Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email email@example.com to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found here.
Alexander Pushkin thrived on confinement. At the start of his career, a friend’s elderly and obstinate valet once locked him into a room, saying he would release him only when he completed a narrative poem for which he had already been paid but had long been procrastinating over; once past his initial indignation, Pushkin duly got carried away and wrote all through the night. Something similar — but on a grander scale — happened around 10 years later. In autumn 1830, Pushkin was confined by a cholera outbreak to the village of Boldino, his father’s remote country estate in southeastern Russia. Desperate to return to Moscow to marry, he wrote to his fiancée: “There are five quarantine zones between here and Moscow, and I would have to spend fourteen days in each. Do the maths and imagine what a foul mood I am in.”
Pushkin went on complaining bitterly but, with nothing else to do, he produced an astonishing number of masterpieces — short stories, short plays, lyric and narrative poems, and the last two chapters of his verse novel Eugene Onegin — in a mere three months.