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19th-century literature

National bard Alexander Pushkin lived all over town, although most famously at his last address on the Moyka River which is now a suitably hagiographic museum to him, its interior preserved exactly as it was at the moment of his death in 1837.

Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Pushkin


His epic poem Yevgeny Onegin is set in part among the foppish aristocratic society of the imperial capital that he ridicules savagely, despite being a fairly consistent fixture of it himself for most of his adult life. The wonderful short story The Queen of Spades is set in the house of a countess in the city (she lived on Nevsky pr) and charts the weird supernatural story of a man who uncovers her Mephistophelian gambling trick.
The Bronze Horseman

The Bronze Horseman


Pushkin’s most famous work, published posthumously in 1841, is The Bronze Horseman, depicting the great flood of 1824. In it, the hopes and wishes of the people – represented here by the lowly clerk Yevgeny, who has lost his beloved in the flood – take on the conquering, empire-building spirit of Peter the Great, represented by the animation of the bronze statue of him installed by Catherine the Great.
Nikolai Gogol

Nikolai Gogol


Unclassifiably brilliant is the writing of Nikolai Gogol (1809-52) whose troubled genius created some of Russian literature’s most memorable characters, including Akaki Akakievich, the tragi-comic hero of The Overcoat, and the brilliant Major Kovalyev, who chases his errant nose around St Petersburg when it makes a break for it in the absurdist short story The Nose. Gogol came to the city from his native Ukraine in 1829, and
wrote and lived here for a decade before spending his final years abroad, mainly in Italy. Under-awed by the legendary capital (in a letter to his mother he described it as a place where ‘people seem more dead than alive’ and complained endlessly about the air pressure, which he believed caused illness), Gogol was nevertheless inspired by St Petersburg to write a number of absurdist stories, collectively known as The Petersburg Tales and generally recognised as being the zenith of his creativity.
Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy


Leo Tolstoy, an inveterate Muscovite, nevertheless set much oiAnna Karenina in the city and Ivan Turgenev wrote Notes of a Hunter, a work of huge social importance due to its criticism of serfdom, while living in his house on Bolshaya Konyushennaya ul.
Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky


Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-81) is perhaps the most famous writer that St Petersburg has nursed. Despite being a Muscovite, Dostoevsky moved to the imperial capital in 1838, aged just 16, and began his literary and journalistic career here.
Despite a decade’s exile in Siberia, Dostoevsky set Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, White Nights and The Devils in the city. Crime and Punishment is perhaps the most evocative of the lives of the poor living in and around the 19th-century Haymarket at the time. Despite living here most of his life, Dostoevsky eventually turned against the city and the Europeanisation that it represented.
A deep Russophilia and suspicion of all Western imports characterised Dostoevsky’s life, and he took personally against the city he lived in during his last years.

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