Russian Literature in 18th Century

By | November 18, 2021

Russian literature, in its beginnings term for the literature of the Eastern Slavs, initially in Church Slavonic, today in Russian.

Only with the rise of the Moscow state in the 14th-15th centuries In the 19th century, a national Russian literature gradually developed, the language of which, however, remained committed to the Church Slavonic tradition for a long time.

The 18th century

Due to the reforms of Peter the Great (introduction of the “civil script”), also externally separated from the spiritual literature, secular literature finally asserted itself. The requirement was the standardization of the written Russian language. M. W. Lomonossow carried out it in four steps: metrics (“Pis’mo o pravilach rossijskogo stichotvorstva”, 1739), rhetoric (“Ritorika”, 1744; “Kratkoe rukovodstvo k krasnorečiju”, 1748), grammar (“Rossijskaja grammatika”, 1755. Grammatika “, 1755) and style (“O pol’ze knig cerkovnych v rossijskom jazyke” [On the use of ecclesiastical books in the Russian language], 1757/58). Common as well as rare Church Slavonic and Russian-colloquial elements were assigned to different styles and thus literary genres.


The first epoch of New Russian literature was Enlightenment Classicism, based on French (N. Boileau-Despréaux) and German models (J. C. Günther, M. Opitz, J. G. Gottsched). The most important representatives of this direction, which began in the 1740s, are A. D. Kantemir with verse satires that are linguistically completely disordered, W. K. Trediakowski  - as theoretician of Russian verse (“Novyj i kratkij sposob k složeniju rossijskich stichov” [New and short instructions for preparation Russian Verse], 1735), but with his epic »Tilemachiden« (»Telemachis«, 1766) in Dactylo-Trochean hexameters, it points far ahead.

While AD Kantemir’s socially critical satires were still written in syllabic meter, WK Trediakowski insisted on trochaic verse, while MW Lomonossow opened the entire repertoire of trochaic-iambic and dactylo-anapaestic verse. He realized his theories in significant odes, a genre that became the characteristic poetic form of classicism and found its completion in the poetry of G. R. Derschawin.

The Russian classicist comedy, also promoted by Catherine II through her own contributions, found its master in D. I. Fonwisin, who in the comedies »Brigadir« (1769; German »The Brigadier«) and »Nedorosl ‘« (1789; German »Der Landjunker «) The amalgamation of borrowed patterns (especially Molière) with unmistakable Russian figures, motifs and language norms succeeded for the first time.

Alongside comedy, satire and the morally descriptive satirical fable flourished; N. I. Novikow was an important author and editor of satirical magazines. A. N. Radishchev introduced the sentimental travel novel into Russian literature with his »Putešestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu« (1790; German »Journey from Petersburg to Moscow«), in which he exposes grievances in administration, the educational system and the church and calls for them to be changed. The fable showed a significant development in Russia. Even Sumarokov had submitted 378 pieces of the genre. His successors Wasilij Majkov, A. Rschewski, M. Cheraskow and Ivan Chemnizer (* 1745, † 1784) developed it further up to I. A. Krylow, in which it became the main genre with world literary claim.


Towards the end of the 18th century, under the influence of European sensibility, sentimentalism became the leading direction in Russian literature; The climax were the atmospheric and soulful stories by N. M. Karamsin (especially »Bednaja Liza«, 1792; German »Poor Lisa«), who through his travel reports (»Pis’ma russkogo putešestvennika«, 1st complete edition 1799–1801; German among other things as »Letters of a Traveling Russian«) is a Western European educational asset mediated in Russia and with his “Istorija Gosudarstva Rossijskogo” (12 volumes, 1816-29; German “History of the Russian Empire”), the first comprehensive account of Russian history, exerted a great influence on the development of Russian national consciousness. – In the dispute over the Russian literary language, there was a dispute between the “innovators” over NM Karamsin (Society “Arsamas”), who tried to create an elegant and generally understandable Russian literary language without church Slavisms based on the stylistic model of French, and the “Archaists” around A. S. Schischkow (Society “Beseda”), who opposed the French influences on the Use Russian and a Russian-Church Slavonic solution. Stylistically, the archaists paid homage to a classicism based on the French theorist J. F. La Harpe.

Russian Literature in 18th Century