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The creator of the Russian satirical comedy D. Fonvizin — in rare sources of the Presidential Library

12 December 2017

On December 12, 2017, is the day of the memory of the creator of a genre of the Russian satirical comedy Denis Ivanovich Fonvizin (1745—1792). There are both the creative heritage of a very writer and biographical works, the abstracts of dissertations, critical articles of different years dedicated to the writer on the Presidential Library website and in the library stock.

In the book by Vs. S. Solovyov entitled Denis Ivanovich Fonvizin (1900), which is represented on the Presidential Library website, it tells that the Fonvizin family originated from Baron Peter von Wiesen, who was captured during the Livonian War during the time of Ivan the Terrible and settled in Russia, and that his grandson under Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich adopted the Orthodoxy. Like many of their compatriots, “von Wiesen became the true Russian people. They even began to write their names not in a German manner, where von goes separately from Wiesen, but in Russian, in one word: Fonvizin.”

The publication also points at the early opened abilities of a future writer, translator, and a playwright: “In 1755, that is at ten years old, Fonvizin enrolled in the newly opened Moscow university preparatory school. In there Denis Ivanovich learned Latin and German. Later, he earned good knowledge in French.” After finishing the school and full university course, he registered in the military service, but was soon invited to a foreign board, where for five years he was assigned at the office of cabinet-minister I. P. Elagin, who did not burden too much a literary-gifted young man with official duties. “An enlightened man himself, a writer and a great fan of the theater, he let Fonvizin engage in that what attracted him the most.” With such patronage, while in service, Denis Ivanovich has managed to write a comedy entitled “The Brigadier-General.” Lovers of the Russian theater, which at that time has acquired its own individual language, have noticed both as the problematic so the comic parts of this play.

Soon the entire capital was talking about “The Brigadier-General.” The Empress Catherine II wanted to hear a new Russian comedy in person. “Fonvizin recited the “The Brigadier-General” to the Empress in the Hermitage, and he did it excellently, — as told in the foreword to the publication entitled Writings of D. I. Fonvizin: the complete volume of collected original works (1902), an electronic copy of which is available on the Presidential Library website — and then all the nobles wanted to see the author and hear the play.”

There is a digitized copy of a book entitled “Von-Wiesen: his life and literary work” (1892) on the Presidential Library stock. In there such a review of the creative of a young writer can be read: “In the Brigadier, von-Wiesen, owing to his observation, a lively imagination and a satirical talent, was able to put on stage especially colorfully and to give life to the very types that <…> already a while were cruising around in our literary sphere, and, as it were, only expected some skillful pen that would have managed to depict them embossed.”

The playwright as much as possible developed this main feature of his talent in his comedy “The Minor,” enlarging the characters and highlighting the main evils of Russian society, which may actually be found today. The author has managed to bring the gentry and the city ambiances of the time to the stage especially talented, touching the sorest points of the society. It is not a coincidence that the comedy is included into a textbook school curriculum of Russian language arts and is still remains in theatrical repertoire.

V. O. Klyuchevsky in his article “The Minor by Fonvizin. The experience of the historical explanation of the educational play,” published in Volume 9 of the collected works presented in the electronic fund of the Presidential Library, will write: “It could be safely said that the Minor has not lost much of his former artistic power over either the reader or the viewer, despite its naive dramatic construction, at every step exposing the threads with which the play is sewn, neither on an obsolete language, nor on the dilapidated scenic conventions of the Catherine’s Theater, despite even the spilled within the play fragrant morality of the optimists of from the last century. These shortcomings are covered by the special taste that the comedy acquired from time and which contemporaries of Fonvizin did not feel in it.”

Pushkin called the comedy “the people’s”, and Fonvizin — “a friend of freedom” and “satire’s fearless sovereign.” It is with Fonvizin that the Russian satire begins, which is going back to Gogol, Shchedrin, Bulgakov, Zoshchenko.