The National and the Universal in the Work of the First Russian Nobel Prize Winner in Literature The 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Honorary Academician I.A. Bunin

Abstract

This article is dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the classic author of Russian literature, Honorary Academician of the Imperial Academy of Sciences in the Category of Fine Literature, the first Russian Nobel Prize laureate in literature I.A. Bunin (October 10 (22), 1870–November 8, 1953). The parallel of the category of the “national” as the “universal,” open to the world, capable of connecting to someone else’s experience in the creative mind of Pushkin, who had stood at the origins of the great Russian classics, and Bunin, who largely completed this tradition in the 20th century, is considered. The aesthetic dominants of Bunin’s artistic world, his inherent ways of mastering images and themes of world culture, as well as the tragic experience of a person in the postclassical era, are reviewed. The assessments of the writer’s work by the major figures of Western literature (Thomas Mann, Romain Rolland, André Gide, and others) are presented. The circumstances of Bunin’s election as an Academician in 1909 are examined. The expert evaluations of his work by the Nobel Committee, which preceded the awarding of the prize in 1933, are analyzed. Special attention is paid to the significance of these milestones in Bunin’s biography and the main components of his literary reputation.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    From a letter of Nabokov to M.A. Aldanov dated May 6, 1942 [cited by 4, p. 132].

  2. 2.

    Entry in Thomas Mann’s “Paris Report” of January 24, 1926 [cited by 8, p. 379].

  3. 3.

    For this translation and its context, see [12, pp. 365–371].

  4. 4.

    In the publication of the quoted translation in the Literary Heritage, an error was made in indicating the number of the newspaper where Rainier’s review was posted. Correct: January 8, 1924 [13].

  5. 5.

    In 1938, Bunin wrote a preface to the Russian translation of Mauriac’s novel Genitrix (She-Wolf, Russkie Zapiski Publishers) [14, p. 188].

  6. 6.

    For a collection of information and reasoning on the topic “Bunin and Proust,” see [15].

  7. 7.

    A thorough analysis of all the vicissitudes, including those associated with Bunin’s competitors in the competition for the Nobel Prize among Russian writers—A.M. Gorky, D.S. Merezhkovskii, I.S. Shmelev, and K.D. Balmont—see [10, pp. 53–412].

  8. 8.

    Source italics.

  9. 9.

    The prize was awarded to Bunin only twice, and, by the time the document was drawn up, the decision on the second award had not yet been made.

  10. 10.

    N.P. Kondakov (1844–1925) was a historian of Byzantine and Old Russian art, archaeologist, and Academician of the Imperial St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and the Imperial Academy of Arts.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author is grateful to Richard Davis, curator of the Russian Archives in Leeds (Great Britain), for the illustrative material provided.

Funding

This study was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project no. 17-18-01410-P) at the RAS Institute of World Literature.

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Correspondence to V. V. Polonskiy.

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Translated by B. Alekseev

RAS Corresponding Member Vadim Vladimirovich Polonskiy is Director of the RAS Institute of World Literature (IMLI RAN).

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Polonskiy, V.V. The National and the Universal in the Work of the First Russian Nobel Prize Winner in Literature The 150th Anniversary of the Birth of Honorary Academician I.A. Bunin . Her. Russ. Acad. Sci. 90, 789–799 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1134/S1019331620060295

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Keywords:

  • Bunin
  • Pushkin
  • Russian classics
  • Nobel Prize
  • literature and the Academy of Sciences
  • literary reputation
  • Russian literature in exile