Authors: Ivan Bunin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Russian short-story writer, novelist, and poet


Ivan Alexeyevich Bunin (BEWN-yihn), the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1933), led a hard life despite his international acclaim as one of the very finest writers of the novella. Born to a noble but poor family in Voronezh, Russia, Bunin was privately tutored in his native Yelets district before continuing his studies briefly at the University of Moscow. He first attracted attention with his translations of works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Lord Byron. For this work he was awarded the Pushkin Prize, the top honor of the Russian Academy. He seemed, with these translations and his own poems, to be continuing the classical tradition of Russian literature, but during the next few years his verse took a shift toward the symbolic.{$I[AN]9810001420}{$I[A]Bunin, Ivan}{$I[geo]RUSSIA;Bunin, Ivan}{$I[tim]1870;Bunin, Ivan}

Ivan Bunin

(©The Nobel Foundation)

He first won popular fame in Russia with the publication of his long, pessimistic novel The Village. Six years later, his reputation became international with the publication of “The Gentleman from San Francisco.” This tale was specially cited by the Nobel Committee and was long a model for aspiring writers. Its surface, so apparently realistic and detailed, is actually a brilliant method of sustaining the symbolism of Bunin’s theme of the hollowness of vanity. His rich American, after many years devoted solely to business, retires to Capri, where he plans to lead a gala life. He immediately dies, however, and is carried back across the Atlantic, having missed out on life entirely. In describing the voyage back, the ship, the weather, and the ocean become symbolic.

In 1898, Bunin married the daughter of a Greek refugee and settled down to a quiet life of travel and writing. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Bunin, who was a conservative despite not having been completely accepted by the czarist regime, became an expatriate. Leaving Moscow in 1918, he lived abroad, mainly in Paris. During World War II, he resided in the south of France, in ill health and poverty, his days additionally clouded by the illness of his wife. Nevertheless, he is reported to have helped many refugees fleeing from the Nazis during the occupation.

Bunin’s attitude toward life was never bitter; though full of the knowledge of the sadness the world can bring, he yet maintained a sense of the nobility and beauty of human endeavor. His last work was Memories and Portraits, published in 1950. Three years later, he died of a heart attack, in relative obscurity, in his Paris home.

BibliographyBayley, John. “The Backward Look.” The New York Review of Books 42 (August 10, 1995): 31-33. Notes that Bunin expressed a genuine Russian sympathy and versatility in his writing; calls him a master of a detailed and pitiless realism, which he applied to the backwardness and barbarity of provincial Russia; provides a biographical background to Bunin’s writing.Connolly, Julian W. Ivan Bunin. Boston: Twayne, 1982. An introduction to Bunin’s art for the general reader, focusing on his primary ideological positions and charting his evolution as an artist. The study includes a brief biographical sketch but is primarily organized around thematic discussions of Bunin’s major prose works in chronological order.Cravens, Gwyneth. “Past Present.” The Nation 256 (February 8, 1993): 173-174. Claims Bunin’s short stories are marked by acute and objective observations, surprising details caught by his artist’s eye, and a crystalline style; notes that Bunin focused on the enigmas of nature, love, death, and the soul with a passion that would be unique among today’s authors; discusses several of his works.Gross, S. L. “Nature, Man, and God in Bunin’s ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco.’” Modern Fiction Studies 6, no. 2 (1960): 153-163. A perceptive analysis of “The Gentleman from San Francisco,” focusing on its alleged pessimistic outlook. Gross takes exception to those critics who see it as a prevalently pessimistic story and counters with the image of two pipers from Abruzzi offering the vision of grace.Kryzytski, Serge. The Works of Ivan Bunin. The Hague: Mouton, 1971. In this standard work on Bunin, Kryzytski combines biographical and critical approaches. He follows Bunin’s career chronologically, commenting on each important work and its themes, influences, and overall significance. This valuable book concludes with a good bibliography.Marullo, Thomas Gaiton. “Crime Without Punishment: Ivan Bunin’s ‘Loopy Ears.’” Slavic Review 40, no. 4 (1981): 614-624. Marullo compares “Loopy Ears” with Crime and Punishment of Fyodor Dostoevski, to whose works Bunin had a strong aversion. Sokolovsky of “Loopy Ears” experiences neither recrimination nor remorse for his crime. Marullo does not see Bunin as being in the “classical” tradition of Russian literature but as redirecting the Russian short story from the urban realism of the nineteenth century to the modernistic probing of the twentieth.Marullo, Thomas Gaiton. If You See the Buddha: Studies in the Fiction of Ivan Bunin. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1998. Part of the Studies in Russian Literature and Theory series, this is a good examination of Bunin’s works. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Minot, Susan. “Ivan Bunin.” The Paris Review 37 (Winter, 1995): 152-153. A brief discussion of Bunin by a noted short-story writer, praising Bunin’s short stories, commenting on his life and writing; asserts that Bunin’s memoir of his friend Anton Chekhov is the most elegant tribute one writer has ever written about another.Poggioli, Renato. “The Art of Ivan Bunin.” In Harvard Slavic Studies. Vol. 1, edited by Horace G. Lunt et al. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953. An overall assessment of Bunin’s short stories and novels. After discussing Bunin’s relationship to Maxim Gorky, Poggioli touches upon the salient features of his main short stories, especially their poetic bent, and concludes with an in-depth examination of The Village and Dry Valley.Struve, Gleb. “The Art of Ivan Bunin.” Slavonic and East European Review 11, no. 32 (1933): 423-436. In this excellent introductory essay on Bunin, Struve, an expert on emigré Russian literature and a translator of Bunin’s work, offers a cogent chronological analysis of the author’s works, summarizing his most important features. Written two decades before Bunin’s death, the essay could not assess his later works.Woodward, James B. Ivan Bunin: A Study of His Fiction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. As the name implies, this study has a specific aim and scope, yet it is very thorough and scholarly; in fact, it is the most detailed and comprehensive study of Bunin’s fiction. Woodward treats all important aspects of Bunin’s fiction chronologically, combining critical examination and description and reevaluating earlier judgments on Bunin, which may be the book’s most salient feature. An extensive bibliography and a thorough index make this book useful.
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