History of Literature

Ivan Bunin


Ivan Bunin


Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin (Ива́н Алексе́евич Бу́нин) (October 22 [O.S. October 10] 1870)—November 8, 1953) was the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The texture of his poems and stories, sometimes referred to as "Bunin brocade", is one of the richest in the language. In the words of Soviet-era writer K.G. Paustovsky, the 1930 novel Life of Arseniev is not only an apical work of written Russian, but also "one of the remarkable occurences of world literature."

Early life
Bunin was born on his parents' estate in Voronezh province in central Russia. He came from a long line of landed gentry and serf owners, but his grandfather and father had squandered nearly all of the estate.

He was sent to the public school in Yelets (Lipetskaya oblast) in 1881, but had to return home after five years. His brother, who was university-educated, encouraged him to read the Russian classics and to write.

At 17, he published his first poem in 1887 in a Saint Petersburg literary magazine. His first collection of poems, Listopad (1901), was warmly welcomed by critics. Although his poems are said to continue the 19th-century traditions of the Parnassian poets, they are steeped in oriental mysticism and sparkle with striking, carefully chosen epithets. Vladimir Nabokov was a great admirer of Bunin's verse, comparing him with Alexander Blok, but scorned his prose.

In 1889, he followed his brother to Kharkov, where he became a government clerk, assistant editor of a local paper, librarian, and court statistician. Bunin also began a correspondence with Anton Chekhov, with whom he became close friends. He also had a more distant relationship with Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy.

In 1891, he published his first short story, "Country Sketch" in a literary journal. As the time went by, he switched from writing poems to short stories. His first acclaimed novellas were "On the Farm," "The News From Home," "To the Edge of the World," "Antonov Apples," and "The Gentleman from San Francisco," the latter being his most representative piece and the one translated in English by D. H. Lawrence.

Bunin was a well-known translator himself. The best known of his translations is Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha" for which Bunin was awarded the Pushkin Prize in 1903. He also did translations of Byron, Tennyson, and Musset. In 1909, he was elected to the Russian Academy.


From 1895, Bunin divided his time between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. He married the daughter of a Greek revolutionary in 1898, but the marriage ended in divorce. Although he remarried in 1907, Bunin's romances with other women continued right up to the end of his life. His tempestuous private life in emigration is the subject of the internationally acclaimed Russian movie, His Wife's Diary (or The Diary of His Wife) (Дневник его жены) (2000)[2].

Bunin published his first full-length work, The Village, when he was 40. It was a bleak portrayal of village life, with its stupidity, brutality, and violence. Its harsh realism, "the characters having sunk so far below the average of intelligence as to be scarcely human," brought him in touch with Maxim Gorky. Two years later, he published Dry Valley, which was a veiled portrayal of his family.

Before World War I, Bunin traveled in Ceylon, Palestine, Egypt, and Turkey, and these travels left their mark on his writing. He spent the winters from 1912 to 1914 on Capri with Gorky.


Bunin left Moscow after the revolution in 1917, moving to Odessa. He left Odessa on the last French ship in 1919 and settled in Grasse, France. There, he published his diary The Accursed Days, which voiced his aristocratic aversion to the Bolshevik regime. About the Soviet government he wrote: "What a disgusting gallery of convicts!"

Bunin was much lionized in the emigration, where he came to be viewed as the eldest of living Russian writers in the tradition of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Accordingly, he was the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933. On the journey through Germany to accept the prize in Stockholm, he was detained by the Nazis, ostensibly for jewel smuggling, and forced to drink a bottle of castor oil.

In the 1930s, Bunin published two parts of a projected autobiographic trilogy: The Life of Arsenyev and Lika, which were "neither a short novel, nor a novel, nor a long short story, but . . . of a genre yet unknown." Later, he worked upon his celebrated cycle of nostalgic stories with a strong erotic undercurrent and a Proustian ring. They were published as the Dark Avenues or The Dark Alleys in 1943.

Bunin was a strong opponent of the Nazis and sheltered a Jewish writer in his house in Grasse throughout the occupation.

Decline and death

Towards the end of his life, he became interested in Soviet literature and even entertained plans of returning to Russia, as Aleksandr Kuprin had done before. Bunin died of a heart attack in a Paris attic flat, while his invaluable book of reminiscences on Chekhov was still unfinished. He was buried in the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery. Several years later, during the Khrushchev thaw, his works were allowed for publication in the Soviet Union.



Ivan Bunin

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1933

Banquet Speech

Ivan Bunin's speech at the Nobel Banquet at Grand Hôtel, Stockholm, December 10, 1933


On November ninth, very far from here in a poor country house in an old Provencal town, I received the telephone call that informed me of the choice of the Swedish Academy. I would not be honest if I told you, as one does in such cases, that it was the profoundest emotional moment of my life. A great philosopher has said that even the most vehement feelings of joy hardly count in comparison with those which provoke sorrow. I do not wish to strike a note of sadness at this dinner, which I shall forever remember, but let me say nonetheless that in the course of the past fifteen years my sorrows have far exceeded my joys. And not all of those sorrows have been personal - far from it. But I can certainly say that in my entire literary life no other event has given me so much legitimate satisfaction as that little technical miracle, the telephone call from Stockholm to Grasse. The prize established by your great countryman, Alfred Nobel, is still the highest reward that can crown the work of a writer. Ambitious like most men and all writers, I was extremely proud to receive that reward at the hands of the most competent and impartial of juries, and be assured, gentlemen of the Academy, I was also extremely grateful. But I should have proved a paltry egotist if on that ninth of November I had thought only of myself. Overwhelmed by the congratulations and telegrams that began to flood me, I thought in the solitude and silence of night about the profound meaning in the choice of the Swedish Academy. For the first time since the founding of the Nobel Prize you have awarded it to an exile. Who am I in truth? An exile enjoying the hospitality of France, to whom I likewise owe an eternal debt of gratitude. But, gentlemen of the Academy, let me say that irrespective of my person and my work your choice in itself is a gesture of great beauty. It is necessary that there should be centres of absolute independence in the world. No doubt, all differences of opinion, of philosophical and religious creeds, are represented around this table. But we are united by one truth, the freedom of thought and conscience; to this freedom we owe civilization. For us writers, especially, freedom is a dogma and an axiom. Your choice, gentlemen of the Academy, has proved once more that in Sweden the love of liberty is truly a national cult.

Finally, a few words to end this short speech: my admiration for your royal family, your country, your people, your literature, does not date from this day alone. Love of letters and learning has been a tradition with the royal house of Sweden as with your entire noble nation. Founded by an illustrious soldier, the Swedish dynasty is one of the most glorious in the world. May His Majesty the King, the chivalrous King of a chivalrous people, permit a stranger, a free writer honoured by the Swedish Academy, to express to him these sentiments of profound respect and deep emotion.



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