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Wild Horses

Claude Rawson, 1 April 1983

‘The Bronze Horseman’ and Other Poems 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by D.M. Thomas.
Penguin, 261 pp., £2.95, September 1982, 0 14 042309 5
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Alexander PushkinA Critical Study 
by A.D.P. Briggs.
Croom Helm, 257 pp., £14.95, November 1982, 0 7099 0688 9
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‘Choiseul and Talleyrand’: A Historical Novella and Other Poems, with New Verse Translations of Alexander Pushkin 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 88 pp., £5.25, July 1982, 0 370 30924 3
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Mozart and Salieri: The Little Tragedies 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Antony Wood.
Angel, 94 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 02 6
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I have come to greet you 
by Afanasy Fet, translated by James Greene.
Angel, 71 pp., £5.95, September 1982, 0 946162 03 4
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Uncollected Poems 
by John Betjeman.
Murray, 81 pp., £4.95, September 1982, 0 7195 3969 2
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Travelling without a Valid Ticket 
by Howard Sergeant.
Rivelin, 14 pp., £1, May 1982, 0 904524 39 6
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... The Bronze Horseman of Pushkin’s famous poem is Falconet’s equestrian statue of Peter the Great in St Petersburg. It was ordered by Catherine the Great (Petro primo Catharina secunda). Modelled on the statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome, it was meant to evoke the wise emperor extending a main protectrice. Joseph de Maistre commented that one doesn’t know whether this hand protects or threatens ...

Cutting it short

John Bayley, 3 November 1983

Alexander PushkinComplete Prose Fiction 
by Paul Debreczeny, translated by Walter Arndt.
Stanford, 545 pp., $38.50, May 1983, 0 8047 1142 9
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The Other PushkinA Study of Alexander Pushkin’s Prose Fiction 
by Paul Debreczeny.
Stanford, 386 pp., $32.50, May 1983, 0 8047 1143 7
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... Of all great writers Pushkin left the greatest number of incomplete or fragmentary works. Even when something is finished it still has an air of potential, of development that might have been carried on had not the author felt that his art had done its mysterious job and that it was not for him to press it further ...

Catacomb Graffiti

Clive James, 20 December 1979

Poems and Journeys 
by Charles Johnston.
Bodley Head, 97 pp., £3.90
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Eugene Onegin 
by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Charles Johnston.
Penguin Classics, 238 pp., £1.50
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... verse rendering of Eugene Onegin established itself immediately as the best English translation of Pushkin’s great poem there had yet been. It was an impressive performance even to those who could not read the original. To those who could, it was simply astonishing, not least from the technical angle: Johnston had cast his Onegin in the Onegin stanza, a form ...

No Beast More Refined

James Davidson: How Good Was Nureyev?, 29 November 2007

Rudolf Nureyev: The Life 
by Julie Kavanagh.
Fig Tree, 787 pp., £25, September 2007, 978 1 905490 15 8
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... about Rudolf’s character (‘a kind, honest and loving son’), as had his ballet master, Alexander Pushkin, and Pushkin’s wife, Xenia: Rudik’s act of treachery had not been premeditated; he never talked politics and was not a dissident of any kind. A character report noted, moreover, that there had been no ...

Two Hares and a Priest

Patricia Beer: Pushkin, 13 May 1999

by Elizabeth Feinstein.
Weidenfeld, 309 pp., £20, October 1998, 0 297 81826 0
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... Who do you think will close the door after you? Pushkin?’ The question, which Elaine Feinstein quotes in her introduction to this excellent biography, is one which apparently might still be asked by a Russian mother of a careless child. No British mother would say anything like it, if only because she could not think of a figure with comparable evocative power: writers here are hardly household names ...


James Wood: Pushkin’s Leave-Taking, 20 February 2003

PushkinA Biography 
by T.J. Binyon.
HarperCollins, 731 pp., £30, September 2002, 0 00 215084 0
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... that Tchaikovsky set Eugene Onegin to music, not Rossini, the composer of deep shallows. Pushkin, according to T.J. Binyon’s remarkable biography, became ‘addicted’ to Rossini while living in Odessa, where an Italian opera company was visiting, and though Binyon makes nothing of it, it rather blares at us, as writers’ tastes in music so often ...

Round Things

T.J. Binyon, 24 October 1991

Maurice Baring: A Citizen of Europe 
by Emma Letley.
Constable, 269 pp., £18.95, September 1991, 0 09 469870 8
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... I have never regretted’. In 1900 he went, as Third Secretary, to Denmark; here he met Count Alexander Benckendorff, then the Russian Minister in Copenhagen, who, with his wife and son, became his close friends. The following year a visit to the family’s estate near Tambov marked the start of that fascination with Russia that was to colour much of his ...

The Health Transformation Army

James Meek: What can the WHO do?, 2 July 2020

... that before there can be solidarity, a little humility would help.Towards​ the end of 1826, Alexander Pushkin was playing chess with a friend who, as he put it, ‘knew a lot of the kinds of thing they study in universities while we were learning to dance’. The friend checkmated Pushkin with his knight and ...

A Venetian Poltroon

Tim Parks: Gentlemanly Bullets, 6 January 2022

Honour and the Sword: The Culture of Duelling 
by Joseph Farrell.
Signal, 327 pp., £20, June, 978 1 909930 94 0
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... were heirs of Mars and more invincible than Achilles’. ‘The worst thing about the duel,’ Alexander Herzen observed, ‘is that it justifies any blackguard either by giving him an honourable death, or by making him an honourable man-killer.’ (He had just turned down a challenge by his wife’s lover.) In his novel The Duel, Conrad fictionalised the ...

Alexander Blok’s Beautiful Lady

T.J. Binyon, 7 August 1980

The Life of Aleksandr Blok: Vol. 1: ‘The Distant Thunder 1880-1908’ 
by Avril Pyman.
Oxford, 359 pp., £12.50, January 1979, 0 19 211714 9
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... understood at least half depends on them. The formulation is very much that of Blok’s day, but Pushkin, Baratynsky and Tyutchev had also, in different ways, recognised this duty, as did, in a sharper and more painful situation, his successors, Mandelshtam, Akhmatova and Pasternak. At the same time as Blok was experiencing the ‘torture and hell’ of his ...

Talking about Leonidas

Alexander Clapp, 9 June 2022

The Greek Revolution: 1821 and the Making of Modern Europe  
by Mark Mazower.
Allen Lane, 574 pp., £30, November 2021, 978 0 241 00410 4
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... much idea who controlled the organisation – many aspirationally speculated that it might be Tsar Alexander. A year after its foundation in 1814, it had no more than fifty members.Few moments in Europe’s history have seemed less conducive to the success of a secret society conspiring for ‘national liberation’. The Pentarchy ...

The Tsar in Tears

Greg Afinogenov: Alexander I, 7 February 2013

Alexander I: The Tsar Who Defeated Napoleon 
by Marie-Pierre Rey, translated by Susan Emanuel.
Northern Illinois, 439 pp., £26, November 2012, 978 0 87580 466 8
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... I am satisfied with Alexander and he ought to be satisfied with me,’ Napoleon wrote to the Empress Josephine in 1807. ‘If he were a woman, I think I would make him my mistress.’ Within five years, the tsar would repay Napoleon’s condescension by rolling back his conquests all across Europe, driving him to Paris and then St Helena, and finally building the Concert of Europe on the remains of his empire ...

Down below, on velvet armchairs

Orlando Figes, 9 November 1989

Russia’s Rulers Under the Old Regime 
by Dominic Lieven.
Yale, 407 pp., £27.50, June 1989, 0 300 04371 6
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... A.N. Kulomzin, the liberal-minded President of the State Council; and the two Obolensky princes, Alexander and Aleksei, super-aristocrats, part-time politicians. A final chapter considers the role of the ruling élite in the downfall of the old regime. Russia’s Rulers is a labour of love, and only Dominic Lieven could have written it. He does, after ...

In a Spa Town

James Wood: ‘A Hero of Our Time’, 11 February 2010

A Hero of Our Time 
by Mikhail Lermontov, translated by Natasha Randall.
Penguin, 174 pp., £8.99, August 2009, 978 0 14 310563 3
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... Eugene Onegin. Characters take their cues from romantic fashions, and from writers like Scott, Pushkin, Byron, Rousseau and Marlinsky (a producer of Caucasian adventures and the most popular Russian novelist of the 1830s). This is how Pechorin is first described: He was of medium height and well proportioned; his slim waist and broad shoulders indicated a ...

Baleful Smile of the Crocodile

Neal Ascherson: D.S. Mirsky, 8 March 2001

D.S. Mirsky: A Russian-English Life 1890-1939 
by G.S. Smith.
Oxford, 398 pp., £65, June 2000, 0 19 816006 2
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... some of which reached those who had known him. Mirsky was supposed to have given 45 lectures on Pushkin in the camps, without notes. Or he had written an entire book somehow, entitled ‘Russian Poetry from Pushkin to Fet’ (no trace of this has been found, if it ever existed). Or he had returned and, as late as the ...

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