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Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет

Russian poet. Born 1820, died 1892.

Afanasy Fet was the child of Charlotta Fet and the nobleman Afanasy Shenshin. Charlotta had left her original husband, Johann Fet, but was not officially married to Shenshin until 1822. As a result1, Fet was never legally his biological father's son and heir, and couldn't claim the rights of nobility.

As a young man, Fet attended Moscow University (1838-1844), studying philology. While there, he began to dabble in poetry, publishing his début collection, The Lyrical Pantheon, in which he developed a unique style of poetry dealing with the twin subjects of love and nature.

At the time, The Lyrical Pantheon was not well received (the preferred style of poetry being social criticism). His following poems, published in Notes of the Fatherland and Muscovite (1842-1843) received equally lukewarm receptions.

Perhaps it was this lack of enthusiasm for his poetry that led Afanasy Fet to enlist in the military (1845), or possibly it was an attempt to prove his right to his noble heritage. While in the military, he continued to publish his poetry.

When he was transferred to the Russian Imperial Guards in 1853, and stationed in St. Petersburg, he gained a golden opportunity to work with other great poets of the age, such as Ivan Turgenev (who wrote the introduction to his third collection). At this time, Fet began to use the theme of the death wish in his poetry, particularly in the poem "To Death" (1856), which caused a stir at the time of its publication.

In 1857, Fet married the sister of prominent critic V.P. Botkin, and by 1860, the Fets had retired to a country estate, to live a life of semi-retirement. At this time, he cultivated a friendship with Tolstoy, and continued to write poems glorifying death. In 1881, he translated the works of Schopenhauer into Russian.

In 1889, he was given an appointment2 as Kammerherr (chamberlain) at the Imperial court, but only had three years to enjoy it before he died in 1892.

In his waning years, his works had received the acclaim that they had been previously denied. The Russian Symbolists (notably Annensky, Bely and Ivanov) had discovered Fet and been greatly inspired by him. A recurrent source of inspiration, Fet also heavily influenced the Structuralists of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly Yuri Lotman.


Note(s):

1 Because Russia, like most places, uses the pater est principle to determine paternity, Fet was deemed to be legally the son of Johann Fet, who was married to his mother at the time of his birth.

2 In 1873, his rights of nobility were restored by decree of Tsar Alexander II.

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