Tchaikovsky!

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Everyone in the world knows the name of Russia’s most popular composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), yet only few of us know that he used to be a heavy smoker, loved alcohol, used to extinguish fires in Russia, collected plants for herbariums, and had a real passion for travel. Here are a few interesting facts from the life of the greatest Russian composer.

Tchaikovsky began taking piano lessons when he was 5 years old. Along with his love for music, the boy adored poetry: he used to compose poems since early childhood. However, his parents hoped that he would grow up to work in the civil service. At the age of 10, they sent their son to the Imperial School of Jurisprudence, a boarding school in St. Petersburg.

In 1859, Tchaikovsky honored his parents’ wishes by taking up a bureau clerk post with the Ministry of Justice—a post he would hold for four years, during which time he became increasingly fascinated with music, and finally, at the age of 21 (in 1861), he enrolled at the newly founded St. Petersburg Conservatory. While studying, he gave private lessons to other students. Despite being really good at composing music, he demonstrated weaker results in orchestrating and conducting.

Young Peter Tc, 1863haikovsky

On the day of his graduation concert, Tchaikovsky was so nervous that he did not come to the exam, so his composition was performed in his absence. This made the conservatory rector Anton Rubinshtein really angry, he refused to give Tchaikovsky his graduation diploma. Only five years later, the new rector Nikolay Zaremba allowed Tchaikovsky to pick up the diploma from the conservatory.

Despite his many popular successes, Tchaikovsky’s life was punctuated by personal crises and depression. Contributory factors included his early separation from his mother for boarding school followed by his mother’s early death, the death of his close friend Nikolai Rubinstein, and the collapse of the one enduring relationship of his adult life, which was his 13-year association with a wealthy widow Nadezhda von Meck. His homosexuality, which he kept private, has traditionally also been considered a major factor, though some musicologists now downplay its importance.

Discussion of Tchaikovsky’s personal life, especially his sexuality, has perhaps been the most extensive of any composer in the 19th century and certainly of any Russian composer of his time. In fact, Tchaikovsky lived as a bachelor for most of his life. In 1868 he met Belgian soprano Desire Artot, they felt strong affection for each other and were engaged to be married, but due to Artot’s refusal to give up the stage or settle in Russia, the relationship ended. Tchaikovsky later claimed she was the only woman he ever loved.

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In 1877, at the age of 37, he wed a former student, Antonina Miliukova. Very soon, however, both of them realized that they mismatched psychologically and sexually. The marriage was a disaster, they only lived together for a few weeks before Tchaikovsky left. During a nervous breakdown, he unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide, and eventually fled abroad. Some sources say that, due to some reasons, Tchaikovsky never divorced Antonina, so they remained officially married, though lived separately and never met after the separation.

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Tchaikovsky could afford to resign from the Moscow Conservatory in 1878, thanks to the patronage of Nadezhda von Meck. She provided him with a monthly allowance until 1890; oddly, their arrangement stipulated that they would never meet. Again, this relationship keeps a mystery, which will probably never be cleared up.

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In the 1870s, Tchaikovsky destroyed his previously written opera “Voevoda”, which had successfully debuted in the Bolshoy Theater in 1869. The same thing happened to his “Undina”, an opera written in 1969, Tchaikovsky destroyed and threw it away in 1873. Luckily, the other eight operas which he wrote during his life, survived.

During the terrible summer fires of 1885, Tchaikovsky happened to stay in Klin, where he witnessed a fire that ruined dozens of houses and stores. Some locals stated that they saw the great composer among those who helped extinguish the fire.

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There is another interesting fact of Tchaikovsky’s life, which few of us know: the composer was one of the honorable guests invited to the opening of Karnegie Hall in the spring of 1891. Besides New York, he visited and orchestrated the performances of his works in Baltimore and Philadelphia.

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Tchaikovsky died in St. Petersburg on November 6, 1893. Some sources claim that he died of a glass of water. In a Moscow restaurant, he was served a glass of unboiled water and became infected with cholera. While the cause of his death was officially declared as cholera, some of his biographers believe that he committed suicide after the humiliation of a sex scandal trial. However, only oral (no written) documentation exists to support this theory. We will probably never know the truth about his death.

Tchaikocsky’s collective body of work constitutes 169 pieces, including symphonies, operas, ballets, concertos, cantatas and songs. Among his most famed late works are the ballets The Sleeping Beauty (1890) and The Nutcracker (1892).

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A Break Up That Failed

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Women mature sooner than men, that’s a fact! I was twenty two when I learned it. I was a silly, ambitious lad, so I think I deserved to get into the story which I am going to tell you today.

My girlfriend and I were madly in love with each other, so we decided to try living together and moved in to a tiny apartment with nothing but a table, two chairs and a huge bed, which occupied nearly all the space of the room.

After a month or two, we realized that neither of us had been prepared – all the responsibility, chores, and sacrifice, and the work made each of us focus on different things, so our romance, flirting and passion began to fade down. I could not help noticing that my girl did not love me as much as before anymore.

This troubled my mind for a couple of weeks. I walked around collecting little signs of her growing indifference. This made me quite restless, I tortured myself with suspicions and doubts, but I had no idea what to do. One evening she came home really late and said she had taken an extra job at a men’s hair salon. That was the last drop. I had to find out about her feelings for me.

The most upsetting thing was her attitude: she remained calm and confident, as if nothing had changed at all. She had always been kind of reserved and avoided talking about her feelings, but now… how the hell could I guess what she was feeling?

Well, I needed to test her, so I wrote her a letter. I wrote I was tired of living together and suggested a break. It was bullshit, of course, I never wanted a break, but how else could I check if she still loved me or not?

Well, after a day of bad doubts, I finally left that letter on her pillow, so she could easily find it as soon as she entered the room. I wanted to hear her reaction, so as soon as I heard a click at the door, I hid under the bed and started to listen.

I was hoping to hear her gasp, or probably moan, or sob, but she sat on the bed and read it in silence. There were two or three endless minutes of silence, then she reached for a pen and started to write.

She stood up, changed her clothes, brushed her hair and… murmured a song to herself! She sounded happy rather than sad or upset! I was shocked. I lay in my shelter and nearly moaned myself. I was grieving in helplessness, I cursed the idea of writing that letter, and I hated my life, where the woman I loved did not care a bit about me!

That was not the end of my torture, however. I heard how she dialed a number and all of a sudden her cheerful, excited voice said into the receiver: “Hi, darling, I’m almost ready… My stupid boyfriend? He left me, it’s over… at last! I’m coming right now. See you, darling. Bye.”

Then  she hгng up and left the apartment.

I don’t remember how I got up to my feet. I was shocked, confused, bewildered, and smashed. I walked around the bed, and there was her note on my pillow. It said:

I can see your long feet sticking out from under the bed. Please, get out. I am off to a bakery store for a moment, I will bring you your favorite pie. Boil some eggs, I am starving. Love you. Wife.

Fyodor Dostoevsky: a Glimpse at the Life of a Genius (Part Three)

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The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half.” F.Dostoevsky

Anna, the Angel

The devastating affair with Apollinaria threw Dostoevsky down into a terrible state of mind, but he had to return to work. Hounded by creditors, with a broken heart and an empty wallet, the writer could not afford more but to hire a stenographer and work on his new novel, The Gambler. This was how a charming Anna Snitkina, who had been dreaming about getting to know the famous writer, appeared in his home.
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Quite soon, they got to know each other really close. At first, the writer could only see an untiring assistant, but soon he realized that she had become a lot more. The difference in their age was striking – twenty five years – but little by little Dostoevsky found himself being unable to live without this woman. They got married in February of 1867, ten years after the writer’s first marriage. Dostoevsky was 46 then.

Young and inexperienced Anna accepted her husband’s weird sexual habits, she tried to take them for granted (there was violence, domination, and pain, which Dostoevsky took as a norm of sex life). Anna wrote in one of her notes once: “I am ready to spend the rest of my life standing on my knees in front of him.” All in all, the relationship satisfied both, but not the writer’s relatives, who never stopped badgering and harrassing the girl. Being aware that this confrontation could break the marriage, Anna suggested a trip abroad for a couple of months. Finally, the couple left Russia, and ended up spending four years in Europe.
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They lived in Germany, Switzerland, Italy. During that time, they buried their first newborn daughter, and gave birth to another baby – also a girl, Lubov (the word means “love”). They nurtured their love, they tried to get used to living together, they built their relationship little by little. It was not all smooth, they had many quarrels, but with time they learned to respect and treasure each other. He was painfully jealous, he grew a terrible complex because of their age difference, and another- because of his passion for gambling. She managed to deal with all that. She forgave and supported him whatever he did. Back in St.Petersburg, she gave him a gift of two sons. “Many Russian writers would feel a way better, if they had wives like Dostoevsky’s wife,” Leo Tolstoy used to say.
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Due to the peaceful environment created by Anna in their home, Dostoevsky stopped having epilepsy attacks, he became calm and his character improved really much. Unfortunately, he was not destinied to live a long life… in January of 1881, the writer fell ill. One morning, he called for Anna and told her: “Remember, Anna, I have always loved you as much as I could, I never cheated on you, even in my thoughts.” By the evening of that day, he passed away.
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Anna never got married again. She devoted the rest of her life to serving the name of her talented husband. She published a full collection of his works, put together his letters and notes, encouraged their friends to write a biography of Dostoevsky, opened a Dostoevsky School in Staraya Russa, and wrote a wonderful book of memoirs about her life with one of the greatest minds of her time.

Today, Dostoevsky is still as welcome by his readers as he was in the 19-th and the 20-th centuries. To a large part, this is so due to untiring effort of his wonderful wife Anna, who remained his friend, supporter, partner, as well as his best financial manager and promoter till the end of her life.

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Fyodor Dostoevsky: a Glimpse at the Life of a Genius (Part 2)

An Ordeal Called Apollinaria

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.” F.Dostoevsky

While being married to Maria Isaeva, Dostoevsky got involved into an affair with Apollinaria Suslova, a woman who was two dozen years younger than him. They met at a public reading of his book in St.Petersburg, where Dostoevsky resided then. She was a thin, graceful twenty-two-year-old beauty with blue eyes and a thick mass of gorgeous red hair: she was a perfect, fresh, blossoming flower, which he could not pass by. Soon, Dostoevsky was pleased to find out that he was the first one to pick it up…

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She turned out to be an eccentric, whimsical girl, but with her the writer climbed to the heights of passion which he had not known before. He could hardly retain enough reason not to succumb to her calls to leave his dying wife. Being continuously torn by internal contradictions, Dostoevsky actually lived in two worlds of torturing himself and torturing the others.

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Finally, they decided to take a trip abroad… secretly, of course. Apollinaria was the first to leave, but when Dostoevsky finally managed to join her, she made a confession: she had fallen in love with another man. He continued trying to conquer her back for quite a long time since then, not realizing that suffering had become quite a delight. After Maria’s death, he called Apollinaria to return to St.Petersburg. He tried to dull his pain in the arms of another charming girl, a twenty-year-old Anna Korvin-Krukovskaya of a noble family. Nothing worked! Apollinaria magnetized the writer, his heart remained with her.

He came to visit her after two years of separation, but he did not find the Apollinaria he had known before. She became cold, haughty, and whenever they gave moments of intimacy, she gave herself to him with undisguised contempt. It was then when he lost a whole fortune at roulette in Baden-Baden. This epizode of his life was reflected in the novel “Игрок” (The Gambler).

In the spring of 1866, Apollinaria left the capital for country life in her brother’s home, and Dostoevsky never happened to meet her again. She died in 1918 – the same year and at the same sea coast where died the second wife of the writer.

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Please, read the third part in my next post.

Fyodor Dostoevsky: a Glimpse at the Life of a Genius

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«Falling in love does not mean being in love… One could fall in love with someone they hate.» F.Dostoevsky

Part 1.

Fyodor Dostoevsky was born on a gloomy November day of 1821, in a Moscow hospital for the poor, where his father worked as a doctor. The writer’s life was not happy from the very start: his mother died of tuberculosis, his father, a man of a very cruel nature, was killed by his own serf peasants. Good luck seemed to bypass their family.

Dostoevsky was quite young when he felt the urge to write. His first breakthrough in the world of literature was his novella Poor Folk («Бедные люди»), but after its publication, life did not become easier for the young man. He joined a group of revolutionary minded young people who were secretly preparing a coup in Russia. That rash act nearly led the writer to a fatal outcome.

On April 23, 1849, he was arrested among other young “revolutionaries”. After eight months of trial, Dostoevsky was sentenced to death for “the intent to overthrow the state order”. Later, the writer described the ten horrible minutes of expectation of death. In the very last moment the sentence was commuted to four years of hard labor in Siberia, following army service as a private.

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It was during the service in Kazahstan when Dostoevsky found his first love. Maria Isaeva, a beautiful, passionate blonde, was married to an alcoholic and had a miserable life. Dostoevsky became a frequent guest in their home, and in no time he was burning with love for Maria. However, her husband was transfered to work in another town, they left, and soon Maria’s alcoholic husband died. But good fortune never turned its face to Dostoevsky: Maria was to marry another man now. On hearing the disastrous news, the writer had an epileptic attack. Then he wrote to Maria that he would die if she left him.

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She did not leave him, and he did not die. In February of 1857, at the age of thirty six, Dostoevsky got married for the first time. The marriage wich started with a seizure, was destinied to be unhappy, though. Both spouses were very nervous and touchy, their life could not be called smooth. Still, they lived together till Maria’s death of tuberculosis in 1864. «She was the most sincere, big-hearted, and generous woman of all I had ever known», Dostoevsky confessed after her death. He had not been equally honest with her, though.

According to his contemporaries, Dostoevsky was a man of insatiable sexuality. No matter how hard he tried to hide it, this trait manifested itself all the timeone could trace it from the way he spoke, moved, behaved, and made eye contact. He was frequently ridiculed for this weakness. Ivan Turgenev even compared him to Marquis de Sade. Quite often, Dostoevsky had to satisfy his excruciating desires in local brothels. There were gossips that the prostitutes who had met Dostoevsky once, refused to see him again, because his fantasies and desires were too overwhelming to bear.

Dostoevsky needed a woman who would be absolutely submissive and would adore him despite his weirdness.

Please, read the second part in my next post.

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Nikolay Gogol: Mystical Life of the Great Master

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Life of Nikolay Gogol has always remained a mystery. These are a few known facts about the great Ukrainian (Russian) classic.

Gogol was born to a rural Ukrainian family. He was the third baby of twelve. His mother – a woman of rare beauty – was 14 when she became a wife of a man two times older than her. Gossips tell that it was Gogol’s mother that influenced his views on religion and mysticism.

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Gogol was never married, and there is absolutely no information about his relationships with women.

At school, his compositions were regarded average, he was never good at any subjects but Russian grammar and drawing.

Gogol had a passion for needlework and crafts. He did a lot of knitting, tailored dressed for his sisters, crafted belts and made his own neck ties.

Gogol also loved cooking. He often cooked Ukrainian galuchki and vareniki (dumplings). His favorite drink was his own invention: goat milk heated with a bit of rum, which he used to call «Gogol-mogol».

While working or thinking, Gogol loved to keep his fingers busy rolling little balls of white bread. He used to say that this helped him work more efficiently.

Gogol loved sweets. He always had some in his pockets. He was often seen nibbling pieced of hard sugar while working.

The writer had a very sensitive nervous system; he was badly afraid of thunderstorms; he prefered living a very isolated lifestyle, but whenever he went out, he always kept to the left edge of the road and quite often collided with other pedestrians.

The writer loved miniature books. He never liked of knew mathematics, but he subscribed the mathematics encyclopedia for uears simply because it was published in very small format (10,5×7,5 cm).

Gogol was a very shy person. If there appeared a stranger, Gogol immediately disappeared from the room.

He was always shy of his long nose. He probably asked his painters to “improve” his nose while drawing, because his nose looks different on all of his portraits.

The plot of his famous masterpiece The Government Inspector (also known as The Inspector General (original title: Russian:Ревизор,Revizor, literally: “Inspector”) was based on a real life story in a town of Novgorod area, which was told to Gogol by A. Pushkin. Pushkin also suggested Gogol the plot of Dead Souls.

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Gogol was always painfully afraid of death, and most of all, of the death resulting from being buried alive. In his will, written 7 years prior to his death, Gogol asked to bury him only in the case if his body had unmistakable signs of decomposition. Later, this fact caused numerous mystical speculations: rumors said that Gogol had been buried alive, in the state of lethargy. We will never know what really happened to the writer in the last moments of life. It is believed that he sensed his death: shortly before death he prayed a lot, then burned the manuscript of the second volume od Dead Souls, and sobbed hysterically all night long in his bed.

The writer was an extremely sensitive person. He was very interested in a variety of religious ideas and mysticism. During religious fasts he literally starved himself. Yet aside from that, he loved Italian kitchen, especially spaghetti with cheese.

Gogol loved his dog Josy, a pug, presented to him by Pushkin. When the dog died (he frequently underfed it) Gogol fell into deadly melancholy and discouragement.

In the last years of his life the writer led an ascetic life. It is known that he died at the age of 42 from depression. Modern mental health experts have analyzed thousands of documents written by Gogol and came to a very definite conclusion that the writer had no mental disorder.

 

 

Beerlosopher Vasya… or the Russian Approach to Dating

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1.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Lewis Carroll

One day philosopher Vasya took his beer and decided to leave.

Hey! You! Are you going to pay?” The saleswoman yelled at his back.

I could pour you with money,” he said, slowly turning around, “but money is transient.” He hiccupped. “I could enrich you spiritually, but that would be only words. No one can make you rich, only you – yourself – can.”

Where can I find you, Teacher?” Murmured bewildered saleswoman.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there,” quoted philosopher Vasya, and added, You won’t have to look for me, I will come by myself… as soon as I run out of beer.”

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2.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

Later that day, philosopher Vasya came along to fetch a new bottle of his favorite drink, but the saleswoman was already closing the kiosk.

Will you give me some drink of enlightenment?” He asked humbly.

My working day is over. Come tomorrow, I will gladly give you some,” replied the saleswoman.

But I need it now, because now I’m closer to enlightenment than ever.”

The kiosk is closed,” she said sharply. “I can see no sense in following my own footsteps.”

Philosopher Vasya looked right into her eyes. After a long, thoughtful pause, he uttered: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” He raised his forefinger. You can’t come to enlightenment unless you change your Self, and changing your habits could be the very first step on the way.”

He turned around with dignity and headed for another kiosk.

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3.

Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.” H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Next day, on his way to the beer source, philosopher Vasya could not restrain himself and relieved his physical need right near the kiosk wall. The saleswoman saw this.

What are you doing?!” She shrieked and ran out of the kiosk.

She had beautiful shoulders and gorgeous hips.

Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures,” replied philosopher Vasya, as he eyed her up. Her gorgeous hips swayed like fishermen’s boats during the tide. Being angry only made her look better.

She approached him.

Tell me this,” she enquired rather sternly, “this wonderful drink that grants you true knowledge… it seems to pass through you without a stop. If so, why do you need it at all?”

All words of wisdom must be rethought,” philosopher Vasya announced. “This foamy drink, which shows us the way, passes through me, that’s true, but it sharpens my feelings and opens my mind, so I can get to know my Self.”

Next time, keep your Self away from my kiosk,” said the saleswoman briskly, and the gorgeous hips disappeared behind the door.

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4.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” Socrates

Later that week, the saleswoman put a corked bottle in front of philosopher Vasya.

Can you open it for me?” He asked.

I can’t open this foamy source of wisdom for you, I have no opener,” she replied.

Our daily mishaps are just rocks on the road. We should not neglect them, however, as they are our steps toward enlightenment,” answered philosopher Vasya and opened the bottle by hitting it hard against the kiosk wall.

I don’t know…” started the saleswoman, but philosopher Vasya had already turned his back to her.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” he said over his shoulder and took a swig of his drink in thirst for enlightenment.

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5.

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.

These three are your greatest treasures.”
Lao Tzu

The next time philosopher Vasya turned up at the kiosk window, the saleswoman was not in it. A head in the window sneered as philosopher Vasya approached; it produced an empty beer bottle with a note sticking out of it. The note was handwritten and smelled of a ladies perfume. It said:

Simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. If you find them appealing, you can learn them from me, but remember: one’s got to deserve them by diligent, daily labor. You’ll be planting tomatoes and ploughing my land, only then you may hope that your foamy drink of enlightement will appear on your table… sometimes.”

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Interesting Facts About Leo Tolstoy

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Everyone knows that Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a Russian novelist, essayist, playwright, and short story writer who wrote classics such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and is considered to be one the greatest novelists of all time. Some facts of his long life, however, still remain understudied, and only those who study his biography very thoroughly, may know the following:

  • Leo Tolstoy wasn’t a good student. When he enrolled in the Oriental languages program at the University of Kazan, he consistently received low grades, and was described by his teachers as, “both unable and unwilling to learn.” He left after two years, and never finished his degree.
  • Leo Tolstoy fought in the Crimean War from November 1854 to August 1855. During this time, he used much of his free time to write. This helped him to remain strong while living through the terrible experiences of war.
  • While fighting in the Crimean War Leo Tolstoy wrote Boyhood. It was the second book in his autobiographical trilogy Childhood. Boyhood. Youth. After returning home from the war Leo discovered he was already popular on the literary scene in St. Petersburg.
  • Leo Tolstoy witnessed a public execution in Paris in 1857, which bothered him for the rest of his life.
  • In 1860-61, while on a trip to Europe, Leo Tolstoy met Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables. Leo’s political views were believed to have been shaped during this time.

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  • Leo Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevna Bers in 1862. She became his lifetime partner and carried the burden of being a wife, a mother, a housekeeper, Tolstoy’s personal secretary, and the family business manager, all at the same time. She gave birth to 13 children over the course of 20 years.
  • In the 1860s Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace.
  • In 1873 Leo Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina, which was published from 1873 to 1877 in installments. The royalties helped build Tolstoy’s wealth.
  • Because of Leo Tolstoy’s unconventional ideas he was watched by Russia’s secret police for a time.
  • His Christian anarcho-pacifist ideas were widely influential. Late in life, after the publication of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, Tolstoy became deeply involved in exploring his religious and social beliefs. He openly declared his Christian beliefs in 1884, with a book titled, What I Believe, and began developing a radical anarcho-pacifist Christian philosophy that would serve as a prominent theme in his later works.
  • As a result of developing his unconventional philosophy, Leo began giving away a lot of his money, which his wife Sofya could not aprove. Leo granted her control of his copyrights and royalties.
  • Leo Tolstoy became established as a religious and moral leader in the last 30 years of his life. Mahatma Gandhi is said to have been influenced by Tolstoy.
  • He Inspired a Religious and Social Movement. Though Tolstoy’s work led to the birth of a religious and social movement, the adherents of which called themselves “Tolstoyans.” The Tolstoyans sought to promote and live out Tolstoy’s ideas and beliefs, including participating in social activism and reform, becoming vegetarian, and living a life of asceticism. Communes sprang up in places as far afield as South Africa, India, Japan, and the United States.
  • While on a pilgrimage with his youngest daughter Aleksandra on November 20th, 1910 Leo Tolstoy died. He left behind his wife Sofya and 10 children.
  • Leo and Sofya had 13 children but only 10 lived beyond infancy.
  • Tolstoy’s War and Peace is often referred to as the greatest novel ever written.
  • By the year 2010, there were the total of 350 ancestors of Tolstoy’s family living (or previously living) in 25 countries of the world. Since 2000, they have developed a tradition to meet annually in Yasnaya Polyana (Tolstoy’s estate).
  • Tolstoy is not as celebrated in Russia as many might think. The Kremlin did nothing to celebrate the centenary of Tolstoy’s death, November 20th, 2010, to the dismay of many. The oversight stood in contrast to 2010’s nationwide festival surrounding the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth.
  • The Russian Orthodox Church has remained firm in its refusal to lift Tolstoy’s excommunication, despite receiving several requests to pardon the author. It acknowledged Tolstoy’s importance as a writer, but maintained that it cannot lift an excommunication after someone’s death.

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Ivan Bunin. Loneliness.

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Whenever the weather is humid and cold, I remember lines from Loneliness, a beautiful poem by Ivan Bunin (1870 – 1953).

Bunin was the first Russian writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature and was noted for the strict artistry with which he carried on the classical Russian traditions in the writing of prose and poetry, his name did not appear often enough in our school textbooks during the Soviet time, because Bunin left Russia for Paris in 1920 and spent the rest of his life in immigration.

Одиночество (Loneliness) is one of his most beautiful poems. Bunin devoted the poem to his friend, an artist from Odessa Pyotr Nilus, but this poem is undoubtedly an autobiographical one. The feeling of loneliness can be noted in most of Bunin’s poems and prose. This state of mind was quite typical for authors like Bunin, whose works happened to be underestimated both at home and abroad.

The poem was written in the summer of 1903, during a stay in Konstantinopol, where he felt lonely being far from his family and friends. Right before the trip, Bunin had gone through a tragical moment in life: he broke up with his wife, Anna Tsakni. The personal drama affected him deeply; life looked gloomy and senseless, Bunin was going through a deep depression. The translation below is a very good one, it repeats original beat and rhythm of Bunin’s masterpiece.

Loneliness

The rain and the wind and the murk
Reign over cold desert of fall,
Here, life’s interrupted till spring;
Till the spring, gardens barren and tall.
I’m alone in my house, it’s dim
At the easel, and drafts through the rims.

The other day, you came to me,
But I feel you are bored with me now.
The somber day’s over, it seemed
You were there for me as my spouse.
Well, so long, I will somehow strive
To survive till the spring with no wife.

The clouds, again, have today
Returned, passing, patch after patch.
Your footprints got smudged by the rain,
And are filling with water by the porch.
As I sink into lonesome despair
From the vanishing late autumn’s glare.

I gasped to call after you fast:
Please come back, you’re a part of me, dear;
To a woman, there is no past
Once love ends, you’re a stranger to her;
I’ll get drunk, I will watch burning logs,
Would be splendid to get me a dog.

(Taken from: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/loneliness-332/)

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This is the Russian version of the poem and a rare recording of Bunin’s voice, where he reads the poem himself:   Bunin reads his poem Loneliness

Одиночество

И ветер, и дождик, и мгла

Над холодной пустыней воды.

Здесь жизнь до весны умерла,

До весны опустели сады.

Я на даче один. Мне темно

За мольбертом, и дует в окно.

Вчера ты была у меня,

Но тебе уж тоскливо со мной.

Под вечер ненастного дня

Ты мне стала казаться женой…

Что ж, прощай! Как-нибудь до весны

Проживу и один – без жены…

Сегодня идут без конца

Те же тучи – гряда за грядой.

Твой след под дождем у крыльца

Расплылся, налился водой.

И мне больно глядеть одному

В предвечернюю серую тьму.

Мне крикнуть хотелось вослед:

«Воротись, я сроднился с тобой!»

Но для женщины прошлого нет:

Разлюбила – и стал ей чужой.

Что ж! Камин затоплю, буду пить…

Хорошо бы собаку купить.

osennyaya

A Blond Date

blond3

(A short story based on real life anecdotes.)

When I told my friend Igor about her, he said: “That blonde from Human Resources? Mmm, no. Not a good choice, pal. No potential,” he started counting his fingers. “She is too young, too hot, it will be damn expensive, the whole office will see it, and also… hmm,” he moved closer to my ear and lowered his voice, “she is blond. They are dumb, the blondes, all of them. What if you start repeating dumb stuff after her?”

Well, honestly, I wouldn’t give a damn to Igor‘s smart tips. After all, she was my girlfriend, not his! She was affectionate, charming, talkative, funny – I couldn’t remember being bored for a minute when she was around… Who said they were dumb? What a nonsense! I told Igor to go to hell and went my way.

I spent a whole weekend with her for a start. It was an awesome weekend, every minute of it– well, it would be, if it were not for Igor‘s words. They must have found a vacant cell in my brain and got stuck there like a splinter, I could not help thinking them over again and again. On Monday morning I caught myself on being obsessed with the question: what if Igor was right? An old proverb said, “you live and learn from those you live with”. What if I was already growing silly?

By early afternoon on Monday I was nearly going out of my mind. I needed to talk to my girl face to face, I wanted to test her and check myself… but how?

As ill luck would have it, I remembered an epizode from our Saturday stroll: we were shopping together in a large supermarket, when she saw a bathroom scale and decided to try it. The number on the scale did not satisfy her, she frowned, but not for long: she came up with a sudden idea to draw her belly in and step on the scale again. A dozen of people threw glances at us when she suddenly squealed, as if stung: Oh, look! With my stomach in Im almost two pounds less!”

She was playful, and chatty, and sweet, but my mind kept torturing me till the end of the day. I recalled another odd story, which had happened a few days before, in the office. I wanted to see her, so I stopped by her table. She looked a bit stressed – I love it when she is preoccupied with a task – her mouth was open, the tip of her nose got tense, and her lips moved forward, as if preparing for a passionate kiss. She was busy feeding some paper to printer.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Printing a document,” she answered matter-of-factly.

I glanced at her laptop screen.

“Hey, it is 450 pages! The toner…”

“Calm down,” she broke in,”it’s all right, they are all empty pages.”

“W-what?”

I remembered Igor’s words once again.

“Why are you printing an empty document?” I asked, trying my best to sound casual.

She sat down to the table and took out a nail trimmer.

“It’s easy,” she said.”My boss needs exactly four hundred fifty pages of paper. Do you think I’m supposed to count them by hand?”

By the end of the day on Monday I was so tired of feeding my stupid doubts that I decided to spend the evening sipping beer in a company of men. The guys got together in no time. At five minutes to six, I slipped behind my girl’s table and rushed out to the elevator.

My beer mates, a group of five noisy guys, were already waiting. They held the elevator door for me, but when I jumped in, the overload button started buzzing.

I don’t know what happened to me at that moment, but I did something that I never normally do– I said rather loudly“Listen, guys, you each need to raise one leg now.”

There was a moment of silence and– what do you think? They did! Everyone did!

Well, I waited a second enjoying the view of five bulky guys struggling hard to keep balance, and then, before they could do or say anything, I pushed myself out into the hall and ran back to the office.

She was still at her table, getting ready to leave.

“Hi,” I said, coming up. “I could not wait to the end of the day to see you again. Let’s go out and eat somewhere tonight. Are you hungry?”

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