July 12 (24), 1828, in Saratov, in the family of a priest was born a prominent Russian philosopher, literary critic, essayist and writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky.
Nikolai received a good and diversified education at home under the guidance of his father, Gavriil Ivanovich, and in 1842 he entered a theological seminary in Saratov. In addition to the main course, Chernyshevsky was actively engaged in self-education – he studied history, geography, theory of literature and several foreign languages. Before finishing the seminary, in 1846, he joined the Department of History and Philology of St. Petersburg University.
World view of young Chernyshevsky was influenced in those years by the "Spring of Nations" - revolutionary events in Europe in 1848-1849. He was thoroughly studying the works of classics of German philosophy, English political economy, French utopian socialism, as well as of Russian thinkers and public figures, above all, V. G. Belinsky and A. I. Herzen. In 1850, Nikolai graduated from the university and became a teacher of Russian language and literature of the Saratov classical school. In 1853, he moved again to St. Petersburg, where he worked as a teacher in the Second Corps of Cadets.
Along with teaching Chernyshevsky initiated his literary activities. He collaborated with the newspaper "St. Petersburg Vedomosti" and the magazine “Otechestvennye Zapiski” ("Domestic Notes"). In early 1854, Nikolai joined the journal “Sovremennik” ("Contemporary"), where he soon took a leading position, on level with N. A. Nekrasov and N. A. Dobrolyubov.
In the spring of 1855, at the University, Chernyshevsky defended his thesis, "The aesthetic attitude of art to reality." Despite the fact that the presentation was a great success, and the work itself was recognized by the scientific community and the public, Nikolai was given the degree of Master of Russian literature only three years later, in 1858.
In his critical articles published by the “Sovremennik” ("Contemporary"), Chernyshevsky strongly defended the idea of the social and moral significance of works of art. During these years he wrote detailed articles and reviews on the works of Pushkin, Zhukovsky, Nekrasov, Saltykov-Shchedrin, Pisemsky and other contemporary writers. Chernyshevsky was one of the first to draw attention to the works of Lev Tolstoy. He meticulously researched the original style of the young author, applying the term "dialectic of the soul" for the first time in Russian literary criticism.
In a series of articles under the title, "Essays on the Gogol Period in Russian literature," he considered the conditions of formation of the main points and views of Russian Literature of 1840-1850-s. Chernyshevsky’s article "Russian man at a rendez-vous. Reflections upon reading Turgenev's novel "Asya" was one of the most striking works of Russian publicism of the second half of the 19th century. The principle of in-depth analysis of artistic techniques based on the theory of realism, consistently applied by Chernyshevsky, made him in those years one of the most prominent and important representatives of literary criticism. In the end of the 1850s, Nikolai took an active part in the development of the program and the publication of "Historical Library," a supplement to the “Sovremennik” including the translations of classic works on the world history, and was the editor of the "Military collections."
From the end of 1857, Chernyshevsky focused in his works on economic and political issues. He was actively involved in the ongoing debate on the upcoming emancipation reform, taking revolutionary-democratic positions. Soon the political ideas of Chernyshevsky brought him among the instigators of the nascent Russian socialism and populism. In 1861-1862 he took an active part in the development of new social movement, in particular, in the creation of the illegal organization "Land and Freedom". His famous proclamation, "A bow to lordly peasants from their well wishers," as well as his relations with Herzen, led to Nikolai’s arrest in June of 1862.
He was put in a solitary confinement of Alexis ravelin in the Peter and Paul Fortress, where he spent about two years. Despite the prison conditions, Chernyshevsky did not interrupt the work, writing more than 200 author’s sheets of different works, including his most outstanding literary work, the novel "What to do?" Due to the negligence of censorship, who saw there just a love story, it was published in 1863 by the "Contemporary". The ban of the issues, which followed soon after the publication of the novel, was unable to prevent its spread across the country in numerous manuscript copies. The novel "What to do?" caused a huge public outcry and became one of the most significant works of Russian literature, had a great influence on the formation and development of social thought in the second half of the 19th - early 20th centuries.
In February 1864, Chernyshevsky was convicted "in taking action to overthrow the existing order" and was sentenced to 7 years in prison and permanent exile in Siberia. After the ceremony of civil penalty in St. Petersburg, Chernyshevsky was sent to prison in Nerchinsk. After serving the term of hard labor, in 1871, he was transferred to a settlement in Viljujsk (today the administrative center in Yakutia). During his stay in Siberia Nikolai did not abandon literary work, writing a novel "Prologue" and a number of novels and plays. In 1883, Chernyshevsky received official permission to settle in Astrakhan, and a few years later he was transferred to his native city, Saratov.
Nikolai Chernyshevsky died 17 (29) October 1889.
Lit.: Чернышевский Н. Г. Полное собрание сочинений: В 16 т. М., 1939-1953; Он же. Литературная критика: В 2 т. М., 1981; Он же. Опыт словаря к Ипатьевской летописи. СПб., 1853; Он же. Очерки гоголевского периода русской литературы. М., 1984; Он же. Письма без адреса. М., 1983; Бурсов Б. И. Мастерство Чернышевского – критика. Л., 1959; Зельдович М. Г. Чернышевский и проблемы критики. Харьков, 1968; Каган М. С. Эстетическое учение Чернышевского. М., 1958; Пинаев М. Т. Н. Г. Чернышевский. Художественное творчество. М., 1984; Покусаев Е. И. Н. Г. Чернышевский: очерк жизни и творчества. М., 1976.
From the Presidential library materials:
Историко-революционная библиотека: Воспоминания, исследования, документы и др. материалы из истории революционного прошлого России. Кн. 30: Н. Г. Чернышевский. 1828-1928: Сб. статей, документов и воспоминаний. М., 1928;