Gleb Uspensky

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Gleb Uspensky
1884 Yaroshenko Portrait Schriftsteller G.I. Uspenskoje anagoria.JPG
Portrait of Uspensky by Nikolay Yaroshenko, 1884.
Born (1843-10-25)October 25, 1843
Tula, Russian Empire
Died April 6, 1902(1902-04-06) (aged 58)
St. Petersburg, Russian Empire
Period 1860s–1890s
Genre Fiction/journalism
Relatives Nikolay Uspensky


Gleb Ivanovich Uspensky (Russian: Глеб Ива́нович Успе́нский; October 25, 1843 – April 6, 1902), was a Russian writer, and a prominent figure of the Narodnik movement.


Early life

Gleb Uspensky was born in Tula, the son of Ivan Yakovlevich Uspensky, a senior official in the local government Office of State Property, and Nadezhda Glebovna Uspenskaya (née Sokolova). He was named after his grandfather on his mother's side, Gleb Fomich Sokolov who served as the head of the Office of State Property in Tula (up until 1848) and Kaluga (from 1848 onwards). Gleb Uspensky received his early education in the homes of his parents and grandfather. In 1853 Gleb entered the Tula gymnasium where he excelled, "his name never leaving the so-called 'golden desk' there", according to a fellow student's memoirs. In 1856 he moved with his family to Chernigov. While studying in the local gymnasium, Uspensky devoted much of his time to reading the Russian classics and participated in the school's literary almanac "Young Stems".[1][2]

In September 1861 he enrolled in the Law Faculty at Saint Petersburg University, only to be expelled three months later as the university temporarily closed due to student unrest. In 1862 he entered Moscow University but soon left due to a lack of money.[3][4] Ivan Uspensky's death on January 9, 1864, left Gleb with the added responsibility of supporting his family.[5] He travelled back to Chernigov and succeeded in getting a grant of 400 rubles in assistance.[2]


Uspensky's first short stories were published in 1862, in Leo Tolstoy's journal Yasnaya Polyana ("Mikhalych") and in the journal Zritel (Spectator, "The Idyll"). In 1863 Uspensky joined the staff of the Moskovskye Vedomosty newspaper as a proofreader. In the Autumn of that year he moved to Saint Petersburg and published "The Ragman" (Старьевщик) in Biblioteka Dlya Chteniya.[2]

In January 1864 he started contributing to Russkoye Slovo ("At Night", "The Nameless One", "In the Country", "Sketches from the Life of an Official"). A year later his stories began appearing in Iskra ("Our Humble Place", "The Stranger") and Sovremennik ("Village Encounters"). Nikolai Nekrasov made sure that the Literary Fund allotted Uspensky a 110 ruble per year grant. In 1866, after the closure of Sovremennik, the first collection of Uspensky's short stories came out in Saint Petersburg.[2]

In 1866 he published a series of sketches about life in the suburbs of his native city of Tula under the title Manners of Rasteryayeva Street, which established his reputation. First chapters of it appeared in February and March issues of Sovremennik. As the magazine got closed after the April 4th Alexander II's assassination attempt, parts of the book were published by Zhensky Vestnik and Luch. Thas year saw the publication in Saint Petersburg of the first Gleb Uspensky book, Sketches and Stories. In May 1867, having passed the special qualification exams in the Saint Petersburg University, Gleb Uspensky departed to the town of Epifanya in the Tula Governorate and started working there as a teacher. Later that year his second book Holidays and Daily Life in Moscow came out in Saint Petersburg.[2]

Gleb Uspensky in 1868

In 1868 Uspensky joined the Moscow Attorney's Alexander Uvarov's office as a courier. In April his first story "The Booth" appeared in Otechestvennye Zapiski which he continued to contribute to up until the magazine's closure in 1884, working with Nikolai Nekrasov and Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin.[5][6] In the Summer of 1868, while in Strelna, near Saint Petersburg he met for the first time A.V.Barayeva, a teacher in Elets, Oryol. On May 17, 1870 they got married.[2] A year before that, Desolation (Razorenje)'s first part ("Mikhail Ivanovich Observations") were published in Otechestvennye Zapiski. Parts 2 and 3 appeared in 1870-1971. In 1871 the book was published for the first time as a separate edition. In May 1871 Uspensky embarked upon a trip along Oka and Volga rivers. As a result, two books of traveller' sketches were published later. In 1872 Gleb Uspensky came abroad and visited Germany, Belgium and France. In the end of that year Manners of Rasteryayeva Street came out as a separate edition for the first time, part of the Library of Contemporary Authors series.[2]

Since October 1873 he remained under the 3rd Department's surveillance which continued for almost thirty years and was lifted in 1901. In 1874 the "Very Small Man" (Очень маленький человек) novella's two parts appeared in Otechestvennye Zapiski, but the publication stopped: the May issue of the magazine was withdrawn by censors.[2] In the 1870s, his financial position improved, he traveled widely, becoming acquainted with a number of revolutionary populists, such as Pyotr Lavrov (the Vpered magazine's editor in London, who several months later published his essay "One Won't Hide a Needle in a Sack") and Sergey Stepnyak. In 1875 Uspensky went to Paris again where he met Ivan Turgenev. The latter recited one of his stories, "Petitioners" (Ходоки), at Pauline Viardot's literary morning, and had great success. Back in Russia, Uspensky started working at the railway office in Kaluga but quit in the end of the year, for the reason of being "unwilling to help these vile concessioners get fatter." Also in 1875 another of his book, The Backwater. Sketches from the Province and from the Capital came out in Saint Peterburg.[2]

In April 1876 Uspensky returned to Paris where his family lived at the time. For a while he was cherishing the idea of writing a novel about "revolutionary, like Lopatin", of which he informed Nikolai Mikhailovsky in a letter. This project, though, has never materialized. In September that year he went to Serbia, as part of the Russian volunteers' movement willing to help Serbs, fighting Turkey's occupation. Several political essays entitled Letters from Serbia came out as a result.[2]

Throughout the 1870s and '80s he continued to write about the living and working conditions of the Russian peasants. The Summer of 1877 Uspensky and his family spent in Novgorod gubernia. As a result, series of sketches "From the Country Diary", on local peasants' life there started being published in Otechestvennye Zapiski in October. In 1878 he moved to a village near Samara,[7] again finding it a fertile ground for his reporter’s muse, "Country Diary" being continued. 1878 saw the publication of another two of Gleb Uspensky’s books: "From Memory Book. Sketches and Stories" and "From New and Old (Miscellaneous)", both in Saint Petersburg. A novella Small Children appeared in Otechestvennye Zapiski in 1880. On March of this year Uspensky served a host for an unusual meeting: Ivan Turgenev came there to meet a group of young authors (Nikolai Zlatovratsky, Nikolai Naumov, Alexander Ertel, Sergey Krivenko and others). Soon after that Uspensky moved to Novgorod region to stay at A.V.Kamensky's estate. The resulting series, "Peasant and Peasant’s Labour" (Otechestvennye Zapiski, October–December) were praised by Ivan Turgenev (in his January 10, 1881 letter to the author). Another book of Uspensky, "People and Ways of Contemporary Village" came out in Moscow.[2]

Gleb Uspensky circa 1880

In 1881 Uspensky bought himself a house in Syabrintsy village in the Novgorod gubernia. There (visiting the capital from time to time) he spent the rest of his literary life. In November 1881 "The Old Man's Stories" started his stint with Russkaya Mysl magazine. A year later a story called "The Suspicious beletazh" appeared in OZ relating an incident when some secret police agent came to Syabrintsy and compiled there a protocol, stating that the author (who was not a home) was hiding in some secret place nearby, engaging himself in the revolutionary activity. In 1882 two more of his books came out: The Village Troubles (Vols.I-III) and The Power of the Land, arguably his best-known work, based on his studies of life in rural Novgorod region.[1][2][6]

In the spring of 1883 Gleb Uspensky travelled to the Russian South, visiting Tiflis, Baku and Lenkoran, meeting people from religious groups, fishing cartels and private oil enterprises. His Notes from the Road were published in OZ from May till December this year. Later in 1883 Florenty Pavlenkov Publishers released the first three volumes of The Works by Gleb Uspensky.[2]

On April 20, 1884, Otechestvennye Zapiski were closed. "If I've ever managed to bear all the brunt of the literary man's life's tribulations which were common in the days of the old writer-editor relationship, that was exclusively due to Otechestvennye Zapiski ", Uspensky wrote two months prior to the publication's end. In summer of this year Uspensky made his first attempt to make an extensive trip to Siberia but returned from Yekaterinburg explaining this sudden decision by the need to settle some of his 'private affairs'. His plans to spend the following winter in the Russian East came to naught. What he did instead in April 1885 was make another voyage down South, this time to Kiev, Odessa, Rostov-on-Don, Essentuki and Kislovodsk which served well to dispel depression which started to haunt him, and brought new ideas. This year Russkaya Mysl published his "Sketches from Russian Life" and Ruskye Vedomosti - Timelessness. A lengthy set of essays, Of This and That (Кой про что) started his relationship with Severny Vestnik in 1886. Another trip to the Southern Russia followed after which Uspensky signed a new, more lucrative contract with another publisher, I.M.Sibiryakov who bought the rights to all of his work for 18.5 thousand rubles. In December 1886 Uspensky suggested himself as a court correspondent to concentrate on political cases that were going on in Russia at the time, but the project proved too risky for Russkye Vedomosti. Meanwhile, in the late 1886 the last, 8th volume of The Works of Uspensky was released under the old contract.[2]

In December 1886 Russky Vestnik started publishing another set of essays and sketches called "We: In Words, Dreams and Deeds". Vladimir Korolenko was impressed enough to meet the author and present him his autograph. "Met Gleb Ivanovich in Saint Peterburg... The impression he's made on me was most favourable", he wrote in a diary on March 9, 1887. The spring of 1887 Uspensky spent travelling over Danube, all through Bulgaria. Parts of his "Impressions of a Danube Trip" were banned by censors. In August he made another voyage down the Volga river to the Southern Russia. In the autumn of this year the 25th anniversary of his literary career was celebrated in the democratic press and literary circles. On November 16 Uspensky was elected the Honorary Member of the Russian Literary Society. Among numerous stories that Uspensky published at the time, one, "The Steam Chicken" (Russky Vestnik) has made particularly strong impression upon Lev Tolstoy.[2]

Another series of essays, called Living Numbers describing the life of workers in the society of the rising capitalism, ended abruptly: the author decided to drop what's been causing him too much trouble with censorship. In May 1888 he went to Siberia which he returned from in August, with "Letters from the Road" series. In Tomsk he's met some political prisoners, writer Naumov among them, and participated in the celebration of the opening of Tomsk University. In October Russkaya Mysl started to publish the "Heavy Sins" (Грехи тяжкие) series, with heavy cuts. In December Works by Gleb Uspensky in two volumes was published by Pavlenkov, with Nikolai Mikhailovsky's foreword. "I am very happy and much cheered up by the completely unexpected success of my new collection... In the first three weeks 3 thousand copies were sold and it continues to sell," the author wrote in a letter to A.Kulakov.[2]

In June 1889 Uspensky made a trip to Orenburg and Ufa gubernias to visit re-settled people and examine conditions of life there. This voyage which included visits to Rybinsk, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod and resulted in a collection of sketches From Orenburg to Ufa. Notes from the Road, published by Russky Vestnik. In August this year The Works of Gleb Uspensky in two volumes came out. On October 21, 1889, Nikolai Uspensky, Gleb's cousin, committed suicide. "This awful death darkened my life in the most horrid way," he wrote in one of the letters. In the early 1890 Gleb Uspensky made a trip to Belorussia. In summer he re-visited Volga and travelled down South. In January 1991 his Letters of Resettlers were published by Russkaya Mysl.[2]

Later life

Uspensky began suffering from mental illness in the mid-1890s, and was unable to continue his literary work.[6] In 1890 he started mentioning feeling very ill in his letters. "Doctor Shereshevsky searched me through and discovered the root of the problem: my brain!" he wrote in a letter to Mikhailovsky on February 18, 1891. In April Nikolai Shelgunov, Uspensky's friend, died. He tried to substitute him as the head of the Internal affairs section in Russkaya Mysl, but the progressing illness made this impossible. The famine in Povolzhje horrified Uspensky and prompted him to start what he called "the story of people's devastation" but his health was deteriorating too fast. The New Year Day of 1892 he spent in doctor Subbotin's clinic. In March he still managed a trip to Povolzhje's worst hit regions and published reports in Russkaya Mysl and Helping the Hungry anthology. In the late June his condition seriously worsened and he entered the Dr. Frei's clinic in Petersburg where he stayed until 20 September. From it he's been transferred to a smaller hospital in Kolmovo, nearby Novgorod.[2]

In September 1893 Uspensky informed V.M.Sobolevsky that he started writing memoirs about Turgenev, Saltykov, Vera Figner "and many other people who cared for the Russian land." In the late September he managed to make a short journey through Novgorod gubernia. In December, now very ill he, supported by son Alexander, visited Korolenko in Nizhny Novgorod. In 1894 Uspensky made another trip out of Kolmovo, now to attend to the student’s assembly in the Dvoryanskoe Sobranye hall. The next six years he spent in the Kolmovo hospital. In March 1900 he was transferred to the psychiatric clinic nearby Saint Petersburg. Years 1900-1902 he spent in the Novoznamenskaya hospital. There, on March 24, 1902, he died.[6] On March 27 Gleb Uspensky was buried in the Volkovo Cemetery in Saint Petersburg.[2]


Uspensky's works had a considerable influence on Russian literature and society, and were praised by many of his fellow writers, including Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky. Tolstoy especially liked Uspensky's story "The Incubator Chicken," first published in 1888, and translated into English as "The Steam Chicken" in 1895.[8][9][10]

Major works

  • Manners of Rasteryayeva Street (Нравы Растеряевой улицы, 1866)
  • Desolation (Разоренье, in three parts, 1870-1871)
  • A Very Small Man (Очень маленький человек, 1874)
  • "The Backwater: Sketches from the Province and from the Capital" (Глушь. Провинциальные и столичные очерки, 1875)
  • Small Children (Малые ребята, 1880)
  • The Village Troubles (Деревенские неурядицы, 1882)
  • The Power of the Land (Власть земли, 1882)

English translations

  • "The Steam Chicken" and "A Trifling Defect in the Mechanism" (stories), from The Humor of Russia, Trans. E.L. Voynich. Introduction by Stepnyak. Illustrations by Paul Frenzeny. London: Walter Scott, Ltd./New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895. from
  • "Ivan Petrov" (sketch from The Power of the Land), from Anthology of Russian Literature, Leo Wiener, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1903. from
  • "Inspecting the Bride" (sketch), from Little Russian Masterpieces, Vol 2, Ragozin, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1920.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Anthology of Russian Literature, Leo Wiener, G.P. Putnam's Sons 1903.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 "Gleb Ivanovich Uspensky's brief biography and bibliography. Timeline". Works by G.I.Uspensky in 9 volumes. Moscow. 1957. Retrieved 2012-03-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Prutskov, N.I. (1980). "Uspensky Gleb Ivanovich". The History of Russian Literature in 4 volumes. Nauka publishing House. Retrieved 2012-03-01. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. According to another source Uspensky had failed to provide the necessary papers for registration.
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). 2010, The Gale Group, Inc.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Handbook of Russian Literature, Victor Terras, Yale University Press 1990.
  7. Mondry, Henrietta. Pure, Strong and Sexless: The Peasant Woman's Body and Gleb Uspensky. Rodopi. p. 13. ISBN 9789042018280. Retrieved August 16, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Leo Tolstoy", from Literary Portraits by Maxim Gorky, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow.
  9. Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters, Penguin Classics, 2004.
  10. The Humour of Russia. Trans. E.L. Voynich. London: Walter Scott, Ltd./New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895.

External links