Nobody writes the literature for a pride, it borns from the character, also it satisfies the needs of nation...
Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin (7 September 1870 in the village of Narovchat in the Penza Oblast – 25 August 1938 in Leningrad) was a Russian writer, pilot, explorer and adventurer who is perhaps best known for his story The Duel (1905). Other well-known works include Moloch (1896), Olesya (1898), "Junior Captain Rybnikov" (1906), "Emerald" (1907), and The Garnet Bracelet (1911) (which was made into a 1965 movie)
Kuprin was a son of Ivan Ivanovich Kuprin, a government official. His mother, Liubov Alekseyevna Kuprina, like many other nobles in Russia, had lost most of her wealth during the 19th century. Majority of his ancestry is ethnic Russian, but one of his distant ancestors was a Volga Tatar.
In 1871 Ivan Kuprin, aged 37, died of cholera, and three years later Alexander with his mother moved into the Widows' Home in Kudrino, Moscow (a period reflected in his tale "A White Lie", 1914). In 1876 he joined the charitable Razumovsky boarding school, which caused him a lot of what he later referred to as "childhood grievances", but also brought about his riotous nature and made him popular among peers as a fine storyteller.
In 1880, inspired by Russia's victory in the Russo-Turkish War, he enrolled into the Second Moscow Military High School, turned into the Cadet Corps in 1882. Those memories stayed with him forever; he returned to them in autobiographical stories "At the Turning Point" (1900), "The River of Life" (1906), "Lenochka" (1910). "The memory of the birching in the Cadet Corps remained with me for the rest of my life," he wrote not long before his death. Yet it was there that he took an interest in literature and for the first time started to write, mostly poetry. Most of his thirty youthful poems date from 1883–1887, the four years when he was in the Cadet Corps. During this period Kuprin also made several translations of foreign verse (among them Béranger's "Les Hirondelles" and Heine's "Lorelei").According to scholar Nicholas Luker, "perhaps the most interesting of Kuprin's early poems is the political piece "Dreams", written on 14 April 1887, the day before sentence was passed on the terrorists who had plotted to assassinate Alexander III in March of that year."
In the autumn of 1888, Kuprin left the Cadet Corps to enter the Alexander Military Academy in Moscow. In the summer of 1890, he graduated from the Academy ranked sublieutenant and was posted to the 46th Dnieper Infantry Regiment (which he chose at random) stationed in Proskurov (now Khmelnitsky). Here he spent the next four years, the whole of his army service.
In 1889 Alexander Kuprin met Liodor Palmin, an established poet who arranged for the publication in The Russian Satirical Leaflet of his debut short story "The Last Debut", based on a real life incident, the suicide by poisoning on stage of the singer Yevlalya Kadmina in 1881, a tragedy which also inspired Ivan Turgenev's tale "Clara Milich". Some three years passed between the appearance of "The Last Debut" and the publication of his second tale "Psyche" in December 1892. Like "On a Moonlit Night" which followed it, the piece showed the aberrations of a deranged mind, investigating the thin line between fantasy and reality.
Kuprin's few years of military service saw the publication of several tales, including "In the Dark" (1893), which was in effect a small novel, and artful studies of abnormal states of mind ("A Slav Soul", "Madness" and "The Forgotten Kiss", all 1894), in which the author described himself as "a collector of rare and strange manifestations of the human soul." Only "The Enquiry" (1894), his first publication to arouse critical comment, was concerned with the army. Apart from his growing dissatisfaction with army life, the imminent publication of "The Enquiry" was probably a major reason for Kuprin's resignation in the summer of 1894. "The Enquiry" started a series of Russian army-themes short stories: "A Place to Sleep" (1897), "The Night-shift" (1899), "Praporshchik" (1897), "The Mission" (1901) which finally resulted in his most famous work, The Duel.
After retiring from the military service in 1894, without any definite plans for the future, or "any knowledge, academic or practical" (according to "Autobiography"), Kuprin embarked upon a five-year-long trip through the South-West of the country, engaging himself in numerous jobs... He tried many types of job, including dental care, land surveying, acting, being a circus performer, psalm singer, doctor, hunter, fisher, etc., all of these subsequently reflected in his fiction. All the while he was engaged in self-education and read a lot, Gleb Uspensky with his sketches becoming his favorite author.
In summer 1894 Kuprin arrived in Kiev and by September had begun working for local newspapers Kievskoe Slovo (Kiev Word), Zhizn i Iskusstvo (Life and Art), and later Kievlianin (The Kievan). In the late 1890s he worked in Volhynia as an estate manager, then in the Polesye area in Southern Belorussia where he helped to grow makhorka. The qualities necessary for a good journalist, he believed, were "mad courage, audacity, breadth of view, and an amazing memory," gifts he himself possessed in full measure. While on frequent journeys to Russia's Southwest he contributed for newspapers in Novocherkassk, Rostov-on-Don, Tsaritsyn, Taganrog and Odessa.
Alongside feuilletons and chronicles Kuprin wrote small sketches, investigating particular environments, or portraying people of specific occupations or circumstances, gathered later into a collection. March 1896 saw the publication of eight such sketches in a small edition entitled Kiev Types, Kuprin's first book. In October 1897 his second collection Miniatures came out, one of his best known circus stories, "Allez!", earning high praise from Leo Tolstoy. In 1905 Kuprin described Miniatures as his "first childish steps along the road of literature,"; nevertheless, like his Kiev Types, they were part of his Kiev experience, and marked a further stage in his maturing as a writer, as Luker points out. Several of his "Industrial Sketches" made in 1896–1899 after his visit to Donbass region, did as much.
1896 saw the publication (in Russkoye Bogatstvo magazine) of Moloch, Kuprin's first major work, a critique of the rapidly growing Russian capitalism and a reflection of the growing industrial unrest in the country. Since then only twice did Kuprin briefly returned to the theme (in "A Muddle", 1897, and "In the Bowels of the Earth", 1899). "On this basis one is tempted to conclude that his concern for the industrial worker in Moloch was little more than a passing phase," Lurker opines.
Several months of 1897 Kuprin spent in Volhynia. "There I absorbed my most vigorous, noble, extensive, and fruitful impressions... and came to know the Russian language and landscape," he remembered in 1920. Three stories of his unfinished "Polesye Cycle" – "The Backwoods", much acclaimed love piece Olesya and "The Werewolf", a horror story, – were published between 1898 and 1901. Moloch and Olesya did much to help Kuprin build his literary reputation. In September 1901 he was invited by Viktor Mirolyubov, editor of the popular Petersburg monthly Zhurnal Dlya Vsekh (Journal for All), to join his staff and in December began working in the capital.
In Petersburg Kuprin found himself in the center of Russian cultural life. He became friends and regularly corresponded with Anton Chekhov up until the latter's death in 1904, often seeking his advice. Kuprin's friendship with Ivan Bunin would last almost forty years, continuing while both were in emigration. He became close with the scholar and critic Fyodor Batyushkov of Mir Bozhiy. They wrote to each other frequently, and 150 surviving letters are only part of their correspondence. Later Kuprin with much gratitude remembered Viktor Mirolyubov's guidance who, as well as Maxim Gorky, exerted strong influence on Kuprin's career. "He not only had a sincere and attentive regard for me and my work, but also – made me think about things I had not thought about before," Kuprin wrote years later.
In 1901 Kuprin joined the Moscow literary society Sreda (Wednesday), founded in 1899 by Nikolay Teleshov and composed mostly of realist writers of the younger generation, among whom were Gorky, Bunin, and Leonid Andreev.
In February 1902 Kuprin married Maria Karlovna Davydova, the adopted daughter of Alexandra Davydova, the widow of the Petersburg Conservatoire's director. When her husband died in 1889, Alexandra Davydova became editor of the liberal Petersburg monthly Mir Bozhy. When she died in 1902, Maria Karlovna took over the publication and later that year Kuprin left The Journal for All to head the fiction section of his wife's journal.
In February 1903 the Gorky-founded Znanye (Knowledge) published the collection of eight tales by Kuprin, among them "The Enquiry" and Moloch. "It is pleasant to come out into the world under such a flag," he noted in a letter to Chekhov. Tolstoy praised the collection for its vivid language critics were almost unanimous in their approbation, pointing to Kuprin's closeness in themes and technique to Chekhov and Gorky. Angel Bogdanovich of Mir Bozhy (who in 1897 had written unflatteringly of Moloch) now praised Kuprin's compact style and his ability to convey a feeling of effervescent joie de vivre. Gorky himself, writing to Teleshov in March 1903, ranked Kuprin third, after Chekhov and Andreev.
Despite literary success Kuprin's first years in Petersburg were stressful. His employment with the magazine left him little time for his own writing, and when his work did appear in Mir Bozhy, rumour had it that he owed his success to his family connections. "Life is hard," he wrote to a friend in Kiev, "scandal, gossip, envy, hatred ... I'm very lonely and sad."
Kuprin wrote less between 1902 and 1905 than he had in the provinces but, according to Luker, "if the quantity of his writing was reduced – some twenty tales in all – its quality was incomparably higher... More conscious now of the blatant contrasts prevalent in Russian society, he turned his attention to the plight of the "little man" thus following the best traditions of Russian literature." Among the more noticeable stories were "At the Circus" (1902) which brought high praise from both Chekhov and Tolstoy, "The Swamp" (1902), linked thematically with the Polesye cycle and "The Jewess" (1904), demonstrating Kuprin's profound sympathy for this persecuted minority in Russian society at the times when pogroms were regular occurrences in the Southern-Western regions of Russian Empire. Other themes of Kuprin's prose of this period include hipocrisy ("A Quiet Life", 1904; "Good Company", 1905), bigotry ("Measles", 1904) and the degeneration of the idle class ("The High Priest", 1905).
In 1904 Kuprin started intensive work on The Duel, a novel commenting on the "horror and tedium of army life" conceived in his second year in the army. was published on 3 May 1905. The creation of this novel, linked closely with Kuprin's own days of youth, was for him a cathartic experience. "I must free myself from the heavy burden of impressions accumulated by my years of military service. I will call this novel The Duel, because it will be my duel ... with the tsarist army. The army cripples the soul, destroys all a man's finest impulses, and debases human dignity... I have to write about all I have known and seen. And with my novel I shall challenge the tsarist army to a duel," he informed his wife in a letter.
The Duel became the literary sensation of the year. In 1905 some 45.5 thousand copies were sold, a vast number for the early 1900s. The novel caused a controversy which went on till 1917. Critics of the left welcomed The Duel as "another nail in the coffin of autocracy," while their conservative counterparts condemned it as "a perfidious assault on the ruling order." One officer even challenged Kuprin to a duel through a Petersburg paper. On the other hand, in the summer of 1905 a group of twenty officers wrote to the author, expressing their gratitude for the novel. The Duel, according to Luker, marked "the summit of Kuprin's career... assuring him immortality in the annals of Russian literature."
Throughout his life Kuprin was a man of indefinite political views, but the events of 1905 moved him to take a firm stance critical to the regime. Kuprin established links with sailors in the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, and even attempted to enlist on the battleship Potyomkin, which mutinied in June 1905. Regarded politically unreliable, he was put under the secret police surveillance. In "Events in Sevastopol" he described the destruction of the cruiser Ochakov, the event Kuprin witnessed in Balaklava. His role in the affair was not confined to that of angry journalist. His later tale "The Caterpillar" (1918) reveals that he helped to rescue several sailors who escaped from the blazing cruiser. Admiral Grigory Chukhnin, commander of the Black Sea fleet, seemingly responsible for the tragedy, ordered Kuprin to leave Sevastopol within 48 hours and instituted legal proceedings for defamation. In June 1906 Chukhnin was assassinated, but the case was still heard two years later and Kuprin was sentenced to a fine and ten days' house arrest, in Zhitomir in August 1909.
Among his better known stories of the mid-1900s period were "Dreams", "The Toast", "Art" and "The Murderer", the latter taking upon the issue of violence that swept over Russia at the time. "Junior Captain Rybnikov" (1906) which told the tale of a Japanese spy posing as a Russian officer, was highly praised by Gorky. Much discussed were "An Insult" (1906) and "Gambrinus" (1907), an emotional summation of many motifs of his writing after 1905, echoing the declamatory tone of "Events in Sevastopol", according to Luker.
From 1905 onwards Kuprin again became active in numerous non-literary fields. He put himself forward as an elector to the first State Duma for the city of Petersburg. In 1909–1910 he made an air balloon flight with a renown sportsman Sergey Utochkin, ventured into the Black Sea depths as a diver and accompanied airman Ivan Zaikin in his airplane trips.
In 1908 Kuprin departed from Znanye. His deteriorating relationship with Gorky was not helped by the publication in 1908 of "Seasickness", the short story telling of the rape of a Social Democrat heroine and showing her revolutionary husband in an unfavorable light, which Gorky regarded as a deliberate slur on the SD Party. Overtly non-political were "Emerald" (1907), the most famous of his animal stories, an ode to 'eternal love' "Sulamith" (1908), based closely on The Song of Songs, autobiographical "Lenochka" (1910), and The Garnet Bracelet (1911), his most famous 'doomed romanticism' story where hopeless love finds its quietly tragic apotheosis. The Lestrigons (1907–11), a set of sketches on the fishermen of Balaklava, provided a lyrical paean to the simple life and an epic glorification of the virtues of its simple folk. In October 1909 Kuprin was awarded the Pushkin Prize, jointly with Bunin.
In 1908 Kuprin started working on The Pit, his most ambitious and controversial work. The first part of this novelistic study of prostitution appeared in 1909, the second in 1914, and the third in 1915. Part I, as it came out, provoked widespread controversy, parts II and III were met with almost universal indifference. Kuprin, who could not decide, apparently, whether his novel should be a documentary or fiction, either oscillated between the two or attempted to combine them in an artificial way. "He is more successful when in documentary vein, and so Part I, with its details of life in the brothel, is by far the best," argues Luker. The novel was criticized by some Russian critics and authors (Lev Tolstoy among them) for excessive naturalism, but many admired it, among them young Nina Berberova.
The Pit was Kuprin's last major work, and to many it signaled the decline of his creativity. Much of Kuprin's work between 1912 and the outbreak of the World War I is regarded as inferior, with the exception of "Black Lightning" and "Anathema". Kuprin's visit to the South of France between April and July 1912 gave rise to "The Cote d'Azur", the twenty sketches forming a cycle of travel impressions. In 1911 he moved his family to Gatchina, near Saint Petersburg.
As World War I broke out, Kuprin opened a military hospital in his Gatchina home, then visited towns on the western front. Towards the end of 1914 he appealed through the press for money for the wounded, and in December rejected the idea of celebrating the 25th anniversary of his literary career. As a reserve officer, he was called up in November 1914, and commanded an infantry company in Finland till May 1915, when he was discharged on grounds of ill health. That was the reason why he could not become a war correspondent, a career he aspired to during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905. Among his few stories that reflected the war, most notable were his satires ("Goga Veselov", "The Cantaloups", "Daddy", "Grunya"), taking a swipe at the cynics who were making fortunes upon the nation's grievances.
The February Revolution found Kuprin in Helsinki, where he had gone on medical advice. Returning to Gatchina, he expressed his enthusiasm at the collapse of tsarism in a series of articles and in May started editing the Socialist Revolutionary Party's newspaper Svobodnaia Rossiya (Free Russia), contributing also to Volnost (Freedom) and Petrogradskii Listok (The Petrograd Leaflet). While welcoming the freedom brought by the February Revolution, he foresaw the excesses that further upheaval might bring and warned against Russia's plunging into an orgy of bloodshed.
The October Revolution did little to clarify Kuprin's political position. In the articles he contributed to send various papers till mid-1918 – Petrogradskoe Ekho (Petrograd Echo), Vecherneye Slovo (Evening Word), and Zaria (Dawn) among them, – his attitude to the new regime remained ambivalent. He recognized the historical significance of the Bolshevik Revolution and admired Lenin as "an honest and courageous man," stating that "Bolshevism constitutes a great, pure, disinterested doctrine that is inevitable for mankind." Still, while working for a brief time with Maxim Gorky at the World Literature publishing company, he criticized prodrazverstka and the policy of the War Communism, arguing that the Bolsheviks threatened Russian culture, and that their insufficient knowledge of the country had brought suffering to her people. In June 1918, Kuprin was arrested for a short time for an article in the paper Molva (Rumor) critical of the regime. One of his 1918 stories ("The Caterpillar") praised the heroism of women revolutionaries, another ("The Ghost of Gatchina") was an anti-Bolshevik tale of the tyranny of Russia's new masters.
In the end of 1918 Kuprin drew up elaborate plans for Zemlia (Land), a paper designed especially for the peasantry. His proposed program involved assisting the government in the radical transformation of rural life along lines not conflicting with the principles of communism. Supported by Gorky and approved by Lenin himself at a meeting with Kuprin on 25 December 1918, the project was never realized.
n 16 October 1919, Gatchina was taken by the White Army led by General Nikolai Yudenich. For a fortnight Kuprin was editing Prinevsky Krai (Neva Country), a paper published by Yudenich's army headquarters. In October as the Whites retreated westward, Kuprin traveled with them to Yamburg, where he joined his wife and daughter. Via Narva, the family reached Revel in Estonia, and in December left for Finland. After half a year in Helsinki, they sailed for France, arriving in Paris in early July 1920.
The next seventeen years in Paris saw the decline ofKuprin's creativity and his succumbing to alcoholism. Grieved at his separation from Russia, he became lonely and withdrawn. The family's poverty made the situation worse. "I'm left naked ... and destitute as a homeless old dog," Kuprin wrote to Ivan Zaikin, an old friend. All this combined to hinder his writing. "The more talented a man is, the harder it is for him without Russia," Kuprin told a reporter in 1925.
Kuprin's nostalgia explains the retrospective quality of his work in emigration. He returned to familiar themes from his earlier writing and dwelled on personal experiences linking him with the homeland he has lost. His visit to southwest France in 1925 inspired "Crimson Blood" (1926), a colorful account of a bullfight in Bayonne, followed in 1927 by "The Blessed South", four sketches on Gascony and the Hautes Pyrenees. Then came the predominantly urban sketches made in Yugoslavia, the result of Kuprin's visit to Belgrade in 1928 to attend a conference of emigre Russian writers. The three major works of Kuprin's Parisian years were The Wheel of Time (13 sketches styled as a novel, 1929), autobiographical The Junkers (1932), and romantic "Jeannette" (1933), describing the affection felt by an elderly professor for a little girl in his neighborhood.
By 1930 Kuprin's family was in poverty and debt. His literary fees were meager, heavy drinking dogged his Parisian years, after 1932 his sight began to deteriorate, and his handwriting became impaired. His wife's attempts to establish a book-binding shop and a library for émigrés were financial disasters. A return to the Soviet Union offered the only solution to Kuprin's material and psychological difficulties. In late 1936 he finally decided to apply for a visa. On 29 May 1937, seen off only by their daughter, Kuprins left the Gare du Nord for Moscow. When on 31 May the Kuprins arrived in Moscow, they were met by representatives of writers' organizations and installed in the Metropole Hotel. In early June they moved to a dacha owned by the Soviet Union of Writers at Golitsyno, outside Moscow, where Kuprin received medical attention and rested till the winter. In mid-December he and his wife moved to an apartment in Leningrad.
Years in Paris had broken his health and transformed him into an old man. The tragic change was noticed by the writer Nikolay Teleshov, his friend of the early 1900s. Visiting Kuprin shortly after his arrival, Teleshov found him confused, rambling, and pathetic. "He left Russia ... physically very robust and strong," he wrote later, "but returned an emaciated. ... feeble, weak-willed invalid. This was no longer Kuprin – that man of outstanding talent – it was something... weak, sad, and visibly dying." He eventually returned to Moscow on 31 May 1937, just a year before his death, at the height of the Great Purge. Kuprin's return earned publication of his works within the Soviet Union, but he wrote practically nothing new after that. In June 1937, to mark the first anniversary of Gorky's death in June, Izvestiya published Kuprin's "Fragments of Memoirs". In October the sketch "My Native Moscow" came out. The writer's general reaction to what was happening around him was far from euphoric. In her account of Kuprin's last months, daughter Lidia Nord painted a picture of a disillusioned old man who felt he was a stranger in his native country.
January 1938 brought a deterioration in Kuprin's health. By July his condition was grave; already suffering from a kidney disorder and sclerosis, he had now developed cancer of the oesophagus. Surgery did little to help. Alexander Kuprin died on 25 August 1938, and was interred near his fellow writers at the Literaturskiye Mostki in the Volkovo Cemetery in Leningrad two days later.
In February 1902, Kuprin married Maria Karlovna Davydova, the adopted daughter of Alexandra Davydova, widow of the director of the Petersburg Conservatoire. On her husband's death in 1889, Alexandra Davydova became editor of Mir Bozhy. When she died in 1902, Maria Karlovna took over it and soon Kuprin became the head the fiction section of his wife's journal. Their daughter Lydia was born in 1903.
In 1907 Kuprin divorced his first wife and married Yelizaveta Moritsovna Geinrikh (1882–1943), a sister of mercy, Lydia's governess and Alexandra's good friend. In 1908 their daughter Ksenia was born. Kuprin's mother died in 1910.
According to Nicholas Luker, Kuprin's position in the history of Russian literature is highly significant, if not unique. Born into an age overshadowed by the great Russian novel, which had reached its zenith in the 1860s. he turned to the short story as the genre suited both to his own restless temperament and to the manifold preoccupations of his generation... With his contemporaries Chekhov, Gorky, and Bunin. he brought the genre of the short story to an efflorescence without parallel in Russian letters. What he conceded in restraint to Chekhov, conviction to Gorky, and subtlety to Bunin, Kuprin made up for in narrative pace, construction of plot, and richness of theme. These latter qualities, coupled with his abiding interest in the human soul, make him still very readable today.
Made famous by his novel The Duel (1905), Kuprin was highly praised by fellow writers including Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, Leonid Andreyev, Nobel Prize-winning Ivan Bunin and Leo Tolstoy who acclaimed him a true successor to Chekhov. Although he lived in an age when writers were carried away by literary experiments, Kuprin did not seek innovation and wrote only about the things he himself had experienced and his heroes are the next generation after Chekhov's pessimists. Vladimir Nabokov styled him "the Russian Kipling" for his stories about pathetic adventure-seekers, who are often "neurotic and vulnerable." All through the 20th century Alexander Kuprin remained "one of the widest read classics in Russian literature," with many films based on his works, partly due to "his vivid stories of the lives of ordinary people and unhappy love, his descriptions of the military and brothels, making him a writer for all times and places."
A minor planet 3618 Kuprin, discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1979, is named after him.