Turgenev’s Moscow: From Ostozhenka to Mokhovaya streets and Chistye Prudy

Turgenev’s Moscow: From Ostozhenka to Mokhovaya streets and Chistye Prudy
Ilya Repin. Portrait of Ivan Turgenev. 1874
Mos.ru invites everyone for a walk around places connected with the life and memory of the great Russian author on the day of his 200th anniversary.

On 9 November 1818, a man was born who made the word “nihilist” fashionable, made millions of people cry about a drowned dog, and saw new traits in the image of a girl. Ivan Turgenev changed literature forever, and not just Russian literature, but international literature as well. After moving to Europe in the second half of the 19th century, he often talked with foreign masters promoting the Russian art of the word.

The Department of Culture’s Mosgortur and mos.ru propose celebrating the writer’s birthday with a tour of the places where Turgenev spent time. All the points are shown on the map; it includes directions and details about each location.

Mumu House (Ivan Turgenev House Museum)

Location: 37/7 Ostozhenka Street

Let’s begin our walk at the main Turgenev-related site in Moscow: the Mumu House, as the locals call it. The author’s mother Varvara spent the last ten years of her life in this empire-styled house. She was a unique woman, combining villeinage habits with a good education. She ordered everyone in the house to speak and even pray in French; she read a lot, followed new literature releases and discussed them with her son Ivan in their letters. The writer was her favourite, although it did not stop her from treating him strictly.

The strict rules in the Ostozhenka house, where Varvara moved in 1840, resulted in dramatic events, which Turgenev later described in the story of Mumu. There really was a mute serf (although his name was not Gerasim but Andrei) serving her. The dog called Mumu and her tragic fate is not fiction either: the landlady Turgeneva really ordered her drowned. However, after fulfilling the order, Andrei didn’t leave her like Gerasim did but continued to serve her faithfully.

Ivan Turgenev often visited his mother on Ostozhenka, where he had his own room in the attic. He lived there for about two years. This is where his daughter Polina was born.

The estate on Ostozhenka Street became a museum in 2007. A comprehensive renovation was completed recently. The house’s appearance was restored to the way it looked when the family  lived there. The renovated museum will open to visitors on 11 November, and a monument to Turgenev and a statue of Mumu will be unveiled in a nearby public garden.

The Gogol House memorial museum and scientific library

Location: 7а Nikitsky Boulevard

The next stop is the former Talyzin-Tolstoy estate on Nikitsky Boulevard, the last address of Nikolai Gogol who played a special role in Turgenev’s fate. An emotional obituary titled “Gogol is Dead!” that was issued on 28 April 1852 in Moskovksiye Vedomosti newspaper cost Turgenev a month of freedom: he was arrested for being too enthusiastic about the author of The Government Inspector.

The writers weren’t close friends but praised each other’s talents. In 1851, a year before Gogol’s death, Turgenev paid him two visits. The exact dates – 20 October and 5 November – as well as the details are well-known from Turgenev’s diaries. The second visit coincided with a special day: Nikolai Gogol held author’s readings of The Government Inspector for actors of  the Maly Theatre. Here is a brief extract from what Turgenev’s wrote:

“Gogol read brilliantly … I listened to him for the first – and last time. <…> Gogol … impressed me with the exceeding simplicity and modesty of his manners, some important and at the same time naïve sincerity as if he didn’t care if anybody was listening or what they thought.”

Visitors at the Gogol House can see how the meeting went. The museum’s permanent exhibits include an etching of Vladimir Makovsky’s image “Gogol reads The Government Inspector” with Turgenev drawn in among the listeners.

The collection also includes an exhibit connected with the French period of Ivan Turgenev’s life: the book “Ivan Turgenev’s letters to M-me Pauline Viardot and his French friends” released in 1900, a live testimony to the great reader interest in the late writer’s personal life. In addition to relations with the famous singer, the book described Turgenev’s friendships with the main literature stars of the time: Gustave Flaubert, George Sand, Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant and Theophile Gautier.

On the eve of Turgenev’s 200th birthday the Gogol House has prepared two exhibits. The first, On the Edge of Someone Else’s Nest, is dedicated to Turgenev’s meeting with Pauline Viardot, and the other, Crossings: Nikolai Gogol and Ivan Turgenev, which opened on 19 October, is about the crossings of the two writers’ fates.

Moscow University (old building)

Location: 9 Mokhovaya Street

Turgenev was noted for the first time by the society here. And society was surprised!

In August 1833, the future writer, who was 14 years 11 months then, filed an application to enroll in the literature department at Moscow University. The application was denied, because according to the rules, boys under 17 were not admitted to the university.

However, an exception was made and Ivan Turgenev was allowed to take the entrance exam after a written request from the Moscow Province School Director Matvei Okulov to Education Minister Sergei Uvarov, which noted that “he is a boy of such knowledge that he is not only able to pass this exam but also almost pass the final exam.” Of course, the young candidate passed the entrance exam.

At that time, Vissarion Belinsky, Alexander Herzen, Ilya Goncharov, Nikolai Ogarev and Nikolai Stankevich were students there, but Turgenev was too young to join them. He was properly introduced to them later.

The future writer only studied at Moscow University for a year. His father was transferred to St Petersburg; the family moved, and Ivan Turgenev entered the philosophy department at Petersburg University, where in his third year he wrote his first dramatic poem, Steno.

Still, Ivan Turgenev often attended public lectures by historian Timofei Granovsky at Moscow University.

Bolshoi and Maly theatres

Location: 1 and 2 Teatralnaya Square

The first plays by Turgenev were presented at Moscow theatres in the 1840s. Some of the performances by two main Moscow theatres while the writer was alive included Breakfast at the Chief's, Bachelor, A Provincial Lady, It Tears Where It is Thin and A Month in the Country.

The Maly Theatre had the lead thanks to Mikhail Shchepkin who worked there and admired the young playwright. Shchepkin put a lot effort into staging even those works that were initially banned by censorship, such as Fortune's Fool (which, by the way, Gogol considered immoral). In time, Turgenev and Shchepkin became close friends, and the writer even allowed him to edit his scripts before presenting them to the Moscow Censorship Commission.

The Bolshoi Theatre, which was called Petrvosky at the time, also staged performances based on his works. In addition, Pauline Viardot often played there, and the enamored author couldn’t miss this. In March 1853, he even used forged documents to escape from house arrest in his Oryol estate to see the French opera diva who was in Moscow on tour.

Turgenev Library

Where: 6 Bobrov Pereulok, bldgs. 1 and 2

The first Moscow library, which was free for all social strata, was established after Turgenev’s death in 1883. It opened two years later and was soon named for him. It was located not far from the place it occupies today: at 1 Turgenevskaya Square. The historical building designed by architect Dmitry Chichagov was torn down in 1972, but there is still an item from the past in the new library on Bobrov Pereulok: a bust of Turgenev.

It is an exact replica of the bust created by famous Soviet sculptor Sergei Konenkov. In the mid-1950s, he presented the sculpture to the library, and the bust decorated its reading hall until the building’s last days.