Alexander Pushkin is still considered Russia’s greatest poet, although he died in 1837 in a duel fought over his wife’s honor. His wife, Natalya, was a great beauty, and she was long maligned as an empty-headed and foolish girl who gambled away her great husband’s life with her own silly flirtations. In recent years, Natalya has experienced something of a renaissance of her reputation. Now, Jennifer Laam has undertaken to tell her story.
Natalya Goncharova was raised in a dysfunctional family, with a drunken father and a controlling, bitter mother who only wants her pretty youngest daughter to marry well and raise the family’s standards. At one of her first balls, she is taken by Tolstoy to meet his friend, Pushkin, who is hiding behind the Christmas tree in an excess of shyness. The two fall in love, although Natalya’s mother is less than thrilled about it, as Pushkin’s fortunes are dependent on, among other things, his ability to keep churning out verse, and his continuing in the favor of the Tsar.
Once they’re married, Natalya has to learn to navigate the court. She soon finds creative expression in dressing for tableaus, popular costume balls. She researches historical clothing and shops for the perfect accessory. But her beauty is distracting to many. She has to thread nimbly a path between avoiding becoming the mistress of the Tsar and avoiding the jealousy aroused, for different reasons, in both her husband and in other women. She is very young, and frankly does not always succeed.
The Lost Season of Love and Snow opens the door into another time and place, that while different from our own is still populated by people who are like us. An interesting read.