Historical Figures - The Pushkins and Imperial Russia

Natalya (Goncharova) Pushkina

I'd always known that Alexander Pushkin's fatal duel had been fought over his wife's honor. I didn't know much more about her. Then I read Martin Cruz Smith's Tatiana, in which a yacht is named after Natalya. For the Russian characters in the book, the name has negative connotations. Natalya was said to be overly flirtatious, but not overly bright. Recent research tells a different story.

Alexander Pushkin

Russia's greatest poet and an exciting and passionate, but often moody and temperamental, partner for Natalya. Alexander's poetry is so popular in Russia that it has been said there are always fresh flowers on monuments to him. He is less known to English language readers. I recommend Eugene/Evgeny Onegin and The Bronze Horseman to get a feel for his vivid writing.

Nicholas I

Unlike his descendant  - the last tsar, Nicholas II - Nicholas I ruled in a decisive, ultra-authoritarian manner and came to be called  "The Iron Tsar." When he came to power, a group of elite officers known as The Decembrists attempted to replace him with his brother, the more liberal Constantine. Severely punished for their actions, the ramifications of the unsuccessful coup haunt the Pushkins.

The Duel

A Field of Honor

Conspiracy theories about Alexander Pushkin's duel are plentiful, including that his opponent's clothing served as a makeshift bulletproof vest and that the tsar himself had been complicit or even active in planning the duel. After news of Pushkin's death at the age of 37 spread, the tsar was forced to deal with a mass expression of grief and anger over the needless death of the brilliant poet. 

Georges d'Anthes

A dashing French courtier considered by many to be "the other man" in the story, the background of Natalya and Georges' relationship is more complex than previously believed. Although rumors spread about the two, Alexander himself considered the duel with Georges an affair of honor between men and never blamed his wife, nor thought she had done anything wrong.