Aleksandr Nikolayevich Ostrovsky (1823 - 1886)

Aleksandr Nikolayevich Ostrovsky is rightly considered to be the creator of Russian national theatre. His drama legacy not only in terms of number of dramatic works, but also in quantity of theatre performances still occupies the leading place on the stage of Russian theatres. Numerous human types created by Ostrovsky became common names and formed an integral part of Russian culture.

A.N.Ostrovsky was born in the village of Schelykovo of Kostroma Region. The future writer received his initial home education, as he would late put it in his essays, in a typically «Zamoskvoretsky» manner. However, later more serious attention in his home education was devoted to foreign languages and «good manners».

The dramatist spent most of his life in Moscow and became its devoted bard and chronicler of everyday life.

In 1840 Ostrovsky entered civil service as a scribe at the Commercial Court, there he received abundant material for observations of mores and customs of different strata of Russian society.

Ostrovsky considered February 14, 1847 the most notable day of his life: on that day he came to believe into his vocation and began to think about himself as a Russian writer - then at the place of professor of Moscow University S.P.Shevyrev in the presence of A.S.Khomyakov and other writers he read scenes from his first independent dramatic work «A Family Picture» («Semeinaya Kartina»). Another momentous event was his acquaintance with the famous actor Prov Sadovsky who enthusiastically greeted his next drama »A Family Affair» («Svoi Lyudi - Sochtemsya!»). Ostrovsky's comedy was accepted as a work of «natural school», a kind of the merchant «Woe from Wit» or the merchant «Dead Souls» (A.F.Pisemsky) and was highly valued by I.S.Turgenev, L.N.Tolstoy, A.V.Druzhinin, and, most importantly, by N.V.Gogol himself.

In the dramas «The Poor Bride» («Bednaya Nevesta»), «Stay in Your Own Lane» («Ne v Svoi Sani ne Sadis»), «Poverty's No Vice» («Bednost ne Porok»), «Live not as You Wish» («Ne tak Zhivi, kak Khochetsya»), «Suffering from Other's Sins» («V Chuzhom Piru Pokhmelie») the critics and the public saw profound knowledge of contemporary everyday life and vivid characters, heard live Russian language. The best actors of Moscow theatres - P.Sadovsky, M. Schepkin, S.Vasiliev and others - became clever and insightful interpreters of the images created by Ostrovsky.

In spite of the unprecedented success of the plays, censorship from the very beginning hampered their staging. Nicolas I himself having read the play «A Family Affair» published in «The Moscovite», outlined his imperial resolution: «Should not have been published, prohibit to perform».

Ostrovsky's knowledge of contemporary Russia was to a large extent deepened with his participation in the trip of famous Russian writers over the Upper Volga organized in 1856 by Marine Ministry (the idea belonged to the head of the Ministry Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich) with the aim of study of the region. The results of the trip were reflected in the Dictionary of Russian Folk Language on that Ostrovsky had been working, in a number of essays and, naturally, in dramas, among them the most famous one – «The Storm» («Groza»).

By 1856 the writer had become closer to the «Contemporary» magazine, their cooperation continued till the magazine was closed in 1866.

In the 1860s Ostrovsky turned to historical chronicles («Kozma Zaharich Minin-Suhoruk», «The False Dmitri and Vasily Shuisky», «Tushino» and others) reconstructing the broad epic landscape of Russian life of the late XVI - early XVII centuries.

In 1867 the dramatist together with his large family settled in the village of Schelykovo. Here, to the hospitable Ostrovsky's house came famous actors and writers. Here Ostrovsky continued compiling his Dictionary of Folk Language and later passed to the Academy of Sciences his card index comprising more than 100,000 words. The dramatist himself supervised the production of his plays in Maly and Alexandrinsky Theatres.

In the late 1860s - early 1870s Ostrovsky's art received a satirical bend. In a number of comedies showing everyday life of the nobility («Even the Wise Can Err» («Na Vsyakogo Mudretsa Dovolno Prostoty») (1868), «Easy Money» («Beshenye Dengi») (1870), «The Forest» («Les») (1871)) the dramatist portrayed the changes going on in the post-reform society defined by the rising power of money and the destruction of traditional patriarchal way of life.

A special place in Ostrovsky's art is occupied with the lyrical drama «The Snow Maiden» («Snegurochka») that vividly reflected the search for new synthetic forms that would combine musical, pictorial and philosophical principles. The profound psychological analysis is characteristic of Ostrovsky's last dramas – «Fiancée without Fortune» («Bespridannitsa») (1879), «Career Woman» («Talanty i Poklonniki») (1882), «Guilty without Guilt» («Bez Viny Vinovatie») (1884).

Ostrovsky devoted considerable efforts to translations of plays by Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goldoni and others. His own works, with Turgenev's help, were translated and even staged abroad. He was one of the founders of the Literature Fund (1859), Moscow Artistic Circle (1865), The Society of Drama Writers (1874), devoted considerable efforts to education of young actors and writers.

In 1886 the life of the great Russian dramatist ended in the village Schelykovo. He was buried there.

A considerable part of Ostrovsky's papers and personal things was donated to Pushkinsky Dom by his son Sergei (1869-1929) who in the 1920s worked at the Institute.

At present Manuscript Department and the Literature Museum possess a large collection of Ostrovsky's manuscripts, his letters, photographs, personal things, as well as rich illustrative material concerning the stage history of his plays.

The Institute library keeps A.N.Ostrovsky's memorial book collection.

N.P.Gene