Alexander Pushkin, one of the pioneers of Russian literature died at the age of 37 on February 10 (January 29 under the Old Style calendar) 1837, two days after being shot in a duel.
Pushkin was born into a noble family but embraced politically radical ideas and was suspected of being an atheist. He was exiled from Moscow for a period but was allowed to return and was kept under strict surveillance.
During this time he wrote his most famous play, Boris Godunov (it wasn’t allowed to be performed for another eleven years, until political tensions died down), and his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. His writing is both lyrical and satirical and champions the indomitable “Russian soul” even under despotism.
Despite his radical views Pushkin was welcomed at the court of Tsar Nicholas I. There were persistent rumours that the Tsar tolerated Pushkin only because of his beautiful and charming young wife, Natalya Goncharova. There was gossip at court that Natalya was the Tsar’s mistress.
There was also talk that Natalya was involved with Baron Georges D’Anthès, the French-born adopted son of the Dutch ambassador. After letters began circulating referring to him as “Mr Alexander Pushkin coadjutor to the Grand Master of the Order of Cuckolds” Pushkin challenged D’Anthès to a duel and was shot in the abdomen, dying after two days of excruciating pain.
His funeral was massively attended and he was mourned with great grief. Today, Russians hold him in the same regard as Britons hold Shakespeare.