It is as challenging exercise to select writers to represent our pick of the ten best Russian authors as it is to select the best French authors or the top 10 English writers – possibly even more difficult because of the richness of the Russian literary landscape. Russia has produced a large number of the greatest European writers: from the poet Pushkin, often called ‘the Russian Shakespeare’ to the courageous Nobel laureate, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote about the gulags and suffered as a result of doing so. The roll call is crowded with geniuses.
These ten are internationally known and read, translated into several languages and regularly adapted for the screen. How many films, television serials, operas and plays have been based on Anna Karenina for example? Or War and Peace?
Unfortunately, no women have made this list, although writers like Tatyana Tolstaya and Lyudmila Ulitskaya get an honourable mention.
The writers are listed in order of their dates of birth
Alexander Pushkin, 1799 – 1837
Pushkin was a poet, essayist and novelist. He is generally regarded by Russians as the greatest Russian poet, and founder of modern Russian literature. He was in his teens when his first poetry was published, and went on to achieve his great legacy before his tragic death at the early age of 38, when he was killed in a duel with Georges Charles, who had made a pass at his wife. He will be forever remembered around the world for his novel, the classic, Eugene Onegin
Nikolai Gogol, 1809 – 1852
Gogol was a Russian dramatist, novelist and short story writer. He was born in Ukraine and was influenced by Ukrainian culture. His works were, and still are, highly popular and have been adapted for film many times. His novel, Taras Bulba, was made into a blockbusting Hollywood film. Some of his other popular works are The Portrait, The Carriage, the short story collection, Diary of a Madman, and his play, Marriage. He was known for his insrtian of real people in his fiction.
Ivan Turgenev, 1818 – 1883
Turgenev was a novelist and short story writer and political activist. His classic, Father and Son was turned down by several publishers before making a lot of money for one of them. The work he is mostly remembered for is a collection of short stories, A Sportsman’s Sketches, that exposed the cruelty of the Russian surf society.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1821 – 1881
Dostoyevsky was a novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist and philosopher. He was an engineer and only took to writing after he had joined a socialist group, was captured by police and sent to Siberia. His writing began with accounts of his time in prison and before long he was being widely read. He is now regarded as one of the greatest novelists who ever wrote.His novel, Crime and Punishment, would rank among the top ten novels ever written in any languge.
Leo Tolstoy, 1828 – 1910
Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy would probably be at the top of the list of greatest novelists of all time, along with Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Cervantes. He also wrote short stories and, after completing his greaat novels tinkered around with play writing. His best works are the immortal War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
Anton Chekhov, 1860 – 1904
Although best known for his very popular plays he is in contention for the title of the greatest short story writer in any language. He began writing while practicing medicine and even once his success as a playwright had allowed him to live on the earnings from that he continued to operate both professions simultaneously. The titles of his plays are as familiatr in western culture as those of Shakespeare’s are: The Seagull, The Cherry Orchard, UncleVanya, Three Sisters etc. He wrote 18 plays, all regarded as classics.
Ivan Bunin, 1870- 1953
Ivan Bunin was the first Nobel literature laureate. Although he was not educated he was noted for his artistry and adherence to the classical tradition, while his stories are at the same time fine examples of realism. His most acclaimed works are a collection of short stories, Dark Avenues, the novels, The Village, The Dry Calley, and his autobiography, The Life of Arseniev.
Vladimir Nabokov, 1891 – 1940
Vladimir Nabokov is usually thought of as an American novelist as he lived in America and wrote several novels there, in English, including the modern classic Lolita. His first nine novels were written in Russian. He wrote Lolita in both languages. He was also a famous and distinguished entomologist and an authority on butterflies.
Mikhail Bulgakov, 1891 – 1940
Bulgakov was a novelist, playwright and physician who distinguished himself in the dangerous area of satire: the government of Soviet Union Russia was not very partial to being satirised. His most famous work is the classic novel, The Master and Margarita.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1918 – 2008
Solzhenitsyn applied his skills as poet and fiction writer to raise awareness of the Soviet Union’s prison camps, the Gulags. The most famous of those works are The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Those two works serve as a detailed and horrifying account of the Soviet system, and an indictment of it.
That’s our pick of the 10 best Russian authors. Any you disagree with, or any you feel are missing? Join in with the conversation in the comments section below.