Radischev, Alexander

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Radischev, Alexander (1749-1802): Russian Writer.

Alexander Radischev was a poet and political philosopher in late eighteenth-century Russia, as well as a prototype of the modern Russian dissident. He was born in the village of Verkhnee Abliazovo in the Saratov region. He studied law at Leipzig University in Germany (1766-71) and returned to Russia for a relatively successful career in law and commerce. He wrote many of his controversial works in the 1780s and 1790s. In 1790 the empress Catherine II, the Great exiled Radischev to eastern Siberia for the anti-serfdom and anti-autocratic message of his novel A Journey from Petersburg to Moscow. The emperors Paul I and Alexander I restored his privileges, but he ended his life with suicide in 1802.

Radischev's primary contribution to Russian letters was the political content of his poetry and other writings. His ode "Freedom" (1781-83) and his prose "Letter to a Friend Living in Tobolsk" (1782) called for increased liberty for all Russians and praised the emperor Peter I's Westernizing reforms for Russia. Radischev's Journey combined descriptions of landowners' oppression of serfs with philosophical commentary on serfdom as a violation of human rights and a critique of the abuses of absolutism. In exile, Radischev developed a versification system based on folk verse, which he felt would best express his nation's poetic style. His works inspired the Decembrist poet-philosophers, who were involved in a failed coup against the monarchy in 1825. Soviet-era writers and philosophers viewed him as Russia's first revolutionary figure or as a dissident martyr.

Further reading:

Allen McConnell, A Russian philosophe, Alexander Radishchev, 1749-1802, 1964.

Alisa Gayle Mayor

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