Russian Short Story Writers

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  • 0:03 Pushkin and Gogol
  • 1:14 Turgenev, Dostoevsky,…
  • 2:37 Chekov
  • 3:45 Bunin & Kuprin
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Russian literature has a rich history of exemplary literary works. It all starts with Pushkin and proceeds from there. Whether it is Gogol, Chekhov, Bunin, or one of many others, their development of the short story demonstrates why they are considered masters.

Pushkin and Gogol

In every field, there is always one person who stands above the rest. In the case of Russian literature, every discussion points back to Aleksandr Pushkin. Primarily known for his poetry, Pushkin also wrote a good number of short stories. Perhaps best known in English translation is 'The Queen of Spades.' Pushkin received a great deal of attention from literary scholars in regard to how he transformed the language through his poetic use of words and phrases.

Pushkin wasn't the only one producing notable prose or poems in the early part of the 19th century, but he does receive a great deal of credit for elevating not only Russian language, but the literature as well. Nikolai Gogol also greatly influenced literature at this time. Perhaps best known for his novel Dead Souls, he also wrote a number of short stories, most notably 'The Nose' and 'The Overcoat.'

These stories reflect on the inefficiencies of government bureaucracy as well as the fragile psyche of man. 'The Nose' examines how a body part becomes more successful than its owner, while 'The Overcoat' examines the inefficiency of government workers. Both Pushkin and Gogol set the standard for future generations.

Turgenev, Dostoevsky, & Tolstoy

Gogol's works had a tremendous influence on later writers of the 19th century, particularly Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Ivan Turgenev wrote short stories portraying of the peasantry around his family estate. They attempt to present an accurate picture of their lives and struggles. Turgenev's later works still present an honest picture of life but are perhaps more critical of society's progressions.

Then there was Fyodor Dostoevsky. In his early works, he wrote with a strong resemblance to the style of Gogol, including 'The Double.' Then, after he returned from prison and exile that he developed his own unique style, which comes to the forefront in 'Notes From the Underground.' It is at this point that Dostoevsky begins to investigate man and his need for salvation. The theme of this short story will continue to evolve in his later novels.

Another author of influence is Leo Tolstoy. though he was known more for his novels, his short stories typically examined man and faith. Tolstoy also delved into the darker aspects of life, One sees the germination of his evolving thoughts in the short story 'After the Ball.' The narrator of the story remarks that man 'cannot understand what's good and what's bad on his own.' Tolstoy's religious conversion begins to influence his work as he explores how man's fate lies in the choices he makes. This idea is also reflected in the works of Anton Chekhov.


A doctor by trade, Chekhov wrote simple little anecdotes for a newspaper, and eventually, his writing grew into his profession. Anton Chekhov was considered by many to be the writer who mastered the form of the short story. Chekhov wrote about daily life occurrences. There's no moral judgment or examination of one's life. He wrote about a simple act and then ended the story, sometimes without fully providing any closure. The short story 'The Lady With the Dog' best demonstrates this.

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