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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Bio Starter




Feb. 1 marked 100 years since the death of Florenty Pavlenkov, Russia's founding father of biography. His series Zhizn zamechatelnykh lyudei, or Lives of Remarkable People, with over 200 biographies was published in the 1890s and continues to be reprinted to this day.


Born in 1839 to a family of impoverished Russian gentry, Florenty graduated from a military academy in 1861 and served a few years in the army. But as soon as he turned 25, he retired from the military and bought a bookstore in St. Petersburg in order to start publishing.


Publishing and bookselling were not distinct and separate trades at the time. Moreover, it was not rare for an author to publish a book and sell the copies himself: Even Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace" and Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Writer's Notebook" were published and retailed by the authors themselves.


In 1865 Pavlenkov "launched" his first book, his own translation of a French textbook on physics. Using the profits, he began publishing the collected works of his contemporary, Dmitry Pisarev, a writer, journalist and political dissident who was imprisoned at Peter and Paul Fortress in Petersburg at the time.


In 1868 Pavlenkov was arrested for his speech at Pisarev's funeral and exiled for 10 years to the Vyatka region east of the Volga. Losing no time there, he compiled and published a "Pictorial ABCs of Russian," which was rereleased in 22 editions within a few years, and some other books.


In 1877 he returned to the capital, but three years later was exiled again, this time to Siberia. He spent a year there translating a voluminous "Social Life of Animals" from the French. He was pardoned in 1881 by the new Tsar Alexander III and returned to St. Petersburg once again.


Pavlenkov published works by Alexander Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol, the collected works of Dmitry Pisarev and Vissarion Belinsky, Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens, children's books, textbooks on natural sciences, history, etc. He spent many years and great amounts of money and energy on the preparation of Russia's first-ever edition of collected works by emigr? author Alexander Hertzen (which were published only in 1905).


In the late 1880s, Florenty Pavlenkov began work on his famous Lives of Remarkable People series, featuring great men and women of all lands and times. Over the next decade, he produced more than 200 elegant paperbacks, each with an engraving of the biographee.


The crown of Pavlenkov's publishing career was "The Encyclopedic Dictionary" (1899) in one volume. This impressive reference book had 34,376 entries (so called "black words"), 2,067 pictures, 895 engravings and 112 maps.


Pavlenkov bequeathed all the fruits of his labor to libraries and the Writers' Foundation.