Leskov N. S.

Nikolai Semyonovich Leskov (1831 – 1895) was often referred to as “the most Russian of all Russian writers, who knew the Russian people deeper and broader than anyone else, and presented it as it truly was” (D. P. Svyatopolk-Mirsky).

Leskov was born in the family of a criminal investigator and spent his early childhood in the city of Orel. After his father had a falling out with his superiors and left service, the family moved to the village of Panino, where the future writer received his first introduction to the common language and folklore. At the age of ten, Leskov started school, but was such a poor student he completed only two grades in five years. His natural curiosity and restless temperament clashed with the routine, boredom, and emphasis on memorization by rote so prevalent in the old-fashioned Russian schools.

In 1847, Leskov went to work at the same office where his father used to work, receiving several promotions, which enabled him to provide support to his family after his father’s death in 1848. In 1849, Leskov asked to be transferred to Kiev, where he attended lectures at the university, studied Polish, religion, philosophy, and icon painting.

In 1857, Leskov went to work for his aunt’s husband, an Englishman, by the name of Scott. While he disapproved of the company’s practices, he credited the time he spent working there with the tremendous practical experience he accumulated, as well as the knowledge of various branches of industry and agriculture. The company’s business required Leskov to travel extensively all around Russia, which enabled him to study in greater depth the language and everyday life of various regions.

In 1859, Leskov wrote his first serious, non-fiction piece, documenting the wave of rebellions that swept through the Russian wineries, and exposing the disastrous state of Russian agriculture in general, and wine-making in particular. Once his uncle’s business closed in 1860, Leskov returned to Kiev and devoted himself entirely to journalism and literature.

From that point on, and until his death from asthma in 1895, Leskov’s life was saturated with studying every aspect of people’s life in Russia and putting it on page, in the form of articles, brochures, novels, and fables. Sadly, due to the “unfashionable” subject matter, frequent attacks against the government for its failure to address the many problems and hardships of the people, praises of known public rebels, and exposures of bribery and corruption permeating all levels of the government, Leskov’s books were either severely censored and abridged or barred from publication altogether. Leskov himself acknowledged the publication process became an ongoing battle that took a daily toll on his health.

Leskov died in 1895 in St. Petersburg. There was one event that brightened his last years, despite the opposition from the government censors, Leskov’s complete works were compiled and published in 1893.

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