Nikolai Leskov

Nikolai Leskov

  • Russia

Nikolai Semyonovich Leskov (1895-1831) was one of the greatest Russian authors of the 19th century. Most of his fame is about the short stories and novels he wrote. Very few had placed him on a high level in his life. It should be noted that Lev Tolstoy was among those few. True recognition Laskov won only after his death. His unobtrusive religiosity, as well as his outstanding interest in people living in the world of faith, did not contribute to his popularity. Leskov made use of an exceptional Russian language, which deviates sharply from literary norms. He generously used a unique vocabulary derived from colloquial language and in the confusion of words characteristic of such speech. Only at the beginning of the 20th century, when language play, interest in linguistic exoticism and dialects became a literary norm, the attitude towards Leskov was changed. One of the most influential writers of the time, Maxim Gorky, declared that he was a student of Leskov and that he was one of the classic Russian writers – alongside Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Leskov was born in the village of Grochovo, not far from Oryol, where his father worked as a clerk in a criminal court. Leskov’s father, the son of a priest, had attended a seminary for priests and was familiar with the doctrine of the Orthodox faith, but refused to become a priest. Leskov’s mother came from a non-wealthy family of nobility. Leskov’s family led a traditional lifestyle, typical of the Russian middle class in the province. The family was surrounded by church priests and meticulously observed all the ecclesiastical rituals. As a child, Leskov learned the doctrine of Christian faith under the guidance of a priest. In the course of his life, Leskov had many connections around the church. As a writer, he turned repeatedly in his work to describe the lives and ways of Russian clergymen. In 1848, after his father’s death, Leskov left his high school and was accepted to work in the criminal court office where his father worked before him. A year later, he moved to Kiev and was hired at the local branch of the Ministry of Finance. During his life in Kiev Leskov read, learned the Polish language and the Ukrainian language and visited as a free student in a wide range of subjects at the University of Kiev. In 1857 he left the civil service for good and was hired by a company owned by his uncle. During almost four years of Leskov’s work in the company, he has traveled extensively in Russia’s provincial cities. In 1861 he left the company and came to Petersburg to dedicate himself to a writer’s career. In his first years in Petersburg, Leskov wrote and published articles, but gradually he left journalism and went on to write stories and novels of a purely literary nature. In 1864 he began serializing the novel “No Place” in which he denounced the nihilistic spirits of some of the Russian revolutionaries, although he expressed support for progressive social reforms. Following the publication of the novel, Leskov lost the support of the left-wing circles of the Russian intelligentsia, which accused him of collaborating with the secret police. As a result, some of the works of that period were not published at the time, including his masterpiece, the novella “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District”. Despite his loyalty to traditional Russian Christianity, in the 1880s, he began to criticize and blame it with excessive conservatism, nationalism, and too close relations with the state. Because of Leskov’s criticism of religion and the regime, he was fired from his job at the Russian Ministry of Education, but was regained the support of the liberal and revolutionary circles of Russian society. Leskov was married twice. From his second wife he divorced in 1877 and continued to raise his son Andrei alone. He died in St. Petersburg in 1895.


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