Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet, Fet also spelled Foeth, legitimatized name Afanasy Afanasyevich Shenshin, (born Dec. 5 [Nov. 23, Old Style], 1820, Novosyolki, near Mtsensk, Orlov district, Russia—died Dec. 3 [Nov. 21], 1892, Moscow), Russian poet and translator, whose sincere and passionate lyric poetry strongly influenced later Russian poets, particularly the Symbolist Aleksandr Blok.
The illegitimate son of a German woman named Fet (or Foeth) and of a Russian landowner named Shenshin, whose name he assumed by decree in 1876, Fet was still a student at the University of Moscow when, in 1842, he published several admirable lyrics in the literary magazine Moskvityanin. In 1850 a volume of his poems appeared, followed by another in 1856. He served several years in the army, retiring in 1856 with the grade of captain. In 1860 he settled on an estate at Stepanovka, in his home district, where he was often visited by his friends Ivan Turgenev and Leo Tolstoy.
His intense and brief lyrics, which aimed to convey vivid momentary sensations, were to have great influence on the later Symbolists, but during his lifetime he was decried because of his reactionary political views and somewhat unattractive personality. After 1863 he published very little, but he continued to write nature poetry and love lyrics (published posthumously in a four-volume collected edition, 1894). His works also include translations of Ovid, Virgil, J.W. von Goethe’s Faust, and Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea.
Afanasy Fet was born on 5 December 1820 to Afanasy Shenshin, a 44-year-old Russian landlord from Mtsensk, and Charlotte Becker, a 22-year-old daughter of Karl Becker, a German inn-keeper. While staying with them during his visit to Germany, Shenshin fell in love with Charlotte, who agreed to follow him to Russia. Pregnant with her second child, she divorced her husband Johann Foeth, a Darmstadt court official, and married her Russian suitor, but was forced to leave her one-year-old daughter Carolina behind.] In November, at Shenshin's Novosyolky estate, she gave birth to a boy who was christened Afanasy Afansyevich Shenshin.
Fourteen years later, as Shenshin and Becker's marriage, registered in Germany, proved to be legally void in Russia, Afanasy had to change his surname from Shenshin to Foeth, that of his biological father. This proved to be an exceptionally traumatic experience for the boy, aggravated as it was by the fact that back in Darmstadt Johann Foeth refused to acknowledge him as his son. According to Tatyana Kuzminskaya (Sophia Tolstaya's sister), Fet's "greatest grievance in life was the fact that he was not a legitimate Shenshin like his brothers (who treated him as an equal) but the out-of-wedlock son of Foeth, a German Jew. But he couldn't bring himself to admit that the name Fet was so much superior to that of Shenshin, and that he himself had made it so through his poetry, a fact which Leo Tolstoy tried in vain to convince him of."