Thursday, 30 June 2011

Maria Sharapova - Biography


Sharapova was born on April 19, 1987 in the small town of Nyagan in western Siberia. She developed an early love for tennis and began playing at the age of four. After moving with her parents, Yury and Yelena, to the Black Sea town of Sochi, it was her father who quickly recognised Maria’s talent and encouraged his daughter.

Her first trainer was Yury Yudkin.

“What amazed me straight away was that at 4-and-a-half years of age she was extremely intelligent,” Yudkin remembers.

“Maria absorbed everything I explained and showed to her. She grasped everything in a single flash. She mastered hits, which are still not clear to everyone. At 7 she learned the twisted serve and was a little master.

You cannot imagine that in life she is a kind, soft, smiling girl, because as soon as she takes the racket in her hands, she is a beast! Goal oriented, not scared of anyone, she will do what it takes to win! In the three years of working together not once did she say ‘I am tired’.”


When she was six Maria got a chance to have a lesson with the world famous Martina Navratilova during the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Navratilova saw talent in the very young tennis player and strongly suggested to Yury that he take her to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in the United States. Maria’s wise farther, who was determined to develop his daughter’s talent in every way, decided to risk it. With $700 in his pocket and no knowledge of English, he moved with his daughter to Florida. Maria’s mother stayed behind to finish college and wait for her visa. Maria would not see her mother for two years.

It seemed the odds were against them at first. Maria was too young to be accepted at the Tennis Academy as a full-time student and thus for two years Yury coached her on public and private tennis courts. Their perseverance paid off and Maria received a scholarship to the Academy in 1995. Yury worked two jobs in order to support their living while Maria, now nine years old, lived on campus with girls twice her age who constantly teased her. But Maria’s desire to succeed only intensified and in 2000 she achieved her first success, winning the prestigious Eddie Herr Championship for girls under 16. ...

Maria Sharapova 


Sharapova: Win at French Open Shows My Determination





Maxim Gorky: Creatures That Once Were Men

In front of you is the main street, with two rows of miserable-looking huts with shuttered windows and old walls pressing on each other and leaning forward. The roofs of these time-worn habitations are full of holes, and have been patched here and there with laths; from underneath them project mildewed beams, which are shaded by the dusty-leaved elder-trees and crooked white willow — pitiable flora of those suburbs inhabited by the poor.

The dull green time-stained panes of the windows look upon each other with the cowardly glances of cheats. Through the street and toward the adjacent mountain runs the sinuous path, winding through the deep ditches filled with rain-water. Here and there are piled heaps of dust and other rubbish — either refuse or else put there purposely to keep the rain-water from flooding the houses. On the top of the mountain, among green gardens with dense foliage, beautiful stone houses lie hidden; the belfries of the churches rise proudly toward the sky, and their gilded crosses shine beneath the rays of the sun. During the rainy weather the neighboring town pours its water into this main road, which, at other times, is full of its dust, and all these miserable houses seem, as it were, thrown by some powerful hand into that heap of dust, rubbish, and rainwater.

They cling to the ground beneath the high mountain, exposed to the sun, surrounded by decaying refuse, and their sodden appearance impresses one with the same feeling as would the half-rotten trunk of an old tree.

At the end of the main street, as if thrown out of the town, stood a two-storied house, which had been rented from Petunikoff, a merchant and resident of the town. It was in comparatively good order, being farther from the mountain, while near it were the open fields, and about half-a-mile away the river ran its winding course.

This large old house had the most dismal aspect amid its surroundings. The walls bent outward, and there was hardly a pane of glass in any of the windows, except some of the fragments, which looked like the water of the marshes — dull green. The spaces of wall between the windows were covered with spots, as if time were trying to write there in hieroglyphics the history of the old house, and the tottering roof added still more to its pitiable condition. It seemed as if the whole building bent toward the ground, to await the last stroke of that fate which should transform it into a chaos of rotting remains, and finally into dust.

The gates were open, one-half of them displaced and lying on the ground at the entrance, while between its bars had grown the grass, which also covered the large and empty court-yard. In the depths of this yard stood a low, iron-roofed, smoke-begrimed building. The house itself was of course unoccupied, but this shed, formerly a blacksmith’s forge, was now turned into a “dosshouse,” kept by a retired captain named Aristid Fomich Kuvalda.

In the interior of the dosshouse was a long, wide and grimy board, measuring some 28 by 70 feet. The room was lighted on one side by four small square windows, and on the other by a wide door. The unpainted brick walls were black with smoke, and the ceiling, which was built of timber, was almost black. In the middle stood a large stove, the furnace of which served as its foundation, and around this stove and along the walls were also long, wide boards, which served as beds for the lodgers. The walls smelt of smoke, the earthen floor of dampness, and the long, wide board of rotting rags. ...

Translated from the Russian by J. M. Shirazi and others

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Boris Yefimov

Until recently, this remarkable centenarian, a diminutive figure in outsized spectacles, continued to enthral visitors to his Moscow flat, delivering colourful anecdotes of life from the first decades of the last century, displaying the vigour of a man half his age.

Few people can have experienced so much of 20th-century history at close quarters or, for that matter, possessed such dazzling capacity for its recollection.
During his lifetime Yefimov saw revolution, civil war, genocide, two world wars, the Cold War and a putsch. As a boy he saw the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and later he met Lenin. He personally knew many prominent revolutionaries, including Trotsky and Bukharin. He sat in the Great Hall of Columns as around him the show trials destroyed the lives of many former colleagues.
Telegraph

Interview with Boris Efimov

Russian Poet Boris Pasternak - Rare Videos









In last video with Olga Ivinskaya

G.V. Plekhanov: The Materialist Conception of History

We must confess that it was with no little prejudice that we took up the book of this Roman professor. We had been rather frightened by certain works of some of his compatriots – A. Loria, for example (see, in particular, La teoria economica della constituzione politica). But a perusal of the very first pages was enough to convince us that we had been mistaken, and that Achille Loria is one thing and Antonio Labriola another. And when we reached the end of the book we felt that we would like to discuss it with the Russian reader. We hope that he will not be annoyed with us. For after all, “So rare are books that are not banal!”

Labriola’s book first appeared in Italian. The French translation is clumsy, and in places positively infelicitous. We say this without hesitation, although we have not the Italian original before us. But the Italian author cannot be held responsible for the French translator. At any rate, Labriola’s ideas are clear even in the clumsy French translation. Let us examine them.

Mr. Kareyev, who, as we know, very zealously reads and most successfully manages to distort every “work” having any relation at all to the materialist conception of history, would probably inscribe our author in the list of “economic materialists.” But that would be wrong. Labriola firmly, and fairly consistently, adheres to the materialist conception of history, but he does not regard himself as an “economic materialist.” He is of the opinion that this title applies more fittingly to writers like Thorold Rogers than to himself and those who think like him. And that is perfectly true, although at a first glance it may not seem quite clear.

Ask any Narodnik or subjectivists what is an economic materialist, and he will answer that an economic materialist is one who attributes predominant importance to the economic factor in social life. That is how our Narodniks and subjectivists understand economic materialism. And it must be confessed that there undoubtedly are people who attribute to the economic “factor” a predominant role in the life of human society. Mr. Mikhailovsky has more than once cited Louis Blanc as one who had spoken of the predominance of this factor long before a certain master of certain Russian disciples. But one thing we do not understand: Why did our venerable subjective sociologist pick on Louis Blanc? He should have known that in this respect Louis Blanc had many predecessors. Guizot, Minier, Augustin Thierry and Toqueville all recognised the predominant role of the economic “factor,” at least in the history of the Middle Ages and of modern times. Consequently, all these historians were economic materialists. In our days, the said Thorold Rogers, in his Economic Interpretation of History, also revealed himself as a convinced economic materialist; he too recognised the predominant importance of the economic “factor.”

ATHENAEUM LIBRARY OF PHILOSOPHY

Monday, 27 June 2011

On June, 27 1905 - protest onboard the Russian battleship Potemkin

On June 27, 1905 a protest erupted onboard the Russian battleship Potemkin. It became one of the most dramatic events of the 1905 Russian Revolution. For eleven days sailors of the Black Sea Fleet held control of the battleship supporting the revolution and striking fear in the Tsarist government.

The defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and the political unrest through the Russian Empire all led to mass revolutionary activities in the Imperial army and the navy. Sailors’ morale was low and they were oppressed by harsh disciplinary measures and severe service conditions. Groups were being formed inside the Black Sea Fleet dedicated to the revolution and planning for a fleet-wide mutiny.

The rebellion aboard Potemkin broke out unexpectedly and prematurely. The men on the ship were provoked by the mindless conduct of several senior officers. Sailors were served rotten meat for lunch and when they protested, one of the executive officers, beside himself with fury, shot one of the sailors. At this several other men grabbed the commander and threw him overboard. Other members of the crew quickly joined the brawl, killing other officers. Shortly the crew of more than 700 members seized control over the biggest battleship in the Black Sea and set sail for Odessa, flying a red flag.

The reasons for the mutiny were explained by the Potemkin sailors themselves in a radio message: “To all civilized citizens and to the working people! The crimes of the autocratic government have exhausted all patience… The government wants to drown the country in blood, forgetting that the troops consist of sons of the oppressed people. The crew of the Potemkin has taken the first decisive step… All free men and all workers will be on our side in the struggle for liberty and peace. Down with the autocracy! Long live the constituent assembly!”

The uprising aboard the Potemkin was not an isolated incident. In many cities across Southern Russia, workers were coming out on strike and tension was building in the villages. In the city of Odessa, demonstrations and strikes were a daily occurrence for about two weeks.

Russiapedia

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Konstantin Paustovsky: A Basket Of Fir Apples

Edward Grieg had been writing music for Dagni Pedersen for over a month. Winter came. The fog wrapped the town up from head to foot. Rusty ships kept coming from distant lands, dozing off by the wooden piers, quietly exhaling clouds of steam.

Soon the snow started. Grieg could see it from his window slanting and tangling in the treetops.
Obviously, by no means can music be expressed in words, however rich the vocabulary.
Grieg was writing about the profound joy of happiness and womanhood. As he was doing it, he saw a beautiful girl rushing toward him, her green eyes glowing, short-of-breath. She embraces him, pressing her hot cheek against his, old, grey and unshaved face. “Thank you!” she utters, clueless herself as to why she is thanking him.

“You are like the sun,” Grieg tells her. “Like a gentle breeze and a young morning. A white flower is blooming inside your heart, filling your entire being with the odor of spring. I’ve seen life. Whatever people may tell you about it; you never stop thinking of it as the most amazing and beautiful thing. I am an old man, but I gave my life, my work and my talent to the young. I gave it all down to the ground. This is why I might even be happier than you are, Dagni.

“You are the night of midnight sun, with its mysterious light. You are happiness. You are the shimmering dawn. The sound of your voice makes my heart shiver.
Everything you touch is blessed, so is everything around you. Blessed is all you touch and what touches you; what elates you and what makes you think.”

With this in mind, Grieg was incarnating it in his music. He had a feeling someone was eavesdropping on him. He even suspected who these intruders were: the bluecaps on the trees, lonely sailors wandering off from the port, the laundress from the house across the street, the cricket, the snow, falling from the dim heavy sky, and Cinderella in the clouted dress.

Translated by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Russian Atomic Weapon Museum

The Russian Atomic Weapon Museum: "The dangerous weapon of the millennium is located in the museum of  Zarechny town. The museum keeps exhibits that used to be modern and secret just some time ago. Location: Zarechny"

Maxim Gorky: Reminiscences of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

These fragmentary notes were written by me during the period when I lived in Lieise and Lev Nikolayevich at Gaspra, in the Crimea. They cover the period of Tolstoy's serious illness and of his subsequent recovery. The notes were carelessly jotted down on scraps of paper, and I thought I had lost them, but recently I have found some of them....I include here an unfinished letter written by me under the influence of the 'going away' of Lev Nikolayevich from Yasnaya Polyana, and of his death. I publish the letter just as it was written at the time and without correcting a single word; and I do not finish it, for somehow or other this is not possible.

M. Gorky.


I
The thought which beyond others most often and conspicuously gnaws at him is the thought of God. At moments it seems, indeed, not to be a thought of God. He speaks of it less than he would like, but thinks of it always. It can scarcely be said to be a sign of old age, a presentiment of death--no, I think that it comes from his exquisite human pride, and--a ;bit--from a sense of humiliation: for, being Lev Tolstoy, it is humiliating to have to submit one's will to a Streptococcus. If he were a scientist, he would certainly evolve the most ingenious hypotheses, make great discoveries.

II

He has wonderful hands--not beautiful, but knotted with swollen veins, and yet full of a singular expressiveness and the power of creativeness. Probably Leonardo da Vinci had hands like that. With such hands one can do anything. Sometimes, when talking, he will move his fingers, gradually close them into a fist, and then, suddenly opening them, utter a good, full-weight word. He is like a god, not a Sabaoth or Olympian, but the kind of Russian god who 'sits on a maple throne under a golden lime tree,' not very majestic, but perhaps more cunning than all the other gods.

III

He treats Sulerzhizky with the tenderness of a woman. For Chekhov his love is paternal--in this love is the feeling of the pride of a creator. Suler rouses in him just tenderness, a perpetual interest and rapture which never seems to weary the sorcerer. Perhaps, there is something a little ridiculous in this feeling, like the love of an old maid for a parrot, a pug-dog, or a tom-cat. Suler is a fascinatingly wild bird from some strange, unknown land. A hundred men like him could change the face of, as well as the soul of, a provincial town. Its face they would smash and its soul they would fill with a passion for riotous, brilliant, headstrong wildness. One loves Suler easily and gaily, and when I see how carelessly women accept him, they surprise and anger me. Yet under this carelessness is hidden, perhaps, caution. Suler is not reliable. Whet will he do tomorrow? He may throw a bomb or he may join a troupe of public-house minstrels. He has energy enough for three life-times, and fire of life--so much so that he seems to sweat sparks like over-heated iron.

IV

Goldenweiser played Chopin, which called forth these remarks from Lev Nikolayevich: 'A certain German princeling said: `Where you want to have slaves, there you should have as much music as possible.' That's a true thought, a true observation--music dulls the mind. Especially do the Catholics realize that; our priests, of course, will not reconcile themselves to Mendelssohn in church. A Tula priest assured me that Christ was not a Jew, though the son of the Jewish God and his mother a Jewess--he did admit that, but says he: `It's impossible.' I asked him: `But how then....!' He shrugged his shoulders ;and said: `That's just the mystery!''

V

I remember his saying to me: 'An intellectual is like the old Galician prince Vladimirko who, as far back as the twelfth century boldly declared: `There are no miracles in our time.' Six hundred years have passed and all the intellectuals hammer away at each other: `There are no miracles, there are no miracles.' And all the people believe in miracles just as they did in the twelfth century.'

VI

'The minority feel the need of God because they have got everything else, the majority because they have nothing.' That was how Tolstoy put it; I would put it differently: The majority believe in God from cowardice, only the few believe in him from fullness of soul.

VII

He advised me to read Buddhistic scriptures. Of Buddhism and Christ he always speaks sentimentally. When he speaks about Christ, it is always peculiarly poor--no enthusiasm, no feeling in his words, and no spark of real fire. I think he regards Christ as simple and deserving of pity; and, although at times he admires him, he hardly loves him. It is as thoughhe were uneasy: if Christ came to a Russian village, the girls might laugh at him.

VIII

Today the Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhaylovich was at Tolstoy's, evidently a very clever man. His behavior is very modest, he talks little. He has sympathetic eyes and a fine figure, quiet gestures. Lev Nikolayevich smiled caressingly at him, and spoke now French, now English. In Russian he said: 'Karamzin wrote for the Tsar, Soloviov long and tediously, and Klutchevsky for his own amusement. Cunning fellow Klutchevsky; at first, you get the impression that he is praising, but as you read on, you see that he is blaming.' Some one mentioned Zabielin. Tolstoy's comment was: 'He's nice. An amateur collector; he collects everything whether it is useful or not. He describes food as if hehad never had a square meal; but he is very, very amusing.' ...

Friday, 24 June 2011

Arkady Gaidar – Two Biographies

Arkady Gaidar (real name Golikov) was both a famous writer and a Red Army field commander known for his courage and ruthlessness.

In days of old, mounted warriors on the march would send a horseman ahead as a scout. He was called a gaidar. Arkady Gaidar was a keen-eyed scout, a true son of the revolution, a man in the vanguard of Soviet literature. The pseudonym he chose proved to be an apt one indeed. Gaidar’s writings, his own heroic life of dedicated service to his country and the revolution, and his fidelity to his vocation of author and educator will forever remain a lofty example of the writer’s mission in the Soviet era.

Arkady Gaidar was born on 22 January 1904 in the town of Lgov, Kursk Region. In 1912 the family moved to Arzamas, a town in the Nizhny Novgorod region. Ten years later Arkady watched his father, a schoolmaster, march off to war. Young Arkady ran away from home and tried to join his father at the front. Four days and ninety kilometers later, he was apprehended and returned home. In 1918 Arkady, then 14, decided that he too would join in the fight. Tall and broad-shouldered, he boldly gave his age as sixteen when he volunteered for the Red Army. A year later he finished a training course in Kiev and was put in command of a company, heading a regiment at the age of only sixteen.

From his early youth Gaidar knew of sorrow and separation, aching wounds and the fire of battle, the bitterness of defeat and the joy of victory. When the Civil War, the standoff between the Bolsheviks and the pro-monarchist forces, was over, Gaidar planned to remain in service. But in 1923 an old head wound forced him to go into hospital.

In April 1924, when Gaidar turned twenty and had been in the Red Army for six years, he was transferred to the reserve forces because of his poor health. He plunged into despair. Arkady wrote an impassioned letter of farewell to the army and sent it to People’s Commissar Mikhail Frunze, the famous proletarian army commander. Frunze was so impressed by the letter that he asked Gaidar to come and see him.

Gaidar began writing his first stories in December 1924. They appeared in print between 1925 and 1927. He studied writing with the prominent writers of the time, who would literally break Gaidar’s work down into pieces, sentence by sentence explaining to him the rules and peculiarities of the genre as he eagerly absorbed their every word.

Following his demobilization, Gaidar married and had a son, Timur. However, the marriage broke up. In 1930 Gaidar wrote “The School,” one of his best books. “Probably because I was only just a boy when in the army, I wanted to tell boys and girls of the new generation what it was like, how it all began and what came afterwards, for I did manage to see quite a bit of life.” ...

Gaidar, Arkady Petrovich. (Real family name, Golikov.) Born 22 Jan (9 Jan, Old Style) 1904 in the town of Lgov, Kursk guberniya, Ukraine, into the family of a teacher. He had three sisters, Natasha (b. 1905), Olga (b. 1908), and Katya. Although not yet members of the party, Arkady's parents--Pytor and Natalya Golikov--assisted the Bolsheviks in hiding caches of illegal literature.

In 1908, the family moved to Nizhni-Novgorod. To help with the family finances, Arkady's mother became a midwife-doctor's assistant. In 1912, when Arkday was 8 years old, the family moved to Arzamas.

When World War I began and his father was drafted into the army, the young Arkady ran away from home and tried to join his father at the front. Four days and ninety kilometers later, he was apprehended and returned home.

Back in school, he listed his favorite activity as "books". First among the authors he admired was Gogol, followed by Pushkin, Tolstoy, Goncharov, Pisarev, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain.

After the February 1917 Revolution, Arkady's father, still in the army, was elected a regimental commissar, and then later a divisional commissar. He spent the entire Civil War at the various fronts. Arkady himself was also drawn to the Bolsheviks and helped the local Arzamas organization as a type of intelligence agent, gathering information on the streets and passing it on to the Party committee. On 29 August 1918, Arkady became an official member of the Party. In December 1918 he enlisted in the Red Army "to fight for the shining kingdom of socialism."

Arkady was sent to a school for Red commanders, but before studies could be completed, he and other students were pulled out of school and sent off to fight the various bands warring throughout Ukraine. On 27 August 1919, the commander of Arkady's company was killed, and Arkady, only 15 years old, was promoted to replace him. In December 1919, now a platoon commander on the Polish front, Arkady received a shrapnel wound to the leg. He was sent home on leave, where he contracted typhus. Around this time, his mother became a member of the Party, and his father was fighting on the eastern front against Kolchak.

After his recovery, Arkady returned to battle as a company commander, first in the Kuban, then in the Tambov region, where he was given command of a regiment engaged in the battle against Antonov and his forces.

Despite the squeaky-clean reputation which was later to spring up around Gaidar, there is evidence that, during the Civil War, he was responsible for some excesses, ordering and engaging in the execution of innocent peasants. These accusations came to the attention of higher-ups, and Gaidar was tossed out of the Party.

In 1924, shell-shocked and ill, Gaidar was demobilized. The scene then shifts to the Nevsky Prospect, where, Konstantin. Fedin remembers:

In 1925, a tall, well-built, light-haired, bright-eyed young man entered to editorial offices of the Leningrad almanac Kovsh. He laid several notebooks on the table and said, "I'm Arkady Golikov. This is my novel. I want you to print it."

To the question, had he written anything before he answered, "No. This is my first novel. I've decided to become a writer."

"And what were you before and what are you now?"

"Now I'm a Red Army soldier demobilized because of shell-shock. I used to be a regimental commander."

The manuscript Arkady Golikov handed over to Fedin was his first work, V Dni Porazheniye i Pobed ("Days of Defeat and Victory"), based on those whirlwind, post-Revolutionary days in Ukraine. The first to read it was Sergei Semenov, whose reaction was favorable, noting, "We can make a writer out of him [Golikov]." Fedin, while also encouraging, was a bit more blunt, telling Arkady, "You don't know how to write, but you can write, and you will write."

Fedin, M. Slonimsky, and particularly Semenov helped Arkady rework his manuscript, line by line, and the work was published. The reaction of reviewers was negative. Mikhail Levidov wrote:
We are interested with the question: On what basis did Arkady Golikov expect that any reader would enjoy his work? The subject matter? Instead of that there's a banal episode. The characters are not alive. There's no language, only grey dust.

The most positive review came from the journal Oktyabr, which described the work as slightly better than cliche. Golikov continued to write and produced his second work, R.V.S..

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Ariadna Efron - Biography

Adriana Efron and Marina Tsvetaeva
Ariadna Efron (Alja), the first child of Sergej Jakovlevic Efron and Marina Ivanovna Cvetaeva, was born in Moscow on 18 September 1912. Alja had her father’s big blue eyes and was a beautiful and intelligent child. She was also precocious, understanding the poetry her mother read to her, from a very early age, in a singularly clipped and incandescent manner marked by unpredictable pauses and dashes. Marina Cvetaeva was indeed a talented poet, whose verses touched one of the highest and most innovative peaks of poetic excellence in the 20th century.
With the outbreak of the Revolution, Alja’s father Sergej left home to join the White Army while Marina, with Alja and her younger sister Irina, stayed in Moscow. Alja soon learnt to read and by the age of seven she was composing short poems; she also had a great gift for drawing. In February 1920 her sister died of malnutrition.
In 1921, after almost four years, her father managed to send them news of his whereabouts. In May 1922, Alja and Marina joined him in Berlin. The family then moved to Czechoslovakia, where they lived in hardship in the outskirts of Prague. In February 1925 her mother gave birth to a boy, Georgij, affectionately known as Mur.
In the autumn of that year, the family moved to France, where they lived outside Paris in conditions of extreme poverty. Alja made berets and woollen dolls that she sold for five francs each. From 1928 to 1930 she attended the Louvre Museum School, and then the Institute of Applied Art. In those years Sergej became increasingly interested in Bolshevik ideology and showed clear pro-Soviet leanings. Alja, who, like her mother, had been decidedly anti-Soviet, began to share her father’s ideas. This may partly explain why her intense and exclusive relationship with her mother suddenly changed dramatically. In March 1937, Alja returned to the Soviet Union, convinced that she would find a country committed to freedom and social justice. In October, following a murder, Sergej also returned to Moscow, as an agent of the Soviet secret police. Alja was happy; she was back in her great country, she had a job at the “Revue de Moscou” and had met and fallen in love with Mulja Gurevic. During that period she got to know Boris Pasternak, whom she had first met in July 1935 in Paris, where the poet was taking part in the first congress of anti-Fascist writers. In June 1939 Marina and Mur, who had remained in Paris, came back to the USSR. Re-united, the family lived in the Bol’ševo dacha, close to Moscow.
In August Alja was arrested and charged with complicity with her father, considered a traitor. These difficult circumstances helped to heal the rift between mother and daughter. Alja was sentenced to eight years in the gulag. In October 1939 her father was also arrested and was shot two years later. When war broke out, Marina Cvetaeva left Moscow with Mur, but then hanged herself in Elabuga. ...

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Howling Soviet Monsters

In Vladimir Sorokin’s novel The Queue, one of the protagonists is struggling with a crossword: ‘1 Across – Russian Soviet writer.’ Suggestions come from people next to him in the long line that is the book’s setting and subject – Sholokhov, Mayakovsky? – but are rejected, because neither fits both adjectives at the same time. When Sorokin wrote The Queue in the 1980s, these adjectives – always in tension – could still sit together in a handful of cases (the answer settled on is Gorky); but since then, they have been severed from each other by the watershed of 1991, and now represent distinct historical epochs, as well as two separate literary cultures.

Sorokin has the rare distinction of having been an enfant terrible in both of them. He was born near Moscow in 1955 and became active in the literary and artistic underground of the late Brezhnev era. The Queue, his first book, was published in Paris in 1985. Since then he has been prolific in a variety of genres – stories, novels, plays, screenplays, an opera libretto – but he is best known in Russia for attracting the disapproval of the Putinite youth movement Walking Together, which claimed his novel Blue Lard was pornographic. In 2002 its members staged a protest in central Moscow, helpfully handing out leaflets reproducing the offending passages – among them a sex scene featuring Stalin and Khrushchev – before ceremonially throwing copies of the book into a giant papier-mâché toilet. The legal charges filed against Sorokin were eventually dropped, but the episode confirmed his status as provocateur-in-chief of contemporary Russian letters.

His career began in the mid-1970s, when he entered the circle of the Moscow Conceptualists. At a time when Western conceptual artists were responding to the imagery and language of a commercialised mass culture, their Soviet counterparts appropriated the slogans and monumental art of an official culture that, by the time of the Brezhnevite ‘stagnation’, had been hollowed out into a set of ideological clichés. In the work of Ilya Kabakov, Erik Bulatov, Vitaly Komar and Aleksandr Melamid, stock Soviet phrases and symbols appeared as signs floating free of any real referent: the bombastic letters bestriding the sky in Bulatov’s large canvases (‘Glory to the CPSU!’), or the rows upon rows of white rectangles that comprise Komar and Melamid’s ‘Quotation’, where we don’t even need to see the words to recognise a deadened formula.

The Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin, translated by Jamey Gambrell
Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin

Tony Wood in LRB

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Olga Spessivtseva - Biography

Olga Spessivtseva in 1924. She left Russia that year.
The story of Olga Spessivtseva is the saddest I have known. Although she was born into a prosperous family, her father's death imposed financial hardships on the family, and Olga was sent to an orphanage. At the age of ten she became a student at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg. Here she found the order and discipline that she needed in her life. A shy, withdrawn child, Olga dedicated her existence to ballet. She graduated in 1913 and became a soloist in the ballet company in1916.

Although she did not support Serge Diaghilev's ideas about dance, in 1916 she agreed to replace Tamara Karsavina on the American tour of The Ballets Russes. When she returned to Russia in 1918, she was promoted to Prima Ballerina. Here she had her chance to dance Giselle for the first time. For many, Spessivtseva was the perfect Giselle, her flawless dancing and air of vulnerability eclipsing even the interpretation of Pavlova.

Spessivtseva's fragile health and the deprivations of the Russian Revolution contributed to her contracting tuberculosis circa 1919. By 1921 she had regained her strength, and rejoined the Ballets Russes in London to dance Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Princess. The ballet was a financial failure, but when Spessivtseva returned to her homeland, she danced Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and was a great success.

In 1924 she left Russia for the last time and became the star of the Paris Opera Ballet. She had problems with the management and left in 1927 to briefly dance again for the Ballets Russes. Afterward she returned to the Paris Opera, where she danced Salomé and created a role in Serge Lifar's Creatures of Prometheus.

Andros on Ballet

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Ivan Kramskoy - Biography


Bee-Keeper 1872
Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy was a Russian painter and graphic artist, a master of genre, historic and portrait painting and an art critic.

He was born in the town of Ostrogozhsk in the Voronezh Region in southwestern Russia into a commoner’s family. He received a basic education in a district school. During his childhood Kramskoy independently studied drawing and later began working with aquarelles. When he was 16, he worked as a color correction artist for a Kharkov (Ukraine) photographer. In 1856 he moved to St. Petersburg and continued to work with the best of the capital’s photographers. The following year he entered the Arts Academy, where he soon showed great talent in drawing and painting. During his academy years, he gathered the progressive youth around him. He was the head of the protest against painting the far-fetched pieces ordered by the council (the so-called “programs”). The artists graduating from the Academy created the St. Petersburg Team, which owed its atmosphere of mutual help, co-operation and strong spirituality to Kramskoy.

Kramskoy began to mature as a portraitist. He often employed his favorite graphic technique, using sauce, bleach and Italian pencil. With this method, he drew portraits of the artists Morozov (1868), Shishkin (1869), Myasoedov (1861), Chistyakov (1861) and Koshelev (1866). His portraits were very accurate and without obliquities, but with reserved colors. His art technique corresponded well with the image of the intellectual democrat, a common character of his paintings such as “Self Portrait” (1867) and “The Portrait of the Agronome Vyunnikov” (1868). In 1863-1868 Kramskoy taught at the Drawing School of the Artist Encouraging Society. By the end of the decade, the St. Petersburg Team lost its unity and social status. Kramskoy quit it and became one of the founders of the Peredvizhniki Society (The Comradeship of Moving Arts Exhibitions). The first exhibition displayed his “Portrait of F. A. Vasilyev” and “Portrait of M. M. Antokolskiy.”

A year later he displayed the painting “Christ in the Desert” (“Khristos v pustyne”), which he had been working on for several years. According to Kramskoy, “the artists of the past had used the Bible and mythology as a means to convey their contemporary thoughts and feelings.” He himself, in the image of Christ, portrayed an ideal man full of high spiritual thoughts, preparing himself for self-sacrifice.

Kramskoy often returned to Christ as a theme for his art. His large painting “Laughter” (“Khokhot”), which followed the theme, was never finished, though. While gathering materials for it, he went to Italy. He also traveled extensively throughout Europe.

His prevailing success remained in portrait art. In the 1870-1880s created some of his best works, including a series of portraits of prominent people of the time: Leo Tolstoy (1873), Nikolay Nekrasov (1877 and 1877-1878), Petr Tretyakov (1876) and Ivan Shishkin (1880), among others. He also painted collective images of peasants such as “The Forest Ranger” (1874), “Mina Moiseev” (1882), and “A Peasant with a Bridle” (1883). At times he turned to a way of painting that comprised portrait and life painting: as in “The Stranger” (1883) and “Desolate Grief” (1884). During his lifetime, Kramskoy also executed many orders for church paintings and portraits to earn his living. ...

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Vasily Sitnikov - Biography

Moscow. 1973. Oil on canvas
The personality and life of artist Vasily Sitnikov (1915–1987) are amazing. Sitnikov was an extraordinary person, very interesting but at times hard to communicate with. He was one of the most vivid “landmark” figures of the post-war nonconformist art of Russia.

Unfortunately, history has not preserved many records of life and creative and teaching activities of this artist, ‘a living legend’ in his time.

Sitnikov Vasily Yakovlevich was born in Novo-Rakitino Settlement of Tambov Province on August 19 (September 1), 1915 into a family of peasants that moved to Moscow in 1921. In 1933 he studied in Moscow Ship Mechanics School dreaming to sail to faraway lands; there he took to making models of sailing vessels.
In 1935 Sitnikov was entering VHUTEMAS (The State Higher Art and Technical Workshops) but deceived by administration was not taken in, which he suffered as a personal tragedy. Instead of studying for artist in the academy he became a ‘lamplighter’ in the Surikov Art Institute: he assisted professors by showing lantern-slides at lectures (this is where his nick-name “Vasya the Lamplighter” comes from). He also participated in metro construction, and worked as an animator and modeler with film-director A. L. Ptushko. Unlike his “luckier” competitors who had entered the academy and were taken hostage by Social Realism Vasya always remained free in his creativity.

A victim of slander (like many in those times in the USSR) he was arrested in 1941 announced insane and sent to Kazan for compulsory treatment. In 1944 he returned to Moscow and worked here and there to survive somehow. After imprisonment, asylum, ruining of illusions and all personal dramas – he still was not crushed by life. In the ‘Thaw’ period he joined the nonconformist art movement.

Formally, Sitnikov’s works are based on the traditional system of academic studies from nude nature and elaborate graphic shading. His nudes, however, acquired surrealistic eroticism, and his shadings created rippling airy covers enveloping forms like snowy mist, marshland fog, or haze of light. In addition to that, he employed the characteristic features of ‘Russian style’ in the spirit of symbolism and modern.

This is how Sitnikov’s painting and graphic series of the 1960-70s came to life: nudes, sexual grotesques, his unique ‘monasteries with snowflakes’, and steppe landscapes (also with the central motive of a monastery). His way of life itself was an artistic happening, a continuous artistic ‘playing the fool’, to start with the famous inscription ‘I will come soon’ on the entrance door of his flat harboring a precious collection of church relics and Oriental carpets. ...

Friday, 17 June 2011

Royal Jewellery

The Great Imperial Crown
In 1719, Emperor Peter I 'the Great' (reigned 1682-1725), founded the earliest version of what we now know as the State Diamond Fund of the Russian Federation. Peter I had visited other European nations, and introduced many innovations to Russia, one of which was the creation of a permanent fund to house a collection of jewels which belonged not to the Romanov family, but to the Russian State.

Imperial Diamond Tiara
Peter declared that the state holdings were inviolate, and could not be altered, sold, or given away - and he also decreed that each subsequent Emperor or Empress should leave a certain number of pieces acquired during their reign to the State, for the permanent glory of the Russian Empire. Peter left all of the pieces used in the coronation ceremony to the Diamond Fund, as well as many important pieces of 15th, 16th and 17th century jewelry. The pieces were housed in a special secure room in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, first called the Renteria, and subsequently called the Diamond Chamber.

Best of Russia --- Royal Jewellery

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Life of Russia Of The Mid-1990s

Life of Russia Of The Mid-1990s: "On 12 June 1991 Boris Yeltsin was elected as the president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic with 57% of the vote, becoming the first popularly elected president. However, Yeltsin never recovered his popularity after a series of economic … Read more..."

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Old Pictures of Soviet Moscow

Old Pictures of Soviet Moscow: "    A very big collection of the black and white photographs of Soviet Moscow made in the 1930s-40s. Unfortunately, their author is unknown and no captions are provided. Yet the pictures are very interesting."

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Pavel Filonov - Two Biographies

The Banquet of Kings (1913)

Pavel Nikolayevich Filonov was a Russian avant-garde painter, art theorist, and poet.

Filonov was born in Moscow and early orphaned in 1897 he moved to St. Petersburg, where he earned money through embroidery, house painting, restoring buildings and icons, and other tasks such as retouching photographs and making posters and wrappers for goods (a practical apprenticeship he never forgot). From 1908 to 1910, he attended the Academy of Arts, but was expelled in 1910.

Through his art, Pavel Filonov sought to observe and understand the forces that comprise the human existence, both the internal and external factors.He aimed to achieve a systematic knowledge of the world and it's human inhabitants. Filonov's paintings were in effect not mere images with meaning; -- his work went beyond that -- they were manifestations of intellectual concepts, something derived from his theory and ideology. The viewer of the art was to observe a "projective intellect" within the imagery. "A picture suggests to the mind of its viewer a single conclusion, which cannot be translated into words."

After the 1917 revolution, Filonov worked to complete the development of his "analytical painting". The changes in the Russian society brought inspiration to the Futurist artists. Filonov dedicated much of his time and effort to artistic research and creativity, working on his paintings as much as 18 hours a day. In 1925, having found many followers and supporters for his style of expression, he founded a school in Petrograd, which was shut down by the government in 1928, together with all other private artistic and cultural organizations.

In 1929, a large retrospective exhibition of Filonov art was planned at the Russian Museum; however, the Soviet government forbade the exhibition from going forward. From 1932 onward, Filonov literally starved but still refused to sell his works to private collectors. He wanted to give all his works to the Russian Museum as a gift so as to start a Museum of Analytical Realism. He died of starvation on December 3, 1941 during the Nazi Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).

Most of Filonov's works were saved by his sister Yevdokiya Glebova. She stored the paintings in the Russian Museum's archives and eventually donated them as a gift. For a long time exhibitions of Filonov's work were forbidden. But, eventually, an exhibition took place in Novosibirsk in 1967. In 1988 his works were oficially allowed to be exhibited in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. In 1989 and 1990, the first international exhibitions of Filonov's work were held in Paris.

During the period of half-legal status of Filonov's works it was seemingly easy to steal them; however, there was a legend that Filonov's ghost protected his art, and anybody trying to steal his paintings or to smuggle them abroad would soon die, become paralyzed, or have a similar misfortune.

Pavel Filonov was born in Moscow. Early orphaned, he moved to St. Petersburg, where he began taking art lessons. From 1908 to 1910, he attended the Academy of Arts, but was expelled in 1910. In 1911, he came in contact with the Union of Youth and contributed to its exhibitions. Next year, he traveled to Italy and France. In 1913, Filonov designed the stage set for Vladimir Maiakovskii's tragedy Vladimir Maiakovskii. Over the next two years, he worked as an illustrator of futurist booklets, published his transrational poem The Chant of Universal Flowering (Propoved' o porosli mirovoi), and started developing his artistic theories, the so-called Ideology of Analytical Art and the Principle of Madeness (see extracts below). In 1919, Filonov exhibited at the First State Free Exhibition of Works of Art in Petrograd. In 1923, he became a professor at the Academy of Arts and an associate of the Institute of Artistic Culture (Inkhuk). In the same year, he published the "Declaration of Universal Flowering" in the journal Zhizn' Iskusstva. Two years later, the painter established the Collective of Masters of Analytical Art (known today as Filonov School). Because of continuing attacks and ostracism, Filonov's exhibition planned for 1929-30 at the Russian Museum did not open. In 1932, he contributed to the exhibition Artists of the RSFSSR Over the Last 15 Years. His life and creativity was cut short by the war. He died of pneumonia during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. In 1967, he had a posthumous exhibition in Novosibirsk.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Ritzy Russian art - A Parisian Café by Ilya Repin



A Parisian Café by Ilya Repin has raked in a record sum of money - over $7 million – at Christie’s Russian art sale in London, becoming the most expensive painting by a Russian artist.

­Created back in 1875, during the artist’s prolific period spent in the turbulent center of artistic creation and novelty that was Paris in the late 19th century, the epic painting stands out as a timeless masterpiece.

Exhibited at the Paris Salon, in contravention of Imperial Academy rules, A Parisian Café features clear-cut impressionistic influences of Western art on the progressive Russian creator.

As a Russian observer of society in the French capital, Repin had, according to art historians, placed himself in the role of the “painter of modern life” invented by the celebrated French poet Charles Baudelaire.

RT

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Master of the Crossed Out - Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky

In December 1926 the German critic Walter Benjamin arrived in Moscow. Almost ten years after the Communist revolution, he was curious to see what revolution now looked like. It turned out, wrote Benjamin, that revolution was really renovation. Moscow was the city of Do-It-Yourself. Everywhere, he observed, there was this gusto for what the Russians called remont: an endlessly renewable, delighted, fussy passion for fixing, touching up, reupholstering, redecorating. “Each thought, each day, each life lies here as on a laboratory table.” He added: “The country is mobilized day and night.”1

Another inhabitant of this city was Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, a Ukrainian writer with a comically unpronounceable Polish name. Benjamin, of course, was a tourist. Krzhizhanovsky—whose occluded literary career coincided with the era of Stalinist repression—was not. Krzhizhanovsky also noted the mania in Moscow—”that gigantic flattened human hive”—for amateur renovation:

A milliner and a watchmaker had divided the tinplate sign above a mended shop window. At a crossroad, in a rusty cauldron under caracoling smoke, a new sidewalk was boiling. A street photographer was fastening a backdrop of blue-and-white mountains to a tired acacia.

But this is a momentary idyll of activity. Ultimately, Krzhizhanovsky’s Moscow was a city of relentless nullification. Revolutionary remont busied itself with the renovation of sidewalks; it also busied itself, famously, with the engineering of souls.

In his great book Main Currents of Marxism, Leszek Kołakowski describes the nature of the mobilizing politics of the USSR in the 1920s:

The totalitarian character of the regime—i.e. the progressive destruction of civil society and absorption of all forms of social life by the state—increased almost without interruption between 1924 and 1953….2

One aspect of this absorption was the meticulous censorship of literature, which was a uniquely organized invention—a malicious care for the interior lives of writers. No difference was allowed between the cultural and the ideological. Trotsky first sketched out the Communist principles of literature in a note on June 30, 1922, describing how “an attentive, cautious, and gentle attitude is essential toward those works and authors who, although they carry an abyss of all kinds of prejudices inside them, are clearly developing in a revolutionary direction.”3 Four days later, Stalin jotted a quick confirmation: “Joining Soviet-inclined poets into a single core and doing everything possible to support them in their struggle—this is our task.”4 In the same year, the main censorship bureau, known as Glavlit, was set up. The censor was envisaged as a benevolent ideological coach. This benevolence manifested itself, as Krhizhanovsky notes, in a stamp imposed on manuscripts, a “narrow rectangle with the ten letters inside: DO NOT PRINT.”

Literature in Moscow in the 1920s and 1930s was a delirium of close reading. The state and the writer were in febrile communication. Consider, for instance, the downfall of the great novelist Andrei Platonov.5 In 1931, after reading one of his stories in the magazine Red Virgin Soil, Stalin scribbled angry criticism in the margins. A letter was drafted to the magazine’s editor, and Platonov’s career was over. Yet there is grandeur in Platonov’s response, as recorded by Shivarov, an officer from the 4th Section of the Secret Political Department: “I don’t care what others say. I wrote that story for one person (for Comrade Stalin), he read the tale and in essence has given me his reply. The rest does not interest me.”6

The downfall of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, however, was slower, less theatrical, more anonymous. Krzhizhanovsky is almost unknown to readers in English. Until recently, he was almost unknown to readers of Russian, too. That, of course, is the point. The Communist Revolution specialized in erasure: in Krzhizhanovsky’s phrase, Moscow was a city inhabited by the “crossed-out.” The experience of Moscow for Krzhizhanovsky was one of absolute isolation. The city was a hive of constriction. It was almost impossible to read his censored contemporaries, like Bulgakov or Platonov. It was equally difficult to read his international contemporaries, like Kafka or Joyce. (The first Russian translation of Ulysses appeared in 1989. Kafka only appeared in Russian after Krzhizhanovsky’s death in 1950.) But then, censored and rejected himself, it was almost impossible to read Krzhizhanovsky. ...

The New York Review of Books

An interview with Ludmila Ulitskaya: Conscience is our only means of survival

Ludmila Ulickaja was born in Yekaterinburg, Siberia, in 1943, where her family had been exiled for political reasons. She was less than a year old when they were allowed to move back to the capital. She grew up and studied in Moscow where she lives to this day.She graduated as a geneticist and worked as a researcher at the Moscow Institute of Genetics from where she was dismissed in 1970. After spending nine years at home caring for her ailing mother and raising her sons, she was literary secretary at Moscow’s Jewish Theatre, wrote poems, screenplays, radio plays, narrative prose and plays. Her first volume of short stories was published in 1983, but was hardly taken note of. Her short novel Sonechka, published in France in 1995, was a resounding success and received the Medici Prize in 1996. Since then, the volume has been published in nearly thirty countries. Her novels Medea and her Children, Kukotsky's Case, Women's Lies and others were great successes both at home and abroad.

Erzsébet Vári talked to Ulitskaya at the 16th Budapest Book Festival where she was Guest of Honour, and where her book Daniel Stein, Translator (2006) was launched in Hungarian translation.


Hungarian readers have shown a keen interest in your work ever since the publication of a magazine interview in which you stated that your reception in Western Europe has been more successful than in Central and Eastern Europe. What work did you put aside to come to this festival? What are you working on currently?

I haven't had time to write for a while now. It's not just the foreign invitations that are occupying my time, but also my commitments to various social causes. For example, I'm working on a project associated with a UNICEF-sponsored children's book campaign. We're collaborating with anthropologists to publish books on world cultures, AIDS and the immigrant experience.

I've also founded the "Good Books" Foundation, which works to bring high-quality literature to the reading public, especially children. In the past, the publishing industry operated much more smoothly. Today, the number of librarians has shrunk by a third. Sadly, profit and not quality determine to a great extent the way books are published, distributed and even received by the public. In this way, a lot of low-quality books reach the readers, including the children. This mass of printed material doesn't inspire any thought on the part of the reader, and that's a big problem.

Your novel Daniel Stein, Translator was just released in Hungarian translation. Did the translator, Géza Morcsányi, contact you with questions about the work? Do the translators of your books generally communicate with you?

Yes, they do ask me questions, especially about new phenomena of everyday social life that they may not be familiar with. I've been translated into thirty-two languages so far, so I can't judge the quality of many of them. But the translators' questions are very revealing. The Japanese translators have a very deep understanding of Russian culture and society, and ask the most astute questions. But I've also had translators who haven't asked a single question.

Across the globe, people are raising their voices in response to burgeoning neo-Nazi movements, Holocaust denial and anti-Israel sentiment, as well as Israel's policies regarding Palestine. It seems to me that your latest novel is very helpful in understanding these problems, and in amplifying the critical voices.

What I've written is literature. The story is fictional, and first and foremost reflects my perspective on the world, and that of the main character. So the book can't offer any answers to political questions. Of course, I did base my main character, Daniel Stein, on the life of Oswald Rufeisen, the real-life Brother Daniel.

I'm well aware that the questions I'm dealing with can't be answered. We live in a terrible world, and have to coexist with countless problems. What I've learned from the main character of this story is how we can reject certain things, and how we have to relate to others. That we should always do unto others as we would wish them to do unto us. That's acting with conscience, and it's our only means of survival. This is the point of view from which I write.

Has the situation with the Tatars in Crimea changed at all since you wrote Medea and Her Children?

I have relatives living in Crimea, and I visit them yearly. We used to take summer holidays in the region where the persecuted Tatars live, and we knew what was happening to them. Today there are great disparities and tensions between the rich and poor Tatars who were returned to the areas where they originally lived. We've also seen the Islamification of the Crimea, which has led to conflicts between the Christians and Muslims there as well. The situation is very tense.

There was a period of ten years when you ceased working. During that time you cared for your mother and raised your children. I read in an earlier interview that you rejected the question asked by a feminist as to whether you sacrificed your carrier for the sake of your family. What did that period mean to you?

Yes, between 1970 and 1979 I didn't work. I nursed my ill mother until she passed away. Then I gave birth to my two sons and raised them. From a political and social point of view, it was a horrible time. We live in a dreadful world even today, but the '70s were truly terrible. Reading was tremendous help for the wellbeing of my soul. I read a great deal in those years. In 1979, I was able to return to the theatre.

As a geneticist by training, I am completely cognizant of the differences between the male and female organisms. Men and women are fundamentally different, down to the last cell, and these differences have psychological implications as well. At the same time, gender is not cut-and-dried, there are individuals across the spectrum, especially these days. There are the so-called masculine women and feminine men. When we consider the individual, then the strict boundaries are increasingly questionable, and the spectrum acquires more meaning.

So far as my writing is concerned, I'm not interested in the classifiers that are used to describe me: author, female author, etc. My writing reflects my personality, my unique composition. In Russia, women are considered the better, more noble half of society, and I attempt to illustrate and emphasize this in my work. I would add that the greatest task facing men and women is to understand each other – and this is an absolute necessity if we are to live in harmony. ...

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Mikhail Lermontov - Two Biographies

Mikhail Lermontov left a unique legacy in Russian literature and his poetic reputation is second in his native country only to Pushkin’s.

Lermontov was born on October 15, 1814, in Moscow. His father, Yuri, was an impoverished army officer, while his mother, Maria Arsenyeva, was a wealthy young heiress from a prominent aristocratic family. Lermontov’s maternal grandmother, Elizaveta Arsenyeva, regarded their marriage as a clear mismatch and deeply disliked her son-in-law.

The union turned out to be ill-suited and the couple soon grew apart. Lermontov’s mother died three years later, aged 21, a disappointed and melancholic figure. After her death, her rich and authoritative mother, Elizaveta, launched a formidable battle for her beloved grandson, promising to disinherit him if his father took the boy away.

The father and son were eventually separated and, at the age of three, Lermontov began a spoilt and luxurious life with his doting grandmother, at her family estate of Tarkhany, in the Penza region in Central Russia.

No expense was spared to provide Lermontov with the best schooling and lifestyle his grandmother’s money could buy. He received an extensive home education, becoming fluent in French and German, playing several music instruments and proving a gifted painter.

Since he suffered from poor health, Arsenyeva undertook several trips to the sunny Caucasus for a better climate and treatment at the mineral springs. The Caucasus greatly impressed Lermontov, inspiring a passion for its mountains and stirring beauty.

Yet fearing Lermontov’s father would eventually claim his right to bring up his son, Arsenyeva strictly limited contact between the two, causing young Lermontov much pain and remorse. Despite all the pampering lavished upon him, and torn by the family feud, he grew up lonely and withdrawn.

At the age of 14 Lermontov was taken to Moscow to continue his education. He enrolled at Moscow University, one of Russia’s best, in 1830. He started writing poetry, with much of his early verse greatly influenced by the works of British poet Lord Byron.

A year into his university studies, the final, tragic act of the family drama played out. Having been deeply hurt by his son’s alienation, Lermontov’s father died. For Mikhail it was a terrible loss, plunging the young man into depression.

Lermontov’s career at the university proved short-lived. He rarely took part in student life and showed little interest in lectures, often bringing books from home instead. He eventually left university without completing his course and seriously reconsidered his options. ...


Mikhail Lermontov was born in Moscow. His mother, Maria Mikhailovna Lermontova, an heiress to rich estates, belonged to the prominent Stolypin family. She died of consumption in 1817. Yuri Petrovich Lermontov, his father, was a poor army officer. After the death of Maria Mihkailovna, he left his son's upbringing to Yelizaveta Alexeyevna Arsenyeva, his wealthy grandmother. In the new home Mikhail became the subject of family disputes between his grandmother and father, who was not allowed to participate in the upbringing. Lermontov received an extensive education at home, but it included doubtful aspects: in his childhood he was dressed in a girl's frock to act as a model for a painter.

At the age of fourteen Lermontov moved to Moscow, where he entered a boarding school for the sons of the nobility. At the Moscow University he started to write poetry under the influence of Lord Byron, adapting the Byronic cult of personality. One of Lermontov's first loves during this period was Ekaterina Sushkova, who did not reciprocate his feelings. Seventeen years later Lermontov revenged by courting her publicly and then dropping her suddenly.

Lermontov studied ethics, politics, and literature, but was expelled in 1832 for disciplinary reasons. He then went to St. Petersburg and graduated from the cadet school in 1834 with the lowest officer's rank of cornet. He was stationed in the same town with a Husser regiment of the Imperial Guards.

From his position in the Hussars and with his early devotion to writing, Lermontov observed the social life of the wealthy. By 1832 he had already written two hundred lyric poems, ten long poems and three plays. His first verse narrative, KHADZHI ABREK, appeared in 1835. MASKARAD (1836), considered Lermontov's best drama, centers around a bracelet, mistaken identities, and jealousy. At the end a faithful wife is poisoned with ice cream by her husband. The play was first produced by V.E. Meyerhold in St. Petersburg on the eve of the Revolution in 1917. Later Lermontov's melodrama inspired Aram Khachaturian's Masquerade Suite (1944).

In 1837 Lermontov gained wider recognition as a writer. After Alexandr Pushkin was killed in a duel, he published an elegy, SMERT POETA. In it he finds, behind the blind tool of destiny, arrogant descendants "of fathers famed for their base infamies / Who, with a slavish heel, have spurned the remnants / Of nobler but less favoured families!" And Lermontov continues prophetically: "Before this seat your slanders will not sway / That Judge both just and good... / Nor all your black blood serve to wash away / The poet's righteous blood." The poem was enthusiastically received in liberal circles, but annoyed the autocratic Tsar Nicholas I. Lermontov was arrested and exiled to the Caucasus, where he with several of the members of the Decembrist anti-Nicholas I revolt.

Due to the influence of his grandmother, Lermontov was permitted to return to Petersburg. However, Lermontov's attitude toward contemporary state of affairs did not become less critical. "There was something ominous and tragic in Lermontov's appearance," said Ivan Turgenev later, "his swarthy face and large, motionless dark eyes excluded a sort of somer and evil strength, a sort of pensive scornfulness and passion." . . . . The words, "His eyes did not laugh when he laughed," from A Hero of Our Time, etc., could really have been applied to himself."

Also in 1837 there appeared the poem About Czar Ivan Vasiliyevich, His Young Bodyguard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnokov. The scenery of the Caucaus, the wild tribesmen, and the company of ordinary soldiers inspired Lermontov. He produced a series of tales, later collected under the title A Hero of Our Times, one of the great classics of 19th-century Russian literature. The Caucasus had also inspired Puskin, and later Tolstoy depicted this wild and colorful frontier and its people in Hadzi-Murat. Politically the Russian Empire gained control of the Caucasus in the 1860s, but it has been ever since a constant source of conflicts, lately in the Checheno-Ingush region.

A Hero of Our Time has been characterized as the first Russian novel of psychological realism. It consists of five separate stories linked by a common hero, Grigorii Pechorin, who is young, intelligent and feels his life empty. In the foreword Lermontov writes: "A Hero of Our Time, my dear sirs, is indeed a portrait, but not of one man; it is a portrait built up of all our generation's vices in full bloom." The book involves three narrative levels, which do not follow chronological order. The first tale, 'Bela,' introduces an unnamed narrator. He tells a story, in which Pechorin steals a Circassian princess, Bela. She loves Pechorin, who after some time starts to spent his time on hunting trips. Finally she is murdered by a vengeful Circassian. In 'Maksim Maksimych' the narrator acquires Pechorin's papers. Pechorin starts his journey to Persia, tells that "I doubt whether I shall return, nor is there any reason why I should." He dies upon his return. In 'Taman' Pechorin is nearly drowned in a wretched provincial town. He has witnessed at night strange doings of local smugglers and a young girl, working for them, tries to kill him in a boat. Pectorin manages to hurl the girl into the sea. In 'Princess Mary' Pechorin asks "why it is that I so persistently seek to win the love of a young girl whom I do not wish to seduce and whom I shall never marry. Why this feminine coquetery? Vera loves me better than Princess Mary ever will. Were she an unconquerable beauty, the difficulty of the undertaking might serve as an inducement..." Pechorin has no desire to marry the Princess. In a duell he kills Grushnitsky, who has been his friend and loves the Princess. The last story, 'Fatalist' has Pechorin speculating on whether fate or change rules human existence. One of Pechorin's friends, Vulic, had earlier played Russian roulette; he survives the game but bets are made was the pistol loaded - it was. Vulic is killed on his way to home by a drunken Cossack by a sabre. "After all this, one might think, how could one help becoming a fatalist?" ...