Monthly Archives: October 2013

Pushkin’s Exile at Mikhailovskoe (Part 6)

Neither with Anna nor with Zizi did Pushkin’s love affair last for long. Zizi’s biographical importance lies in the fact that, during the last critical days of Pushkin’s life, she visited St. Petersburg (by then married, Baroness Vrevskaya) in order to stay with her sister. She thus became one of the few friends to whom Pushkin then unburdened himself. Unlike most of the others, she was aware of his impending duel. She will therefore recur in the last part of this book.

During 1825 Pushkin saw three of his school-friends: Gorchakov, Delvig and Pushchin. The first of these he visited at the home of Gorchakov’s uncle, sixty-nine versts from Mikhailovskoe. The other two came to Mikhailovskoe. Pushkin and Gorchakov had drifted apart since Tsarskoe Selo and their short meeting in 1825 did nothing to bring them closer to each other. Pushkin read a part of Boris Godunov to Gorchakov, who criticized the everyday language (a reference to ‘spit’) that Pushkin used in the dialogue. Pushkin thought that Gorchakov was ‘terribly dried up’.34 He played no further part in Pushkin’s life.

Delvig spent at least a week at Mikhailovskoe in April, but little has been recorded about his visit, to which Pushkin had been eagerly looking forward for a long time. On the other hand, Pushchin, who spent less than twenty-four hours in Mikhailovskoe at the beginning of the year, described his visit in detail in his memoirs.35 As a present for the poet Pushchin brought a copy of Griboedov’s Woe from Wit; he also bought three bottles of Veuve Clicquot on the way. He arrived at Mikhailovskoe in deep snow at about eight o’clock on the morning of 11 January. Bare-footed and in his shirt, Pushkin greeted him on the steps of the house. After embracing each other there, they went inside, as Pushchin put it, ‘the one almost naked and the other covered in snow’: a scene which even after thirty years Pushchin found it impossible to write about without tears blurring his spectacles. Pushchin found Pushkin’s appearance little changed, except for the sideburns that he had grown since he had last seen him in St. Petersburg. He also seemed a little more serious, although he had lost none of his gaiety and liveliness. Toasts were drunk. They discussed everything under the sun: the reasons for Pushkin’s dismissal from the imperial service; what people in St. Petersburg, particularly the tsar, thought about Pushkin; the chances of his exile coming to an end; and finally, the secret society. Of this Pushchin wrote:

When I said to him that I was not the only one to have entered into this new service of the fatherland, he leapt from his chair and exclaimed: ‘Probably all this is connected with Major Raevsky, who has been held for five years in the Tiraspol prison and they can get nothing out of him.’ Afterwards he quietened down and continued: ‘By the way, I am not compelling you, my dear Pushchin, to talk. Perhaps you were right not to trust me. Probably I do not deserve that trust – because of my many foolishnesses.’ In silence, I kissed him warmly; we embraced and went for a walk; we both of us needed some air.

Introduced to Arina, Pushchin noticed one of the seamstresses in her room (presumably Olga), but said nothing about her to Pushkin, who ‘smiled significantly’. While Pushkin was reading Woe from Wit aloud, they were interrupted by a visit from the monk who was Pushkin’s spiritual supervisor; he drank some glasses of rum as well as the coffee that was offered to him. After he had left Pushkin simply continued reading where he had left off and he went on to read part of his Gypsies. It was long after midnight when Pushchin finally left on his sleigh. They never met again. Pushkin’s poem, ‘My first friend, my priceless friend’, drafted soon afterwards and finished in 1826, was later handed to Pushchin across the palisade at Chita (the Decembrists’ place of imprisonment in Siberia) by the wife of a fellow-prisoner, on the day of his arrival there.

Pushkin’s plans for getting away from Mikhailovskoe took several different forms as time went on. At the very beginning, in December 1824, he was to go abroad disguised as Aleksei Vul’f’s servant.37 This project never got off the ground; and almost simultaneously he wrote an imaginary conversation with Alexander I in which Pushkin sought to explain his atheistic letter as ‘a schoolboy joke’, two empty phrases of which should not be judged as though they were ‘an address to the whole nation’. The final paragraph, however, reads: ‘But here Pushkin would have got angry and said much more to me [to Alexander] that was superfluous, I [Alexander] would have lost my temper and sent him off to Siberia, where he would have written a poem . . .’

In the following spring the idea of treatment for his aneurism was resurrected. Pushkin drafted a letter himself to the tsar in April asking for permission to travel abroad. In June his mother wrote to the tsar on his behalf, asking for permission for him to travel to Riga to consult a specialist there. The outcome was official permission for Pushkin to travel to Pskov, which he at first refused. In the autumn, however, he finally did visit Pskov, where he saw a doctor, whom he consulted again in the following year.

These manoeuvrings were brought to an end by a piece of news that did not reach St Petersburg until 27 November 1825 and Mikhailovskoe at the very end of that month. On 19 November Alexander I died suddenly at Taganrog, on the Sea of Azov. There is no first-hand evidence of Pushkin’s immediate reaction to this wholly unexpected event (the reason for the tsar’s journey was his wife’s ailing health, not his own). The account that we have of what Pushkin then did is based on the recollection of a letter written by him at the time to his brother, which has not survived. Nevertheless there is no reason to doubt that, in the heat of the moment, on 1 or 2 December, Pushkin set out for St. Petersburg under the name of one of Praskov’ya Osipova’s servants. Nor, given his superstitious nature, is it improbable that the sight of a brace of hares and a priest soon after he left home were enough to convince him that the journey would not have a happy outcome. He returned to Mikhailovskoe. He was still there when, a little over a fortnight later, he learnt the news of something even more dramatic: the Decembrist Revolt in St. Petersburg.

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Exile at Mikhailovskoe (Part 5)

I remember the wonderful moment: you appeared before me like a transient vision of the spirit of pure beauty.

To me, languishing in hopeless sadness, among the cares of the noisy, restive world, a tender voice sounded and beloved features formed my dreams.

The years passed. The storms’ wild gust scattered my earlier dreams, and I forgot your tender voice, your heavenly features. I dragged out my days slowly, in distant, dark confinement, cut off from God, uninspired, without tears, without life, without love.

My soul’s awakening began: and behold! you appeared again, like a transient vision of the spirit of pure beauty.

And my heart is beating, enraptured, and in my heart all that is godlike, inspiration, life, tears and love, has risen once again.31

‘I remember’ and the even shorter, more poignant, poem ‘I loved you’, written in 1829, are perhaps the best known among Pushkin’s many love lyrics. Of the two, it is the second which tells us – more frankly, even if still ambiguously – how les grands sentiments seemed to Pushkin, in reflective mood, at the age of thirty:

Я вас любил: любовь ещё, быть может,

В душе моей угасла не совсем;

Но пусть она вас больше не тревожит;

Я не хочу печалить вас ничем.

Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно,

То робостью, то ревностью томим;

Я вас любил так искренно, так нежно,

Как, дай вам Бог любимой бытв другим.

I loved you; perhaps my love is not yet quite extinguished in my soul. But let it not trouble you any more; I do not want to sadden you in any way. I loved you without words, without hope, torn now by timidity and now by jealousy; I loved you as truly and as tenderly as may God grant you to be loved by another.32

The identity of the woman to whom the second of these poems was addressed has not been established, although more than one candidate has been advanced: Olenina and Vorontsova are both possibilities. For the biographer, what is striking both about ‘I loved you’ and about ‘I remember’ is the contrast that they form with the way in which Pushkin casually mentioned his conquest of Anna in 1828, in the course of a letter written to a friend primarily about gambling debts.33 His casualness and the four-letter word that he used (replaced by asterisks in the Russian Academy edition), set side by side with these two poems, illustrate two aspects of his character in relation to women, of which he was himself well aware.

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Exile at Mikhailovskoe (Part 4)

Yet Pushkin is a writer who anticipated Flaubert’s principle : ‘Il ne faut pas s’ecrire.’19 As his style grew more mature, so the distance between himself and his heroes and heroines increased. And in Evgenii Onegin he even introduced himself as one of the characters of the novel, a friend of Evgenii, so much so that he drew a sketch of the two of them deep in conversation by the side of the river Neva, opposite the Petropavlovsk Fortress (complete with detailed instructions), which he inserted in the first chapter of the poem.20 Unlike Pushkin, Onegin is a man who never takes a risk if he can avoid it. It is only at the very end of the poem that he realizes that Tatyana, the girl whom he turned down at the beginning, would indeed have proved to be not only, as she modestly put it in her letter to him, a ‘true wife and a good mother’,21 but the love of his life. Again, unlike Pushkin, he also took care to fire the first shot in his duel. Arguably, Pushkin was a gambler not only in the literal sense of the word. He was certainly not Onegin.

It was while Pushkin was working at Mikhailovskoe that he became a fully professional writer, entirely dependent upon his writing for the next eight years as his only source of income. It would not be long before each line of his verse would command a price of ten roubles. That he wanted every rouble he could lay hands on is evident from a recurring refrain in his correspondence: ‘Some money, for God’s sake, some money!’22 Nevertheless, as a writer he was a perfectionist. Although his power of concentration was such that he could and sometimes did write at an almost unbelievable speed his drafts are a mass of corrections. He even drafted his letters to his friends, let alone his official correspondence. For once in his life Pushkin was able at Mikhailovskoe to spend what he earned on what he needed, because while he was living there, he was seldom exposed to the temptations of the green table. His needs during these two years consisted first and foremost of books. His correspondence is full of requests for books of every kind (including the Bible in French) to be sent to him from St. Petersburg. His brother Lev also had to send him during the first few months things as diverse as writing paper, plain paper, wine, cheese, a corkscrew, boots and braces.23

In order to reduce the cost of heating at Mikhailovskoe, Pushkin lived in a single room, which served as his study, dining room and bedroom. Arina’s room was nearby, on the opposite side of the corridor; he used to call her ‘mama’; and their long talks took place in the evening. An early riser and a late luncher, his first act on waking up was to swim in the river in summer and take an ice-cold bath in winter. He usually read or wrote either after his first cup of coffee in the morning or at night, or both. Walking or riding around the estate, he wore a red shirt belted with a sash, broad trousers and a white straw hat; and he always carried an iron stick weighing nine pounds (a habit that he had acquired in the south). This he sometimes threw in the air, catching it as it fell; while sometimes he just threw it in front of him. He maintained that his object was to strengthen his pistol hand (he practised pistol shooting as well). In the evening, if he had nothing better to do, he would play billiards against himself.24

Such was Pushkin’s normal pattern. Not surprisingly, it was not enough for a man of his restless energy. Off and on throughout his Mikhailovskoe years, he devoted time to plans to get away, with or without official permission. He soon took Olga Kalashnikov, the (serf) daughter of the estate steward, to bed. Their son, Pavel, was born in June 1826 at Boldino, where Olga and her father had moved after Pushkin had sent her, pregnant, to St. Petersburg with a letter to Vyazemsky, seeking his help.25

Although Pushkin described Olga to Vyazemsky as a ‘very sweet and good girl’,26 the chief pole of emotional attraction for him during these two years was not at Mikhailovskoe, but at the neighbouring estate of Trigorskoe, the property of a distant relation, Praskov’ya Osipova. (She was also a cousin of the Decembrist, Sergei Murav’ev-Apostol.) A competent and intelligent lady in her early forties, twice widowed, she knew how to run her estates (there was another one at Malinniki, in the province of Tver (Tver’), where Pushkin stayed later on. She was devoted to Pushkin and she was present at his burial in 1837. Whether she was ever in love with him or whether – in the words of Alexander Turgenev – she ‘loved him like a mother’,27 is a matter of speculation. What is certain is that Pushkin was a frequent and welcome visitor at Trigorskoe, where there was a good library and a bevy of girls of all ages, with whom he flirted right, left and centre. His principal targets during 1825-7 and later in the 1820s, sometimes simultaneously, were Anna (Annette) Vul’f (Praskov’ya’s daughter by her first marriage), Evpraksiya Vul’f (Zizi, Anna’s younger sister) and Aleksandra (Aline) Osipova (Praskov’ya’s stepdaughter). Praskov’ya, moreover, was the aunt of Anna Kern, whom Pushkin had met fleetingly in St. Petersburg and who in 1825 came to Trigorskoe. This time Pushkin fell in love with her.

Although there is enough evidence, in the form both of correspondence and of poetry, to enable a fairly clear picture to be formed of the criss-cross of relationships that developed from 1825 onwards (complicated by the fact that Praskov’ya’s son, Aleksei Vul’f, was both Pushkin’s rival and his confidant), it is now nearly seventy years since it was first observed that Pushkin’s biographers had ‘acquired the habit of regarding it as their duty to explain every one’ of Pushkin’s lyrics ‘biographically and using them as direct historical evidence. This is silly.’ – wise advice that has not been heeded by all subsequent biographers.28 Neither the voyeurism of some nor the censoriousness of others has added much to our understanding of Pushkin’s sexuality in relation to his Mikhailovskoe years.

This aspect of Pushkin’s character seems to have changed remarkably little during the first thirty years of his life. As late as 1828 les femmes comme il faut et les grands sentiments were, according to Pushkin himself, what he feared most in the world. Later, Anna Kern described him as ‘charmed by brilliance and outward beauty’ rather than by ‘dignity and simplicity in a woman’s character’, which she attributed to ‘his low opinion of women, entirely in keeping with the spirit of the age’. Generalizations in this field are dangerous But until his marriage Pushkin seems to have related to women -prostitutes apart – either as mature and intelligent interlocutors but physically unattractive, or as silly but attractive, although he was usually not attracted by them for long. (Elizaveta Vorontsova may have been an exception.)

This said, the biographer who declines to pursue Pushkin from one embrace to another during this period must make an exception of two of his Trigorskoe loves, Zizi Vul’f and Anna Kern – each for a different reason. Anna met Pushkin for the first time for six years when she came to stay at Trigorskoe. On the last day of her visit, the party drove over to Mikhailovskoe, where Pushkin walked with her down the avenue of trees alone. Before she left Trigorskoe next day, Pushkin gave her a copy of the opening chapter of Evgenii Onegin, the pages uncut, but enclosing a poem, ‘I remember the wonderful moment’. These twenty-four lines, unquestionably addressed to Anna, did not melt her heart. She seems to have preferred the advances of Aleksei Vul’f – ‘Lovelace’ in Pushkin’s correspondence with him – at the time. It was not until they met again in St. Petersburg three years later that she yielded to Pushkin’s insistence.

Я помню чудное мгновенье:

Передо мной явилась ты,

Как мимолётное виденье,

Как гений чистой красоты.

В томленьях грусти безнадежной,

В тревогах шумной суеты,

Звучал мне долго голос нежный И снились милые черты.

Шли годы. Бурь порыв мятежный Рассеял прежние мечты,

И я забыл твой голос нежный,

Твои небесные черты.

В глуши, во мраке заточенья

Тянулись тихо дни мои

Без божества, без вдохновенья,

Без слёз без жизни, без любви.

Душе настало пробужденье:

И вот опять явилась ты,

Как мимолётное виденье,

Как гений чистой красоты.

И сердце бьется в упоенье,

И для него воскресли вновь И божество, и вдохновенье,

И жизнь, и слёзы, и любовь.

К * * *

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Exile at Mikhailovskoe (Part 3)

Pushkin’s reading at Mikhailovskoe was eclectic, ranging across frontiers and centuries. Thus, having already read the earlier volumes of Karamzin’s History of the Russian State (there were twelve in all), he now read the remainder – required reading for a writer on the ‘Time of the Troubles’; and Boris Godunov was dedicated to Karamzin. He read Tacitus’s Histories and Annals in French: an interesting choice of historian by Pushkin, not only because of the economy of Tacitus’s unique prose style – an economy that Pushkin’s prose would emulate – but also because of Tacitus’s attitude to history, which was essentially that of a man looking back on the age that had preceded the one in which he himself lived. Of Shakespeare Pushkin wrote in 1825 : ‘What a man this Shakespeare is! I cannot get over him. Compared with him, how poor a tragedian Byron is! This Byron who only ever conceived one single character … he divided among his characters such and such an aspect of his own personality.. .’

Shakespeare’s influence on Pushkin should not be assessed only in metrical terms: Shakespeare’s blank verse and sonnet metres.12 It would be hard to improve on Pushkin’s much later comparison of Shakespeare and Moliere:

Characters created by Shakespeare, unlike Moliere’s, are not models of a particular kind of passion or of a particular kind of vice; on the contrary, they are living beings complete with many passions, many vices. Circumstances unfold to the spectator their varied and many-sided personalities. Moliere’s miser is miserly – and that is all; Shakespeare’s Shylock is not only miserly, but resourceful, vindictive, child-loving and witty. Moliire’s hypocrite courts his benefactor’s wife in a hypocritical fashion, takes on the custody of an estate as a hypocrite, and asks for a glass of water hypocritically, Shakespeare’s hypocrite pronounces judgement with arrogant sever-ity, but justly; he justifies his cruelty by the profound arguments of a statesman; and he seduces innocence, not with a ridiculous mixture of piety and philandering, but with powerful, fascinating sophistry.

Pushkin wrote Boris Godunov with Shakespeare very much in mind. When he had finished it, he read it out aloud to himself from beginning to end; he clapped his hands and congratulated himself -‘Bravo! You son of a bitch!’14 As it turned out, this work proved to be, in a sense, his Waterloo.15 Planned as the first part of a dramatic trilogy, it was one of Pushkin’s first works to fall foul of the censorship after his political rehabilitation. For that reason it was not printed until 1831; it was first staged as a play nearly forty years later; and even today it is generally thought of in the form of Musorgsky’s fine opera.16

By contrast, Evgenii Onegin survived the censorship, thanks to some judicious omissions and to Pushkin’s physical destruction of his politically incriminating Chapter 10. So effectively did he burn the manuscript of this chapter in 1830 that today all that remains is a collection of fragments, later reconstructed mainly from memory, which prove that it dealt with the Decembrists, but not much more than that.17 Of all Pushkin’s works, Evgenii Onegin is the best known in the west; and it has become better understood since a path was cut through its forest of allusions, literary and topical, by Nabokov’s three volumes of commentary. Yet even in Russia it has been subject to virtually every conceivable interpretation, some of them diametrically opposed to each other.18 In this welter of conflicting opinion it is easy to overlook the fact that Pushkin himself described Evgenii Onegin on the title page as a ‘novel in verse’. And as a novel it would affect the great evolution of the Russian prose novel for the rest of the nineteenth century.

The bare essentials of the story of Evgenii Onegin are deceptively simple. Tatyana, the elder daughter of one of Onegin’s neighbours in the country, falls in love with him at first sight; she declares her love, which he does not return. He later leaves the district, having killed a friend in a duel. After a long time spent travelling, Onegin returns to St. Petersburg, where he again meets Tatyana, now married. He falls in love with her; she rejects him, although she still loves him. The plot of Evgenii Onegin appears romantic in Tchaikovsky’s operatic version (written half a century later), but as Pushkin originally wrote it, its form is severely classical: a double chiasmus. Its framework depends on two balls – one rural and the other grandiose, in the capital – and two letters, the first, early on, from Tatyana to Onegin, and the second, at the very end, from Onegin to Tatyana. (Onegin’s letter – not drafted by Pushkin until 1831 – disappears in the sentimentality of the last act of the opera.) Moreover, it took Pushkin eight years to complete this poem. Its characters developed as the novel went forward. Tatyana’s marriage seems to have taken Pushkin himself by surprise ; and Pushkin’s own character developed over the same period. Evgenii Onegin provides many autobiographical nuggets : Chapter 1 relating to his first years in St. Petersburg, Chapter 2 to his exile at Mikhailovskoe and Chapter 8 to his time in Odessa, while Chapter 10 was presumably an attempt to do homage to the Decembrists.

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Exile at Mikhailovskoe (Part 2)

According to Pushkin’s own account written immediately afterwards, Sergei L’vovich not only took seriously the official charge of atheism levelled against his elder son — even accusing Alexander Sergeevich of attempting to corrupt his elder sister and younger brother with atheistic doctrine – but he also agreed to the governor’s request that he himself should assume the responsibility for his son’s secular supervision. (A local monk was appointed Pushkin’s spiritual supervisor.) This responsibility was interpreted as including the reading of Alexander Sergeevich’s correspondence, on which he was now almost entirely dependent for maintaining contact with the outside world. Father and son had never been close at any time. Now insults flew in both directions. Alexander Sergeevich declared that he would never speak to his father again, while for Sergei L’vovich Alexander became ‘ce monstre, cefils denature’, who had, he alleged, threatened to beat him.3 In the upshot, the family returned to St. Petersburg in November. Although the quarrel was eventually patched up, Pushkin’s parents did not visit Mikhailovskoe so long as he was living there. He remained on this dilapidated but beautiful estate, alone except for the serfs and his nanny, Arina, for the next twenty-two months.

In spite of this unpromising beginning, these two years of isolation proved to be providential for Pushkin. Had he been in St. Petersburg in December 1825, he would almost certainly have been caught up in the Decembrist Revolt, with incalculable consequences for the remainder of his life. (Even if he had still been in Odessa, there were enough Decembrists in the town who were his personal friends, such as Prince Volkonsky, to constitute a political risk for him, if only by association.) Equally important, for the first time in his life Pushkin had almost nothing to do but write and read.

Pushkin’s friends did not all agree about where the blame for his exile lay. (Vyazemsky was sympathetic; Delvig urged him to be careful for a year or two; and Karamzin observed that Vorontsov was ‘no despot’.) But they were united in wanting him to make good use of it. As Zhukovsky put it, ‘You are born to be a great poet, be worthy of this!’ Ryleev wrote in similar vein.4 They may have been preaching to the converted, but he certainly followed their advice. The use that Pushkin made of these years may best be judged if an attempt is made to compare the scale of his literary achievement as it actually was by the end of 1826, when he finally returned first to Moscow and then to St. Petersburg, with the kind of assessment of his work which his death might have evoked from literary critics and historians if his life had ended simultaneously with Byron’s (in 1824) or at any time during the following six months.

In 1824, ten years after his first poem had appeared in the St. Petersburg press, Pushkin’s reputation rested in large measure on three of his longer, published, works: Ruslan and Lyudmila, The Captive of the Caucasus and The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. On the basis of this evidence, critics would have speculated about the direction that his mature poetry would have taken after the early flowering of his extraordinary talent. Posthumous publication of the draft of The Gypsies and the opening chapters of Evgenii Onegin might have confused them (as indeed they actually did confuse some critics when they were first published). Misleading comparisons would probably have been drawn between Pushkin and Byron. Abroad, even at this early date, Pushkin’s death would not have gone unnoticed. Pushkin’s three major poems of the period 1820-4 were already beginning to be translated into German before he left the south; and articles about his work were beginning to appear in English, French and Polish literary journals as well. The Westminster Review, for example, devoted several pages to this ‘very original’ poet at the beginning of 1824.5 Even in Russia, however, a hypothetical evaluation of Pushkin’s work in mid-1824 could not perhaps have gone very much further than this: an original writer of infinite, but still uncertain, promise.

By the time Pushkin left Mikhailovskoe in September 1826 he had written some of the finest lyrics in the Russian language; he had finished The Gypsies; and the greater part of Evgenii Onegin was either written or drafted. The Gypsies was not published until 1827, but the first chapter of Evgenii Onegin was published in 1825 and the first edition of Pushkin’s collected poems came out in the following year. It was at Mikhailovskoe that he wrote prefaces in verse – very different from one another, but each of them superb – to Ruslan and Lyudmila6 and to Evgenii Onegin.1 His other Mikhailovskoe poems included, at one end of the scale, Count Nulin, a poem which if Graham Greene had written it, he might have classified as an ‘entertainment’ : the Rape of Lucrece in Russian nineteenth-century dress, but relating what might have happened if Lucrece had slapped Tarquin’s face.8 At the opposite pole stands Boris Godunov, a play written partly in blank verse and partly in prose, set in the period of the Russian ‘Time of the Troubles’ in the late sixteenth century.9 Moreover, it was in these two years that Pushkin first developed his power of criticism. Although he never wrote any single work of literary criticism from then until the time of his death, the aggregate of his views on the writing of others, whether of his own or earlier ages, scattered among letters, notes and commentaries of every kind over a period of twelve years, constitutes a variegated corpus of rigorous literary criticism.10

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Exile at Mikhailovskoe (Part 1)

O rus!


(Used by Pushkin as the epigraph to the second chapter of Evgerdi Onegin: ‘Oh country!’ [in Latin] – a pun on the medieval word for ‘Russia’, Rus’.).

Not long after Pushkin had left Odessa he wrote an uncharacteristically self-pitying poem, To the Sea. ‘Bewitched by powerful passion’ (an obvious allusion to Elizaveta Vorontsova) he had ‘stayed upon your shores’; and the poem’s last four lines read:

В леса, в пустыни молчаливы Перенесу, тобою полн,

Твои скалы, твои заливы,

И блеск, и тень, и говор волн.

… Filled by you, I shall carry into the woods and the silent wastes, your rocks, your bays, and the glitter, the shadow and the sound of your waves.

Pushkin’s enforced departure, not long after his twenty-fifth birthday, seemed to mark an unhappy ending to his four years in the south. He was now to be confined to the province of Pskov and kept under surveillance, religious as well as secular. For the first time since he left St. Petersburg he became an exile in the formal, as opposed to the metaphorical, sense of the word. Yet, as it turned out, this was the beginning of a new stage of his personal and poetic development: a blessing in disguise. This disguise was heavy at first. Pushkin arrived in Mikhailovskoe from Odessa late on the evening of 9 August 1824. He found all his family at home. Summoned by the governor of Pskov, he was obliged to sign an undertaking of good conduct. Once the full dimensions of his disgrace were understood, the initial feelings of the family reunion, following an absence of over four years, gave way to weeks of strain, culminating in a blazing row at the end of October. In desperation, Pushkin even wrote to the governor of Pskov, asking to be imprisoned. Fortunately his letter was not delivered.

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Origins (Part 6)

Pushkin observed that Moscow’s decline relative to St. Petersburg was the inevitable consequence of the rise of St. Petersburg, where Peter the Great had transferred the capital of his empire eighty-seven years before Pushkin was born. ‘Two capitals’, wrote Pushkin, ‘cannot flourish in the same degree in one and the same state, just as two hearts do not exist in the human body.’ After recalling the earlier competition between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Pushkin goes on to ask:

Where has that noisy, festive, carefree life got to? Where have the balls, the banquets, the eccentrics, the bundles of mischief got to? -Everything has disappeared… The streets are dead; it is rare that one hears the noise of carriages on the roadway; the women rush to the windows when one of the chiefs of police rides past with his Cossacks.

Pushkin contrasts all this with the good old days of Moscow, when a rich eccentric would build himself a Chinese house on one of the principal streets of the city, complete with green dragons and wooden mandarins under golden sunshades.25 Moscow’s relative decline at this point in the nineteenth century may be ascribed in part to the fact that large tracts of it, being built of wood, were destroyed by the fire that broke out in 1812 during the Napoleonic occupation of the city. Nevertheless, after 1812 the rich rebuilt their Moscow houses in stone; and the atmosphere of Moscow University was in Pushkin’s time more liberal than that of the University of St. Petersburg.

In the early nineteenth century Russia’s two capital cities were remarkable for two characteristics, one of which Pushkin himself described. First, the hazards of travelling from one to the other. One of the stanzas of Evgenii Onegin lambasts the bridges rotting from neglect, the bugs and fleas which prevent the traveller from getting a wink of sleep at post stations, the absence of inns and the high-sounding but in fact miserable menu which the traveller finds teasing his appetite in a cold hut.26 Secondly, their size: they were quite small. (The same could indeed be said of Paris in the same period.) When Pushkin and his wife settled in St. Petersburg, the total urban population of the Russian Empire was fewer than two million, of whom 445,000 lived in St. Petersburg and 323,000 in Moscow.

Among the few hundred thousand inhabitants of St. Petersburg and Moscow in Pushkin’s day, the members of the upper stratum, whether or not they held appointments in the service of the state, followed an intensive social round, limited only by the restrictions of Orthodox fasts, above all ‘Great Lent’ (velikii post, the fast before Easter). It so happens that the merry-go-round of this period is the subject of one of the most brilliantly descriptive passages in Russian literature: the opening chapters of War and Peace. Tolstoy here portrays different kinds of parties given in St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1805, which he then contrasts with life in a large country house at the time. Life in both cities and also in the countryside changed little in the interval between then and Pushkin’s period.

Tolstoy’s portrait is of salon elegance in the capital ; of a name-day party in the house of a rich family in Moscow; and of the old-fashioned dignity of a grandee, the elder Prince Bolkonsky, who, exiled by Paul I, but now free to return to St. Petersburg, prefers to continue living in the calm of his estate, Bald Hills, about one hundred and fifty versts from Moscow. This description of life in St. Petersburg and Moscow is bathed in the roseate glow of a national epic; or as Akhmatova might have said (she used these words to criticize a different Russian writer), ‘no swords flash’.27 In Tolstoy’s final version – the work was continually revised – he cut the amount of French spoken by his characters in St. Petersburg ; in Moscow he makes Count Rostov speak ‘very bad but self-confident’ French ; and apart from the opening paragraph of the novel, which is entirely in French, for most of the dialogue in these early chapters he contents himself with the occasional interjection of the words mon cher or ma chere, together with a reminder to his readers that their ‘ancestors’ not only spoke but also thought in refined French.28 This was indeed the French that Pushkin, bilingual from childhood, also spoke. Even when he was dying, the melancholy words, ‘I must put my house in order,’ were spoken in French, not in Russian.

If the reader of the opening chapters of War and Peace can temporarily detach himself or herself from the flowing cadences of Tolstoyan prose and the subtlety of Tolstoy’s analysis of character, there will be discerned, often between the lines, a social analysis of the times that has not been subjected to the demands of the nostalgia of a later Russian generation. Thus, with the exceptions of Pierre Bezukhov (whose conversation shows from the outset traces of his being intended by Tolstoy as an embryonic Decembrist) and the younger Prince Bolkonsky (Andrei), cant is talked about Alexander I (the ‘lofty destiny of our dear Emperor’); except for Prince Andrei, no one shows much understanding of contemporary political realities; and – leaving aside the very young – the minds of most of them in St. Petersburg and Moscow are concentrated on money, match-making, trading influence and jockeying for position. All this goes on at a round of parties given on the eve of the Battle of Austerlitz. But for the war, what would all of them have been doing, with no parliament, no free press and (except in private) no freedom of assembly to absorb their energies? Tolstoy leaves his readers to imagine the answer to this question, before hurrying them on to the Austerlitz campaign.

The Battle of Austerlitz was Napoleon’s greatest victory, in which he decisively defeated the allied Russian and Austrian armies. On learning of the outcome the British Prime Minister, the younger Pitt, is said to have remarked: ‘Roll up that map [of Europe]; it will not be wanted these ten years.’ His forecast was right. It did indeed take ten years before the map of Europe could at last be redrawn, at the Congress of Vienna, after Napoleon had, in his turn, met his final defeat. Halfway through this epic period of European history, in 1811, Pushkin left his native Moscow for Tsarskoe Selo, where he spent the next six years of his life.

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Origins (Part 5)

Curiously enough, we cannot be wholly confident about Pushkin’s physical appearance at this age. The authenticity of the lesser-known portrait (by an unknown artist), which depicts a small boy in conventional style, is extremely doubtful. Geitman’s well-known engraving of Pushkin as he was perhaps ten years later was not executed until 1822, by which time Pushkin was in Kishinev. Geitman seems deliberately to emphasize what he presumably regarded as Pushkin’s African traits. Here too views differ. (Geitman’s engraving may even have been derived from a drawing of Pushkin’s younger brother, Lev, at school.) The common factor, as it is to all of the many descriptions of Pushkin as a man, is the flash of his eyes: blue, penetrating and startlingly expressive – something which no one who met Pushkin, even briefly, ever forgot.22

The deficiencies of Alexander Sergeevich’s parents were counterbalanced by the quality not only of his father’s library, but also of some of his friends. Already as a young boy Alexander Sergeevich was introduced at home to leading literary figures, such as Nikolai Karamzin, Petr Vyazemsky and Vasilii Zhukovsky. Karamzin was the first great Russian historian. Pushkin greatly admired his work, although their relationship had its ups and downs. After 1820 they scarcely met, because Karamzin died not long after Pushkin was released from exile; but Vyazemsky and Zhukovsky became Pushkin’s close friends for the rest of his life.

Prince Vyazemsky, a liberal member of the high aristocracy, was Irish on his mother’s side. A little less than seven years older than Pushkin, he was at the same time a poet, literary critic and journalist. Pushkin and he did not always see eye to eye, whether on politics or on poetry, but the quality of their friendship was such that these disagreements, unlike some of the polemics in which Pushkin indulged with other people, had no lasting effects. Pushkin was also a close friend of Vyazemsky’s wife and of his family.

Zhukovsky was almost old enough to be Pushkin’s father. Indeed, towards the end of Pushkin’s life their relationship became so close that he was a kind of surrogate father, extending to Pushkin the relationship that Sergei L’vovich never offered to his elder son. He was himself the offspring of an unusual union: his mother was a captive taken from the Ottoman Empire during one of the Russo-Turkish wars. Personally he was a sad man, unable to marry the woman whom he loved. A poet distinguished mainly for his translations, Zhukovsky was one of the first to recognize Pushkin’s outstanding talent. At court – in his capacity as tutor to Nicholas I’schildren – he did all he could to soften the edges of Pushkin’s abrasive relationship with the tsar and Benckendorff. After Pushkin’s death, it was he who arranged for the tsar to make financial provision for his family, and also preserved Pushkin’s papers from the depredations of the tsar’s Third Department.

Another important friendship that Pushkin owed to his Moscow childhood was with the Turgenev brothers, all three of whom were older than himself. (The novelist, Ivan Turgenev, was – at most -their distant cousin.) It was on the advice of the eldest of these three brothers, Alexander, born in 1784, that in 1811 Pushkin’s parents applied for him to be enrolled in the imperial lycee. Here Alexander Turgenev used to visit the boy and encouraged his precocious poetic talent. And it was he who, on the tsar’s instructions, accompanied Pushkin’s body to its final resting place. The second brother, Nikolai, a distinguished Decembrist, was a political emigre during the last twelve years of Pushkin’s life. Some of the politically radical verses of Pushkin’s early period were written in the Turgenevs’ house in St. Petersburg.

Pushkin did not like the city of his birth, Moscow. Perhaps this was at first because of the recollection of his childhood years, later reinforced by a series of disagreeable altercations with his mother-in-law, who lived in Moscow at the time of his marriage. By contrast, he was fascinated by St. Petersburg. The capital was described by Pushkin’s great Polish contemporary, Adam Mickiewicz, as :

The fancy of the tsar, and he set out to found a city not for men but for himself: a monument to vanity. Into the depths of fluid sands and marshy swamps he bade them sink a hundred thousand piles and trample down the bodies of a hundred thousand men, earth having fallen on the bodies of the serfs23

By contrast, Pushkin’s introduction to The Bronze Horseman speaks for itself:

Люблю тебя, Петра творенье,

Люблю твой строгий, стройный вид,

Невы деркавное теченье,

Береговой её гранит,

Твоих оград узор чугунный,

Твоих задумчивых ночей

Прозрачный сумрак, блеск безлунный,

Когда я в комнате моей Пишу, читаю без лампады,

И ясны спяшие громады Пустынных улиц, и светла Адмиралтейская игла,

И, не пуская тьму ночную На золотые небеса,

Одна заря сменить другую Спешит, дав ночи полчасз.

Люблю зимы твоей жестокой Недвцжный воздух и мороз,

Вея санок вдоль Невы широкой,

Девичьи лица црче роз,

И блеск, и шум, и говор балов,

А в час пирушки холостой Шипенбе пенистых бокалов И пунша пламенб голубой.

Люблю воинственную живостб Потешных Марсовых полей,

Пехотных ратей и коней Однообразную красивостб,

В их стройно зыблемом строю Лоскутья сих знамён побелных,

Сиянье шапок этих медных,

Насквозь простреленных в бою.

Люблю, военная столица,

Твоей твердыни дым и гром,

Когда полнощная царица Дарует сына в царский дом,

Или победу над врагом Россия снова торжествует,

Или, взломав свой синий лёд,

Нева к морям его несет И, чуя вешни дни, ликует.

I love you, Peter’s creation, I love your stern, harmonious look, the mighty flow of the Neva, her granite embankments, the iron pattern of your railings, the transparent twilight and the moonless brilliance of your pensive nights, when I write and read in my room without a lamp, and the sleeping masses of the deserted streets shine and the Admiralty spire gleams, and without admitting night’s darkness to the golden heavens, dawn hastens to replace dusk, leaving night a bare half-hour. I love the motionless air and the frost of your brutal winter, the rush of sleighs along the broad Neva, the girls’ faces brighter than roses, and the sparkle, the noise and the talk at balls, and at the hour of a bachelor’s feast the hiss of sparkling wine-glasses and the blue flame of punch. I love the warlike liveliness of Mars’ playing-fields, the uniform beauty of the hosts of infantry and cavalry, the tatters of those victorious colours in their harmoniously swaying order, the gleam of those bronze helmets, raked with shots fired in battle. Martial capital, I love the smoke and thunder of your stronghold, when the northern empress presents a son to the royal house, or when Russia once again celebrates victory over her enemy, or when, having broken its blue ice, the Neva carries it to the seas and, scenting the days of spring, exults . . .

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Origins (Part 4)

Whether either of these properties would have benefited by the presence of Sergei L’vovich is open to question. He was a hot-tempered man, although his rages seldom lasted for long. His chief concern seems to have been to reserve what energies he had for social life, avoiding responsibility for anything else, including the running of his own household; and as he grew older and his financial °. umstances worsened, he also grew increasingly mean. The Pushkin household in Moscow was run by Sergei L’vovich’s bossy, but erratic, wife, who – spoiled as a child – was given to prolonged sulks as a grown-up. Not only did they move house annually from 1799 to 1807, including one brief return to St. Petersburg (hence the infant poet’s meeting with Paul I), but Nadezhda Osipovna had a habit of continually moving furniture from one room to another, changing the functions of each room in the process. The consequent disruption was on such a scale that she was said by one of Alexander Sergeevich’s contemporaries to be obliged to send out for crockery whenever more than two people were invited to dinner.15

The conditions of disorder in the Pushkins’ life in Moscow were relieved by the fact that the summer months were spent in the country on a small estate at Zakharovo, forty-four kilometres from Moscow. Nadezhda Osipovna’s mother had bought Zakharovo in exchange for Kobrino, her family property near St. Petersburg, which she sold in 1799. Even Zakharovo was mortgaged ten years later; and in January 1811 it was sold for forty-five thousand roubles.16 Nevertheless, it was during these summers at Zakharovo that Alexander Sergeevich first got to know the beauty of the Russian countryside; his love for it was reinforced later in life.

The feeling that the Pushkins were camping – not living – in their home can hardly have failed to induce a feeling of instability in the small boy. To make matters worse, his mother’s favourite seems to have been his elder sister, Olga. He disliked his tutors, of whom there was a succession. They were mainly French, as was the custom at that time in a Russian family of this social standing, but they included a Miss Bailey, whose efforts to teach the boy English met with little success (he had to study the language all over again in later life). He was also confronted early in his boyhood by the tragedy of death: not only that of the first nanny, Ul’yana, of whom little is known, but also of three of his siblings, one of whom – Nikolai – was five when he died in 1807.

Neither parent seems to have taken much trouble over their remarkable elder son until the time came for him to go to school at the age of twelve. The member of the family who seems to have come closest to understanding the contradictions of his character -now fiery, now withdrawn – was his maternal grandmother, Maria Alekseevna. More perceptive than either of his parents, she observed of her grandson :

I do not know what he will become : the boy is intelligent, he loves books, but he works badly, it is rare that he recites his lessons correctly ; sometimes one cannot move him nor send him to play with the children, and sometimes he gets agitated and excited and one does not know how to calm him down ; he throws himself from one extreme to the other ; he does not know the happy medium. God knows how this will finish, if he does not become reasonable17

Alexander Sergeevich never did have much truck with the happy medium, nor did he ever become ‘reasonable’. No one seems to have realized until he went to boarding school – and even then only gradually – that he was a literary genius. In spite of his excellent memory, he simply did not bother with subjects which did not interest him, like mathematics. On the other hand, when reading the works of authors who did engage his attention, already as a boy he showed the beginnings of the power of discrimination which he developed in his later study of an exceptionally broad range of literature.

It is the biographer’s misfortune that Pushkin destroyed most of his autobiographical notes, which might have illuminated these early years more clearly than the fragments of evidence that have been handed down by those who knew him then. What is reasonably certain, however, is that Alexander Sergeevich’s nanny, Arina Rodionovna, and his sister, Olga, were much closer to him than either parent. (For example, it was to Olga – not to his parents – that he recited his first play, a comedy written in French, imitated from Moliere.18 This recital took place before he was twelve years old.) From the age of ten he had Nikita Kozlov, a serf from Boldino, twenty-one years older than himself, as his personal servant, who stayed with him for the rest of his life and beyond (he was one of the very few who were present at the poet’s burial). Arina was also born a serf – and she was always illiterate – but she was emancipated by Pushkin’s maternal grandmother in the year of his birth. She chose to stay on with the Pushkin family and she thus became successively nanny to Olga, to Pushkin himself and to his younger brother, Lev. It seems that she was not the nanny whom the tsar Paul I scolded in 1800 when he met the infant Pushkin out for a walk in St. Petersburg. It may therefore not have been with Arina that Pushkin was later taken for walks in the Yusupov Garden in Moscow, as recorded in his own autobiographical notes. Be that as it may, there is no doubt that between the ages of six and twelve it was Arina to whom he was closest, in a family environment to which, in the same notes, Pushkin applied the adjective ‘intolerable’.

Most young children love grown-ups who tell them stories. Arina not only told Pushkin stories but she also poured out peasant traditions and proverbs. An exceptionally imaginative child such as Pushkin had good reason to love Arina. Moreover, her remarkable powers of story-telling were again exercised in later years, this time with tangible poetic results, when she used to spend the evenings talking to Pushkin at Mikhailovskoe during his two-year exile on his mother’s estate. When this exile was brought to an end by Nicholas I’s summons to Pushkin for an audience in Moscow in September 1826, Arina wept; but she was glad of the opportunity to get rid of Pushkin’s smelly Limberg cheese, to which he was addicted. A letter dictated by her in the year before she died described him as constantly in her heart and in her mind. The depth of Pushkin’s own feelings towards Arina is evident from more than one of his poems; and during his exile at Mikhailovskoe a letter drafted near the end of 1824 says it all:

I spend all day on horseback – in the evening I listen to tales told by my nanny, the prototype of Tatyana’s nanny [a reference to the nurse in the famous letter-writing scene in Chapter 3 of Evgertii Onegin.] ; you saw her once, it seems to me, she is my one and only friend – it is only when I am with her that I am not bored.20

What should have marked out Alexander Sergeevich to his parents and everyone else who met him – and did indeed impress his schoolmates – was the number of hours that from an early age (often at night) he spent reading. There is a story that, told to leave the room by his uncle Vasilii, who was about to recite some unsuitable verses, he shouted : ‘I know everything already!’ He probably did. His desire for reading as a boy, which he himself described in his autobiographical notes, gave him at this astonishingly early age a detailed knowledge not only of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French literature, but also of some of the classics in French translation -Plutarch’s Lives, the Iliad and the Odyssey, for example.

(Robin Edmonds)

Pushkin’s Origins (Part 3)

Pushkin had access to his maternal family papers (and in 1817 he met one of Abram’s sons, a senior general, who plied him with vodka, at Mikhailovskoe). Nevertheless, he never attempted to identify where in Africa his great-grandfather was born. ‘Gannibal’ – the Russian form of Hannibal – at first sight suggests North Africa. It has, however, been generally accepted that this was not so, and that Abram was born about 1693 in a region where – as he himself claimed in 1742, in his petition to the Russian Senate applying for a certificate of nobility and a coat of arms – he had been a member of ‘the high nobility’. Although this petition gives the name of a town ‘in the demesne of my father’ it does not add in what country the town was situated.10 Nevertheless, it is Ethiopia that is assumed to have been Abram’s country of origin. The evidence about Abram’s boyhood is extremely sketchy. It is far from established how he got to Constantinople or how he made his transition from the Sublime Porte to the Russian capital. What is certain is that, on his arrival, Peter the Great became his personal patron and that in 1716 the tsar sent him to Paris for his military education : the start of a long career which, although the paths both of his public and of his private life did not run smooth, he none the less ended as a full general and the owner of a large estate (including Mikhailovskoe, with one thousand four hundred serfs).

The portrait of Abram Petrovich as a young man in Paris and St. Petersburg which his great-grandson drew in his Blackamoor of Peter the Great11 – the opening chapters of a novel never completed – is charming, but it bears only a tenuous relation to what we know of his early career. Once he had entered the tsar’s service within Russia, however, the facts become easier to establish. True, he enrolled in the French school of military engineers (it was his expertise in fortifications that later made his name in Russia) and he took part as an officer in the French army in the War of the Spanish Succession. But, unlike the hero of Pushkin’s novel, he never set foot in the fast set of the corrupt and dissolute court of Philippe, Duc d’Orleans, the Regent of France. On the contrary, his years in Paris were spent in extreme poverty. On his return to St. Petersburg in 1724, Peter the Great gave him a commission in his own Preobrazhensky Regiment. During his subsequent military career there was more than one period when he found it prudent to go to ground in the country. It was only after Peter the Great’s daughter, Elizabeth, came to the throne that he was granted the Mikhailovskoe estate and promoted major-general. His first marriage, in 1731, was to a Greek, whom he succeeded in persuading the government to imprison for five years for infidelity, although both sides had erred in equal measure. She ended her days in a convent. His second wife, to whom he was bigamously married for nearly twenty years, was German. Abram Petrovich himself died in 1781, a patriarch nearing ninety, who had fathered eleven children, all by his second wife.

The romantic nature of his birth and his early years apart, it seems probable that Abram Petrovich Gannibal differed ‘in nothing from a typical career-minded, superficially educated, coarse, wife-flogging Russian of his day, in a brutal and dull world of political intrigue, favouritism’,12 and that the Gannibals were ‘a patriarchal, half savage, half literate, family’.13 (Both these are descriptions written by Russians.) It is hard to imagine two families more different than the Gannibals and the Pushkins in the late eighteenth century. Remarkably, however, Nadezhda Osipovna was not the first Gannibal to marry a Pushkin. Her mother was born Maria Pushkina, marrying Abram Petrovich’s third son, Osip Gannibal; thus Sergei L’vovich, the poet’s father, was Nadezhda Osipovna’s second cousin. Osip Gannibal, like his father, attempted bigamy, deserting Maria after only three years. But he was less successful than his father, because in 1784 his second marriage was declared invalid by Catherine II; and Maria retained the title and prerogative of his legitimate wife, including a quarter of the large properties that Abram had been awarded earlier in the century. Hence the part played by Mikhailovskoe in the life of Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin.

Alexander Sergeevich was proud of his paternal ancestry for quite other reasons. The Pushka or Pushkin family emerges from the mists of early Russian time around 1400. Alexander Sergeevich’s line of descent from Konstantin Pushkin, born early in the fifteenth century, was direct. (Because Konstantin’s father was called Grigorii, this was the name given by Pushkin to his younger son, who lived into our own century.) The Pushkin family had not, however, been distinguished in any way since the end of the seventeenth century, when a Pushkin was executed by Peter the Great – that is, unless the story of two startling murders is taken into account (Alexander’s paternal great-grandfather strangled his wife in 1725 and his grandfather allegedly hanged his children’s French tutor whom he suspected of being his wife’s lover). The social level of Alexander Sergeevich’s parents was that of the middle nobility. At the beginning of the nineteenth century a family of this kind especially if they lived in either St. Petersburg or Moscow, lay open to a permanent temptation to imitate, as best they could, the way of life of the so-called vysshii svet – the haut monde described in the opening chapters of War and Peace – regardless of whether they had anything like the means to do so.

There were some compensations. Sergei L’vovich had a considerable library of French books; both he and his brother were well read in French, therefore; and Vasilii achieved a reputation as a minor poet. There was, however, more to it than that. Both his father Sergei and his uncle Vasilii were social climbers. Their pursuit (especially Sergei’s) of the haut monde in the end left them broken.14 It was this curious combination of a snobbish dilettante as a father and, as a mother, the moody, capricious descendant of military boors, which formed the at first sight improbable background to the first twelve years of the life of Russia’s greatest poet.

In the marriage of Pushkin’s parents the problem was not infidelity – Nadezhda Osipovna was a stronger character than Sergei L’vovich – but fecklessness. In 1798, at the age of thirty-one, two years after his marriage to Nadezhda Osipovna in St. Petersburg, Sergei L’vovich resigned his commission in the Egersky Regiment; the couple, with their baby daughter, Olga, then moved to Moscow. Clearly unsuited for military life, Sergei L’vovich took no part in the campaigns of the opening years of the nineteenth century, although Alexander I gave him some minor employment, for which his salary can only have been minimal. From 1817 onwards he did nothing for the rest of his life, never even visiting his own family estate, Boldino (in Nizhnii Novgorod province, with twelve hundred serfs), whose administration he left to a steward. He took equally little interest in the Mikhailovskoe estate.

(Robin Edmonds)