Gogol’s Taras Bulba – a milestone

Gogol gave Russian literature its' own identity

Gogol's Taras Bulba (1842) is a milestone in Russian literature. If Pushkin provided a language and inspiration for future Russian writers, than Gogol gave them their own distinct identity. When you're reading Taras Bulba, you recognise so much of what has been written later.

The Romantic Era

Romanticism was the main literary movement in Russia from the end of the eighteenth century until halfway into the nineteenth century. Lermontov and Pushkin are the most famous writers of this period. The industrial revolution sparked an interest in all things pure, natural, past and authentic.

Gogol was an Ukrainian with Cossack blood running through his veins living in Saint Petersburg. When everything to do with Little Russia, as the Ukraine was called back then, became hugely popular there, he cleverly wrote Taras Bulba. The story is full of Ukrainian words, folklore and Cossack customs.

The story

It's a rather violent story. The hero of the story, Taras Bulba, is a Cossack headman, who in order to complete his sons' education, takes them to fight against the catholic Poles. The youngest walks over to the other side for the sake of a Polish girl and for that his father kills him, while the oldest gets tortured to death by the Polish in front of his father. Not for the faint-hearted.

“Oh, steppes, how beautiful you are!”

The story has often been criticised. Historically it's incorrect and the centuries are mixed up. The Cossacks are so violent that they would make the average Isis soldier look away. A Polish servant girl escapes through a secret tunnel from the city that has been besieged by the Cossacks. She wakes up the youngest son to tell him that his sweetheart is among the starving in the city. Together the go through the tunnel into the city, where indeed the people are dying in the streets. Why didn't they just all escape through that tunnel?! The love story is not at all plausible. Gogol talks about the unspoiled Steppe, 'upon which were sprinkled millions of different flowers', and 'the air was filled with the notes of a thousand different birds', and more of this.

Its' Follow-ups

Dostoevsky apparently said once that every Russian writer came from underneath Gogol's Overcoat. He was a huge fan of his work and found him very inspiring. In The Brothers Karamazov (1880) there is a rather painful scene that appears in Taras Bulba too: an emaciated woman with a infant clutched to her dried out breasts. Just like Gogol, Dostoevsky was fascinated by the excesses of human existence.

Turgenev most definitely took inspiration from Taras Bulba. Especially the striking nature scenes resound even more beautifully in Turgenev's work. His Acia (1858) contains many Romantic elements and there too the protagonist falls in love with a lively dark-eyed girl.

And in Tolstoy's Cossacks (1863) too: it starts more or less the same. The protagonist is traveling to the Caucasus and thinks about his past and future. The scene is reminiscent of Taras Bulba departing with his sons, each with their own thoughts. Tolstoy's protagonist is very much attracted by the Cossack way of life and he too falls in love with a spirited dark-eyed girl. Tolstoy's Cossacks are not as violent, though.

Hadji Murat (1904) is most similar. Both stories are named after their hero, and both heroes are exotic leaders, feared and admired by all. It breathes the same atmosphere, we encounter the same freshly plastered walls and the same girls with coins on their necklaces. Tolstoy's last fictional story would appear to be an homage to Gogol.

Conclusion

Gogol used a lot of humour in his work. Although it is not always clear if he meant something as humorous or if he was genuinely exaggerating, I'm more inclined to consider the former. If Taras Bulba slays six enemies with one sway with his sword, surely that is meant to be funny. All in all it's a pretty good story, just like Pulp Fiction is a pretty good film. Is it one of the ten best books ever written, like Hemingway once claimed? No, that really is exaggerated. But it is definitely a milestone well worth reading.



© Elisabeth van der Meer

The illustrations are from an old Russian edition of Taras Bulba

I read the Peter Constantine translation

 

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A Russian Affair is two years old!

Two years ago I wasn't sure if the world was waiting for a blog about Russian literature, but hey, I'm the kind of girl who reads Nabokov's comments on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin for fun, so it was only natural that if I was going to have a blog, that that should be the subject.

My aim was to keep it as accessible as possible. I regularly hear people say that they find Russian literature daunting, even intimidating, before they've even read one page! So I took it upon myself to use this corner in cyber space to take away that prejudice. And judging by the comments I have already convinced some of you.

Inspired by the fantastic BBC series War and Peace, I wrote several posts about that epic Tolstoy novel. People were particularly interested to find out about the relationship between brother and sister Hélène and Anatole and Is there really an incestuous relationship in War and Peace? (http://wp.me/p5zzbs-4L) became by far the most popular post on my blog. Another favourite was Fyodor Dolokhov – the Bad Guy from War and Peace (http://wp.me/p5zzbs-5t).

Undoubtedly the most fun to make was In the Footsteps of Tolstoy and Turgenev in Paris (http://wp.me/p5zzbs-4F). For two days I wandered through Paris with Google Maps, searching the addresses where the two writers lived. I was particularly keen to see the house where Turgenev had lived for many years with the Viardot family. Nowadays there is an authentic French patissier on the ground flour of the house on the Rue de Douai. They serve a delicious breakfast and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting there and watching tout l'arrondissement buy their pain quotidien there.

The most interesting blog post to make was Turgenev's birds (http://wp.me/p5zzbs-7h). It was a spontaneous post inspired by another blogger. It showed beautifully why Turgenev was such an accomplished writer. Fathers and Sons is a masterpiece, and it features many subtle details that make it very atmospheric. Unconsciously our brain makes all kinds of associations while reading, even if you don't pick up on it. By focussing on a seemingly small detail, birds in this case, I managed to show that that detail was put into the novel with a purpose.

In 2016 I have started a series of “Typically …”. So far we've had Tolstoy, Turgenev and Dostoevsky. In 2017 I shall write about Gogol, Chekhov, Goncharov, Pushkin and Lermontov. But you can also expect spontaneous blog posts like In the Footsteps and Turgenev's Birds.

My goals for my blog remain the same: to show you how fascinating, rich and most of all fun Russian literature really is!

Reactions, questions and requests are always welcome. Happy reading!

*** Photos by me, except Anatole and Hélène from the BBC's War and Peace.

 

Typically Tolstoy

Russian literature from the second half of the nineteenth century aims to describe and analyse life in all its aspects. This literary movement is called realism. And realism fits Tolstoy like a glove!

The set-up

The set-up of Tolstoy’s novels and stories is usually simple: there are good and bad people and after the necessary struggles the good win and the hero and heroine end up together. The, often internal, struggle between good and bad is the main subject, but other themes like war, love, discrimination, adultery and happiness feature regularly too.

Writing style

Tolstoy’s writing is uncomplicated. Dutch slavist Karel van het Reve even went so far as to say there there is not a single sentence in War and Peace that a twelve-year-old wouldn’t be able to understand. He doesn’t use difficult words either, keeping his writing as clean as possible. He does, however, frequently use French, as that was the spoken language of the gentry at the time, but in English translations the French is often translated into English as well. Another difficulty is the vast amount of characters (with long Russian names) that Tolstoy introduces. He often uses the omniscient narrator technique: the narrator knows what goes on in Napoleon’s mind on the eve of the battle and what Natásha talks about with her mother before she goes to sleep.

Research

Tolstoy took his writing extremely seriously. He rewrote War and Peace seven (!) times before he was completely happy with it. His research was so extensive that he went to Borodino (W&P) to see where the sun came up on the morning of the battle of Borodino. To make his characters as real as possible, he often sought inspiration within his own family. The Bolkonski family (W&P) was based on his mother’s family, the Volkonskis, and the Rostovs are based on the Tolstoys. For realistic female characterisation Tolstoy consulted his wife.

Mise-en-scène

Tolstoy knows how to bring a scene to life. In Hadji Murad there is a scene in which four soldiers are keeping watch at night. An ordinary writer would have stated the fact and that would have been that. Not Tolstoy. He describes all their little habits, their conversation and the silences in between, giving the reader that fly-on-the-wall experience. These soldiers are not relevant in the story, but their story helps to make the story, it gives it the necessary couleur locale.

Moralistic

As he got older Tolstoy’s work became more and more moralistic. In War and Peace (1869) his reflections are still of a philosophical nature, but by the time he writes Hadji Murad (1904) he is explicitly against the war and interference in the Caucasus. Towards the end of his life he wrote less and less literature and more moralistic and religious essays.

In short:

You can recognise Tolstoy by his (numerous!) extraordinarily lifelike and recognisable characters, his great psychological insight, his superior descriptions, his clear writing and unpretentious vocabulary and his warning finger. Books such as Anna Karenina and War and Peace are unrivalled classics that will, once read, remain with you throughout your life.

******

Photo: Wikipedia

Three wise lessons from War and Peace

Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.

“Лови минуты счастия, заставляй себя любить, влюбляйся сам! Только это одно есть настоящее на свете — остальное всё вздор.”

Above all War and Peace is a celebration of life. Tolstoy wrote it in the realistic era, and as such life is depicted in all it’s aspects: happiness and sadness, love and hate. The book makes you cry and it makes you laugh. And that is price wisely the effect that Tolstoy wished to have upon his readers.

Mikhail Shishkin's Letterbook (not yet translated into English) made me cry so much when I read it a couple of years ago, that I wondered why I liked it at all. I came to the conclusion that when we experience emotions with the characters in the book that we read, it has a cathartic effect on us. While reading we relive past sorrows, and brace ourselves for horrible things yet to come. It helps us to realise that no matter how bleak things may seem, there will be good times again. Because that’s what life is all about!

 

Drain the blood from men’s veins and put in water instead, then there will be no more war!

As the title* suggests, without war there is no peace. Life is full of contradictions, and that is what gives it it’s flavour. War does not only bring out the worst in people, it can also bring out the best in people. This is beautifully illustrated by Natásha. When the Rostòv family has to flee Moscow because Napoleon is approaching fast, she forgets about her own problems and convinces her parents to not only let wounded soldiers stay in their abandoned house, but also to leave material things behind in order to make room for some seriously injured soldiers and take them with them to the countryside. ”The eggs… the eggs are teaching the hen… muttered the count through tears of joy (…)”.

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.

True love conquers all. Our first love is rarely our true love. Most of us need to make a few mistakes first, so that we can really appreciate the one we end up with. This was particularly true for Pierre and Natásha. Pierre married the cold but beautiful Hélène, under social pressure. Natásha was first in love with Boris, then with Andrey, then (big mistake!) with Anatole, before realising that she had always loved Pierre.

 

While there is life there is happiness

We all make mistakes and we all struggle with certain life questions, but the trick is to accept that there isn't always an answer and to move on. Nicholas loses a lot of money to Dòlokhov, and for a briefmoment contemplates suicide. Hearing his sister singing when he returns home, reminds him that there are still things that can make you happy and he faces the music, tells his father and moves on. He never gambles again.

Natásha lets herself be seduced by Anatole, she is mortified, doesn't want to see anyone and is certain her life is over. But at the end of the novel there is no happier wife and mother than Natásha.

Pierre looks for answers with the free mascons, but he finally finds them when he is emprisoned by the French and left without his powers as a wealthy man. After he has been liberated, he returns home a new man.

Enjoy War and Peace and above all enjoy life!

 

 

*In Russian the word for peace ’mir’ also means world, giving the title a double meaning.

**Alle quotes are from War and Peace

Photo by moi

 

Fyodor Dolokhov – the Bad Guy from War and Peace

Tolstoy loosely based the character of Fyodor Dòlokhov in War and Peace on his cousin, Fyodor “the American” Tolstoy, who was in his time notorious throughout Russia. A careless and hot-headed guy, who fought duel after duel, had a serious gambling addiction and cheated with cards as if his life depended on it. I wrote about him on my blog here.

The Tough Guy

Dòlokhov we get to know as a rather tough guy, who lives with the rich Anatole Kurágin. Dòlokhov himself has no money or connections and appears to take advantage of Anatole. Tolstoy, however, leads the reader to believe that without Dòlokhov, Anatole would be boring and uninteresting, and that as such, Dòlokhov is the one being used. (Tolstoy frequently uses this method of inversion with great success, it makes his characters real and convincing, think of Nicholas rescuing Mary, which turned out to be Mary rescuing Nicholas). Dòlokhov takes advantage of his other friends and fellow officers by cheating with cards.

 

Nonetheless Dòlokhov is greatly admired in this circle of young rich men and officers for his courage, the way he holds his liquor, his dare and his carelessness. He lives his life without giving a shit what other people think, and who wouldn’t want to do that? In short, a party in St Petersburg wasn’t a party without Dòlokhov.

The Officer

In the army Dòlokhov does well because of his courage, but his recklessness earns him several downgrades from his rank as officer.

 

“As if tired of everyday life he had felt a need to escape from it by some strange, and unusually cruel, action.”

 

Pierre Bezúkhov considers Dòlokhov his friend too, and lets himself be seduced by him. Later, after rumours of an affair with his wife Hélène, he sees him as a ruthless murderer, who takes pleasure in hurting other people, precisely because they have been (too) good to him. Because of that (an affair wasn’t generally a good enough reason to challenge someone) Pierre challenges Dòlokhov to a duel.

Although Pierre has never before fired a gun and Dòlokhov has had plenty of experience, Dòlokhov ends up seriously injured after the duel. Years later, on the eve of the Battle of Borodino, the two meet again. Apparently Dòlokhov has understood what the rest of the world didn’t: Pierre is not to be taken for a fool. He asks Pierre to forgive him.

Fyodor “the Persian” Dòlokhov

Like the American, Dòlokhov disappears from Russia for a while. When he returns he is dressed as a Persian and wild rumours of his actions in Persia circulate.

The Cheater

It is the people who are good to Dòlokhov who bring out the worst in him. The young and naive Nicholas Rostòv adores him, but Dòlokhov makes him lose 43.000 roubles, cheating him with cards. Dòlokhov had set the number 43 in advance, as that was the sum of his and Sonya’s ages. He had asked Sonya to marry him, but she declined because she was in love with Nicholas. After Nicholas loses terribly the Rostòvs get into serious financial trouble.

The Bastard

Years later the youngest Rostòv, Petya, by now also an officer, has a fatal meeting with Dolokhov. He too admires him no end. His hunger for action in the war against Napoleon is enormous, and he is convinced that he will find it there where Dòlokhov is. Against all orders he hurtles himself into a gunfight to prove to Dòlokhov that he is a real man. He gets shot by the French and Dòlokhov’s cold reaction is merely “Done for!”, as if the utterance of these words afforded him pleasure. And so, once more, the Rostòv family becomes the victim of the ruthless Dòlokhov.

 

Fyodor “the American” Tolstoy married his gypsy girl, paid a high price for his crimes and led a quiet life ever since. If the same can be said of Fyodor “the Persian” Dòlokhov, we will never know.

 

 

Book: War and Peace from Tolstoy

Photos: the BBC and liveinternet.ru

Denisov – the good guy from War and Peace

 

Love in War and Peace 2

The rise and fall and rise of Countess Nataly (Natásha) Ilyinichna Rostóva

Natásha. Out of all 580 characters she captivates us perhaps the most. Although Tolstoy depicts her as particularly sweet and attractive, she devours no less than four men in the course of her young life. The reader experiences a whole range of emotions with her. Now you're shouting out loud to her and in the next book you're reaching for the tissues. Natásha. Such a character!

Boris

Her first love at the age of thirteen is Boris Drubetskoy. The love evaporates when Boris is at the front.

Prince Andrey

In 1808 she meets Prince Andrey Nikolayevich Bolkonski (an at least ten years older widower, who's wife Lise died giving birth) for the first time. At Natásha's first important ball in 1809 they dance together and Andrey is charmed by her. They get engaged, but Andrey's father insists they wait a few years before they get married. Andrey has to go back to the army and leaves Natásha alone for an indefinite period.

Anatole Kurágin

Then we come to the bit that upsets us the most: in a turn of events least expected, Natásha lets herself be seduced by that obnoxious Anatole Kurágin. Our dear, sweet, honest Natásha!

Anatole has seen Natásha for the first time at that same important ball and looks at her “as one looks at a wall”(!). Countess Hélène Bezúkhov (Pierres unfaithful wife, also suspected of incestuous relations with Anatole) introduces Anatole to the still happily engaged Natásha in 1811. Anatole immediately makes it clear to her that he finds her attractive and wants to start an affair with her.

With help from scoundrel Dòlokhov, Anatole decides to abduct Natásha. He tells her that they will get married, even though that is impossible, because he is already married, but only (Count) Pierre (Bezukhov) and Dòlokhov know that. In a fit of complete and utter insanity Natásha agrees to this idiotic plan and breaks off her engagement with Andrey. Because she knows very well that her family would has different opinion about Anatole, she keeps it a all secret. Anatole, meanwhile, obviously only wants to sleep with her.

Dumbfounded. Yes, I wasn't Andrey's biggest fan either. He comes across as rather arrogant. But they were in love, and Natásha appeared to have a positive effect on him, while she became more serious.

Thanks to Sonya, Anatole is found out. When Pierre hears about it, he gets so angry that he gives both his wife and Anatole a piece of his mind. He sends Anatole to St Petersburg and tries to keep the scandal in Moscow to a minimum.

Reunion with Andrey

Natásha is ill (depressed) for a long time and Andrey becomes his former satirical self again. In 1812 he gets seriously wounded in action and fate reunites him with Natásha. She looks after him and the two of them still have feelings for each other. Soon they are dreaming of a future together again. It is not to be, Andrey dies and again Natásha is alone and heartbroken.

“When she smiled doubt was no longer possible, it was Natásha and he loved her.”

Luckily Pierre returns in 1813. He has been through the wars in every sense (imprisoned and Hélène has died from an abortion). The moment he sees Natásha again he feels certain that she is the one and he wants to marry her as soon as possible. For Natásha too life gets it's meaning back again. They get married and live happily ever after.

Why?!

So why did Natásha allow herself to be seduced by that repulsive Anatole?! Already in the beginning Andrey warns Pierre about the Kurágins. Undoubtedly he has also mentioned his feelings to Natásha. When Pierre asks Natásha if she loved Anatole, she has no answer. Apparently Natásha, of whom Tolstoy says more than once that her intuition is infallible, was completely blinded by the attention she got from Anatole. She was after all still very young, and probably got tired from all that waiting (she had to wait for a very long time, not knowing even if he was still alive) for Andrey, whereas Anatole offered her excitement.

But there is also a prosaic explanation: if Pierre and Natásha, who liked each other from the start, had gotten married without any further obstacles, War and Peace would not be the wonderful, all-embracing and compelling novel it is now.

 

Photos from the BBC

War and Peace by Tolstoy, of course!

 

Love in War and Peace 1

 

“Heaven only knows where we are going, and heaven only knows what is happening to us – but it is very strange and pleasant, whatever it is.”

The Troika Ride

My absolute favourite scene in War and Peace (book 7, chapters 9-13) is the exhilarating troyka drive that the young Rostovs make at Christmas. This scene is described so well that you can actually hear the bells of the troika, and the irons of the sleigh swishing through the fresh snow. It's so full of life and it comes to life so well, perhaps only Tolstoy can achieve that.

A Kiss

In the next scene Nicholas Rostov seals his love for his (full!) cousin Sonya with a kiss. Sonya, who is dressed up as a Circassian, with black eyebrows and moustache, looks more attractive and sweeter than ever. Nicholas sees her in a new light and he can't get enough of her, he keeps looking back at her beaming face with those black eyebrows and that moustache, framed by a big fur collar. He is definitely convinced that Sonya is his future wife and happiness.

Mary

And yet it doesn't end up like that; Nicholas marries Mary. Excuse me?! A few weeks ago I went to sleep peacefully because Sonya and Nicholas were going to be happily married and now all of a sudden he's going to marry Mary? How?! Nicholas and Sonya belong together!

Prince Charming

Nicholas meets Mary for the first time on the estate that she has very recently inherited from her father. She needs to escape from the French, who are invading Russia, and rapidly approaching her estate. But her staff is unwilling to help their new mistress. She is at her wits' end when completely coincidentally Nicholas arrives. He rescues her and naturally becomes her Prince Charming.

There is however a small obstacle. It was apparently no problem for full cousins to get married in 19th century Russia, but siblings-in-law was a different story. And Nicholas' sister Natásha had been engaged to Mary's brother Andrew. She had broken off the engagement and tried to elope with Anatole, which was luckily prevented by our sweet Sonya. But now Andrew had been seriously injured in the war and Natasha was looking after him, and their love was blossoming again.

Andrew dies, and after several complications Nicholas and Mary get married. They settle down on Mary's estate, with his mother and Sonya! That sweet Sonya! She accepts her fate and becomes a favourite aunt for the future children, not unlike Tolstoy's own favourite aunt Toinette.

Mary or Sonya

The marriage works surprisingly well. Nicholas may have saved Mary, but she has saved him too. Thanks to her fortune the whole Rostov family has been saved. Sonya could not have done that. But still, the reader is left with the feeling that Nicholas would have been happier with Sonya. On more than one occasion Tolstoy tells us that Nicholas can easily imagine a happy future with Sonya, their relationship is entirely natural, whereas his feelings for Mary needed time to grow.

In a way it was easier for Mary to present herself as a suitable marriage candidate, thanks to her title and money. Sonya had no money of her own and was completely dependant on the Rostovs. On top of that Nicholas' mother was against their marriage and Sonya was torn between loyalty towards the family as a whole and her profound love for Nicholas. It is only when the traditional roles are reversed, when she is wearing trousers and Nicholas is wearing a dress, that she dares to fully give in to her passion. Unfortunately the war interferes and Nicholas meets Mary.

 

War and Peace by L.N.Tolstoy

Quote by Nicholas

Photo from the BBC, Sonya, Nicholas and Natasha

 

Is there really an incestuous relationship in War and Peace?

It won’t have escaped the attention of Russian literature fans that the BBC has made a brand new drama series based on War and Peace, currently airing on BBC1. Immediately after the first episode ended, there was a commotion on Twitter: an incestuous relationship between brother and sister Anatole and Hélène Kurágin?! Surely that wasn’t in the book!

Brother and sister have sex

As I seemed to remember that there was something the matter with them, I decided to investigate. And guess what.. the BBC is right! Obviously there is no sex scene between brother and sister in the book, unlike in the series, where Hélène is lying naked in bed, Anatole gets in bed with her, kisses her and touches her under the sheets, but Tolstoy nonetheless clearly suggests that something is going on.

Why Pierre marries Hélène

One of the main characters, Count Pierre Bezúkhov, is all of a sudden an ideal marriage candidate when he inherits the largest fortune in Russia. Prince Vasili Kurágin is short of money and wants to find a rich marriage partner for his youngest children, the both beautiful and stupid Anatole and Hélène. Obviously Pierre is the perfect candidate for Hélène. Together with his friend Anna Schérer he suggests to Pierre that he should marry his daughter.

Until then Pierre has never seen Hélène as anything else but a beautiful young woman. After the visit to Anna Schérer he suddenly sees her in a different light. Apparently this exquisite beauty could be his, Pierre’s, wife. He tosses and turns in his bed. But she’s stupid. And wasn’t there something wrong with her? He remembers a story he once heard:

“There is something nasty, something wrong in the feeling she excites in me. I have been told that her brother Anatole was in love with her and she with him, that there was a scandal and that’s why he was sent away.”

Nevertheless he puts his mind to ease. After all if everyone thinks this marriage is a good idea, why should he not marry her? They get married and of course it doesn’t take long before the trouble starts. Hélène doesn’t love Pierre, she’s only interested in her title and money. She has several affairs, with the ambitious Boris, that Natásha was in love with, and also with the notorious scoundrel Dólokhov. When Pierre find out he challenges Dólokhov to a duel. After the duel Hélène is furious with Pierre, why shouldn’t she have affairs, it’s none of his business. And Anatole is still in the picture too:

“Anatole used to come to borrow money from her and used to kiss her naked shoulders. She did not give him the money, but she let herself be kissed.”

There is another hint of incest concerning the brother and sister. Hélène has invited a famous French actress to her house to recite some French verses. About the guilty love of a mother for her son. During this soirée Anatole tries to seduce the confused Natasha again.

Aylmer Maude confirms it

Here translator, biographer and personal friend of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, makes the following note: “in the first drafts of the novel, Tolstoy made it plain that Hélène and her brother had been in guilty relations with one another, but afterwards he altered this so that only some hints remain.”.

Clearly Tolstoy really intended the incestuous relationship between Hélène and Anatole, but left only the suggestion because of the strict censure of the time. What makes it particularly peculiar is the fact that it takes place with mutual consent.

*****

-Photo from the BBC

-War and Peace by Tolstoy, translated by Aylmer Maude

 

In the footsteps of Tolstoy and Turgenev in Paris

Ah Paris.. As I’m writing this I look out over the countless roofs of the city. I’m here to walk in the footsteps of two great Russian writers, two favourites of mine: Turgenev and Tolstoy. 150 years ago the journey from Russia to Paris took about ten days; for me it’s just over three hours by train from Amsterdam.

Pauline Viardot

Turgenev came to live in Paris (actually he lived there off and on for 36 years) to be close to his objet d’amour, Pauline Viardot. He had been hopelessly in love with her since 1843, but she was the wife of his good friend Louis Viardot (see http://wp.me/p5zzbs-1R). After staying at the Viardots’ as a ‘family friend’ for a really long time, he decides in 1847 that it’s more appropriate to rent his own apartment, close to the Tuileries Garden.

Depressed

Around 1857, the year that Tolstoy came to visit, Turgenev lives on the Rue the Rivoli 208 or 210 (most sources say 210) with his daughter Paulinette. At that time his relationship with Pauline is not so good, and that depresses him.

50 Rue de Douai

In 1871, however, when he is 53 years old, he moves in with the Viardots at the 50 Rue de Douai. There he occupies four rooms on the third flour. By then he has become some sort of honorary consul of Russia in Paris. Ilya Repin comes to paint his portrait, and he takes part in weekly get togethers with Maupassant, Zola, Flaubert and Georges Sand (to name but a few) in former restaurant Magny on the Rue Mazet.

After his death in 1883 in the Viardots’ country house, his body is transported to Russia to be buried there. But before the coffin gets on the train, it is sent to the Russian Cathedral in the Rue Daru to get censed, even though Ivan was not religious.

Rue de Rivoli

With Tolstoy, of course, it’s a different story. Not love, but adventure calls him to Paris. He arrives at the Gare du Nord on February 9th 1857. Turgenev and the writer Nekrasov, who he knows well, receive him. The first night he sleeps in the Hôtel Meurice in the Rue de Rivoli, but the next day he rents a furnished apartment in the same street on number 206.

Madness

On the evening of his arrival Tolstoy is taken to a costumed ball in the Opéra by Turgenev. Before he goes to bed that night Tolstoy writes only one word in his diary, that typifies his stay in Paris: “Madness.”.

Turgenev, who knows the city really well, shows him numerous places of interest. But also when Tolstoy is alone he keeps a busy schedule. He goes to lectures at the Sorbonne, to concerts, to evenings with fellow countrymen. Obviously he thinks Napoleon’s grave is a disgusting display of misplaced worship. Through Turgenev he could have met a number of acclaimed French writers, but typically he doesn’t think that’s necessary.

The Guillotine

Tolstoy is enjoying himself tremendously until he decides one unfortunate day to attend an execution by guillotine. But seeing the infamous machine in action with his own eyes terrifies him, it disgusts him, he is disgusted with himself for going, he is disgusted with the French for inventing it and can’t sleep for nights. He leaves Paris soon after.

Love-hate

In Paris too the relationship between the two writers is not always good (see http://wp.me/p5zzbs-1Y). Their diaries and letters clearly show that:

Turgenev, February 16 – His creaking and groaning have a very bad effect on a man like me, whose nerves are already overstrained.

Tolstoy, February 21 – Spent another pleasant evening with Turgenev and a bottle of wine by the fireside.

Tolstoy, March 4 – Dropped in on Turgenev. He is a cold and useless man, but intelligent and his art is inoffensive.

Turgenev, March 8 – I cannot establish any lasting friendship with Tolstoy, our views are too different.

 

View on the Tuileries from the Rue de Rivoli
This is the building in which Tolstoy rented an apartment
He only stayed six weeks, but he is remembered in Paris
The door at 206-208 is beautiful, and the location in great, but inside it was not as comfortable as Tolstoy was accustomed to..

The Viardots’ house on the Rue de Douai

Turgenev’s rooms were on the third flour

Turgenev must have crossed this doorstep many times

Ici vécut de 1871 à 1883 l’écrivain Russe Ivan Tourguéniev après de ses amis Louis Viardot, historien d’art et hispaniste, et Pauline Viardot-Garcia, cantatrice et compositeur, soeur de la Malibran

On the ground flour there is now an authentic and delicious bakery

The view from the bakery

The Russian Cathedral where Turgenev’s coffin was censed. Incidentally there was also a funeral service being held when I took these photos.

When on February 19th 1871 Russia officially abolished serfdom, Turgenev was so happy (see http://wp.me/p5zzbs-28) that he went to Russian church to celebrate!

-fin-

—Tous les photos prises par moi-même—

Les livres:

Toergenjev’s Liefde by Daphne Schmelzer

Tolstoy and Turgenev, his Life and Times by Henri Troyat