Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin (1870 - 1938)

Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin is a great master of realistic prose of the early XX century. Contemporaries called him the «Russian Maupassant».

From the very childhood Kuprin, a person of indefatigable spirit, showed qualities of a character that considerably influenced his life and art: energy, disposition to risk, interest in travels and adventures, in everything exotic, striving for heroic romanticism in life, furious might of fantasy and imagination.

Kuprin's artistic career was preceded with years in Moscow's boarding school for orphans, at a military gymnasium and school, at III Alexandrovsky Military School, four years of officer service in a remote garrison. Kuprin entered literature with a rich stock of diverse life experiences. After retirement he wandered for some time over the Russian South, changed many occupations (a docker, a store-keeper, a forest warden, a land surveyor, a psalm-reader, a proof-reader, an estate manager, etc.). In his works Kuprin recreated picturesque social strata presented a gallery of vivid characters. His creative philosophy was quite simple: «You are a chronicler of life <…>, poke your nose wherever possible <…>, get into the depth of life».

All his major works Kuprin created in the pre-revolutionary period. His long story «Molokh» (1896) caused a strong public resonance as it was the actual representation of the theme of Russian capitalism, that made this work an important landmark not only for Kuprin himself but also for the literature of the border of the centuries in general.

In the late 1890s - early 1900s Kuprin wrote a number of well-known long and short stories, in which the world of urban civilization is juxtaposed by the world of free, unrestrained element. These are the series of «Polesie Stories» and the adjacent long story «Olesya» (1898), «The Listrigones» (1907-1911), «In the Circus» (1902), and «Gambrinus» (1907). The natural beauty in Kuprin's works always serves as a means to expose the cruel reality killing the beauty.

The early 1900s was a period when the writer's talent flourished and his success with the reading public reached its summit. He won the all-Russian and European fame with his long story «The Duel» (1905). Against the background of the tsar army defeat in the Russian-Japanese War and the events of the First Russian Revolution «The Duel» stroke a keen social note lying bare the reasons of the catastrophe. The high-rank officers blamed Kuprin for calumniating the Russian army.

In 1900s «God's World» magazine and «The Earth» collection published several of his famous stories including two masterpieces – «Shulamite» (1908) - about a wild passion of the Biblical beauty and King Solomon, and «The Garnet Bracelet» (1911) - about hopeless love of a petty clerk Zheltkov and the Countess Vera Sheinina. The writer was searching everywhere for the force that was able «to rise a man to a state of inner perfection and give him happiness» (K.Paustovsky). Many of his 1900s works are marked with satirical trend, concentration on social problems – «The River of Life», for example.

In the years of the First World War Kuprin shared the defensive position, he was in sympathy with February Revolution of 1917. For a short period of time he edited the newspaper of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party «Free Russia». On the one hand, he sincerely believed in «crystal honesty» of the Bolshevik leaders, on the other hand, he could not accept their dictatorship politics. Terror, famine, devastation in the country and several events of personal nature (arrest by Petrograd CheKa that nearly ended with an execution, a failure with publication of the peasant newspaper «Soil») moved Kuprin to emigrate. Since 1920 he lived in Paris where he published several collections of narratives. The most important work of the émigré period is the autobiographical novel «Cadets» (1928-1932), the writer's «testament to Russian youth» that was the continuation of his early long story «On the Crossing (Young Cadets)».

Kuprin painfully suffered the separation from his native land and in May 1937, already being fatally ill, he returned to Russia, to the Neva banks where in the early years of the century his literary career had been so successful. A year later he was buried in the Writers' Memorial of the Volkovskoye cemetery.

The fate of Kuprin's literary heritage is dramatic. His vast archive and library left by the writer in his Gatchina house when he was retreating with the Yudenich Army in autumn 1919, were lost. A minor part of the surviving materials entered Pushkinsky Dom. They served a foundation for creation of Kuprin fund within the Manuscript Department. After the writer's death his widow E.M.Kuprina donated manuscripts, letters, and personal papers referring to émigré period. In the following years the fund was constantly replenished. The last acquisition dates to 1988. Now the Institute preserves draft and print copies with abundant author's corrections, screen-plays for silent films, type-written copies of his to émigré works, books, photographs, sketches, newspaper and magazine clippings, and numerous letters to different addressees. Especially important are Kuprin's letters to F.D.Batyushkov in which he discusses urgent issues of his personal life and social events of the epoch.

Kuprin fund in the Literature Museum was formed from donations and acquisitions from numerous collectors. Among the most precious exhibits there are the album of the writer's daughter K.A.Kuprina containing 235 photos of the writer and his family, landscapes, drawings, reproductions, illustrations to his works, personal things - the famous alder tabletop with autographs of contemporary writers, the garnet bracelet that belonged to Kuprin's first wife, his wooden pen.

Kuprin's works enjoy very stable readers' interest, while the archive materials serve a reliable source for new publications and scholarship.

V.N.Zapevalov