PUSHKIN IN MIKHAILOVSKOYE
Mikhailovskoye was traditionally regarded by Pushkin scholars as a place of cruel exile and captivity both physical and creative. In fact the Mikhailovskoye exile was a period of remarkably intense and inspired poetic creation for him. The atmosphere of the estate, associated with his childhood and youth, the beautiful countryside, the mystery and dignity of peasant life which impressed Pushkin so mush, the contact with his friends in Trigorskoye and his beloved nanny Arina Rodionovna , all this undoubtedly had a great effect on the creative mood of Pushkin the poet.
In July 1825 Pushkin wrote to P.A.Vyazemsky: “… I have performed a great literary feat, for which you will embrace me: a romantic tragedy!” These words written by Pushkin about his work on “Boris Godunov“ can be interpreted more widely as referring to the Mikhailovskoye period in general. It was a great literary feat indeed. During this period Pushkin prepared the “Poems of Alexander Pushkin” which sold out with unprecedented speed. It came out on 30 December, 1825 and by 27 February, 1826 P.A.Pletnev, the poet’s agent for literary matters, wrote to him in Mikhailovskoye: “I haven’t got a single copy left, on which I congratulate him. What is more, war broke out among the booksellers when they realised they could not get any more from me.”
The poet’s brother Lev noticed the decisive changes that took place in Pushkin’s work during the Mikhailovskoye exile. “Whether it was the change in his way of life, or the natural course of improvement, I cannot say, but the fact is that during this seclusion his talent appears to have grown stronger and, if you put it like that, more original. Ever since then his work have born the stamp of maturity.”
The disgraced poet’s frequent complaints to his friends that “remote Mikhailivskoye” made him fell “melancholy and rage” became understandable when we read in “Eugene Onegin” an almost autobiographical account of life in the countryside in winter:
...What can one do in the backwoods at this tide?
Go for a walk? At this time the countryside
Cannot fail to bore the eye
With its bare monotony.
Gallop on horseback o’er the empty plains?
Yet the horse, its shoe blunted yet again,
Stubs the ice and all falls too.
Then sit under your deserted roof
And read: here’s Pradt and Walther Scott.
Don’t fancy it ? Check the accounts, if not,
Grumble and drink, and the long evening
Will pass somehow, but tomorrow brings,
The same and thus you’ll spend
The winter splendidly to the bitter end.
In the plan of the novel he wrote in the second part: ”Chapter 4. Mikhailovskoye village. 1825”. If we recall Pushkin’s admission in Vyazemsky in a letter dated 27 May, 1826 that “I have portrayed this life in chapter four of “Onegin”, we can speak of the authenticity of the details of country life in “Eugene Onegin” (without identifying Pushkin completely with his hero, however). The poet’s brother Lev, who was present during the first few weeks of Pushkin’s life in exile and then received highly detailed accounts of it from Pushkin’s letters, friends who visited the poet, his acquaintances at Trigorskoye and his own house serf who went to St Petersburg for provision, said about Pushkin’s life in the country: “ He did not get to know his neighbours. In fact his way of life was rather like Onegin’s life in the country. Waking up in the winter he too would get into a bath with ice, and in summer set off for a river flowing under a hill, or play billiards with two balls and dine late and rather eccentrically. In general he liked to give his heroes his own tastes and habits.” In November 1824 Pushkin wrote to Lev: “Know how I spend my time? I write notes until dinner and dine late; after dinner I go for a ride and in the evening I listen to folk tales – thereby making up for the defects of my wretched education. What a delight these tales are! Each one is a real poem.”
In a letter to Vyazemsky Pushkin gives a vivid description of his equestrian pursuits. “I am writing to you… with a broken arm. Had a fall on the ice not off a horse, but with a horse. A great difference for my equestrian pride.”
The poet asked his brother Lev to send him a “horse-riding manual – I want to train to stallions – a free imitation of Alfieri and Byron.” From the memoirs of Maria Osipova, who describes the abrupt end to Pushkin’s exile, we also know about the poet’s gastronomic preferences. Arina Rodionovna, lamenting her master’s sudden departure, told the neighbours from Trigorskoye that she had “destroyed” “… that awful cheese that Alexander Sergeyevich liked to eat, but I cannot bear, and the smell of it, that German cheese, is something awful.” At the same time the poet’s fare was something ordinary, country food.“ “I eat baked potatoes, like a Finn, and soft-boiled eggs like Louise XVIII. That’s my dinner. I go to bed at nine and rise at seven”, he announced in one of his letters.
The manuscript of chapter four of the novel contains a description of Onegin’s dress, which Pushkin did not include in later drafts:
A Russian shirt he liked to wear
With a silken kerchief as a sash,
A Tartar caftan open wide
And a hat with a roof
Like a house that moves.
Neighbours often saw Pushkin in this attire. Alexei Vulf describes how he once saw him dressed like this : ”…on the Friday after Easter, Pushkin went to the Svyatogorsky Fair in red Russian shirt with a belt, carrying a stick and wearing a special hat he had brought from Odessa.The whole Novorzhev beau monde, which had come to the fair (held in spring) to buy tea, sugar, and wine, saw Pushkin in this attire and was most scandalized by it…”
In his «Memoirs» Alexei Vulf describes another costume of Pushkin’s: “I saw him at his writing desk in a red Moldavian cap and dressing gown…” It is not surprising that Pushkin, who was compelled later in St Petersburg to wear the uniform of a gentleman-of-the-bedchamber, should prefer simple peasant dress in Mikhailovskoye. According to P.A.Vyazemsky “Pushkin did not like his gentleman-of the-bedchamber uniform. What he disliked about it was not court service, but the uniform itself”.
In his years of exile Pushkin avoided his neighbours (with the exception of Trigorskoye) and took no part in the various amusement, hunting and carousing of the country landowners. This is mentioned in many reminiscences of contemporaries, including the peasant I. Pavlov: “…he lived alone, not mixing with the other master, and did not go hunting with them… “ In chapter four of “Eugene Onegin” Pushkin describes the difference between him and his landowning neighbours as follows:
For each man has his own pursuits,
His own beloved occupation;
Some like to shoot ducks with a gun;
Madmen like me prefer versification.