A study of Russia's great writer in his historical context, this conveys the stifling atmosphere of 19th-century tsarist Russia without illuminating Pushkin's literary genius. Alexander Pushkin (17991837) should be the ideal subject for a biography. His life, like his art, was colorful and dramatic, from his origins (his maternal great-grandfather was African-born), his excessive gambling (he temporarily lost a chapter of Evgenii Onegin at the gambling table), and womanizing to his early death at age 37 from a gunshot wound received in a duel. ``The Age of Pushkin'' was marked by seminal events in Russia's history: Napoleon's invasion and defeat, and the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, which ended in the death by hanging of five men, all close to Pushkin, and the exile to Siberia of over 100 others. The foremost shaper of the Russian language, Pushkin is revered as both a writer and national hero in a culture that intermingles the two categories more fully than most. Strangely, he has not received his due among English-speakers. Edmonds (Classics/Oxford Univ.; The Big Three, 1991) undertook his study, first, in an effort to remedy the situation. His second, rather odd intention was to save Pushkin from Soviet prudery and ideology. Edmonds is at his best in conveying the oppressiveness of tsarist suspicions, manifested in Pushkin's internal exile and the constant censorship of his work. But Russian history is blurred by the narrative's excess of ``watersheds'' and ``turning points.'' In addition, the reader easily tires of repeated descriptions of Pushkin's ``paradoxical character'' and the phony intimacy of trite phrasing. Had Edmonds been a better writer and delivered his message less as if to dense undergraduates, this might have been a more satisfying read. Still, to the reader looking for access to Pushkin and Russian history, this should provide an adequate point of entry.
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