Pushkin and censorship


Often considered the founding father of modern Russian literature, Pushkin was a great poet, dramatist, and novelist, but like many writers of his age, he was subject to close scrutiny and censorship.

Alexander Pushkin was born in 1799, during the radical events of the French Revolution, a period that changed the face of European politics, and inspired revolutionary literature.

The effects of the French Revolution terrorised many leaders, who feared that the extremist events in France would inspire a similar upheaval in their own countries. This fear led to a wide range of censorship and oppression which swept Europe in the early nineteenth century.

In Russia, particularly, censorship of the arts was widespread. An act of the Russian Bureau of Censorship (1804), read:

'The Censor has the duty to consider all manner of books and essays that are presented for public consumption. The primary object of this consideration is … to remove books and essays of ill intent … No book or essay shall be printed in the Russian Empire except following review by the Censor.'

These laws allowed the government to limit its authors and poets, and silence a nation at a time of political unrest.

Pushkin's publication history was affected by Russian censorship. After angering the government in 1820 with his revolutionary poem 'Ode to Liberty', Pushkin was exiled for six years. During this time he was placed under strict government control.

Pushkin wrote Boris Godunov in 1825, although due to these constraints it was not published until five years after he completed it. The original, uncensored version was not performed until 2007, almost 200 years later! The play itself visits the theme of censorship, through its presentation of a tyrannical leader.

Literary influences
Famous British poets inspired by the French Revolution, also writing political literature, include Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Robert Burns and William Wordsworth.

Pushkin is often cited alongside these celebrated names, as an important figure in European literary history.

Image: Portrait of Alexander Pushkin by Vasily Tropinin (1827).

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