“The weather was magnificent yesterday and today.” Moscow summer as seen by the classic writers

“The weather was magnificent yesterday and today.” Moscow summer as seen by the classic writers
Vasily Polenov, Moscow courtyard. 1878
Gogol is languishing in the heat, Bulgakov takes a tennis break in between rains, and a teenager named Dostoyevsky is about to take a walk with his father. Let’s find out what kind of weather made the classic Russian writers happy or disappointed.

This summer has been somewhat contradictory with stifling heat giving way to cool weather with rain and thunderstorms. However, forecasters promise warm weather again soon. Let’s reread the letters and diaries of the great writers to see that people have always complained about bad weather and enjoyed improved weather.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky prepares for exams and misses his mother

“My dear mother, thank God, judging by your letter, you are healthy, this makes us happy. Regarding our exam, we will probably take it on 24 June, and we are now preparing for it.

The weather was magnificent yesterday and today, and we are going for a walk with father.

Goodbye, dearest mother, we wish you good health, and we kiss your hand.

Respectfully yours, Mikhail, Fyodor and Andrei Dostoyevsky.”

Vasily Perov, Portrait of writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky. 1872

On 2 June 1835, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, then 14, and his brothers sent this letter to their mother Maria Fyodorovna who had relocated with her younger children to the Darovoye Estate. At that time, Ms Dostoyevsky was getting ready to give birth for the seventh time. Unlike earlier pregnancies, she faced health problems, and she was worried that her husband suspected her of being unfaithful.

On 31 May, she wrote the following letter to her husband: “I also pledge that my current pregnancy is the seventh tight knot in our mutual love. For my part, this love is something pure, sacred, immaculate and passionate, and it has not changed since we were married. Is this the pledge that I have never repeated to you enough to make you happy?”

At that time, Fyodor and Mikhail were preparing for their exams at the Leonty Chermak Boarding School and focusing on history and Russian grammar. This school ranked among the most prestigious, and tuition costs were high. As rule, school students lived there on weekdays and spent weekends at home. The future writer liked his Russian language teacher very much, Nikolai Bilevich, who was on friendly terms with Alexander Pushkin, Vasily Zhukovsky and Nikolai Gogol.

While posting his letter, Dostoyevsky did not suspect that he would soon lose his mother. In July 1835, Maria Fyodorovna gave birth to a daughter Alexandra, and her frail health started getting worse.

“It is not surprising that this was the bitterest time in our childhood. We expected to lose our mother at any minute. In short, our family changed after mother passed away,” the writer later recalled. The death of Dostoyevsky’s mother devastated him. After growing up, he immortalised her image in his writing as the mother of Arkady Dolgorukov in Teenager and as the Mother of Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov.

Ivan Turgenev distrusts Moscow weather

In the summer of 1850, Ivan Turgenev, then living abroad, came to Moscow. He did business, visited his friends but was in no hurry to call on his mother Varvara Petrovna in Spasskoye-Lutovinovo because of their strained relationship. He never saw her alive again; she passed away in November 1850. For the time being, the writer enjoyed summer life in the capital. In late July, he sent the following letter to Pauline Viardot and her husband Louis, then living in Paris:

“Friday, 26 July. Today marks one month since I left Paris. Only a month. How long it seemed to me. Is this the 12th or 24th time since we parted? I don’t want to think about it. Everything will be as God has ordained. You must feel happy, and this is the most important thing…
The weather has improved a bit today … But it’s so unreliable. One cannot count on anything.
Saturday, 6 am. A very gentle morning has set in, and the sky has a warm greyish colour. I have been sleeping with my windows open for the last few days.”

Ilya Repin, Portrait of Ivan Turgenev. 1874

The writer missed Paris very much and wanted to go back as soon as possible. In that same letter, he complained that no one in Moscow had a copy of The Times, a newspaper he had become accustomed to reading abroad.

During his 1850 visit to Moscow, Turgenev became acquainted with Pelageya (Polina), his illegitimate daughter, and wrote about this to his friends in his earlier letters. The girl’s mother was a seamstress employed by his mother. The young Turgenev had a short and tempestuous affair with her. It turned out that his mother, Varvara Petrovna, had taken the child and turned her into a serf. Her servants knew the girl’s background and tortured her by ordering her to work hard, and they jeeringly called her “mistress.” Turgenev decided to take his daughter away, and Pauline Viardot who was eager to help suggested that the girl stay at her estate.

Nikolai Gogol is exhausted

“I am writing to you from Moscow, I am tired and exhausted from the heat and the dust. I hurried here to prepare my Dead Souls, Volume 2 for printing. I became so exhausted that I could hardly write a note with a few lines, and I was in no position to correct or rewrite what should have been rewritten. It was much better to while away the summer at home and not hurry, but a desire to see you and Zhukovsky became the cause of anxiety.”

Fyodor Moller, Portrait of Nikolai Gogol. 1841

On 15 July 1851, Nikolai Gogol sent this letter to Pyotr Pletnyov, the editor-in-chief of the Sovremennik (Contemporary) magazine. At that time, Gogol wanted to complete a three-volume version of his poem Dead Souls. The first part was published in 1842, and the second part never came off the press. Gogol did not bother to start the poem’s third part, and only scant data is available on it.

After completing Dead Souls, Volume 2 Gogol suddenly started doubting whether he had achieved the desired result. He confessed to a priest who confirmed that Gogol had written an almost satanic book that no one should read. Gogol heeded his advice and burned the manuscript.

In his letter, he complained of the heat and dust, but he did not like cold weather either. For this reason, Gogol also disliked St. Petersburg. He was ready to forgive Italy, his little darling, for any weather it offered. In 1838, he wrote the following letter to his friend Alexander Danilevsky from Rome: “Summer is not like summer, and spring is not like spring, but they are better than those in other parts of the world.”

From Devichye Polye to the Danilov Monastery. A Guide to Gogol’s MoscowGogol House exhibits shed more light on the life of Russian literature’s main mystic

Leo Tolstoy sees rabbits in the sky

In 1856, Leo Tolstoy, then 28, made the following entry in his diary:

“A June summer evening is in full swing. It is past 4 pm, the dark-green rye stalks are sprouting on schedule, and the grass is the same colour. It appears that greyish rabbit-like animals are moving rapidly among the oak bushes. In fact, they are nothing but the shadows of clouds”.

Photo of Leo Tolstoy, by M. Tulinov. 1862

At that time, Lieutenant Tolstoy decided to become a professional writer and resign from military service.

Four years ago, his stories Childhood and Adolescence were published, and The Wartime Stories of Count Tolstoy came out in 1856. The Sovremennik magazine published his Sevastopol in August 1855 from The Sevastopol Stories cycle that made him famous.

Tolstoy then started thinking about getting married, but there was no fairy damsel on the horizon yet. He would marry Sofia Andreyevna six years later, and his Kreutzer Sonata rejecting the very concept of marriage was published just over 30 years later.

Anton Chekhov sits it out in the rain 

“Predictably, I became terribly lazy after the difficult exams. I am lying in bed, smoking and existing, and hard labour makes up the rest. I find it particularly hard to write satirical articles. But for daily rains, the weather is great, and I don’t feel like working…”

Osip Braz, Portrait of Anton Chekhov. 1898

In June 1884, Chekhov wrote this mournful letter to writer and journalist Nikolai Leikin, the editor of the satirical weekly Oskolki (Fragments) in St. Petersburg. The magazine published Chekhov’s first stories under the pen name Antosha Chekhonte. Some of his stories went unsigned.

Anton Chekhov, who mentioned his exams, was studying at the Medical Department of the Sechenov Moscow University at that time. He considered his studies and writing to be equally important and so tried to devote equal time to them. Chekhov started receiving patients while still a student. He became a district doctor after earning his university degree. In the summer of 1884, he was offered the post of a hospital head physician in Zvenigorod, near Moscow.

Although Chekhov complained about rain in his letter, he loved Moscow’s rainy seasons. His contemporaries recalled that Chekhov missed these rains while relaxing at his Crimean dacha.

Mikhail Bulgakov spends a disgusting summer 

“The summer of 1923 is something exceptional in Moscow. It rains day after day, and sometimes the rain falls several times daily. There were two famous downpours in June when the cobblestones fell through on Neglinnaya Street, and when the sidewalks got flooded. Today, we witnessed something similar – a rain with big hail.”

Mikhail Bulgakov, unknown photographer. 1926

Mikhail Bulgakov wrote this in his diary on 25 July 1923. The future author of The Master and Margarita didn’t skimp on the compliments that summer calling it disgusting, cold and rainy.  Almost 33 percent of the monthly precipitation levels fell on one day in June. Bulgakov wrote about the situation on the streets during the floods: It was possible to cross from one sidewalk to another only with the help of cabbies who were paid handsomely for their services. He also mentioned men who rode on top of each other and women who walked with their legs exposed up to and beyond the limits of decency.

“My health deteriorated noticeably and stayed that way, while I was shuttling between Moscow and my dacha outside the city. I played tennis in the brief lull between rains. My numerous acquaintances are making me happy. When we meet, they tell me how bad I look. They inquire kindly and sympathetically why am I staying in Moscow or claim that I will get rich from the autumn. They are hinting at the Theatre. (Excerpts from Bulgakov’s letter to Vikenty Veresayev, posted on 19 August 1926).

Mikhail Bulgakov’s luck ran out once again in the summer of 1926 as the weather got worse, but this could not mar his joy over the upcoming preview of the play, “The Days of the Turbins,” based on his novel The White Guard. Bulgakov wrote the play for the Moscow Art Theatre (MKhAT). The rather “ill-fated” play premiered in October, and Bulgakov soon exclaimed that MKhAT was a graveyard for his plays. Soon afterwards, he started writing his funniest and most scathing book called Theatrical Novel (also A Dead Man’s Memoir) that proved no less infernal than The Master and Margarita.

Who is who in Theatrical Novel. The mysteries of Mikhail Bulgakov’s most vexed book