Ivan Alexeyevich Bunin (1870 - 1935)
Russian poet, short story writer, novelist who wrote of the decay of the Russian nobility and of peasant life. 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. Bunin gained fame chiefly for his prose works, although he wrote poetry throughout his creative life.
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, and became familiar with the life of the peasanrs. In 1881 he entered the public school in Yelets, but after five years he was forced to return home. His elder brother, who had studied at an university and had also sat in prison for political reasons, encouraged him to write and read Russian classics, Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, and others.
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 poems and published in 1891 his first story, 'Derevenskiy eskiz' (Country Sketch) in N.K. Mikhailovsky's journal Russkoye bogatstvo. In 1889 he 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 wrote short stories for various newspapers, and started a correspondence with Anton Chechov, becoming a close friend with him. Bunin was also loosely connected with Gorky's Znanie group. In 1894 Bunin had met Leo Tolstoy, whose works he admired, but he found impossible to follow the author's moral and sociopolitical ideas. In 1899 Bunin met Maxim Gorky, and dedicated his collection of poetry, Listopad (1901), for him.
From 1895 Bunin divided his time between St. Petersburg and Moscow. He traveled much, married in 1898 the daughter of an Greek revolutionary. 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 became darker in 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. Among Bunin's other translations were Lord Byron's Manfred and Cain, Tennyson's Lady Godiva, and works from Alfred de Musset, and Franзois Coppйe. In 1909 the Academy elected Bunin one of its twelve members.
After Bunin's first marriage ended, he married again in 1907. When he was 40, Bunin published his first full-length work, Derevnya (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 his famous in Russia. Bunin's realistic portrayal of village life destroyed the idealized picture of unspoiled peasants, and arose much controversy with its "characters sunk so far below the average of intelligence as to be scarcely human." Two years later appeared SUKHODOL (Dry Valley), a lament for the passing of gentry life and a veiled biography of Bunin's family.
In exile Bunin wrote only of Russia. Bunin's name had been mentioned several times in Nobel Prize speculations and the whole process had became a burden for the author. According to a story, Bunin was stopped in Berlin on his way to Stockholm to receive the award. 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. During World War II Bunin, who was a strong opponent of Nazism, remained in France and it is said he sheltered a Jew in his house at Grasse throughout the Occupation. Bunin died of a heart attack in a Paris attic flat on November 8, 1953. His projected trilogy, which began with Zhizn Arsenieva (1927-33, 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 appeared in his native country.