Showing posts from November, 2011

Prisoner of father’s name: Stalin’s daughter dies

Svetlana Alliluyeva, also known as Lana Peters, the only surviving child of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, has died at the age of 85. She sparked a global uproar by her high-profile defection to the West, where she denounced her father and communism. Peters died of colon cancer on November 22 in Richland County, Wisconsin, county attorney Benjamin Southwick announced Monday. The only daughter of the tyrant lived a turbulent and bewildering life that tossed her around the world. "Wherever I go," she said in an interview to the Wisconsin State Journal, "here, or Switzerland, or India, or wherever. Australia. Some island. I always will be a political prisoner of my father's name." Svetlana, who was born in 1926, was the only daughter of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who committed suicide in 1932. Following the death of her father in 1953, Svetlana traveled to India in 1967 where she asked for political asylum in the US emb…

Vasily Vereshchagin: A Crucifixion in the Time of the Romans

Russian painting sells for $2.7 mln The picture Crucifixion by the Romans by great Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin was sold for a record sum of $2.7mln. at the Christies’ Russian auction in London. This painting is one of three in which the artist reflected on capital punishment. (Voice of Russia) Crucifixion by the Romans is a wonderful example of Vereshchagin’s passion for late 19th-century European academic painting. Theatrically staged in 1st-century A.D. Jerusalem, the picture is typical of the dramatic historical spectacles—here of capital punishment under the Roman Empire—that wowed period audiences across Europe and America. Today the painting continues to impress the viewer with its monumentality and academic exoticism or Orientalism, which Vereshchagin learned firsthand in Paris from the style’s principal exponent, Jean-Léon Gérôme. In preparation for the painting, Vereshchagin completed a series of architectural and ethnographic studies on site in Palestine; this end…

Dostoevsky and Nietzsche : The Philosophy of Tragedy

Skepticism and pessimism arouse the same mystical horror in the underground man as in Count Tolstoy, but the former has not been given the possibility of returning to commonplaceness, not even the possibility of decently pretending to himself and others that he has returned there (he might just try that). He knows that the past has long been forgotten, that granite, aere perennius, things not made by human hands - in brief, everything on which people have hitherto based their stability, all their a prioris - have been irretrievably lost for him. And with the boldness of a man bereft of hope, he suddenly decides to cross the fatal boundary, to take that fearful step against which he had been warned both by precepts of the past and his own experience gained from forty years of life. It is impossible to overcome his unhappiness and doubts by means of idealism. All attempts at struggle in this direction have come to naught: "The ‘lofty and beautiful’ has weighed so heavily on my neck…

Princess Olga of Kiev June 5, 925 - July 11, 969

Princess Olga’s life was full of great deeds described in numerous historical records, as well as legendary facts that are still disputed by historians today. According to the most traditional theory, recorded in the Primary Chronicle, Olga was born in Pskov (currently a city in the northwest of Russia) into a family of Varyag origin. Varyags were also known as Vikings or Norsemen, who came to the territory of current Russia, Ukraine and Belarus during the 8th and 9th centuries. This theory about Olga’s birth also explains the origin of her name, which is derived from the Scandinavian “Helga.” Other historical versions state that Olga was either a daughter of Oleg Veshchy, the founder of the state of Kievan Rus, or had Bulgarian roots. Oleg Veshchy initiated Olga’s marriage with Prince Igor, who was the son of the Novgorod Prince Rurik, a founder of the Rurik Dynasty of Russian tsars. After the death of Oleg in 912, Igor became the ruler of Kievan Rus. In 945 Prince Igor went to the …

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Prison Life in Siberia

In the midst of the steppes, of the mountains, of the impenetrable forests of the desert regions of Siberia, one meets from time to time with little towns of a thousand or two inhabitants, built entirely of wood, very ugly, with two churches—one in the centre of the town, the other in the cemetery—in a word, towns which bear much more resemblance to a good-sized village in the suburbs of Moscow than to a town properly so called. In most cases they are abundantly provided with police-master, assessors, and other inferior officials. If it is cold in Siberia, the great advantages of the Government service compensate for it. The inhabitants are simple people, without liberal ideas. Their manners are antique, solid, and unchanged by time. The officials who form, and with reason, the nobility in Siberia, either belong to the country, deeply-rooted Siberians, or they have arrived there from Russia. The latter come straight from the capitals, tempted by the high pay, the extra allowance for t…

Tolstoy, Poet and Rebel

Tolstoy has passed his eightieth birthday and now stands before us like an enormous jagged cliff, moss-covered and from a different historical World.

A remarkable thing! Not alone Karl Marx but, to cite a name from a field closer to Tolstoy’s, Heinrich Heine as well appear to be contemporaries of ours. But from our great contemporary of Yasnaya Polyana we are already separated by the irreversible flow of time which differentiates all things.

This man was 33 years old when serfdom was abolished in Russia. As the descendant of “ten generations untouched by labor,” he matured and was shaped in an atmosphere of the old nobility; among inherited acres, in a spacious manorial home and in the shade of linden-tree alleys, so tranquil and patrician.

The traditions of landlord rule, its romanticism, its poetry, its whole style of living were irresistibly imbibed by Tolstoy and became an organic part of his spiritual makeup. From the first years of his consciousness he was, as he remains to this…

Ilya Mashkov

Ilya Ivanovich Mashkov was born on July, 29th, 1881 in Mikhailovskaya-on-Don village near Volgograd (nowadays Uryupinsk District of the Volgograd Region). His parents were peddlers. When Ilya was yet a pupil of a three-year parish school, he revealed an interest and talent for inventing various mechanical devices and drawing. But at the age of eleven he was already sent to work. At first he served as an errand boy for a fruit seller, and then worked for a merchant, the owner of shops and factories in the town of Borisoglebsk of the Tambov Province. Later Ilya Mashkov recalled: “Day after day from 7 am till 9 pm I had to be on feet. 14 hours! I hated it all”. The only joy for the boy was to copy icons, painting reproductions, popular prints (see Russian lubok) and make commercial posters. The boy ordered a box of oil paints from a newspaper ad. However, when the art teacher of the Borisoglebsky man's grammar school asked him if he wanted to study drawing, the boy enquired: “Does …

Tolstoy: Resurrection

During the second half of 1899 the atmosphere of the Tolstoy household was tense over the mighty effort to complete 'Resurrection' which was then appearing serially in a magazine. Racing against time in the face of pressing telegrams from the editor for next week's copy, the seventy-one-year old author, deserting his family, shut himself up in his study for days on end, taking his meals at odd hours, and refusing to see visitors. Always the exacting artist, he kept mangling successive sets of proof, repeatedly rewriting whole sections, and hurrying off last-minute changes for an instalment just about to go to press. Fresh manuscript chapters in his almost illegible handwriting were cleanly copied by members of the family and their guests. Duplicate sets of corrected proof had to be prepared for translators for foreign publication. Urgent cablegrams and letters from abroad offered huge sums for first publishing rights. Finally, on December 18, Tolstoy noted in his diary: &q…

Paul I - Biography

Paul I was born in the Summer Palace in St Petersburg on September 20, 1754. He was the son of the Grand Duchess, later Empress, Catherine II, but according to one scurrilous report his father was not her husband, the Grand Duke Peter, who would become Emperor Peter III, but Colonel Serge Saltykov, a lover of Catherine II. However there is probably little foundation to this story except gossip, and the cynical malice of Catherine.

During his infancy Paul was taken away from his parents and raised for the first seven years of his life at the court of his grandmother, Empress Elizabeth (Elizaveta Petrovna), who intended to appoint him her heir instead of Peter Feodorovich (Peter III).

Elizabeth’s ill-judged fondness is believed to have injured his health. In 1760, Paul began his education under a trustworthy governor, Nikita Panin, and competent tutors. One of the best minds in Russia, Panin had studied all the latest teaching methods. However, Paul’s education proved to be unsystemati…

‘Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman’ by Robert K. Massie

It is tempting to hurl the usual plaudits at Robert Massie, the closest thing we have to an official biographer of Russian royalty, and be done with it. “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman,’’ which fills the gap between Massie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Peter the Great’’ and his books about the end of the Romanov dynasty, is exhaustively researched and dramatically narrated, bridging the complexity of 18th-century geopolitics and the nuance of personal relationships. And yet the book’s very thoroughness serves at times to undermine the claims Massie seeks to make. Catherine certainly makes an entrancing subject. Born Sophia into a minor German noble family, she rose to become Russia’s great Catherine, one of the most powerful rulers of her time. As empress she commanded political and military matters with a firm hand, patronized the arts and letters to grand effect, and consorted with a dozen handsome courtiers and military men to boot. Add famously disputed questions - Who real…

Sergei Diaghilev: genius of modern ballet

In the tangled narrative of 20th century art, there is no more colourful or influential figure than Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev. The son of a bankrupt Russian vodka distiller, Diaghilev would reinvent himself as the greatest impresario of all time, conquering first Europe and then the world with the Ballets Russes. This was more than just a dance company; it was a creative movement which, from its inception, drew to itself the greatest musical, theatrical and artistic talents of the day.
The adventure began in 1909, when Diaghilev arrived in Paris with a troupe of dancers recruited on their summer break from the imperial ballet of St Petersburg. At 37 years of age, Diaghilev was a significant figure in the Russian cultural sphere, having launched a well-received art review, organised a major exhibition of historical portraits, and taken parties of opera singers to Paris.
The troupe took up residence at the city's Châtelet theatre. The pieces they danced were all new. They had been…

Inna Lisnianskaya: Forty Days

The whole sky enters your eyes. 
All the earth in your wrinkles. 
To start the same life over again 
There's neither cause or reason. 

But friends say that there is. 
They tell me as a noble gesture 
I should nobly bring ends together, 
Rummaging in your archive, 

I who understand what it is, 
Its scale, its look: 
Waves of the desert, surge of the seas,
Strings in David's hands 

27 April 2003

* * * 

My genius of law and order, you fell asleep. 
Grass will grow on your grave 
As if the large mound. 
Which resembles an exercise book 
In which each blade sings. 

To the granite, so you may rest, 
I shall impart the contours of an exercise book, -
Let the memorial stand, a folio. 
Here the Ides of March will be apropos,
My deeply loved man of music! 

With your music, you built a road 
To temple, mosque, synagogue, 
A Christian temple, minarets. 
You knew how to wind your coat like a toga
To wear your beret as a wreath. 

29 April 2003

* * * 


Leo Tolstoy: God Sees the Truth, But Waits

Ilya Repin. Leo Tolstoy in His Study. 1891. Oil on canvas.

 IN the town of Vladimir lived a young merchant named Ivan Dmitritch Aksionov. He had two shops and a house of his own.

Aksionov was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing. When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much, but after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then. One summer Aksionov was going to the Nizhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family, his wife said to him, "Ivan Dmitritch, do not start to-day; I have had a bad dream about you." Aksionov laughed, and said, "You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on a spree." His wife replied: "I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite grey."

Aksionov laughed. "T…