In the nineteenth century, the Golden Age of Russian literature included Romanticism which emphasized imagination and emotion in contrast to the primacy of reason during the Enlightenment. Examples of Russian Romantic novelists are Aleksandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov. The 19th century ended, however, with a dominance of Russian Realist novelists, such as Ivan TurgenevFyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy.

The first two decades of the 20th century in Russian literature have been called the Silver Age. Famous for poets such as Anna AkhmatovaMarina TsvetaevaOsip Mandelstam and Boris Pasternak, the Silver Age ended after the Russian Civil War.

A land not mine, still
by Anna Akhmatova

English version by Jane Kenyon

A land not mine, still
forever memorable,
the waters of its ocean
chill and fresh.

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,
and the air drunk, like wine,
late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.

Sunset in the ethereal waves:
I cannot tell if the day
is ending, or the world, or if
the secret of secrets is inside me again

 

After the 1917 Russian Revolution and subsequent founding of the Soviet Union in 1922, Russian literature was radically changed.

During a period of relative openness in the 1920s, there was a brief proliferation of avant-garde literature groups such as the Oberiu Movement that included the famous Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. By the late 1920s, the group was labeled “literary hooliganism” and in the early ’30s, with all dissidence strongly repressed, many of its members were arrested.

 

 

In the 1930s, Socialist realism became the only officially approved style of Russian literature. Novelists Maxim GorkyMikhail Sholokhov, Aleksei Nikolaevich Tolstoy and poets Konstantin Simonov and Aleksandr Tvardovsky were the most prominent representatives of the official Soviet literature.

Some resident authors such as Mikhail Bulgakov and Boris Pasternak remained perilously non-compliant with official ideology.

Émigrés including the poets Georgy Ivanov, Georgy Adamov and Vladislav Khodasevich as well as novelists Ivan Bunin, Gaito Gazdanov, Mark Aldanov, and Vladimir Nabokov  flourished in exile.