Mark Krylov’s Birthday with a Writing Challenge

When partners can’t agree

Their dealings come to naught

And trouble is their labor’s only fruit.

Ivan Andreyevich Krylov is known as the Russian Fontaine. It is fascinating that he found the genre that suited him best at the age of forty, which confirms the old saying that it is never too late for anything. Before that, he mostly wrote poems and plays. I don’t know about you, but I think that fable is an interesting and demanding genre: we enjoy it as a fun read as kids and view it in a different way when we understand the context as adults. If we ever return to childhood fables, which are a great comfort read.

Krylov’s literary career began when he was sixteen. He sold the opera libretto Cofeynitsa, about a gypsy telling the future from coffee grounds ‒ a popular pastime even today ‒ which he wrote as a fourteen-year-old. Young Krylov used the money to buy books by Racine, Moliere, and Boileau. The French playwrights probably influenced his future plays.

Krylov started publishing his first monthly satirical magazine, Mail of Spirits, in 1789, using it as an outlet for his satirical short stories, which boldly exposed the vices of the nobility and the bureaucratic machinery. However, his sharp poignant satire displeased the authorities. The empress Catherine the Great advised Krylov to give up everything and go on a journey abroad, even offering to pay all the expenses. Of course, he refused. The magazine had only nine issues. However, Krylov started another one, Spectator, in 1792 and continued ridiculing the nobility and even the empress. The police searched his publishing house, looking for Krylov’s story My Fevers and Klushin’s poem Turtle-doves, confiscating both manuscripts. The authorities didn’t forbid the magazine but they did put it under secret surveillance. That prompted Krylov and Klushin to try their luck for the first, and last time, with the monthly Saint Petersburg Mercury. That publication was also short-lived since both of them were forced to resign from their editorial posts. However, this magazine became famous for the poem Dying Coquette, a satire about the empress.

Although many of his earlier fables were inspired by Aesop and La Fontaine, his later works were completely original. Krylov’s first collection of twenty-three fables was published in 1809. The reception was so good that he turned to writing fables, abandoning drama. All in all, he wrote 236 fables.

A few years later, Krylov began working in the Imperial Public Library, which left him a lot of time for writing since the job wasn’t demanding. The stories about his laziness and gluttony were legendary. Krylov was on friendly terms with the emperor, Nicholas, who granted him a nice pension. During his lifetime, over 75,000 copies of his fables were sold in Russia. Their imaginative, engaging plots and distinctive style ensured the enthusiastic reception in his homeland. Some of them were published only after his death because of their sharp satire, while others were published because it became known that they amused Emperor Nicholas.

Once Crawfish, Swan and Pike

Set out to pull a loaded cart,

And all together settled in the traces;

They pulled with all their might, but still, the cart refused to budge!

The load it seemed was not too much for them:

Yet Crawfish scrambled backward,

Swan strained up skywards, Pike pulled toward the sea.

Who’s guilty here and who is right is not for us to say –

But anyway the cart’s still there today.

Swan, Pike, and Crawfish

There are many busy-bodies in the world, always worrying, always rushing back and forth; everyone wonders at them. They seem ready to jump out of their own skins; but in spite of it all, they make no more progress than does the Squirrel in his wheel.

An Argosy of Fables

It is only when our consciences become tangled that the truth begins to hurt.

An Argosy of Fables

Sometimes you get stuck with your writing. In times like that, a small shake-up usually helps. I bet that you have never written fables. Why don’t you try it now? It’s fun, I promise. The piece shouldn’t be long and you should dedicate less than half an hour to this exercise since we have never enough time for everything, right? If someone irritated you last week, put that person in the fable. Not only will you have a great writing exercise, but you will vent your bad feelings through mild, good-natured mocking. Say, you could write about a ladybug who is obsessed with her spots and can’t stop checking their size in the mirror while her lizard friend is complaining that her torn tail is growing slowly and painfully. And don’t forget to show, not tell. The ladybug was checking the size of her spots in the mirror for the third time since they met is much better than writing that she is obsessed. Now, have fun!

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