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Alexandr Pushkin In Love
Pushkin arrived in Chisinau from the Crimea on horseback. After a wonderful journey through the sunny Crimean coast, Kishinev aroused a heavy feeling with Pushkin. “The streets are narrow, a lot of side-streets, very few of the houses built of stone. The houses are too small”, in such a way Pushkin described the town.
Pushkin accepted with pleasure invitations to all celebrations and parties to brighten up his life in exile. One of Pushkin’s lyceum friends who also stayed in Chisinau at that time mentioned the poet as being very nervous and having an unbalanced state of mind.
However, having got tired of the provincial Kishinev, Pushkin went on a visit to Camenca – an estate that belonged to the Davidov stepbrothers. There were two worlds in Camenca and they were divided, as Pushkin himself said, into the worlds of “aristocratic dinners and demagogic disputes”. The first circle was represented by fat and elderly retired general Alexandr Davidov. In his notes “Table-talk” Pushkin described him as the second Falstaff – “voluptuous, coward, boastful, not stupid, funny, lachrymose and fat”.
The circle of the younger brother, Vasilii Davidov, represented a complete contrast to the first one. Vasilii Davidov retired not long ago to devote all his time to political activity. Camenca was one of the centers of the Southern Secret Society. Pushkin mixed with both circles. With a youthful enthusiasm he participated in all oppositional talks of the members of the society, having no idea of the society’s existence.
The poet most willingly frequented the circle of the elder brother (his namesake). Aglaya Davidova, this Russian Falstaff’s wife was the daughter of Duke de Grammont, a French royalist emigrant. Thus she was a descendant of Count de Grammont famous as the most brilliant figure among the gallant courtesans of Louis XVI. In the words of her distant relative Davidov (the son of the partisan Denis Davidov), she was “rather pretty, frivolous and as coquettish as a real French, seeking entertainment in order not to die of boredom in barbarous Russia. In Camenca, she acted as a magnet attracting the iron figures of tsar Alexander’s time, and any man, be it the commander-in-chief or a humble cornet, was eager to die at the charming Aglaya’a feet.”
In spite of all this, the poet was enamoured of the frivolous Frenchwoman. Hardly could she evoke any strong feeling in him. Their liaison was perfectly described by the poet himself in his poem “To coquette”.
Adele was the name of Aglaya Davidova’s eldest daughter. Pushkin devoted his poem “Enjoy, Adele” to her. He either fell in love or pretended to fall in love with that nice girl of twelve. He would keep admiring her and crack clumsy jokes with her. Yakushkin, one of the Decembrists recollects the following episode: “Once at dinner he (i.e. Pushkin) was sitting beside me with a red face, starring hard at the pretty girl, so that she would turn pale and quite confused, on the verge of tears. I felt pity for her and remarked in a low voice, ‘I say, your immodest look has completely embarrassed the poor child.’ ‘I want to punish the coquette,’ he replied. ‘She used to be much more attentive, but now she prefers to be cruel and even does not want to look at me.’”
Life in Kishinev, so bright and original, so unlike that of Petersburg, where Europe and the East merged and got on together; where primitive roughness and simplicity of morals coexisted with external lustre and the French language, was at first not to the poet’s taste. Later he got used to it.
He was attending rich Moldovans’ salons, curiously watching the high society, flirted with local Moldovan, Greek, Gypsy beauties, - and writing comic verses and epigrams. His amusements are described by his Lyceum fellow-student, A. P. Gorchakov, the future chancellor of the Russian Empire: “As to the balls in Kishinev, I should say that Pushkin willingly accepted invitations to all festivities and parties, and everybody invited him. At the balls, he participated in the pastimes inherent in them, as he liked cards and dances.
While in Kishinev, Pushkin would commit rash actions and get involved in duel events because of petty quarrels with officers and Moldovan boyars. His friends would be constantly settling the conflicts. Many a time would he stand near death aimed at by his opponent. It should be mentioned that the poet was courageous and indifferent to his own destiny. He seemed to be searching for death. “Fortunately,” A. F. Weltman remarked, “the business did not end in blood and following the first shots his opponents used to offer reconciliation and he would accept it.
The poet took to cards, he played cards and in general led a dissipated life. He would ardently dance at balls, scatter witticisms at small talk parties, take an active part in conversations; his heated disputes were more aimed at acquiring knowledge than simply chatting. And all this Pushkin would do with huge self-confidence and unlimited vanity.
As any other high society, Kishinev beau monde was seeking pleasure and entertainment, but owing to its mixed Greek-Moldovan composition it enjoyed rather peculiar and sometimes queer pastimes. Many of the families maintained certain features and legends of the Turkish times, which in combination with their inborn ethnic vices and European perversity moulded a queer mixture of customs. All this could not but whet the imagination and befog the minds of the young people getting in this atmosphere of love affairs of any sort. Outwardly the life in Kishinev did not differ much from that in provincial towns and cities: the same receptions, balls, gambling-houses, the same prudish promenades in certain town quarters on holidays, the same fuss and congratulations brought to superiors on solemn days, etc. However, all this could hardly hide the original features of home and moral life of the inhabitants exclusively characteristic of this locality.
This combination of Asian morals and European lustre had an exclusive effect
on women. Moldovan and Greek women until recently kept in harems in accordance
with Muslim customs suddenly got acquainted with European civilization in the
form of masquerades, balls, French erotic novels and fashion magazines. The Kishinev
ladies, still keeping their Eastern traits in appearance and character but already
European-style free in dialogue, were passionate, amorous, and frivolous. 23-year-old
Pushkin was quite at home in this world of thoughtlessness and easy pleasures.
Pushkin and Ludmila were walking together through one of the gardens in Kishinev environs. Suddenly the boy who was always present at these tete-a-tetes for the sake of security warned them about the approaching Inglezi who had for a long time suspected Ludmila’s adultery with Pushkin and was trying to catch them together. Pushkin and the lady managed to escape in the opposite direction, which, however, did not help. On the following day Inglezi locked Ludmila in the house and challenged Pushkin to a duel, which the latter accepted. The duel was fixed for the next day. One of Pushkin’s friends organized his 10-day confinement in the guardhouse, while Inglezi was handed in a ticket reading that he and his wife were allowed a year’s stay abroad. Inglezi understood the hint and left Kishinev on the next day. Thus the duel did not take place. Pushkin was long missing Ludmila…
Soon the poet took a great interest in Yekaterina, General Albrecht’s wife. The diversified life and peculiar destiny of this woman are remarkable and worth mentioning. At 16 she was married to the rich boyar, Canta by name, who maintained ties with the robber Buzhor. During the 1806-1812 Russian-Turkish War they were caught and executed. Being rich, beautiful and well-educated, Yekaterina Grigoryevna first became the wife of Bologovsky, a commissary, and then married General Albrecht.
In his love affairs, Pushkin did not hesitate to flirt with several women simultaneously. One day he met with a young lady from a Kishinev aristocratic family in a country garden. All at once, the nearby bushes are moved apart, and a swarthy Gypsy woman with disarranged hair jumps out to snatch the lady, dumps her onto the ground and starts beating her. Pushkin rushed to separate them, but in vain. So he snatched a vineyard prop and started to beat the Gypsy woman. The latter left her victim and was about to turn against Pushkin but came to her senses and retired full of dignity. Thanks to some witnesses the whole affair became known in the town. For two weeks to follow Pushkin stayed at home without going out. The lady got seriously ill and was taken abroad.”
However, besides short-term love affairs and fleeting encounters Pushkin experienced two relatively serious passion during his Kishinev exile – those towards Calypso Polichroni and then Pulcheria Varfolomei.
The house belonging to Yegor Varfolomei, a rich merchant, member of Bessarabian Supreme Council was among the houses of the local nobility frequented by Pushkin. The host was hospitable: he used to welcome his guests sitting on a sofa, legs curtailed, pipe in hand. Pushkin was greatly taken with his daughter Pulcheria and her ingenious beauty. He devoted his poem “Maiden” to her.
Despite all the adventures and extravagance, life in Kishinev, the then uncivilized town with low-cultured population, was too monotonous and boring for the poet. In his letters A. I. Turgenev gossiped with P.A. Vyazemsky about Pushkin’s adventures in Kishinev as previously in Petersburg: “The Pushkin of Kishinev slapped one of the boyars across the face and then had a duel with a certain colonel, but with no bloodshed. In the latter case, rumor has it, he behaved well. He wrote a host of charming things; as to the money, he has none… . He is perishing because of melancholy, boredom and poverty, they say.” No doubt, Pushkin was then living through one of the most turbulent periods in his life, as the vivacity of his nature, finding no outlet in his surroundings created a feeling of overall discontent.
Prepared by Vlada Popushoi