Libmonster ID: BY-1549
Author(s) of the publication: Pavel FOKIN

by Pavel FOKIN, State Literary Museum (Moscow)

From October 2010 till April 2011, The Bowl of Life exhibition, in honor of the 140th birth anniversary of Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), the first national Nobel Prize laureate

in literature, was held in Ostroukhov's House in Trubnikov lane.

Konstantin Paustovsky dedicated heartfelt words to this outstanding master of word and a fellow-writer (Ivan Bunin (article), 1956): "In the autobiographical book Arsenyev's Life Bunin reached that level of perfection in prose about which Chekhov and Leo Tolstoi spoke a lot,--the level when prose and poetry merge into one organic inseparable whole, when you cannot make a distinction between poetry and prose and each word imprints in the soul like a scorching seal...

Most people know Bunin as a prose writer. But as a poet, he is no less interesting. He wrote many beautiful poems.

These poems like his prose show his phenomenal gift to be reincarnated, if we can say so, into everything he writes about.

Almost instantaneously, he grasps and fixes in words characteristics of people and landscapes, that truly reproduce the essence of what Bunin writes about.

No doubt, Bunin is rigorous, almost ruthless. At the same time he is very expressive when he writes about love. Love for him is more global and rich than a common notion about it.

Love for him means association with the beauty and complexities of the world. It is nights, days, the sky and

стр. 73

boundless noise of the ocean, books and reflections--in short, a world around him.

His language is simple, sometimes even reserved, but it is concurrently picturesque and rich in its sound expression--from solemn sounds of brass to transparency of running spring water, from measured expressiveness to intonations of surprising softness, from light melodies to slow peal of thunder.

Bunin was an almost unsurpassed master of the language.

Like every outstanding writer, he reflected on happiness a lot. He waited for it, searched for it, and when found it, he shared it with other people."

The prominent writer lived a long life. He winessed the collapse of the Russian Empire and birth of the Soviet Russia. He witnessed development of totalitarian regimes, he saw "troubled and perplexed peoples", watched mankind creating weapons of self-destruction, rolling down to ignorance and barbarity. Toxic gases, tanks, combat aviation, rocket and nuclear weapons, concentration camps are not morbid fancies of fictitious characters, but realities of the 20th century.

The collection of materials on Bunin's life, especially those dedicated to his life in Russia before 1917, kept at the State Literary Museum, describes in detail part of a long and hard life of the writer. A number of exhibits, in particular, books presented to Bunin and signed by their authors--prose writers and poets who emigrated from Russia--and amateur photos refer to the later period. The Russian State Archives of Literature and Arts, the RF State Archives* were entrusted to organize the most comprehensive, accurate and true exposition dedicated to Bunin. Heirs and curators of the collection taken up by the writer Nikolai Teleshov, Orel State Unified Literary Museum named after 1. Turgenev, Moscow State Museum of L. Tolstoi and the Russian Fund of Culture also agreed to help. Mikhail Seslavinsky, head of the Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communications, provided books and documents from his private collection.

The scientific concept, structure and exposition plan were developed by Olga Zalieva, a research assistant of the museum, who carefully studied published materials, biographical materials from archives and private collections dedicated to Bunin's life and creative work for years. The interior design of the exhibition was implemented by a group of young artists headed by Yuri Reshetnikov.

The idea of the exposition was conceived as a triumph of the writer, culmination of his biography-awarding Nobel Prize. It is worth saying that Bunin was nominated several times starting from 1931, and each time he was very anxious waiting for a decision of the Swedish Academy. On the eve of this significant event he wrote: "I'm taken by unconscious thoughts and desire not to think. Anticipation, sometimes timid hopes--and amazement at once: no, it cannot be true! The dominant feeling is anticipation of offence and bitterness. It is very painful! Not a single event of success for the whole life..."

In 1933, Bunin was finally awarded this prestigious prize that resulted in a short but deserved worldwide fame, Russian emigrants were acknowledged by European community as a whole rather indifferent to their disastrous life.

The museum keeps amateur photos of the writer with his family on first day of his triumph, as well as newspaper reports and comments, and a poster published by the Stockholm Publishing House Gebers announcing the publication of Bunin's works in the Swedish language. The documentary films carry you to the time of success of the national writer. The photocopy of the

See: M. Khalizeva, "Secrets of the State Archives", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011.--Ed.

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Nobel Prize diploma was taken as a basis for an aesthetic and semantic interpretation of this exhibition hall.

The festive overture set a high emotional tone for the whole exposition. Right from the beginning we understand that the writer's talent has powerful cultural roots. Thus, the poetess Anna Bunina who became known to the public in late 18th-early 19th centuries ("Russian Sappho*") was among Bunin's ancestors; her portrait of 1823 copied from the original by Alexander Varnek opens the picture gallery of representatives of this glorious family. Nearby, there is a water-color portrait by Pyotr Sokolov (1838) of the poet-romanticist Vasily Zhukovsky, her coeval.

Bunin always loved his family. He respectfully talked about his father, was a tender son, admired his elder brother Yuly, who made a lot to help him become an educated man, maintained friendly relations with his other brother Yevgeny and sister Mariya. This world--a small motherland, remote, unhurried and pensive--is reflected in the photos, letters and early poetry.

The elder generation was a source of spiritual support for the writer. An interesting exhibit--a letter of 1896 written by the Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich in reply to a letter of the 26-year-old provincial, who made his first steps in poetry, published his poems under the name of "K.R." and addressed the member of the royal family asking for tutorship. The letter said: "Having promised you to communicate the rules of

*Sappho (Sapho)--an ancient Greek lyrical poetess (7th-6th cent. B.C.).--Ed.

prosody, I undertook quite a difficult task. That is why, dear Ivan Alexeevich, I apologize in advance for my vague explanations of what I know not from studies, but by fits and starts."

Leo Tolstoi, who was a comrade-in-arms of Bunin's father in Sevastopol during the Crimean War of 1853-1856, was an idol of the young writer. The exhibited copies of letters and Bunin's reminiscences about the great novelist are an eloquent testimony to that fact.

Year by year the writer got new acquaintances in the literary community. These were people of different generations, artistic schools, ideologies, for example, representatives of the realistic school Vladimir Korolenko, Anton Chekhov (honorary member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1900)*, Maxim Gorky, modernists Leonid Andreyev, Valery Bryusov and Konstantin Balmont. He maintained contacts with some of them, with others he had friendly relations, and broke off relations for ever with still others. The history of these relations could be traced from the exhibited letters and documents.

The collection of poems Listopad (Fall of the Leaves) published in 1901 by the Scorpio Publishers** was a

See: V. Vasilyev, "In Time All My Works Shall See the Light..." (Anton Chekhov); Yu. Balabanova, "Seven Years in Melikhovo", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2010.--Ed.

** The Scorpio Publishers-a publishing house established by Bryusov in 1899 for symbolist writers (representatives of the most significant modern literary trend, who addressed human feelings and intuition rather than mind and searched for new literary forms). Published sophisticated and refined books.--Ed.

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milestone in Bunin's creative biography. It immediately drew attention of critics and encouraged public interest in subsequent publications. However, Bunin and symbolists took their own ways. The writer was spiritually closer to realists and Sreda (The Environment) group that gathered on Wednesdays at the Moscow flat of Nikolai Teleshov for several years in early 20th century. Prankish nicknames invented by members of the group for each other evidence the informal atmosphere that reigned at their meetings. The list of nicknames made by the owner of the flat and a bronze bell with a flamingo-shaped handle used to open each meeting are also among the exhibits.

Anton Chekhov always extended a cordial welcome to the "minstrel of the fall and sadness", he was always ready to help Bukichon, as Chekhov sometimes called him in jest, with advice and deed. There is one of the first Chekhov's letters addressed to him dated January 30, 1890: "Dear Sir, Ivan Alexeyevich! Sorry for not responding to your letter for so long. I was in St. Petersburg and have just returned to Moscow. I'm happy to serve you, though I'm a bad critic and was always wrong, especially in the role of a judge of a beginner. Send me your stories, but not those already published. Always at your service, A. Chekhov."

Romantic feelings Bunin had to Chekhov's sister did not go far. On the photo of 1900 taken in Yalta, the writer made a note: "To sweet, gorgeous and charming Mariya Pavlovna Chekhova from lv. Bukichon." It was she who was mentioned in the dedication to the tale The Date (Dawn All Night Long), published in Russkaya mysl* magazine in 1902.

In 1898, Bunin got married to a daughter of Nikolai Tsakni, an Odessa journalist and public figure. But the marriage was unsuccessful. Their first son Nikolai, who

Russkaya mysl (The Russian Thought)--the most popular and one of the best monthly literary and political magazines in Russia, published in Moscow from 1880 to 1918.--Ed.

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was born in 1900, died at the age of five. Bunin was desperate. This tragic period of the writer's life is represented by two photos: a fascinating image of the beautiful Greek woman and a delicate face of the sick child, full of suffering.

"In the last months of his life, when he almost did not get up, Bunin always had the last portrait of his son on the blanket." These are words written by Vera Muromtseva, who totally changed Bunin's unhappy private life. On November 4, 1906, at the house of the writer Boris Zaitsev, Bunin saw a beautiful, leisurely and just young woman, a student of the Guerrier Higher Women's Courses* with "enormous light-transparent, crystal eyes, and a little bit pale complexion"**. This is how she looks on the photo of the 1900s.

She became his faithful companion and overcame all difficulties together with her beloved husband; she made a lot to preserve Bunin's archives and creative heritage, prepared a biographical book Bunin's Life, in which she described his life till 1906 and left interesting recollections called Talking with the Memory.

In the 1900s they traveled throughout the world. Numerous postcards bought by them as souvenirs and sent to friends show Constantinople, Athens, Alexandria, Port Said, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Beirut, Baalbek, Damascus, Jericho, Colombo and Syracuse. From there, the writer sent his essays and short stories to Russian newspapers. The newspapers of that time did not leave his long travels unnoticed, e.g. Bunin in Turkey (1903) and Bunin in India (1911).

Future Nobel laureate became more and more famous. In 1903, St. Petersburg AS awarded him Pushkin Prize for the collection Listopad and translation of The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Longfellow. Publishers were eager to get acquainted with him. In the letter dated April 11, 1906, the millionaire-patron Nikolai Ryabushinsky who was going to publish a literary-artistic magazine Zolotoye runo (The Golden Fleece) wrote to Bunin: "Dear Ivan Alexeyevich! I would be very pleased to have you on the list of employees of The Golden Fleece and your stories on its pages...". His works were included in the collections published by the Znanie Publishing House, which in 1902-1909 issued the first collected works of the writer.

In 1909 Bunin was elected Honorary Academician--this fact is proved by a notice of November 4, 1909,

*Vladimir Guerrier--a historian, public figure, Corresponding Member of St. Petersburg AS (from 1902); established and headed (from 1872 to 1905) Higher Women's Courses in Moscow.--Ed.

"Cited by: B. Zaitsev, Two Veras. Golden Tracery: A Novel, Short Stories.--M., 1991.--Ed.

signed by Alexei Shakhmatov, an outstanding philologist, full member of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. The public response was not unanimous: someone was jealous ("too young!"), others were indignant with the fact that he accepted the title from the people who had excluded Gorky!

In 1912 Sreda magazine celebrated the 25th anniversary of Bunin's literary activities; the writer got many presents: a lithograph of Pushkin's portrait signed by a team of authors; a drawing by Appolinary Vasnetsov and A Rural Landscape by Vasily Pereplyotchikov (displayed at the exhibition). The fine pastel crayon portrait by Vladimir Rossinsky (1915) shows a 45-year-old writer--the age called acme ("bloom") by antique biographers. Bunin's easy stature reveals him as a man of honor, self-confident and calm; his attentive eyes and a strict "classical" suit underline integrity and significance of his personality, brave readiness to perceive life as it is-by that time the First World War (1914-1918) was already in progress, the October events of 1917 were unavoidable.

Later on, Vera Nikolayevna, engaged in studies of Bunin's archives, wrote: "Half of the day I was copying Yan's diary (Bunin's diary.--Ed.). We had different attitude toward Bolsheviks. He felt rage and indignation." Bunin did not accept the revolution. First, he thought he could keep living and working in Russia. In 1918, the couple went to Odessa, to the south of the country--that time free of the Red Army. But in a year the city was already in the hands of the new power. Two pencil drawings by Yuri Artsybushev show the writer in the summer-autumn of 1919.

All that time Bunin, a stern but not an indifferent chronicler, kept annals of "the time of troubles of the 20th century", that was taken as a basis of an accusatory documentary-historical pamphlet The Damned Days (a fragment of the first publication in the Paris newspaper The Resurrection of November 21, 1925, is displayed at the exhibition). On February 6, 1920, Bunin together with his wife Vera Nikolayevna left Russia on board the Sparta steamship. For ever*.

They had to start life anew. Emigrants established newspapers and magazines, publishing houses, carried out charity concerts from time to time to raise money for this or that Russian writer. Nevertheless, their life was miserable. They had to move from an expensive Paris to a cheaper countryside. From 1923, the Bunins most of the time lived in leased villas in Gras (Maritime Alps, Mediterranean Sea). There, far away

See: N. Bystrova, "Vanished Winners", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011.--Ed.

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from political life and literary perturbations, in a small community formed by young students of the writer, Bunin wrote his novel Arsenyev's Life.

Numerous amateur photos imprinted different moments of life at the villa in Gras. In the 1920s Bunin changed his image: he shaved off the beard and whiskers, and looked much younger. The photo taken by Ilya Fondaminsky* shows a sturdy man in a beach suit: a nice body, hard muscles of hands and legs ("He

* Ilya Fondaminsky (pen-name "Bunakov")--a public figure, publicist, member of the Central Committee of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, emigrated in 1919, one of the founders of Sovremenniye zapiski (The Contemporary Notes) (1920-1940) and Novy grad (The New City) (1931-1939) magazines.--Ed.

has slender, aristocratic legs, and he admits that sometimes is proud of them: 'Hands and legs reveal the breed,'"--the poetess and memoirist Irina Odoyevtseva recollected). A joky inscription on the picture: "Dear Ilya Isidorovich, please, don't show to anyone; they would say I'm a young communist! I. Bunin 22.10.1925". He did not lose the sense of humor even in the most difficult times. Rare publications of books presented to Bunin by the authors also illustrate the emigration period--a collection of true love and respect displayed by a new generation of writers to the great writer.

Like others, the Bunins had a hard life during World War II. But in those obscure times, when "the plague"

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of fascism invaded Europe and death became an ordinary part of life, Bunin wrote his Decameron, a cycle of stories The Dark Lanes, a solemn hymn to Life, Love and Joy. In 1947 he sent it to Teleshov and wrote on the cover: "This small book published in early 1943 in America and only for America (600 copies printed), sold long ago, comprises only one fourth of what I wrote under a common name The Dark Lanes. Iv. B.." In the letter he added: "Don't be confused with some bold places-as a whole, it is about tragic, tender and beautiful feelings. 1 think this is the best and most extraordinary book I have ever written--and I'm not the only one who thinks so." There is an inscription on the other copy of the book made in a legible handwriting as if especially for the initiators of the exhibition: "Decameron was written in the time of plague. The Dark Lanes--in the years of Stalin and Hitler, when they tried to devour each other. Iv. Bunin."

The times changed. The Soviet power was recognized worldwide after the victory in World War II: it made a decision to help the emigrants: on June 14, 1946, the Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Council "On Reinstatement of Subjects of the Former Russian Empire and Persons Deprived of Soviet Citizenship Residing in France" was released. They tried to persuade Bunin to return to the Motherland. Once he was even invited to the Soviet Consulate, but, as the writer assured, the only thing they discussed was a possibility to publish his books in the Soviet Union.

It is true, Soviet publishers were preparing a big volume of Bunin's works. The museum keeps the makeup of the book and a draft letter of Anatoly Tarasenkov (literary critic) and Pyotr Chagin, Director of Khudo-zhestvennaya Literatura Publishing House, dated April 19, 1946, to the head of the state Josef Stalin; with the history of writing the book and a request to help publish it.

Slowly but implacably, the writer became weaker and weaker. As Zinaida Shakhovskaya, a writer and a translator, wrote in her memoirs, "all his nature resisted decay and death. He felt life, worldly pleasures and blossoming, though he had a presentiment about and understanding of decay as well. Bunin was not that wise and satiated as Solomon, but he always remembered that everything has its end, like Ecclesiastes." Bunin died on November 8, 1953. Vladimir Zernov, attending physician of the writer recollected: "Bunin asked Vera Nikolayevna to cover his face with a napkin, as he did not want anybody to see his face after death. She made an exclusion for me and for the last time I saw his beautiful face, calm and alien, as if he saw something that helped him get into the problem of death that distressed him all his life."


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