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it’s just a book…

May 7th, 2009 · No Comments · Biography, It's just a Book, Literature & Letters

Serena Vitale “Pushkin’s Button”

There are two reasons why this biography reads like a novel. The life of Alexander Pushkin (Алексaндр Сергeевич Пyшкин), who continues to be Russia’s greatest and most beloved poet was short but rich in tragedy, passion and adventure. 

The second reason is Serena Vitale’s ability to find the right style and tone to capture the careless, doomed party mood of the upper classes in Tsarist Russia at the beginning of the 18th century.

“Pushkin’s Button” recounts the events leading up to the fateful duel between the poet and Georges D’Anthès, a French aristocrat. The combination of a handsome foreigner, Pushkin’s beautiful and flirtatious wife Natalya Goncharova (Наталия Николаевна Пушкина-Ланская), her equally beautiful sister Ekaterina and the hot blooded giant of Russian literature could only lead to tragedy.

D’Anthès and Natalya’s relationship lead to verbal threats by Pushkin. In response, D’Anthès married Natalya’s own sister, Ekaterina Goncharova, perhaps to contradict society gossip that he was in pursuit of Natalya.

The conflict between the two new brothers-in-law deepened, leading Pushkin to write an insulting letter to the Dutch Ambassador Jacob van Heeckeren, D’Anthès’ adoptive father. Afterwards, a duel became inevitable.

Vitale adds colour to the account by highlighting gossip (was D’Anthès the inspiration for Edmond Dantès, the title character of Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Christo”?) and small details of everyday life (hence “Pushkin’s Button”) that capture the drama of the time.

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