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||Ivan Bunin (1870-1953) - born October 10 (Oct. 22, New Style), 1870|
Russian poet, short story writer, novelist who wrote of the decay of the Russian nobility and of peasant life. Ivan Bunin was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1933. He is considered one of the most important figures in Russian literature before the Revolution of 1917. Although Bunin wrote poetry throughout his creative life, he gained fame chiefly for his prose works. Bunins calm "classical" style had a closer kinship with the prose of the 19th-century – Turgenev, Tolstoy, Garšin, Chekhov – than with the modernist experiments of his own time.
"I have a genuinely savage hatred and genuinely savage contempt for revolutions."
Ivan Bunin was born on his parents' estate near the village of Voronezh, central Russia. His father came from a long line of landed gentry – serf owners until emancipation. Bunin's grandfather was a prosperous landowner, who started to spent his property after the death of his young wife. What little was left, Bunin's father drank and played at card tables. By the turn of the century the family's fortune was nearly exhausted. In early childhood Bunin witnessed the increasing impoverishment of his family, who were ultimately completely ruined financially. Much of his childhood Bunin spent in the family estate in Oryol province, where he became familiar with the life of the peasants. In 1881 he entered the public school in Yelets, but after five years he was forced to return home. Bunin's elder brother, who had studied at an university and had sat in prison for political his activities, encouraged him to write and read Russian classics, Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, and others. "Tolstoy is a greater writer than Dostoevsky," said Bunin once. "I have never liked Dostoevsky."
At the age of seventeen Bunin made his debut as a poet, when his poem appeared in a magazine in St. Petersburg. He continued to write verse and published in 1891 his first story, 'Derevenskiy eskiz' (Country Sketch) in N.K. Mikhaylovsky's journal Russkoye bogatstvo. In 1889 Bunin followed his brother to Kharkov, where he became a local government clerk. Bunin then took a job as an assistant editor of the newspaper Orlovskiy Vestnik, and worked as a librarian, and district-court statistician at Poltava. Bunin contributed short stories to various newspapers, and started a correspondence with Anton Chekhov. Bunin was also loosely connected with Gorky's Znahie group. In the early 1890s, Bunin lived with Varvara Pashchenko, the daughter of a doctor and an actress, who had been his classmate in Yelets. However, she married Bunin's friend and died in 1918 of tuberculosis. Bunin recalled his first love in the novella Mitina Lubov' (1925, Mitya's Love), about a young man, Mitya, who is torn apart by his love for Katia, an art student, who wants to keep her freedom.
Bunin admired the work of Leo Tolstoy, but found impossible to follow the author's moral and sociopolitical ideas. Bunin sent him letters and a pamphlet of his verse. His first encounter with the forty-two years older Tolstoy was brief, and a disappointment for him. "Bunin was very upset because he had spent so little time with you," said Nikolai Leontiev to Tolstoy. In 1899 Bunin met Maxim Gorky, and dedicated his collection of poetry, Listopad (1901), for him. Bunin regularly visited Gorky at Capri from 1909 to 1913.
"Like all wealthy Americans he was very liberal when traveling, and believed in the complete sincerity and good-will of those who so painstakingly fed him, served him day and night, anticipating his slightest desire, protected him from dirt and disturbance, hauled things for him, hailed carriers, and delivered his luggage to hotels; So it was everywhere, and it had to be so at Naples." (in 'The Gentleman from San Francisco', 1915)
From 1895 Bunin divided his time between St. Petersburg and Moscow. "I keep looking for a place where I could find some warmth but find only hellish weather instead," he said to Gorky. Bunin traveled much, married in 1898 Anna Tsakni, whom he left two years later; she was pregnant at that time. By the turn of the century, Bunin had published over 100 poems. He gained fame with such stories as 'On the Farm,' 'The News From Home,' 'To the Edge of The World,' 'Antonov Apples', and 'The Gentleman from San Francisco' (1915), which depicts an American millionaire who cares only about making money. He dies in a luxury Italian hotel and is shipped home in the hold of a luxury liner. Several tales focused on the life of peasants and landowners, but after the revolution of 1905 Bunin's peasant themes took on a darker tone. The author, who knew village life more closely than did the urban intellectuals, considered the folk ignorant, violent, and totally unfit to take a hand in government. Later he wrote about the Bolsheviks in his notebook Cursed Days: A Diary of Revolution: "What a terrible gallery of convicts!"
As a translator Bunin was highly regarded. He published in 1898 a translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha, for which he was awarded by the Russian Academy of Science the Pushkin Prize in 1903. "I was working with ardent love for a book that was dear to me since childhood, and with great conscientiousness," Bunin said, "as this was a small homage of my gratitude to a great poet who gave me much pure and lofty joy." Bunin's other translations include Lord Byron's Manfred and Cain, Tennyson's Lady Godiva, and works from Alfred de Musset, and François Coppée. In 1909 the Academy elected Bunin one of its twelve members.
After Bunin's first marriage ended, his companion from 1907 was Vera Muromtseva, but he continued to have affairs, most notably with Galina Kuznetsova, his student, and Margarita Stepun, the sister of his friend. Formally Bunin and Vera Muromtseva were married in 1922. Bunin once regretted that he never met the heroine of Anna Karenina in real life: "As far as I'm concerned, there is no more captivating image of a woman than she," he confessed. "I could never – and still cannot – recall her without emotion. I am simply in love with her."
At the age of 40, Bunin published his first full-length work, Derevnia (1910, The Village), which was composed of brief episodes in the Russian provinces at the time of the Revolution of 1905. The story, set in the author's birthplace, was about two peasant brothers – one a cruel drunk, the other a gentler, more sympathetic character. The Village made Bunin famous in Russia. Bunin's realistic portrayal of village life with its "characters sunk so far below the average of intelligence as to be scarcely human" stirred much controversy. Later, after the Revolutuion, work was also recommended by the Proletkult.
"These «ruthless» works caused passionate discussions among our Russian critics and intellectuals who, owing to numerous circumstances peculiar to Russian society and – in these latter days – to sheer ignorance or political advantage, have constantly idealized the people. In short, these works made me notorious; this success has been confirmed by more recent works." (in 'Autobiography')
Bunin's Sukhodol (1912, Dry Valley) was a veiled biography of his family, a eulogy to the the gentry estate. Before World War I Bunin traveled in Ceylon, Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, and other countries – these journeys provided much material for his poetry and prose works. Between 1912 and 1914 Bunin spent three winters with Gorky on Capri.
After revolution in October 1917, he left Moscow and moved to Odessa for two years, eventually leaving Russia on the last French ship to sail from Odessa. In Sofia he was robbed of his academic gold medals and money; his wife lost her diamonds. He emigrated to France, where he settled in Grasse. In the 1920 Bunin published his diary Okayannye dni, where he bitterly attacked the Bolshevik regime, and the Red Guard, which represented for him anarchy and disorder. "Oh, how beastly this all is!" he wrote. Other later works include the autobiographical novel Zhizn arsen'eva: u istoka dnej (1933, The Life of Arsenyev), Temnye allei (1946, Shadowed Paths), written during the Nazi occupation, and Vospominaniya (1950, Memories and Portraits).
In exile Bunin wrote only of Russia. Bunin had been frequently mentioned as a possible Nobel winner, and the whole process had became a burden for the author. In the émigré press, he was classified as a as a representative of the literary past. A new star had emerged to rival him – Vladimir Nabokov – and they were juxtaposed in a number of articles and interviews.
According to a story, Bunin was stopped in Berlin on his way to Stockholm to receive prestigious award, which finally made him into a world-wide celebrity. Nobel winner or not, he was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated – the excuse was jewel smuggling – and he had to drink a dose of castor oil. Dissenting voices suggested that the prize should have gone to Maxim Gorky. During World War II Bunin, who was a strong opponent of Nazism, remained in France. The Bunins sheltered Alexander Bakhrakh, a Jew in his house at Grasse throughout the Occupation. He was well informed about the Jewish customs. Parisian anti-Semites from the newspaper Renaissance called him "the kike father".
Bunin died of a heart attack in a Paris attic flat on November 8,
1953. He was destitute after helping many Russian exiles. His projected
trilogy, which began with The Life of Arsenyev,
was characterized by the Russian writer Konstantin Paustovski "neither
a short novel, nor a novel, nor a long short story, but is of a genre
yet unknown." The second part, LIKA, was published in 1939. Bunin
modified his views of the Soviet Union after World War II, and a
five-volume selection of his work came out in his native
For further reading: Ivan Bunin: The Twilight of Emigre Russia, 1934-1953: A Portrait from Letters, Diaries, and Memoirs, ed. Thomas Gaiton Marullo (2002); If You See Buddha: Studies in the Fiction of Ivan Bunin by Thomas Gaiton Marullo (1998); The Narratology of the Autobiography by Alexander R. Zweers (1997); Ivan Bunin: From the Other Shore, 1920-1933, ed. Thomas Gaiton Marullo (1995); Ivan Bunin: Russian Requiem, 1885-1920, ed. Thomas Gaiton Marullo (1993); Bunin by J.W. Connolly (1982); Ivan Bunin by J. Woodward (1980); The Works of Ivan Bunin by S. Kryzytski (1971); Proza Ivana Bunina by A. Volkov (1969); Die Lebensanschauung I.A.B.s nach seinem Prosawerk by B. Kirchner (1968); I.A. Bunin, ocherk tvorchestva by V. Afanasyev (1966) - Suomeksi Buninilta on ilmestynyt myös Valitut kertomukset (1970) - Film on Bunin's later years: Dvevnik ego zheny, dir. by Aleksei Uchitel, starring Andrei Smirnov, Galina Tjunina, Jevgeni Mironov, Jelena Morozova (2000)