Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
The Silver Age of Russia was a revival of the Golden Age of Russian literature that extended beyond the written word and touched every part of Russian culture. The Silver Age moved into the realm of “theater, music, ballet, painting, and sculpture, and in effect to every form of creative expression.” Instead of being suppressed and buried, Russia culture found another chance to push forth and show the world what treasures existed within the nation.
The written word has always been a much utilized means of communication and expression. This was no less true during the Russian Silver Age of culture. It was during this time period that many of the authors the world knows came into blossom. Ivan Turgenev produced six novels in which he tackled the subject of transforming Russia. He promoted a gradual change for better times instead of the bloody style of revolution. He took vibrant characters and spoke to the nation his opinion of how it could be transformed in a smooth and successful means.
Fedor Dostoevsky wrote four novels that are known the world over: Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed, and The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky dove into the soul of man, particularly the soul of the Russian. He explored many facets of man and the conflicts he faced on a daily basis including the “explosive conflict between freedom and necessity, urge and limitations, faith and despair, good and evil.” He was a man ahead of his times exploring topics that would not be tackled by many until the twentieth century.
Lev Tolstoy helped create the Russian Silver Age of culture by influencing the nation beyond his writings. His famous novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, took a detailed look into the lives of Russian people during the Napoleonic wars and the lives of the upper levels of society who longed for love in the midst of corruption and pressure. It was through his works that the reader looked beyond the physical lives of man and into his soul.
The Silver Age of Russia went beyond standard prose and brought forth a new age of poetry. One noted poet of the age was Anna Akhmatova who created works of art on paper with just a few words. An example is her poem, Eulogy of the Spring’s Eve.
The blizzard had calmed in pine groves,
But, tipsy without any wines,
- Ophelia over her waters –
White silence all night sang to us.
And he, who’d been seemed not still clear,
Was then with this silence engaged,
And, gone, he stayed graciously here
With me till the end of my Age.
Poetry exploded in Russia where the writer could find a new way of expressing themselves romantically, politically, and philosophically. As the changes in Russia prompted some to rejoice, others saw it as the death of one Russia which was evident in their writings. The fear and despair of the changes found a place to vent in the written word.
Literature was only a part of the Silver Age. The arts found a voice that had not been seen in centuries. Painters took to looking at the common man and the effects of society on them including “topics as the exploitation of the poor, the drunken clergy, and the brutal police.” Painters such as Vasilii Vereshchiagin witnessed the reality the war and communicated in his paintings where words would never suffice in explaining the horrors mankind inflicted on others.
Fig. 1: Vasilii Vereshchiagin,
Blowing from Guns in British India, 1880,
Along with many other artists, Vereshchiagin used his works to dig dep and were mostly “introspective and psychological…lyrical and beautiful, and rich in light and texture.”
Music developed and became a reflection of the contemporary Russian man. It was able to cross social boundaries, economic boundaries, and even political boundaries. Tchaikovsky, Modest Mussorgsky, and many others borrowed from the West and created songs that extended from folk ballads to theatrical pieces that are still familiar to the world today. Romance and life were depicted through the melodious sound of music and reached all instead of just the wealthy or the literate.
As the world of music and poetry were transformed, it was inevitable for the Silver Age to reach the theater. The Russia Ballet was born and became one of the most beautiful means of expression during this time. It incorporated musicians, composers, painters, sculptures, dancers, and choreographers. It pulled the majority of the arts together to explore the new world of Russian culture. The theater took this as an opportunity to explore new methods, new techniques, and to create new roles for both men and women.
With the Silver Age of Russian Culture, there was advancement than just in the arts. Education became stronger and more available. Scientists began looking to the West and what it could do to contribute to the world of knowledge and to the future. Biology, chemistry, and even psychology were strong. The theories of electricity, responsiveness, and math are still used today and studied in educational systems around the world. Many Russian scientists and mathematicians worked with renown men and women such as Pasteur and helped develop zoology, biology, physics, chemistry, math, sociology, physiology, and psychology just to name a few areas. As the educational system within Russia grew to incorporate more levels of society including women, the Silver Age grew and flourished.
The Silver Age of Russian Culture was a chance for a new Russia to spring forth from the ruins of the old and to give the world more of the Russian people than it had received in years past. It was a chance to voice opinions and the soul through writing, dance, music, and art. As the nation expanded its education to the people, the nation grew on a cultural level to compete with many in the West and to even outshine.
Akhmatova, Anna. “Eulogy of the Spring’s Eve.” Trans. Yevgeny Bonver. Poetry Lovers Page, Accessed March 10, 2012, http://www.poetryloverspage.com/yevgeny/akhmatova /eulogy_of_springs_eve.html.
Vereshchiagin, Vasilli. Blowing from Guns in British India, 1880. http://www.vokrugsveta.ru/telegraph/history/313/, accessed March 11, 2012,
Riasanovsky, Nocholas V. and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia. New York: Oxford, 2011.