In 1817, less than two years after leaving school and now working
in the Imperial Civil Service, Pushkin was already famous and already
in trouble with the authorities. In St Petersburg he launched into
a life of gambling, women and poetry. He wrote incessantly, producing
a stream of poems, one of which, Ode to Freedom, caused
his expulsion from the capital and later on threatened his survival.
His first major epic, Ruslan and Lyudmilla, was also completed
during this period, along with The Village, which attracted
the attention of the censors and the police because it makes an
overt attack on the horrors of serfdom.
Pushkin wrote with an unaccustomed clarity and directness. His
poems avoid decorative metaphors, and lavish descriptions of landscapes,
but his renderings of people and events have a seductive fluency
of mood and emotional. His talents made his satires even more dangerous
in the eyes of the authorities - especially because Pushkin compounded
his notoriety by his wild behaviour. He had an uncertain temper,
and he fought or threatened to fight duels on a regular basis.
Everything about Pushkin made sure that he was unlikely to be overlooked.
In 1820 he came under police suspicion because of the subversive
tone of his poems, and he was called before the authorities to account
for his political views. He made a favourable impression, reinforced
by the pleadings of friends on his behalf, but the Tsar insisted
on some punishment. He stopped short of sending Pushkin to Siberia,
transferring him to another department in the south of Russia, where
he would report to Lieutenant-General Inzov.
Guest-curated for the British Library by Mike Phillips
Next - 'Pushkin in exile - the prisoner of the Caucasus'