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xv – Introduction – A. N. Afanas’ev: His Life and Works A leksandr Nikolaevich Afanas’ev was born in the guberniia (province) of Voronezh, located southeast of Moscow, on 12 July 1826. His father was a minor court official in the small town of Boguchar. His mother died when Aleksandr was an infant, and his father, a domineering figure, oversaw his son’s upbringing. The family had limited resources, and Afanas’ev later stated that though his father was brought up “on coppers” (na mednye dengi), Nikolai Ivanovich Afanas’ev was a respected man in the Boguchar district. He was educated and frequently consulted on legal matters, and he subscribed to several of the leading monthly journals of his time. Afanas’ev’s grandfather was also a motivating force in the young boy’s life. Grandfather Ivan Afanas’ev was a member of the local bible society and had a sizeable library that the young Afanas’ev frequently perused. Little is known about Afanas’ev’s childhood. In 1829 or 1830 the family moved from Boguchar to Bobrov, a small town southeast of Voronezh in the same Voronezh province. It was here that Afanas’ev first heard the folktales that were to become such an important part of his life. It was here that he learned to read, and here began his lifelong passion for learning . Long before Aleksandr Nikolaevich entered the university, he was reading the“thick”journals of his day, the Biblioteka dlia chteniia,Otechestvennye zapiski, and the Moskvitianin, among others. Aleksandr had three brothers and three sisters, all of whom received a modicum of schooling, and together with his older brother he was sent to two priests for his education. These two, both named Ivan, were recalled by Afanas’ev in his memoirs: “They were certainly not bad men but raised in the seminary, they were acquainted only with that strict sense of upbringing and constantly repeated to us that the root of learning was bitter.”1 But Afanas’ev persevered, attending classes with the parish priests both in the morning and in the afternoon up to the age of eleven. Lessons included readings 1. Narodnye russkie skazki A. N. Afanasieva, ed. L. G. Barag and N.V. Novikov, Moscow, 1984, vol. I, p.378. xvi h Introduction in Russian and Latin. Afanas’ev was apparently a normal boy. He relates that after a fight with another student he was rewarded with the rod, normal punishment for such behavior. Of his love for folktales at this early stage in his life, Afanas’ev later stated only that he listened to them intently as they were told by one of the women who worked for the family. Were some of those women among his informants in later years when he was gathering tales for his great collection? He never tells us, and we will likely never know. When he was eleven years old,Aleksandr was sent by his father to the Voronezh guberniia gymnasium, where he spent seven long years. His years of formal schooling in Voronezh left him with deep and unpleasant memories. According to his own memoirs, the teachers were coarse, poorly educated themselves, and harsh in their treatment of budding young scholars. Especially lacking was any sense of the qualities of the Russian past (particularly literary) that Afanas’ev would come to admire. Among all the Russian writers admired at the time, the pious instructors in the gymnasium had good words only for Zhukovskii and Murav’iev. Literature before Lomonosov was simply ignored. Later, Afanas’ev especially regretted the absence of the famous folk songbook of Kirsha Danilov, which had recently been published to great acclaim. In 1844, at the insistence of his father, Aleksandr Nikolaevich sat the examinations for entry into Moscow University and the Faculty of Jurisprudence . Despite all, his record at the gymnasium was a good one, and he was accepted. Moscow and the university presented a challenge to the provincial youth. Much later, he was to write, “At the beginning I felt completely alone in Moscow, no acquaintances and no relatives.”2 Afanas’ev soon adapted to life in the big city and at the university. He became deeply immersed in academic life, but found time and resources to visit the theater occasionally and apparently to frequent even the tavern Velikobritaniia, where “the students gossiped (kutili), drank and ate and played billiards.”3 During Afanas’ev’s first years at the university, the rector was Sergei Grigorevich Strogonov, whom Afanas’ev found...


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