This life of Pushkin is brief indeed, from the publisher’s as well as the subject’s point of view. But the book has all the essential facts and the sober yet affectionate objectivity of T J Binyon’s biography of 2002 (which was six times longer). Robert Chandler also has the advantage over Binyon in persuading a non-Russian of Pushkin’s genius by quoting new translations, in particular Stanley Mitchell’s Eugene Onegin, undoubtedly the first major work in verse by Pushkin to have found an English translator of comparable ability. The bicentenary of Pushkin’s birth ten years ago failed to overcome Western readers’ dismay, to put it in Flaubert’s words, ‘qu’il est plat, votre poète national!’ Gradually, Mitchell, Antony Wood and Chandler himself are building up a critical mass of translation which will leave the reader in no doubt that Pushkin is a poet with the intellect of Voltaire and the lyrical vision of Keats.
Hitherto, biographers have had to rely on other aspects of Pushkin to enthral us: his political swing from anarchic rebellion to loyal monarchism, and his erotic progress from pursuit of other men’s wives to death while trying to protect his own. All this remains at the heart of