Alexander Bestuzhev lived a relatively short life in 19th century Russia and became known, towards the end of his life, as a poet of “florid Romanticism”. Some compared his work to that of great European writers such as Victor Hugo, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. He tended to exaggerate his characters and often favoured medieval jousting scenarios in both his poems and his short stories. In 1825 he had the misfortune to be caught up in the Decembrists Revolt in St Petersburg and, although he was not a leading protagonist of this revolutionary action against Tsar Nicholas I, he was still exiled to the Caucasus region of the empire. This was a relatively light punishment bearing in mind that many of the ringleaders were hanged for their involvement.
He was born Alexander Alexandrovich Bestuzhev, around the 3rd November 1797 in the city of St Petersburg. His actual date of birth is reported as being on varying dates but the 3rd November is near enough. His family were of noble blood and were rich enough to provide Alexander with a first class education. Although he had a notable talent for writing his father had other ideas for his son’s immediate future, preferring a military career rather than one in literature. Entrance to the Navy was denied but he was enlisted into the Guards as a dragoon. He was commissioned at the age of 21 and filled a number of aide-de-camp posts, thus promising a successful Army career.
The Decembrist uprising changed all that though, with Bestuzhev joining many of his friends, and three of his brothers, in the revolutionary camp. The conspirators were brutally crushed though with those found guilty being executed, imprisoned or exiled. Bestuzhev served a short prison term before being sent to the Caucasus region, in a place called Yakutia. Here he began writing on a regular basis but used a pen name so that he would not be confused with one of those of the Decembrist movement who was, in fact, executed for his participation. He was therefore known as Bestuzhev (Marlinsky).
He was, in fact, known as a writer before being exiled from his home city. He was a contemporary of the likes of Kondraty Ryleyev and Alexander Pushkin. Much of his work found publishing outlets in literary magazines and he undertook a major project with his friend Ryleyev to edit Polar Star, an almanac of the most famous Russian poets. Some of his own work was of a political nature and there is evidence in his poems and songs of revolutionary ideals. There were strong feelings against the Tsar at this time and his words, especially those championing the poor and oppressed of his country, received much acclaim.
While in exile though he devoted much effort to getting back his place in society and enlisted as a soldier in the hope that he might progress through the ranks and thus be back in favour. It was a struggle but he finally attained officer rank in 1836 and was known as a dedicated and brave soldier. Unfortunately he was killed fighting less than a year later.
It is believed that Alexander Bestuzhev died in Sochi, around the 19th of June 1837, aged only 39.