Saturday, November 29, 2014


The year 2014 marks the two-hundredth anniversary of Mikhail Lermontov's birth. So all over the Russian-speaking world people are getting together to commemorate his short life and to read his poetry.

It is always interesting to contemplate meetings between great writers, to consider what they may have said to one another. In 1878 Tolstoy and Dostoevsky sat in the same lecture hall, listening to a talk by Solovyov. They never met, not that day or any other, but if they had the fur surely would have flown.

Here are three great Russian writers, Lermontov, Pushkin, and Gogol, pictured in confabulation, as part of the mammoth Monument to A Thousand Years of Russian History, in Great Novgorod. Such a confabulation never took place, as the three of them never got together. Gogol and Pushkin, however, did know each other, although they were not great friends, and Pushkin provided Gogol with the plots for some of his most famous works.

Lermontov and Gogol met only twice, on two successive days in Moscow, May 9 and May 10, 1840. Lermontov showed up for a party commemorating Gogol's nameday on May 9. It was held in the gardens of the historian and publicist Pogodin, with whom Gogol was lodging at the time. The next day they met again, at a gathering hosted by E.A. Sverbeeva.

On that spring in 1840 Gogol was the most renowned Russian writer of the time, and Lermontov, already highly respected for his verse, had just published the best early realistic novel in Russian literature (A Hero of Our Time).

Each of them was on the way somewhere else at the time they met. Gogol was soon off back to his beloved Rome, while Lermontov, still in the army and exiled from St. Petersburg for his unruly ways, was bound for the Caucasus, where he would be killed in a duel a year later.

What did they say to each other when they met? Nobody knows. Apparently nothing of much interest, since neither of the two writers recorded a single word of that conversation.

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