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Woe from Wit is unique in the history of Russian literature. Pushkin knew it. "Half the lines will become proverbs," he said. And he was right. Its distillations of common experience, witty, perceptive, profound, have been absorbed into Russia's national consciousness. They are still quoted by those who may no longer remember their source. It seems extraordinary, therefore, that such a work should not be more widely known. This work seeks to account for the disparity between Griboedov's Woe from Wit and his other works, by examining his plays and poems, letters and travel notes, the memoirs of his contemporaries, his literary sources and social milieu. The early works in which Griboedov exercised his craft, his single work of art and the few later works are related to three distinct periods in his life. Positive and negative influences are discussed. The former include Griboedov's association with Shakhovskoi, his wide knowledge of Russian, Classical and European literature, his admiration for the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and the salutary shock of a duel; the latter, Griboedov's ability to write a passion out of his system and his reaction to the Decembrist uprising. A comparison with earlier Russian verse comedies shows Woe from Wit to be rooted in neo-classicism. The final test of the play is compared with the earliest known version and the effect of numerous alterations assessed. A synthesis of Griboedov's own character and that of Aleksandr Odoevskii is seen as the source of Chatskii's disruptive naturalness; this is discussed in relation to the neo-classical tradition in Russia, of which Woe from Wit was the fatal drowning achievement. In translating not only Woe from Wit but the numerous passages quoted from other Russian works, and including translations of European and Classical material quoted, this work both sets this important play in its cultural and historical context and makes it accessible to Anglophone readers.
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