He pioneered the use of vernacular speech in his poems and plays. He created a style of storytelling, mixing drama, romance and satire, that has been associated with Russian literature ever since and greatly influenced later Russian writers. His Romantic contemporaries were Byron and Goethe, and he was influenced by the satire of Voltaire and by the tragedies of Shakespeare.
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin was born in Moscow on May 26, 1799. His father was a descendant of one of the Russian gentry's oldest families, while his mother was the grand-daughter of Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal, a slave from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) who became the adopted godchild and Engineer-General of Peter the Great.
Pushkin published his first poem at fifteen. By the time he finished as part of the first graduating class of the prestigious Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo, he was already seen as a force on the Russian literary scene.
After finishing school, Pushkin installed himself in the vibrant and raucous intellectual youth culture of the capital, St. Petersburg. When his political satire was deemed seditious, however, he was exiled to south Russia, where from 1820 to 1823 he wrote two poems which brought him wide acclaim, The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. The latter was finished in Odessa, where he transferred to resume his cosmopolitan and promiscuous lifestyle.
Puskin's political leanings led to his virtual imprisonment on his mother's estate in north Russia from 1824 to 1826. He was allowed to visit Tsar Nicholas I to petition for his release, which was granted. But his early political poems had been found among the insurgents in the Decembrist Uprising in St. Petersburg, and soon Pushkin found himself under the strict control of government censors and unable to travel or publish at will. He had written what was to be his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov, while at his mother's estate, but was not allowed to publish it until five years later.
Later, Pushkin and his wife, whom he married in 1830, became regulars of court society. When Pushkin was given an honorary title by the Tsar, he became enraged, feeling this was done simply so that his wife, who had many admirers—including the Tsar himself—could properly attend court balls. In 1837, falling into greater and greater debt while his wife was having a scandalous affair, Pushkin challenged her lover to a duel which left both men injured, Pushkin mortally. He died two days later, on January 29, 1837.
The government feared a political demonstration at his funeral, which was moved to a smaller location and made open only to high society members. His body was spirited away secretly at midnight and buried at his mother's estate.
Critics have labelled many Pushkin works as masterpieces, including the poem The Bronze Horseman and the drama The Stone Guest, a tale of the fall of Don Juan. Pushkin's own favorite was his verse novel Eugene Onegin, which he wrote over the course of his life and which, starting a tradition of great Russian novels, follows a few central characters but varies widely in tone and focus.
Perhaps because of his political influence on generations of Russian rebels, Pushkin was one of only a few Russian pre-Revolutionary writers who escaped condemnation by the Bolsheviks during their attacks on bourgeois literature and culture and indeed they re-named Tsarskoe Selo after him.