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Ten Facts about Denis Fonvizin
 Dec 12, 2012

A full 220 years ago Denis Fonvizin died. He was a distinguished Russian writer and playwright, creator of a genre that was new to Russia – the situation comedy. Here are a few interesting facts about his life.

– In the 18th and early 19th century Fonvizin’s sir name was written as two words [hinting at it German origins – von Wiesen] although Pushkin believed one word to be preferable.

– Denis Fonvizin’s came from a Germanic family of knights which moved to Moscow during the 16th century and became fully ‘Russified’.

– In 1760 became a student, but he only studied at Moscow University for two years. Nonetheless, when sent to St. Petersburg as the best philosophy student he made acquaintances with Lomonosov and Sumarokov.

– Fonvizin’s literary explorations which began during his university years helped him in his career. His translation of Voltaire’s Alzire attracted some attention and in 1763 Fonvizin was appointed to a serve the cabinet of Ivan Yelagin.
– As secretary of Count Nikita Panin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fonvizin had a role in the drafting of an interesting state reform project which called for the Senate to be given legislative authority and the serfs to be set free.

– In 1769 Fonvizin wrote the comedy Brigadier, a satire of the lives of young people who had traveled to France and adopted a disdain for all things Russian. Fonvizin himself had traveled abroad on several occasions and visited France, but he was not enthralled by European countries. “The tambourines beyond the mountains sound nice,” he said, referring to a Russian saying similar to “the grass is always greener…”

– His comedy Brigadier was not stage for quite some time, but Fonvizin read it to his circle of friends and acquaintances and it was met with great pleasure.

– Vasily Klyuchevsky called Fonvizin’s The Minor (Nedorosl) an “inimitable mirror” of Russian reality.

– The last years of Fonvizin’s life were marked by increasing debilitation but he never abandoned the pen. Fonvizin died on December 12, 1792 in St. Petersburg, before finishing his comedy The Choice of a Family Tutor and his memoirs Confession of My Deeds and Plans.

– Old Believers assimilated the text of Fonvizin’s satire verse Epistle to My Servants Shumilov, Vanka and Petrushka into their collective writings with author attribution.

Alexander Ryazantsev


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"And we will preserve you, Russian speech,
The great Russian word.
We will keep you free and pure,
And pass you on to our grandchildren,
Free from bondage forever!" Anna Akhmatova "Valor"

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