PUSHKIN by Elaine Feinstein

PUSHKIN

A Biography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An accessible biography that emphasizes the contradictions in Pushkin’s personality and how they contributed to his early death. In this bicentennial year of Pushkin’s birthe, the author establishes herself as a good synthesizer. While Feinstein’s (Lawrence and the Women: The Intimate Life of D.H. Lawrence, 1993) biography of Russia’s great literary figure is up-to-date on the latest research, it will serve as a readable and reliable English-language biography for the general public rather than a groundbreaking study for literary critics. Feinstein presents Pushkin’s life chronologically, from his birth and school days to his undoing in a dramatic duel and painful death. Chapters are concise and predictable. An introductory account of Russian imperial history falls into the trap of excessive shorthand, which leads to empty remarks such as the following about Peter the Great: he “unquestionably wanted to make Russia great.” From the start, Feinstein focuses on the juxtapositions within Pushkin’s personality and his various situations in life: his perception of himself as ugly and his pride in his African ancestry; his liberal political views and his unsolicited role as the tsar’s pet poet; his inheritance of his father’s love of gossip and society and his need for solitude for work; and his marriage to the beautiful young wife whose flirtations (if not infidelity) led to an eruption of Pushkin’s violent temper and the fatal duel that caused his death. For the general reader, Feinstein conveys some of the social complexity of Pushkin’s era and life at the royal court. She also makes a particular effort to make Pushkin’s works accessible and understandable in chapters that cover his most productive periods, offering excerpts to illustrate Pushkin’s creative genius. Feinstein’s Pushkin is a far more conventional biography than Serena Vitale’s recent Pushkin’s Button, with its marked imaginative flair and foundation of original research. But for the general reader with no knowledge of Russian, it offers a solid introduction to this literary giant. (8 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: May 26th, 1999
ISBN: 0-88001-674-4
Page count: 309pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999




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