writing. In Soviet times, poets who were censored or silenced found Pushkin an inspiration. Anna Akhmatova revered him.
Pushkin chose a cold young beauty for a wife. Natalya loved balls at court, where she was surrounded by admirers and wore expensive dresses Pushkin could not afford. He longed to retreat to his country estate, but the tsar would not allow him to remove Natalya from court. After receiving letters accusing him of being a cuckold, Pushkin felt obliged to fight a duel to defend his wife's honour. He lost his life in it at the age of 37.