Letters to Pushkin

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What could we manage to say that was new? Looking yet again at a thick folder with her name on it, documents collected over long years, we made up our mind to try to catch a glimpse of her as an historical-literary phenomenon, so to speak, and maybe as one of the unsolved riddles of Pushkin's biography. Primary materials on his nurse are scant, but, to all appearances, the maximum possible has already been drawn from them and interpreted variously, sometimes at odds with historical fact—in turn, something with its own reasons.


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According to the unwritten law of Pushkin studies, the environment around the great poet has been staked out and divided up between friends and enemies, with a consequent hypertrophy of their virtues or deficiencies. His nurse has survived many a purge, with honor intact. A nurse.


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But what kind? In life she was called Arina.

Pushkin's Hallowed Nurse

In her old age some called her Rodionovna, the way they do sometimes in the country. In scholarly Russian and Western literature she is more frequently referred to as Arina Rodionovna, without any family name, or, more rarely, with the surname Yakovleva. Arina was what they called her around the house, but she had two genuine names: Irina, and in other documents, Irinya.

Her family name, according to the serf tax register, was Rodionova. She was buried under that name. As a serf-woman, a nurse would have no family name. In documents accounting ledgers, confessional inventories, parish birth registers she was called after her father—Rodionova—and in an everyday context, Rodionovna the normal patronymic.


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None of the poet's contemporaries referred to her as Yakovleva. Meylakh called her Arina Matveyeva after her husband. Whichever way you look at it, Pushkin's and Gogol's serf-characters had names like Savelyich, Selifan, or Petrushka; and her respectful address by name and patronymic as Arina Rodionovna, without a family name, widely accepted in literature, puts the nurse straightaway on a definite level.

After all, beginning with folkloric names Mikula Selyaninovich, say , it has been the custom in print to dignify this way only heroes, tsars, grand dukes for example, Nikolay Pavlovich, Konstantin Pavlovich for Nicholas I and his brother and widely-known people Alexander Sergeyevich, Joseph Vissarionovich for Pushkin and Stalin. According to the parish register of the Voskresenskaya Suydinskaya church, she was born on April 10, , in Suyda the present village of Voskresenskoye , or more precisely, a quarter of a mile away, in the hamlet of Lampovo.

This is the so-called Izhorsk land in the St. Petersburg guberniya, on the territory of Ingermanlandia, at one point belonging to Great Novgorod, then to Sweden, and then reconquered by Peter the Great. First Orthodox Christianity was propagated on this thinly-populated locality, then Lutheranism, then again Orthodoxy.

Her mother, Lukerya Kirillova, and her father, Rodion Yakovlev, had seven children—among them two with the same name, Yevdokiya. While Arina was a child, she was reckoned the serf of Count Fyodor Apraksin. Suyda and its adjacent hamlets with their inhabitants were purchased from Count Apraksin by the poet's grandfather, Abram Hannibal. Arina Irina, Irinya Rodionova-Yakovleva-Matveyeva lived a long life, for those times—past her seventieth year.

In Arina got married and was allowed to move to her husband's in the village of Kobrino, not far from the present-day Gatchina. A year later, following Pushkin's birth, his grandmother, Maria Hannibal, sold Kobrino with all the people in it and bought Zakharovo, outside Moscow. She excluded Arina, along with her family and the house that they lived in, from the bill of sale. The situation isn't as clear as it has been represented. At one time, it was the custom to consider that Maria Hannibal either gave Arina and her family—her husband, Fyodor Matveyev, who died in or from drunkenness, and four children—their freedom, or wanted to.

Arina refused the offer of freedom. Pushkin's sister, Olga Pavlishcheva, alleges this in her memoirs. Arina remained a house-serf. Ulyansky claims that her children never received their freedom. At Mikhaylovskoye, according to the register, she and her children were again listed as serfs. He never touched upon this topic in regards to his nurse, not a word, although slavery in general stirred his civic indignation on more than one occasion.

What is important is that Arina and her children found themselves in a rather unusual position. Arina went back and forth between the Pushkins' and her village—and we don't know for sure which one that would have been. By necessity, she had been taken into service in the manor, but they evidently sent her back to Mikhaylovskoye, as well.

She was something along the lines of a steward: she would watch over the estate, carrying out her lords' bidding; certain of her honesty, they would entrust her with various financial affairs. Vladimir Nabokov uses the English word housekeeper to try to explain her role to the Western reader. In , Arina was taken by Maria Hannibal to the house of the guardian of her daughter, that is, Pushkin's mother, to be a wet-nurse for the man's son. The poet's uncle, A. This is not an idle question, for who nursed the poet at her breast? When Pushkin was born, Arina was 41; two years later she was widowed and had no more children.

The ages of Arina Rodionovna's children by Fyodor Matveyev in the year of Pushkin's birth were: Yegor, 17; Nadezhda, 11; Marya who left something like a primitive memoir , Arina's last son, Stefan, was born most likely at the end of , at the very time December 20, as Pushkin's older sister Olga, and they took Arina from the village into the Pushkin's house because she was in milk.

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Pushkin was born a year and a half later, when she had already weaned his sister, or was about to. Most likely, Arina had already gone dry and had been sent back to the village. A different wet-nurse was brought for Pushkin. In his sister Olga's testimony, the poet had two nurses. Both of them have been known as Yakovleva up to the present. Most likely his first nurse was taken from the village that belonged to Maria Hannibal.

As is still normal to this day, a few family names would have sufficed for a whole village. The poet's first nurse was Ulyana Yakovlevna or Yakovleva born probably in or , perhaps a widow, year of death unknown. There were lots of servants in the Pushkins' house; wet-nurses were easily found in the villages and returned to them, but this nurse was trusted with far more than the others. Pushkin's mother, when she needed her, allowed her to sleep not in the servants' hall, but in the manor itself.

Later on, her daughter Nadezhda was also taken into service at their lordships'. Arina's children were permitted to settle in the little village of Zakharovo. In , Zakharovo was sold.

Tatyanas Letter to Onegin Pushkin, Prokofiev

It is not known if Arina nursed any of these children. His parents, when Pushkin entered the Lyceum, left Moscow for Warsaw, where his father had procured a post. Arina was sent back to Mikhaylovskoye. The Yusupov garden, the earthquake, my nurse. Arina Rodionovna's significance to the history of Russian literature is based on several theses, whose most fundamental is sentimental: the poet loved his nurse and included her in his works.

Did she really play an important part in his life? The first summer of his life Pushkin spent at Mikhaylovskoye, to which he had been brought soon after his birth; only in the fall did his parents leave for St. They went back with him to Mikhaylovskoye, where he soon died. His attachment to her, or, as has been written, his love for his nurse, meaning her role in his life, relates to his Mikhaylovskoye exile, which lasted for two years.

He was living in the large, seigniorial manor, and his nurse lived either in the outbuilding where the bath was, or in the maids' hall. After his exile, the poet returned again to the village two months later, and still another time, in His love for his nurse is confirmed by a range of sources.

Yuri Druzhnikov - Pushkin's Hallowed Nurse

His sister, Olga, amplifies: he had loved her since childhood, but even more so when he was at Mikhaylovskoye. Mention of his nurse runs first from Pushkin's life into his letters, and then into his works, and it is difficult for the biographer to distinguish between facts of life and literary exaggerations. But Pushkin himself, in contrast to his biographer, never called his nurse either go-between or guide or ultimate preceptor or teacher. All these reminders of his nurse were after a fight with his father, when his parents had gone away and Pushkin was left alone.

However, the poet's mood in the storm covering the sky with gloom, and even the text of a letter written on a frosty winter's day at the beginning of his Mikhaylovskoye exile, being boundless generalizations, distort the real picture of the poet's life in the country, narrow his pastimes to the constant spending of his time only with his nurse. However easy and comfortable he might have felt with her anyway, it was his enforced solitude that she was taking the edge off.

He wrote no more about his nurse. Aleksey Vulf recalled that Pushkin's desk was piled high with books by Montesquieu and other authors. There is a lot of eyewitness testimony that the poet would spend whole days, and of course evenings and sometimes nights as well, at Trigorskoye. Imagine yourself a passionate year-old man: would you listen for a long time, and especially every day, to fairy-tales from your nurse, when there was a house within two miles full of cheery feminine laughter and flirtation?

Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837)

Pushkin would go to the Osipov-Vulfs' at Trigorskoye sometimes on horseback, sometimes by wagon, sometimes on foot. There was company there, there he carried on affairs with everyone in turn, starting with the mistress of the estate. His nurse would come to Trigorskoye to carry out various tasks for her master. In his Mikhaylovskoye exile, Pushkin's nurse was his aide in practical affairs, in everyday life.

Her kindness and caring for him and for visitors made her irreplaceable. Arina would look into the estate's affairs, telling her master what was going on in the village. Pushkin's love for Mikhaylovskoye was changing. My nurse is hilarious. Imagine, at 70 she has learned off by heart a new prayer for the softening of her lord's heart and the curbing of his soul's ferocity , a prayer probably composed during the reign of Tsar Ivan.

Right now priests are bawling the service in her room and keeping me from going about my business. The description of the company the poet met with is interesting as well: menials, louts, and nurse, who is hilarious. She sent off the letter with Arkhip the gardener, who was entrusted with bringing Pushkin's books from Mikhaylovskoye to St.

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