Russian writers, the great storytellers of the “Golden Age” of literature (18th & 19th century), were masters of observation. Their world was changing; rapidly and permanently. Western influence introduced to them during times of war provided them freedom of thought for the first time in their long history as a monarchy. In a matter of a few years the Russian intelligentsia absorbed the knowledge of over three hundred years of Enlightenment thought, innovations, and art. They became the catalyst for conversations on the rights of man and the role of church and state in the lives of their citizens. Suddenly, a feudal society’s eyes popped open from a deep sleep and they realized their dreams of freedom were real and within reach. It was a dyamic time, and a confusing one.
Because of their late arrival the Russian people were in a position to expand their knowledge base exponentially and soon conversations heard in the salons and receiving rooms of St. Petersburg, the cultural capital of Russia at the time, had become passionate with talk of the “rights of man”. Influence the church and state had over the middle class decreased and, as it did, their power went with it. The common man gained the ability to ask his own questions and decide his own beliefs for the first time in Russian history, and as they sipped their vodka they began to speak of revolution. They began to seek their freedom.
And a few wrote.
Government censors, focused solely on traditional news sources, weren’t quick enough to pick up the messages behind the storylines and this gave writers of fiction a way to move the conversations they were having privately forward into the mainstream. As a result, Russian literature stands to this day as some of the most important to our society, regardless of where your origins lie. By examining the human condition with compelling narratives these great Russian writers succeeded in questioning the way we live our lives. Questions that are still with us today.
In this Age of Information we’re facing another sweeping change to our culture, and this time its on a world-wide scale. The struggle governments are facing around the world are proof the status quo is changing once again. Think Arab Spring or the recent struggles in India and Turkey. It’s the same story but now a new element has been added; Globalization.
As a way to improve my own writing I’m reading and learning about these great Russian writers. The characters, plots, rhythms, styles and themes of Tolstoy, Checkov, Doestoevsky, Pushkin, and others. A side effect of this is a sideways glance into my own world through their eyes.