Sunday, January 8, 2012

Weird Tales from Russia

Alexander Pushkin
Born June 6 (May 26, old style), 1799, Moscow, Russia
Died February 10 (Jan. 29, old style), 1837, Saint Petersburg, Russia

For Weird Tales
"The Queen of Spades" (Aug. 1927)

Much has been written on Alexander Pushkin. I'll write only a little. He was born of an old Russian noble family but descended on his mother's side from an African. Her family name--Gannibal--has an ancient sound, as if it had come from the Levant and had been carried afar by Phoenician sailors. Pushkin wrote the novels Eugene Onegin (1825-1832), which gave us Tchaikovsky's opera (1879), and Boris Godunov (1825), which gave us by inversion the name of Bullwinkle's nemesis, Boris Badenov. Tchaikovsky also wrote an opera based on "The Queen of Spades" (1834), Pushkin's novella centered on an apparition. Weird Tales reprinted the story in its August 1927 issue. Pushkin, the father of Russian literature, also fathered four children in his brief life, which ended when he was shot fighting his twenty-ninth duel in defense of his honor. A municipality in Russia is named for him.

Ivan Turgenieff (Turgenev)
Born November 9 (October 28, old style), 1818, Oryal, Russia
Died September 3, 1883, Bougival, Seine-et-Oise, France

For Weird Tales
"The Song of Triumphant Love" (June 1927)

Ivan Turgenev wrote short stories, plays, and novels; Weird Tales reprinted one of his works, "The Song of Triumphant Love," in June 1927. In other words, Turgenev beat Pushkin by two months into the pages of "The Unique Magazine." Turgenev is best remembered for Fathers and Sons (1862) and other works such as Torrents of Spring (1872). The novella "The Song of Triumphant Love," dedicated to Turgenev's friend Gustave Flaubert, was also adapted to the ballet by Mikhail Nosyrev (1924-1981). Turgenev may have known something about enduring love, for he loved a French mezzo-soprano, Pauline Viardot-Garcia (1821-1910), from the first moment he saw her until the day he died, despite the fact that she was married to another man and carried on with a number of others.

Fedor (Fyodor) Sologub
Born March 1 (February 17, old style), 1863, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died December 5, 1927, St. Petersburg?

For Weird Tales
"The White Dog" (Feb. 1926)

A few months after Turgenev and Pushkin's stories appeared in Weird Tales, Fyodor Sologub penned his final poem, then passed away. His literary career had begun four decades before with the publication of a children's poem called "The Fox and the Hedgehog" in 1884. During his long life as a writer and teacher, Sologub authored poems, plays, novels, short stories, and collections of fairy tales. Shortly before they were to escape Russia and its revolution, Sologub's wife threw herself into the Zhdanovka River. He remained, grieving over the loss of her and living next to the river where she had drowned. That's where his life came to its end. Although his story "The White Dog" was printed in Weird Tales before he died, I suspect that he would not have been aware of the fact.

Leonid Andreyeff (Andreyev)
Born August 21 (August 9, old style), 1871, Oryol Province, Russia
Died September 12, 1919, Kuokkala, Finland

For Weird Tales
"Lazarus" (Mar. 1927)

Playwright, essayist, novelist, and writer of short stories Leonid Andreyev, though younger than Sologub, died before him in exile. Andreyev's early works--from 1901--were a sensational best sellers. Less than two decades later, he was living in poverty in Finland, having fled the Russian Revolution. Andreyev wrote about the supernatural and extraterrestrial in his stories and plays, which were, according to a contemporary, Barrett Harper Clark, "of a morbid and pessimistic turn." Andreyev's play He Who Gets Slapped (produced in the United States in 1922) made it to the silver screen in an MGM picture from 1924. Lon Chaney, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert, and an uncredited Béla Lugosi were in the cast. By the way, Andreyev was married to the Countess Anna Wielhorska, niece of the Ukrainian artist and writer Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861). Their son was Daniil Andreyev (1906-1959), poet, mystic, and one of the innumerable victims of the totalitarian state.

Note: As a bit of trivia, H.P. Lovecraft possessed copies of Andreyev's works The Seven Who Were Hanged and The Red Laugh.

An illustration for Pushkin's "The Fairytale of the Tsar Saltan" by the Russian illustrator and cartoonist Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942), from 1905.
And another for the same work and by the same artist. It's interesting that artists in a time of death and destruction, poverty and oppression, created works of such beauty, while we in our age of peace and prosperity create so much ugliness and depravity.
A more recent illustration for "The Petty Demon" by Feodor Sologub. Despite the title, this is not a weird tale. I don't know the artist's name.
A striking portait of Leonid Andreyev by the Ukrainian painter and sculptor Ilya Repin (1844-1930)
Finally, a movie poster for He Who Gets Slapped (1924), the first film by MGM to go into production and based on a story by Leonid Andreyev.

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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