Thursday, 30 April 2015

In bed with Tchaikovsky

Once more, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s sexuality has come up for debate, and once more, the discussion has nothing to do with the composer’s time or place but everything to do with ours. Tchaikovsky has no say in the matter, so we feel free to interpret his music, even when fixed to words or grounded in dancers’ feet, however we like. Doing so keeps the music relevant. Apparently relevance means dragging Tchaikovsky into the political and cultural conflict between Russia, as the born-again defender of traditional conservative values, and the decadent, declining, same-sex- marriage-sanctioning West.

 “Who Made the Genius Gay?” asks an article published last November in the semiofficial arts and politics newspaper Kul’tura. Homosexuality is presumed to be something extrinsic, something that has been done to Tchaikovsky. The perpetrators need to be named and shamed, which then allows for the redemption, through purification, of the composer’s reputation.

The historiographic purge is carried out in Kul’tura by Svetlana Belicheva, who dabbles in music criticism but identifies herself as a “doctor of psychology, professor, and honoured scientist of the Russian Federation”. She deems it “absurd” to assess Tchaikovsky’s genius “based solely on his sexual orientation” but then does just that, and quite shockingly. “Such music – harmonic, radiant, healing – could not have been written by an unbalanced person”, she asserts. “Homosexuality is not a defect but it is also not normal. This is a sexual pathology which, like any illness, leaves an imprint on the creative act – and so some sort of rupture must be felt.” Such views would not be worth airing were there not a broader campaign, in the long run-up to the 175th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s birth, to establish once and for all that the composer was neither homosexual nor heterosexual but asexual. “Sex as such was of little interest to him”, a like-minded Russian psychiatrist, Mikhail Buyanov, assures us, because “he had greater concerns”. The quote comes from an article published in 2010 on under the title “Russian Psychiatrists Prove Tchaikovsky Wasn’t Gay”. The Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky, endorsed the general sentiment in an interview given to the Interfax news agency last September.

According to Belicheva, recent Tchaikovsky scholarship rests on a “false dichotomy” that posits everything Soviet as a lie and everything Western as the truth. Yet as rhetorical practices of this sort demand, the division is here reinforced – albeit in a different context and with impeccable illogic. Belicheva chides the “Yale University employee and emigrant” Alexander Poznansky for succumbing to “ideas about same-sex marriages, numbered parenting, and propaganda about homosexual relationships”. Had Poznansky not moved from Russia to the liberal state of Connecticut and steeped himself in various Circuit Court decisions concerning divorced parent visitation schedules, Belicheva assures us, he would not have unearthed all those titillating documents in the Tchaikovsky House-Museum in Klin, near Moscow.

Poznansky is among the world’s leading Tchaikovsky experts, having published, both in English and in Russian, a collection of reminiscences of the composer, a documents-based assessment of the circumstances surrounding his death, numerous articles and reviews, and two thick biographies, the thicker published in St Petersburg in 2009. He co-authored the massive two-volume The Tchaikovsky Handbook: A guide to the man and his music (2002), which includes a thematic catalogue of works, photographs and letters; a new translation of Tchaikovsky’s autobiography; plus a genealogy and a bibliography. Poznansky also masterminded an indispensable online research guide. Contra Belicheva, he has provided a much-needed corrective, less to Soviet accounts of Tchaikovsky’s life than to those published outside Russia by the late British musicologist David Brown. Unlike Poznansky, whose biographies rest on the sources that document Tchaikovsky’s life, Brown imagined that life from having listened to the music. The scores are his sources. Tchaikovsky’s life – his humanity – is reduced to the notes he wrote and the fantasies they engendered in the mind of the listener.

Poznansky consulted thousands of documents, including Tchaikovsky’s occasionally self-effacing letters and journal entries. His brother’s memoirs fill in the picture along with a selection of reviews and critical pieces; the letters of his publisher, relatives, and Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich; and the recollections of the people with whom Tchaikovsky attended the School of Jurisprudence and lectured at the Moscow Conservatoire. Men tended to write effusive letters to each other during the period, and neither the verbal conventions nor the rhetorical style had a sexual orientation. The unexpurgated letters nonetheless make plain that Tchaikovsky loved men more than women. He wrote the following, for example, about his relationship with Iosif Kotek, the celebrated violinist who helped him compose his D-Major Violin Concerto: “When he caresses me with his hand, when he lies with his head inclined on my breast, and I run my hand through his hair and secretly kiss it, when for hours on end I hold his hand in mine and grow faint in my battle with the impulse to fall at his feet and to kiss them – these little feet – passion rages within me with such unimaginable strength, my voice trembles like that of a youth, and I talk nonsense”.

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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Ivan Goncharov - Biography

Portrait by Ivan N. Kramskoy

The Russian novelist Ivan Goncharov is one of the greatest realists of Russian literature. His novel "Oblomov" and other works are considered classics of Russian fiction.

Ivan Goncharov was born into the well-to-do family of a grain merchant on 18 June 1812 in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk). Although the family background was of the merchant class, young Ivan was brought up in the patriarchal atmosphere of Russian manor life. Goncharov's father died in 1819 leaving Ivan to be raised by his godfather, Nikolai Tregubov, a liberal-minded aristocrat and a former mariner. It was Tregubov who developed in the boy a love for novels about traveling, journeys and adventures – young Goncharov hung upon his stepfather’s lips when the latter recalled his sea voyages and all the difficulties he had to stem.

Goncharov received an excellent private education. At the age of eight he was sent to a private school, where he stayed for two years until, at the age of 10, he was sent to a private boarding school in Moscow, specializing in commerce. Later, in August 1831, Goncharov successfully entered the Moscow State University, where he studied in the department of literature. Goncharov was quite unsociable and viewed politics with a certain skepticism and therefore did not join any of the student circles that dedicated much of their time to discussing philosophical issues and socio-political matters.

After graduating from the university in 1834 Goncharov returned to Simbirsk and stayed there for nearly a year, serving in the governor’s secretariat. But life far from the city seemed boring, and Goncharov soon moved to Saint Petersburg. The first ten years in the capital were tranquil and longsome – Goncharov had to serve as a petty official at the foreign trade office. Still, these years turned out to be quite useful, as the writer had plenty of time and opportunity to watch the clerks and officers whose lives he would later describe in his works.

In 1838 and 1839 almanacs of the literary society headed by Nikolay Maikov (Goncharov became acquainted with Maikov’s sons - the poet Apollon Maikov and his brother Valerian - who encouraged Goncharov in his writing aspirations while working at the foreign trade office in St. Petersburg) published Goncharov’s first romantic verses and novelettes. Later, in the spring of 1846 Goncharov met Belinsky – one of the most renowned Russian literary critics of all times. The latter had a great influence upon the young writer.

Goncharov's first novel, “Obyknovennaya Istoriya” or “A Common Story,” which dealt with the conflicts between the excessive romanticism of a young Russian nobleman freshly arrived in Saint Petersburg from the provinces and the emerging commercial class of the capital with its sober pragmatism, was published in 1847 in the periodical “The Contemporary.” It was a true sensation in Russia, thanks to the young writer’s talent and praise from the critic Belinsky.

Between 1852 and 1855 Goncharov served as a secretary to the legendary Navy Admiral Yevfimy Putyatin. The writer took part in the historic Russo-Japanese Treaty of 1855, serving as the official interpreter between the Russian and Japanese governments. At that time Goncharov made voyages aboard the Russian Navy frigate "Pallada," visiting many countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. When he returned to Russia he wrote a travelogue describing the journey. It was published in 1858 and presented a chronicle of his three-year voyage; “Frigate Pallada” made a splash in Tsarist Russia.

After returning to Saint Petersburg in 1856 Goncharov became a government censor - a post that earned him criticism and mistrust among many of his contemporaries. Although his politics as a censor were clearly conservative, when it came to reviewing Russian journals and almanacs, he tried to use his position to allow many important and liberal works of literature into print, including works by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Alexander Herzen.

Goncharov’s next book, “Oblomov,” published in 1859, made its author a living classic. The novel described a man who was too lazy and inert to live; the work deals not only with the social phenomenon of inertia, but also with the Russian national character. Still, “Oblomov” wasn’t easy to write – Goncharov spent several years producing sketches, throwing them away and rewriting. The novel was hailed as a masterpiece and among others Fyodor Dostoyevsky considered Goncharov a literary equal. From the figure of Oblomov (the main character of the novel) derives the frequently used Russian term “oblomovshchina” meaning backwardness, inertia. “Oblomov” was even compared to Shakespeare's “Hamlet.” The novel was adapted into the eponymous film. In modern Western literature, it is said to have inspired Samuel Beckett's play “Waiting for Godot.”...

Saturday, 25 April 2015

A Strangely Funny Russian Genius - Daniil Kharms

Russia is the funniest country in the world. Some countries, like America and England, are funny mostly on purpose, while others, like Germany and France, can be funny only unintentionally. (But that counts! Being funny is tricky, so any way you do it counts.) Russia, however, is funny both intentionally (Gogol, Zoshchenko, Bulgakov) and unintentionally (Vladimir Putin singing, as he did at a televised event a few years ago, “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”). Given the disaster Russian history has been more or less continuously for the last five centuries, its humor is of the darkest, most extreme kind. Russian humor is to ordinary humor what backwoods fundamentalist poisonous snake handling is to a petting zoo. Russian humor is slapstick, only you actually die.

Surveys that measure such distinctions often rate Russians among the world’s least happy people. To judge from the Russians I know, this information would hold little interest one way or the other. To Russians, happiness is not the big deal it is to us; the Declaration of Independence they don’t have makes no statement about it. On the street or otherwise encountering strangers Russians don’t paste big grins on their faces, the way we tend to do. They look sternly upon reflex smilers. Their humor is powerful without a lot of jollity, and it’s hard to imagine Bulgakov, say, convulsed and weeping with laughter, as I have been when reading certain scenes in his novel Heart of a Dog.

Daniil Kharms, a Russian writer who came of age in the worst of Soviet times, is categorized as an absurdist, partly (I think) because it’s hard to know what else to call him. To me he makes more sense as a religious writer.

He is really funny and completely not ingratiating, simultaneously. I believe he knew he was funny and tried to be funny in his work, but I can’t find a single instance of him using the word “funny” in any of his writings, except at some distance from its straightforward meaning. In his personal notebooks, published for the first time in English in 2013, he never exults in how funny he has been or boasts that a witticism he said or wrote had ’em rolling in the aisles. For an American humorist or comedy writer such diffidence would be out of character, if not unheard of.

Kharms’s life gave him a lot not to be jolly about. He was born Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov in St. Petersburg in 1905. Formerly his father had been one of many young revolutionaries plotting against the life of Tsar Alexander III, a pastime that got him imprisoned for four years and then sent to a labor camp on Sakhalin Island for another eight. Later, Ivan Yuvachov became a Soviet in good standing and head of accounting at a power station. Kharms’s mother, Nadezhda Kolyubakina, was from an aristocratic background and a graduate of St. Petersburg’s Smolny Institute for Noble Girls.

Kharms offered a number of stories about his birth, such as that he was pushed back in after he came out, or that he hatched from caviar. Hunger to the point of starvation recurred in his youth, as he moved among relatives during World War I, and in his twenties and thirties in Leningrad when his notebooks record periods of going without food for days. He often got kicked out of things: from the city’s preparatory-level Peterschule at sixteen, from a college of engineering at twenty, and from the Leningrad Union of Poets at twenty-three.

He took the name Kharms when he was nineteen and he wrote under it for the rest of his life. A connection may have existed between it and the English words “charm” and “harm,” both evoking his interest in magic. It is pronounced with the same hard, throaty h that enlivens the Russian pronunciation of names like Hemingway and Huckleberry Finn. At that point his life was more than halfway over. The next year he met Alexander Vvedensky, Leonid Lipavsky, Yakov Druskin, and Andrei Oleinikov, his future literary collaborators and friends. Kharms wrote hard-to-categorize plays, published two poems (the only works of his for adults to come out in his lifetime), and with Vvedensky, Nikolai Zabalotsky, and others formed a movement called OBERIU, an abbreviation made from letters in the words “Union for Real Art.” Public performances by OBERIU participants angered audiences to near riot and received threateningly negative reviews.

Much of Kharms’s published writing in his lifetime appeared in the children’s magazines Ezh (Hedgehog) and Chizh (Siskin). Russians of the later Soviet era knew him only as a writer for children, an age group he professed to despise, though his poems and stories for them have become wild classics of Russian literature. In 1931 he was arrested for putting anti-Soviet ideas in his children’s writing. He spent part of his brief sentence of exile in Kursk with Vvedensky, who was also exiled there. Esther Rusakova, his first wife, to whom he had been married in the late 1920s, received a five-year Gulag sentence in 1936 and later died in prison. His friend Oleinikov was shot in 1937. In 1939 Kharms was diagnosed as schizophrenic and given an exemption from military service. In August 1941 he was arrested and charged with spreading panic and anti-Soviet propaganda. Held in a psychiatric prison hospital in Leningrad during the first and hardest winter of the German blockade, he starved to death on February 2, 1942, at the age of thirty-six. In 1956 he was rehabilitated, but his poems, prose pieces, and plays did not begin to be published in Russia until the late 1980s.

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

'The Librarian': Philosophical parable or fascist nostalgia?

Mikhail Elizarov won the prestigious Russian Booker Prize in 2008 with his story of war-like “libraries” and their battles over copies of old novels that give their readers magical powers. The tale is studded with bayonets, broken glass, butchers’ cleavers, spiked clubs, axes, hammers and flails. This is not the sedate ride a reader might expect from a novel called “The Librarian”, which centers on the works of Dmitry Gromov, an invented, second-rate, Soviet author. Translator Andrew Bromfield has calmly waded through the gore to bring us the “Battle of Neverbino” or compound neologisms like “Yeltsinhater”.

Before reaching the main narrative, Elizarov records the lives of early “librarians” including Yelizaveta Mokhova, whose readings from “The Book of Strength” turn a ward full of comatose old women into a bloodthirsty army. These tales form a Silmarillion-style prehistory in Elizarov’s mythopoeic universe and there are moments of fleet-footed humor, like the image of a bedridden eighty-year-old, temporarily revitalized, skipping “lightly over lockers and beds, like a goat.”

The 2008 award divided the Booker committee. Alexander Kabakov resigned from the committee in protest at the decision to give the prize to this “worthless, fascist trash” while the jury leader, Evgeny Sidorov felt that what matters is how far an author “succeeds in traveling to the depths of man’s soul…” The controversy rested on the question of how Elizarov’s novel dealt with the past. Roman Arbitman, writing for Profile Magazine, described it as a work “imbued with some kind of hysterical nostalgia for a Soviet Atlantis that has sunk into oblivion.”

Elizarov admits that he remembers his Soviet childhood “with great warmth” and is interested in exploring values that have been lost under the capitalist system, but his ideas are more complex than the debate suggests. “The Librarian” starts with a quotation from Platonov’s dystopian satire “The Foundation Pit” and Elizarov’s cartoon violence obscures a philosophical parable, exploring the power of ideas.

When the narrator, Alexei Vyazintsev, reads Gromov’s novel known as “The Book of Memory”, it conjures up for him “an entirely invented childhood,” a montage of sleigh rides and snowball fights, May Day holidays, Young Pioneer camps and the smell of new textbooks. Flowers radiate in all directions from a “white as sugar” statue of Lenin, who “towered up on his granite pedestal.” The crucial thing about this idyll is that it is fictional; Alexei is prepared to fight for his ideas, but that does not make them true.

Powerful books are central literary devices in numerous novels and Russian authors have been pioneers in this metafictional realm. Bulgakov’s “Master” rewrites the story of Christ, and Nabokov’s work is full of invented books and authors, like the poet John Shade in “Pale Fire”. Eccentric cults are another common feature. Yuri Mamleyev’s grotesque and satirical “Sublimes”, translated into English last year, centers on a strange satanic group living in a village near Moscow, obsessively seeking divine truth through extreme violent or sexual practices. Vladimir Sorokin’s murderous Oprichniki or the 23,000 Children of Light, awakened by a meteorite in his bizarre “Ice Trilogy”, inhabit postmodern, post-Soviet satires that parallel Elizarov’s fantasies.

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Saturday, 11 April 2015

Pasternak, Tsvetaeva and Rilke: Letters and love poems

During the early years of World War I and the following Bolshevik Revolution, Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva both lived in Moscow, moving in the same literary circles without catching each other’s attention. 

Tsvetaeva left Russia in 1922 to live in Prague with her exiled husband, Sergei Efron, who had escaped the revolution several years earlier. Later that year, Pasternak read her poetry collection “Versts” and immediately wrote her a letter expressing his deep admiration for her work. This was the spark for an intense romantic relationship expressed through letters brimming with poetry, love, doubt and jealousy.

The two young poets quickly discovered how much they had in common. Aside from their similar ages and upbringing in Moscow, they both had a professor father and a pianist mother. They had also both visited Germany on several occasions and shared a love of German literature.

In spring 1926 Boris Pasternak was going through a period of deep artistic dissatisfaction and even considered abandoning literature. It was thanks to Tsvetaeva’s support and understanding that he was able to finish his major poem “The Year 1905.” Then two important events occurred – on the same day – that filled him with a new hope and energy. The first was reading Tsvetaeva’s “Poem of the End,” in which he recognized himself. In response he wrote, “You are mine and have always been mine; all my life is – you.” The second event was a letter he received from his father with the news that Rilke had read some of his poems in a Paris journal, which stunned and delighted him.

Rainer Maria Rilke’s name had appeared repeatedly in the letters that Pasternak and Tsvetaeva exchanged from 1922-1925, and in the late spring of 1926 the Bohemian-Austrian poet added his voice to their correspondence.

Rilke sent Pasternak his “Sonnets to Orpheus” and “Duino Elegies,” and in his warm letter of thanks, Pasternak mentioned Tsvetaeva, speaking of her as a major poet with a great love of Rilke’s work. At Pasternak’s request, Rilke sent Tsvetaeva copies of his new books; she responded with the words, “You are the very incarnation of poetry.” Rilke was dying of leukemia in a health spa in Val-Mont, Switzerland, so the correspondence between the three poets was brief but intense. Each poet was facing their own form of desolation – exile, imminent death, alienation – and their letters to each other were a way of escaping their solitude and retreating into the comforting world of lyricism and passion.

Tsvetaeva and Pasternak were eager to visit Rilke in Switzerland, but the meeting did not take place before Rilke died on Dec. 29, 1926. Tsvetaeva and Pasternak continued writing to each other for another nine years, but their letters declined in intensity and their romance faded – particularly after she learned that he had left his wife for another woman.

The two poets did finally meet in 1935, when Stalin forced Pasternak to attend the Soviet-inspired “International Writers Congress in Defense of Culture” in Paris. Pasternak was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when he arrived for the event and his meeting with Tsvetaeva was a damp squib. Despite their extraordinary literary intimacy over so many years, they were unable to find a common language. When Tsvetaeva asked about the possibility of returning to Russia, Pasternak replied, “You’ll get to love the collective farms” – a comment laden with sarcasm that went over her head.

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Friday, 10 April 2015

The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina

I. The First Sentence
Often quoted but rarely understood, the first sentence of Anna Karenina—“All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—offers a paradoxical insight into what is truly important in human lives. What exactly does this sentence mean?
In War and Peace and in a variant of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy quotes a French proverb: “Happy people have no history.” Where there are dramatic events, where there is material for an interesting story, there is unhappiness. The old curse—“May you live in interesting times!”—suggests that the more narratable a life is, the worse it is.
With happy lives and happy families, there is no drama to relate. What are you going to say: They woke up, breakfasted, didn’t quarrel, went to work, dined pleasantly, and didn’t quarrel again?
Happy families resemble each other because there is no story to tell about them. But unhappy families all have stories, and each story is different.
II. Love and Fate
We tend to think that true life is lived at times of high drama. When Anna Karenina reads a novel on the train, she wants to live the exciting incidents described. Both high literature and popular culture foster the delusion that ordinary, prosaic happiness represents something insufferably bourgeois, a suspension of real living. Forms as different as romantic drama, adventure stories, and tragedies suggest that life is truly lived only in moments of great intensity.
Tolstoy thought just the opposite.
The dramatic understanding of life that Tolstoy rejected has, if anything, grown still more powerful. Today very few people question that “true love” is the grand and glorious feeling that consumes one’s very being, as in Romeo and Juliet and countless debased imitations. By contrast, Tolstoy wants us to recognize that romantic love is but one kind of love. It is an ideology of love, in fact, but we do not recognize it as one. InAnna Karenina, Kitty at first prefers the dashing and romantic Vronsky to the kind and staid Levin because she has assumed, as most of us do, that she should marry the one she “loves”; and she has been told that “love” is romantic rather than prosaic. She does not yet recognize that what she feels for Levin is also a form of love, and that she has a real choice. Which love does she really want?
Over time Kitty comes to recognize that in addition to romantic love there is alsointimate love. Only intimate love is compatible with a family. Tolstoy wants his readers to be aware that this choice exists for them as well.
The myth embodied in great romances tells us that love envelops our whole being. Romantic love presses upon us with irresistible intensity. It transcends all ordinary prosaic conditions and lifts lovers to a realm of resplendent meaning. All-consuming, it allows no room for anything else. Lovers love, not so much each other, but love itself.
What is more, according to this ideology, we do not choose such love. It befalls us. We “fall in love,” we do not jump in love. Such love is a “passion,” not an action. It is something we suffer, an idea prefigured in medieval literature by love potion and in modern thought by unconscious forces overwhelming the will.
For this reason, romantic love feels like fate, and an ideology of amoral fatalism often accompanies it. Lovers live in a realm beyond good and evil. After all, good and evil depend on choice, and where fate governs, choice is out of the question. No matter how much pain the lovers cause, one cannot condemn them. Adultery becomes as noble as revolution, and only cramped moralists worry about the pain caused the betrayed spouse or abandoned children.
That is the story Anna Karenina imagines she is living. As one of her friends observes, she resembles a heroine from a romance. But Anna’s sense of herself is not Tolstoy’s sense of her. He places his romantic heroine not in a romance, where her values would be validated, but in the world of prosaic reality, where actions have consequences and the pain we inflict matters.
Oprah Winfrey, who chose Tolstoy’s novel for her book club, followed many others in viewing Anna Karenina as a celebration of its heroine and of romantic love. That gets the book exactly wrong. It mistakes Anna’s story of herself for Tolstoy’s. Just as Anna Karenina imagines herself into the novel she reads, such readers imagine themselves as Anna or her adulterous lover Vronsky. They do not seem to entertain the possibility that the values they accept unthinkingly are the ones Tolstoy wants to discredit.
Perhaps such readers simply presume that no great writer would take the side of all those shallow moralists. Would a genius endorse what we dismiss as bourgeois banality? But in an unexpected way, that is what Tolstoy does. He shows with unprecedented psychological subtlety the shallowness of the romantic view.
Anna’s story illustrates the dangers of romantic thinking. As she gives herself to her affair, she tells herself that she had no choice, but her loss of will is willed. Returning by train to her husband in St. Petersburg with Vronsky in pursuit, she experiences a sort of delirium:
She was constantly beset by moments of doubt as to whether the car was going forward or back or standing still altogether. Was it Annushka beside her or a stranger? “What is this on the arm, a fur or a beast? And is this me here? Am I myself or someone else?” She was terrified of surrendering to this oblivion. But something was drawing her into it, and she could surrender or resist at will (Part I, chapter 29).
The relativism of motion she experiences is a precise analogue to the delirious moral relativism she is falling into. Though she will later insist she could not have done otherwise, Tolstoy tells us that “she could surrender or resist at will.” Her fatalism is a choice.
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Thursday, 9 April 2015

Russian Art Movement and Magazine Mir iskusstva - Мир иску́сства

World of Art (Mir iskusstva in Russian) was an artistic movement inspired (and embodied) by an art magazine which served as its manifesto de facto, which was a major influence on the Russians who helped revolutionize European art during the first decade of the 20th century. Few Westerner/Europeans actually saw issues of the magazine itself and so the movement itself is somewhat of a mystery is Westerners and Europeans.

The artistic group was founded in 1898 by a group of students that included Alexandre Benois, Konstantin Somov, Dmitry Filosofov, Léon Bakst, Eugene Lansere.

The first public showing of the group was at the Exhibition of Russian and Finnish Artists in the Stieglitz Museum of Applied Arts in Saint-Petersburg.

In 1899 they founded the magazine in St. Petersburg by Alexandre Benois, Léon Bakst, and Sergei Diaghilev (the Chief Editor). They aimed at assailing low artistic standards of the obsolescent Peredvizhniki school and promoting artistic individualism and other principles of Art Nouveau. The theoretical declarations of the art movements were stated in the Dyagilev's articles "Difficult Questions", "Our Imaginary Degradation", "Permanent Struggle", "In search of the Beauty", "The fundamentals of the artistic appreciation" published in the N1/2 and N3/4 of the new journal.

The most active members of the World of Art were Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Eugene Lansere, and Konstantin Somov. Exhibitions organized by the World of Art attracted many illustrious painters from Russia and abroad, notably Mikhail Vrubel, Mikhail Nesterov, and Isaac Levitan.

The group went through an initial exhibition phase (modelled off the first impressionist exhibitions) from 1898 to 1904 during which time they organized six exhibitions: 1899 (International), 1900, 1901 (At the Imperial Academy of Arts, Saint Petersburg), 1902 (Moscow and Saint Petersburg), 1903, 1906 (Saint Petersburg). The sixth exhibition was seen as a Dyagilev's attempt to prevent the separation from the Moscow mebers of the group who organized a separate "Exhibition of 36 artists" (1901) and later "The Union of Russian Artists" group (from 1903).

In 1909, many of the members of the World of Art movement also contributed to the Ballets Russes Company operating in Paris.

In 1904-1910, Mir Iskusstva as a separate artistic group did not exist. Its place was inherited by the Union of Russian Artists which continued officially until 1910 and unofficially until 1924. The Union included painters (Valentin Serov, Konstantin Korovin, Boris Kustodiev, Zinaida Serebriakova), illustrators (Ivan Bilibin, Konstantin Somov), restorators (Igor Grabar), and scenic designers (Nicholas Roerich, Serge Sudeikin).

In 1910 Benois published a critical article in the magazine "Rech'" about the Union of Russian Artists. Mir Iskusstva was recreated. The new chairmen became Nicholas Roerich. The group took new members including Nathan Altman, Vladimir Tatlin, Martiros Saryan. Some said that the inclusion of the Russian avant-garde painters demonstrated that the group became an exhibition organization rather than an art movement. In 1917 the chairmen of the group became Ivan Bilibin. The same year most members of Jack of Diamonds enter the group.

The group organazied numerous exhibitions: 1911, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1921, 1922 Saint-Petersburg, Moscow). The last exhibition of Mir Iskusstva was organized in Paris in 1927. Some members of the group entered the Zhar-Tsvet (Moscow, organized in 1924) and Four Arts (Moscow-Leningrad organized in 1925) artistic movements.

Like the English pre-Raphaelites before them, Benois and his friends were disgusted with anti-aesthetic nature of modern industrial society and sought to consolidate all Neo-Romantic Russian artists under the auspices of fighting Positivism in art.

Like the Romantics before them, the World of Art group promoted understanding and conservation of the art of previous epochs, particularly traditional folk art and the 18th-century rococo. Antoine Watteau was probably the single artist whom they admired the most. ...

The Art History Archive

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Nijinsky: a Life

A few tantalising seconds of jerky black-and-white footage are all that survive as cinematic evidence of Vaslav Nijinsky’s balletic genius. But in her enthralling biography, Nijinsky, Lucy Moore helps redress the deficiency by providing an atmospheric lens through which the greatest ballet dancer of all time comes once again to life. Through Nijinsky’s own diary, as well as many other contemporary sources, Moore uses her meticulous and intelligent research to tell the moving story of a professional life that began in triumph and ended in desperate sadness.
With a circlet of poppies and cornflowers on his five-year-old head, Nijinsky made his public debut in a Cossack folk dance in 1894. The three Nijinsky children were abandoned at an early age by their father and brought up by their impoverished, self-sacrificing mother, who remained single-mindedly ambitious for her gifted younger son. In 1899, she was rewarded when Vaslav was offered a coveted place at St Petersburg’s Imperial Theatre School, the training ground for the future stars of St Petersburg’s celebrated Mariinsky Theatre.
Sergei Diaghilev first saw Nijinsky dance in 1907. Diaghilev was Russia’s dominant promoter of the arts, an arresting “magnificent bear” of a man, whose physical presence and “a faint whiff of the violet bonbons he habitually chewed” fills this book. Gauche, monosyllabic and predominantly heterosexual, the 18-year-old Nijinsky was innocent of the intense atmosphere of sexual liberation that governed Diaghilev’s hedonistic lifestyle.
But on stage Nijinsky’s unequalled grace, beauty and sensuality was accentuated by his apparent ability to transcend the physical and float through the air as if he had learnt to fly. “You have to go up and then pause a little up there,” he explained with disarming simplicity.
Under Diaghilev’s direction, an exceptional company of radical artists, who together embodied the spirit of modernism, arrived in Paris in 1909 as members of the new Ballets Russes, among them the choreographer Michel Fokine, the designer Léon Bakst and the composer Igor Stravinsky. Within a few months, accompanied by Bronia, his adored dancer sister, Nijinsky, trembling “like an aspen leaf” as he later recalled, had signed a contract as the new company’s leading dancer. Largely motivated by professional ambition, he had also succumbed to Diaghilev’s irresistible charm and become his patron’s lover.
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Dostoevsky Literary Museum - Omsk

There are lots of cities on the map connected to F. M. Dostoevsky. The writer visited Berlin and Dresden, Genoa and Paris, Baden-Baden and London, Milan and Geneva, Venice and Cologne.

But only three cities sound in unison to the writer’s biography. There names are: Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and Omsk.

F. M. Dostoevsky was born in Moscow, his childhood passed there.

Saint-Petersburg. Novels of the writer immortalized strict lines of Saint-Petersburg’s streets, endlessness of bridges, closed circumspection of yards, worn out footsteps of old houses. How much did F. M. Dostoevsky write about this city! St.-Petersburg’s life air inspired novels of the great writer, his literary fame came to him in this city, there he lived and worked. There, in Alexandro-Nevskaya Lavra, he is buried.

In the Moscow – St.-Petersburg – Omsk triad our city has its own unique place. Here the writer suffered four years of penal servitude (since January, 23, 1850), stayed here a couple of weeks in the February of 1854 after his release from the prison where he was kept and “some three or four days” in the July of 1859, when he was finally leaving Siberia. One can think that this is a period of life to be forgotten, to be struck out from one’s memory and not to be ever remembered. Yet for F.M. Dostoevsky the city of Omsk was not only a point on his biography’s map. What he lived and experienced in Omsk is reflected in his life and writings, being the fire to light the fireplace of his writings. In one of the Omsk prisons F. M. Dostoevsky’s views were put under great pressure.

From his childhood F.M. Dostoevsky was a religious person. When in prison, he had a bitter lot to live among those “through whose faces you could not see God” – among murderers, thieves, vagabonds and swindlers. But the more life seemed not to leave a place for faith and confidence, the stronger thirst for faith rose in Dostoevsky. It cost him “a greater torture”. Having passed through those severities, he worked out his own credo, in which everything is “clear and saint”: “to believe, that there exist nothing so splendid, so profound, so sympathetic, so intelligent, so courageous, and so perfect as Christ, and not only does not it exist, but with a jealous love I say to myself that there cannot exist ever”.

This version of the writer’s credo, formed at this point of the spiritual development, resembles maximalist statement of young Dostoevsky: “The human being is a mystery. This mystery is to be unriddled, and even if it takes up the whole your life, you cannot say that you had lost time”.

From his early years F. M. Dostoevsky felt sympathy for “lower classes”. In “A Writer's Diary” dated 1873 he tells us about an episode when, being a child, he was frightened by a wolf, but a huge man Marey calmed and protected him. These memoirs not only helped Dostoevsky to survive in prison, but “to find gold under coarse crust” – to distinguish human beings among murderers. The writer finds among them “characters profound, strong, beautiful… But not only one or two – several. You held ones in high respect, and others were absolutely beautiful”.

F.M. Dostoevsky, a nobleman only in second generation, was proud of his belonging to Russian nobility. But in prison he suffered from it for the first time, because it prevented him from gaining prisoners’ confidence – most of them committed crimes exactly against nobility. Dostoevsky had constantly been hearing for four years: “You, nobles, iron beaks, pecked us to death. You were a lord and tortured people, and now you are worse than the worst – you are among us, prisoners now”. In Omsk Dostoevsky had to live the life of commons for the first time. He worked hard at a brick factory, fired and pound alabaster, worked for an engineering service, shoveled away snow from Omsk streets. Evenings, when everybody was put together, Dostoevsky saw “noise, laughter, curses, sound of moving shackles and soot, shaved heads, stigmatized faces and rags”. All four years the writer could not have a piece of paper, pen or ink: he was sentenced not to write.

In such severe conditions of a prison Dostoevsky managed to remain “a man against other men”. Prisoners came to liking him for his compassion for “miserables”, for not having “an awful desire to be the first in all places at all costs”. Dostoevsky taught them to write and read, he was trying to help those who had suffered from cruel sentences when he was at the local hospital, he made a theatre play with other prisoners. Thus, step by step, prisoners from Omsk came to see their brother in Dostoevsky. Many of them appreciated Dostoevsky’s help. So, after leaving the prison, Dostoevsky had an opportunity to say: “How much did I understand people and their characters from prison! I lived with them and it seems that I know them well. How many stories of vagabonds and criminals, of all severe, hapless lives! It is enough to write many volumes. What a wonderful people!”

Different military men and officials from Central Administration of West Siberia helped the writer.

Talking about these people, we cannot pass over in silence the name of Alexey F’odorovich de Grave (Алексей Фёдорович де Граве, 1793–1864), Commandant of the Omsk Fortress. He was one of the most important Omsk officials and therefore was always on public. He could not help a political criminal openly, because it would put an end to his career. But it was for him that the writer never was condemned to corporal punishment or works that could destroy his health. Dostoevsky would write later: “The Commandant was a very noble man”.

K. I. Ivanov (К. И. Иванов), Decembrist’s I. A. Annenkov (И. А. Анненков) son-in-law, was “like a brother” to him and “did his best” in order to help the writer. K. I. Ivanov was an aide-de-camp of the head of engineering service’s of Siberian Independent Corps. The prisoner’s company was under their jurisdiction too. Dostoevsky wrote to his brother “If I had not found good men here, I would have died” about these people: the head doctor of a military hospital Ivan Ivanovich Troitskiy (Иван Иванович Троицкий) and his wife Mariya Nikolayevna (Мария Николаевна), Siberian Cadet Corps (Сибирский Кадетский Корпус) inspector Ivan Vikentyevich Zhdan-Pushkin (Иван Викентьевич Ждан-Пушкин) and Corps’s priest Alexandr Ivanovich Sulotskiy (Александр Иванович Сулоцкий); corporals of battalions №4 and №5 Brylkin (Брылкин), Chovansky (Хованский), Osipov (Осипов), Sokolov (Соколов).

And we cannot pass over in silence the Kapustin family. Yakov Sem’onovich Kapustin (Яков Семенович Капустин, 1792-1859) was the head of the Central Administration of West Siberia when Dostoevsky was in Omsk. The writer will mention him later in his “The House of the Dead” as an “old merited hospitable official”. In the salon of his wife Yekaterina Ivanovna (Екатерина Ивановна, born Mendeleyeva (Менделеева), 1816–1901), the “cream of the Omsk intelligentsia” were gathering.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the Kapustin’s home was one of the few places in Siberia where you could spend your spare time interestingly. But not only did the Kapustin’s guests discuss literature and play music, they also were thinking about ways to help “miserables” from the Omsk prison. Remembering the Kapustin family, Dostoevsky said that they “were unsophisticated and noble kind-hearted people”.

In 1854, when he had left prison (but continuing to serve the penalty), Dostoevsky was sent to Semipalatinsk (Семипалатинск) and entered the 7th Siberian Battalion. Service time was not mentioned in the sentence; that meant that Dostoevsky had to spend 25 years in army (the common service time those years). Friends were constantly pleading for him, and he himself was inquiring to officials with petitions of resignation. He wrote: “My dream is to resign from army and get a civil work somewhere in Russia <…> But it is not the civil work that is my life’s goal <…> I wish to have a permission to publish my works <…> I have a conviction that it is the only way for me to be truly useful”.

It is exactly after Omsk when Dostoevsky wrote all his great novels, and every one of them contains an echo of Omsk experience.

How many criminals did Dostoevsky see in Omsk! And how huge was the number of those whose sentence was unjust, was applied excessively roughly or, vice versa, excessively lightly. They all had different opinions about their crimes and punishments, and they all had “their own novel” that led them to prison. There were the place’s own “special laws, special costumes, special tempers and customs, unique life and special people”. The writer had his food for thought, observation and conclusions in Omsk. P.P. Sem’onov-T’an-Shanskiy (П.П. Семёнов-Тян-Шанский) was right when said that “the staying in the “The House of the Dead” made talented Dostoevsky a great writer-psychologist”.

There are lots of pages in “Crime and Punishment”, “The Idiot”, “The Possessed”, “The Raw Youth”, “The Brothers Karamazov” with reflections of the Omsk experience. The writer’s thoughts about “ground”, “the Russian idea”, about a universal uniting vivifying function of Russia, the call to a “proud man” to subdue and to work in his own field all come from Omsk, from those short and endlessly long four years when Dostoevsky was only on his own.

We do not have many places that remind us of the great writer’s life, but this small but precious amount includes the Commandant’s of the Omsk Fortress House, former guardhouse building, former Cadet Corps building, Lutheran church, Tarskiye and Tobolskiye Gates.

Streets, a library, a literary museum, a classical university are named after the famous writer. A monument to him was erected in 2001 (the 180th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birthday) in the Tarskiye Gates’ range, through which Dostoevsky was convoyed to Omsk. In 2005 the unique complete full works of Dostoevsky were published. It consists of 18 volumes (in 20 books) and includes not only new scientific articles and commentaries by famous scientists-specialists on F.M. Dostoevsky’s works, but also a great amount of first attributed to him texts. For the first time the full works of F.M. Dostoevsky includes his own drawings. The publishing was realized on the initiative and with the financial help of the Governor, the President of the Government of Omskaya oblast L. K. Polezhaev (Л.К. Полежаев). ...

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Olga Berggolts – Biography

Olga Berggolts was a Soviet poet and blockade-era radio speaker; the voice broadcasting on the one working radio station during the blockade of Leningrad, a solitary familiar voice that many survivors have said literally kept them alive during those dark and lean days. From her microphone straight into the barricaded apartments of the besieged city, Olga read her own poems and those of other poets, delivered news about bombings or fires in the city and, above all, encouraged the besieged Leningraders to hold on to their last hope of life.

She survived the terrible ordeal of the German blockade of Leningrad and in 1942 published her “Leningrad Notebook,” which gave tragic expression to the episode with her restrained, ordered treatment lending an almost unbearable poignancy to much of the verse. Olga Berggolts, like the poet Anna Akhmatova who greatly influenced her, is intricately associated with the northern Russian capital. A key figure in the post-Stalin “thaw” in literature, she is chiefly known for her wartime poetry, but her intimate poetry, particularly her intense, somber love poems, also affirm a heroically a human right to suffering, denied so often by the strident prophets of dogmatic optimism.

The Answer
Translated by Yevgeny Bonver

But I tell you that there are not
The years, that I for empty hold,
The ways, without a goal set,
The messages that nothing had.
There’re not the worlds, I ever lost,
The gifts, I gave without good thoughts,
There’s not a love that’s a mistake,
That is deceived, that’s a heart’s ache –
Its everlasting clear light
All over glows in my heart.
And it is never late once more
To start all life in the new world –
Such, that in toilsome days of yore,
To cross not any moan or word.

Before the war, Olga had problems with the Communist Party. Originally an idealistic activist, she was ousted from the Party in the 1930s and even jailed by the NKVD (forerunner to the KGB) for a year for "unreliability to the Party." She was bereft without the Party, alone and shunned.

Olga was pregnant with her third child when the NKVD swooped down in 1937 and arrested her. She was questioned and tortured and eventually gave birth to a stillborn child. It would have been her third after Irina, from her first short marriage to the poet Boris Kornilov, and Maya, from her second marriage to literary scholar Mikhail Molchanov (in 1942 he died of hunger). Both daughters died before the war, Irina at 8 and Maya at just 11 months. Other blows that Olga endured included Kornilov's exile to Siberia for the supposedly dissident leanings in his writing. Olga managed to restore his reputation and even publish a volume of his works in 1956. During that same year, she was the first public figure to stand up in support of the writers Mikhail Zoshchenko and Anna Akhmatova who were singled out for harassment by Andrey Zhdanov, head of the City Soviet of Leningrad. As part of his post-war campaign to restore Party control over culture, Zhdanov shut down the local literary journals Leningrad and Zvezda, two organs in which Zoshchenko and Akhmatova were regularly published.

Olga was released from prison in 1939 and reinstated as a Communist Party member. By that time, however, the country was less than two years from war.

Despite the meat grinder of the NKVD, she still believed strongly in the ideals and values of communism. She did not change her ideals even after a year in prison. Olga concluded that "there was something wrong with the people, not with the idea of communism.”

In 1942, the NKVD exiled her father, a medical doctor, to Siberia for refusing to spy on his colleges and patients.

Olga’s sister Maria Berggolts recalls, "During the war we had two enemies: German fascists outside and Russian fascists within the country. The NKVD, which originally had the executive power of the government, slipped out from under the government's control and acted alone." ...

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Realism and Russia’s Fate - Ivan Turgenev

The Russian experience has always made for literature both emotionally moving and intellectually stimulating to an extraordinarily high degree. It is no wonder (and certainly no secret) that the masters of Russian literature, particularly from the 19th century, make up so much of the Western canon. And it is precisely the predisposition to universality that obscures the potential oddity of Russian literature’s place in Western culture, given the question of whether Russia is part of the West at all. For a clear lens through which to view this demand, the beguilingly refined works of playwright and novelist Ivan Turgenev provide critique and admiration of both Russian tradition and the values founded in Western Europe’s Age of Reason. His delicate, incisive play, A Month in the Country, which does just this, has found new life in the hands of renowned translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who continue their thirty-odd-volume streak of reminding English readers of the greatness—and relevance—of the best Russian literature. They are joined on this occasion by Richard Nelson, who, in addition to his own large catalogue of plays, produced A Month in the Country at the Williamstown Theater Festival in 2012.
A central animating tension in 19th century Russia was the varied response to the 18th -century modernizing reforms of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. These included a move toward constitutionalism and the implementation of a series of ranks in government service, which sought to mitigate the pure nepotism of the aristocracy. These liberal advancements were accompanied by strict censorship, imperial expansion, and an unrelenting grip on the serf system, and so did not grant the kind of freedom we now take as given. But they were nevertheless sufficiently radical—if only in implication—to effectively rend the country’s intellectual life in two.
On one side were the Slavophiles, a diverse range of mystics, writers, religious thinkers, and politicians who, despite their many differences, adhered to the opinion that Russia was a country of unique origin with a self-contained destiny which could only be diluted by Western influence. Most famous now among these were, in their own ways, the novelists Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky.
Opposing this view were the zapadniks, or Westernizers, who embraced the reforms and sought a greater identification with the rest of Europe, particularly France, Germany, and England. This way of thinking found favor amongst the upper classes, who enjoyed the elegant dress, amusing opera, and refined sensibility of the West, even if those brash young men interested in the scientific and political Enlightenment upset their affinity for a particularly soft brand of Russian mysticism.
But the Westernizers were not exclusively society women and vulgar scientists. Many were drawn not only to the West’s freedom and prosperity, but also to the vibrancy and depth of its artistic and philosophical traditions. Chief amongst this brand of admirers was Turgenev, many of whose works explore the possible outcomes of Western influence in a style less like that of his fiery compatriots and more like the realism of his friends Flaubert and Henry James.
Born in 1818 to a wealthy family, Turgenev spent his early years studying philosophy, history, and literature in the capitals of Europe. He spent time in the universities of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Berlin. He read Hegel, was personally acquainted with the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, and received early encouragement from Westernizing critic Vissarion Belinsky. During the difficult final years of Nicholas I, Turgenev emigrated to Paris (along with most of Russia’s intelligentsia), where befriended Flaubert. The two shared literary tastes and a disdain for radical politics, and it was this companionship (as well as a hostile Russian readership, exasperating censors, and a life-long affair with opera singer Pauline Viardot) that kept Turgenev in Paris—and away from Russia—for much of his later life.
The reign of Nicolas I was notoriously reactionary, with a special zeal censorship. This created a suffocating environment, with every writer fearing for his life should he say the wrong word. And justifiably so: the young Dostoevsky’s participation in a liberal reading group was enough to have him sentenced to death, though the sentence was famously commuted to four years hard labor at the moment the future novelist stared down the firing range. Turgenev himself was given a month in prison and two years exile on his estate in part for publishing an obituary for Gogol, in part for 1852’s A Sportsman’s Sketches, a collection of short stories which, in addition to influencing virtually every subsequent Russian writer, played a significant role in turning public (that is, aristocratic) opinion against serfdom. With both his idyllic hunting days and the abuse he suffered at the hands of his domineering mother in mind, Turgenev crafted these stories with a remarkable light touch, the themes of degradation and death balanced by pastoral beauty and an almost noble vitality.
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Friday, 3 April 2015

Mikhail Bulgakov: White Guard

Mikhail Bulgakov is best known for his Soviet-era satire The Master and Margarita, although he also has the infamous distinction of writing a favorite play of Stalin’s, The Days of the Turbins. This play and Bulgakov’s 1924 debut, White Guard, were both based on the author’s personal experiences in Kiev during the tumultuous years of the Revolution. While Stalin blessed The Days of the TurbinsWhite Guard was kept from publication until 1966, 26 years after Bulgakov’s death. The book was then quietly picked up by Russian scholars, meticulously studied, and inserted into its proper place among other works of Russian revolutionary literature. Many years later it has crossed the scholarly seas, and is now translated into English for the first time, bravely offered by Yale University Press. Is White Guard worth the wait? Most definitely.
The essay “Writing Judgment Day” by Russian literary scholar Evgeny Dobrenko is included at the start of White Guard, and for those unfamiliar with the Russian Revolution and, specifically, its impact on Kiev between 1918 and 1919, this essay is essential reading. Whites? Reds? Cossacks? Germans? Poles? Each had a loaded gun pointed at Kiev during these years. There are many references to these warring factions, which, without this essay, non-Russians might find very confusing. Even Schwartz admits that one of the greatest challenges she faced with this novel was “recreating Bulgakov’s kaleidoscopic whirl,” where, for example, “because specific dress carried with it crucial social and political connotations, precision and clarity are particularly essential to the translation.”
An excellent example of this precision and clarity is found at the start of White Guard. Amidst the chaos of a German/Ukrainian retreat from Kiev and the invasion of (more) Ukrainian nationalist troops, Bulgakov establishes the lives of his protagonists (the Turbin brothers) against the backdrop of Russian history.
This tile stove, as well as the old red velvet furniture, the beds with the shiny knows, the worn carpets—parti-colored and crimson, with Alexei Mikhailovich holding a falcon on his arm, or with Louis XIV lolling in a garden paradise on the banks of a silky lake, and Turkish carpets with the marvelous flourishes on an Oriental ground that had haunted little Nikolka in the delirium of scarlet fever—the bronze lamp under its shade, the world’s best shelves of books, which smelt like mysterious old chocolate, with Natasha Rostova and the Captain’s Daughter, and the gilded cups, silver, portraits, and hangings—all seven full and dusty rooms that had raised the young Turbins, all this, in her darkest hour, the mother had left to her children, and as she gasped for air and weakened, she clutched the arm of Elena, who was weeping, and implored her, “Live . . . in friendship.”
The tile stove is a symbol of Russian domesticity. The carpets depict Alexei Mikhailovich, a 17th century Czar, and Louis XIV, a reference to the Russian-French connections of the 18th century. A Turkish carpet reminds us of centuries of Russo-Turkish conflict that infected Nikolka’s dreams while he fought scarlet fever. On the bookshelves areWar and Peace (Natasha Rostova) and The Captain’s Daughter by Pushkin (more references to war). And then, among all these Russian relics, Bulgakov drops in the Turbins’ mother’s death, registering the passing of one generation to the next and reminding us that her wish for all to live in friendship is now being beset by war: “Walls would tumble, the frightened falcon would fly from the white sleeve, the light would go out in the bronze lam, and the Captain’s Daughter would be burned in the stove.”
One of the signal accomplishments of this novel is the way Bulgakov’s details and language bring Kiev itself to life, as it, too, suffers the consequences of war:
Madam Anjou’s shop, Le Chic Parisien, was located in a large multi-storied building, right on the first floor, in the City’s center on Teatralnaya Street, which passes behind the opera theater. Three steps led from the street through a glass door and into the shop, and on either side of the glass door there were two windows hung with dusty lace curtains. No one knew where Madam Anjou herself had gone or why her premises were being used for purposes that were anything but commercial. A colorful lady’s hat was painted on the left-hand window with the words Le Chic Parisien in gold; and behind the glass of the right-hand window a large poster on yellow cardboard had two crossed Sevastopol cannons on it, like the ones on gunners’ epaulets, and above them and inscription:
You many not be a hero but it’s your duty to volunteer.
And beneath the cannons:
Volunteers for the Mortar Battalion sign up here.
See the Commanding Officer.
Parked by the shop entrance was a sputtering, exhaust-stained motorcycle with a sidecar. The door on a spring, was constantly slamming shut, and each time it opened, a magnificent little bell rang overheard—rrring-rr-ring—recalling the happier times recently past of Madame Anjou.
Then Bulgakov returns to this shop. As the battle is underway, Alexei Turbin is trying to find out to whom he should report for duty. He runs to Anjou’s, where he first received his orders.
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