When we left off yesterday, little Tasha, daughter of the deceased poet Alexander Pushkin, was around 8 years old and already starting to attract the attention of society. We learned about the 17-year-old scamp, Nikolai Orlov, who would do just about anything, including scaling a bell tower, just to get a glimpse of the girl.
Tasha’s First Suitor
Nikolai’s story is entwined with his father’s work in the so-called Third Section. And this is something right out of a spy novel. Recall that the moment he entered his monarchic reign in 1825, Tsar Nicholas I was faced with an attempted coup d’état, known as the Decembrist Revolt. This was a conspiracy of noblemen possessing a wide spectrum of philosophical and political views, ranging from constitutional monarchists (the so-called “Moderate Opposition”) all the way to extreme left-wing Jacobins and would-be regicides. A glimpse into the lives of these secretive yet loquaciouis conspirators can be found in Griboedov’s masterpiece “Woe From Wit”. And this may be a good place for me to allude to my own 6-part series, which I posted here last winter, about Griboedov and his seminal play, one of the true masterworks of Russian literature.
Griboedov, it goes without saying, was a Decembrist as well as a Freemason, and he knew this milieu intimately, including its more ludicrous aspects. And, as Russian literature majors will tell you, Alexander Pushkin himself was also involved with the Decembrists in some form or another, although in the end he escaped the noose. By the grace of God and the Tsar of All Russia, Nicholas I!
Himself escaping by a whisker being overthrown and possibly guillotined, Tsar Nicholas, in 1826, set up a secret police known as the Third Section, or Russian Gendarmes. This organization was to protect him from future attempts against his life and rule. Among their other duties, these officers were supposed to snoop around and suss out treason or malcontent among the various layers of society. As the very first head of this agency, the Tsar appointed Count Alexander Benkendorf, who served until 1844.
In 1844, the year in which young Tasha turned eight, the Tsar appointed Count Alexei Fyodorovich Orlov to head the Third Section. Count Orlov’s son Nikolai is the lad who climbed the bell tower and fell passionately in love with Tasha. Over the years he spent much time in the Lanskoy household, his love was apparently requited, and the two young people wished to marry. This part of the story resembles, possibly, Tolstoy’s heroine Natasha Rostova, and her series of suitors, beginning with Pierre Bezukhov, who becomes besotted, on first sight, with the 12-year-old nymphette.
Problem: Nikolai’s dad, Count Orlov was opposed and would not permit the union. The piece does not say why. Perhaps Orlov considered the Lanskoy family not sufficiently noble to merge with his. One can only speculate.
In any case, Tasha, now 17 years old (the same age as Griboedov’s fickle heroine, Sofia Pavlovna), suddenly decided that she would marry a completely different man, Mikhail Leontievich Dubelt. Dubelt, who was born in Kiev in 1822, began his career as a page at the Imperial Court and later served in the Russian cavalry. He had a long and distinguished service, and eventually worked his way all the way up to General. Now, the odd thing is, that Dubelt, like Nikolai Orlov, was also the son of a Secret Agent. Dubelt’s father, Leontiy Vasilievich, was the head of a corpus of gendarmes (начальник штаба Корпуса жандармов и управляющий III отделением Собственной Его Императорского Величества канцелярии). Although this is somewhat ambiguous to me, it seems that Leontiy Dubelt must have been working under Count Orlov. In any case, Tasha has a rap sheet of falling for bad-boy sons of secret police agents. Or maybe it was Misha’s brooding eyebrows and cruel glare which caught her girlish imagination.
Tasha’s First Husband
Tasha’s mom was horrified at her daughter’s choice of a husband, she tried to talk her out of the match. Misha Dubelt had a bad reputation as a gambler, and a man with an explosive temper. But Tasha was in a state of enthrallment, and this part of the story is reminiscent of Natasha Rostova’s fling with the ne’er-do-well Anatole Kuragin.
So, Tasha married Dubelt in February of 1853. And very quickly regretting her impulsive choice to a bad-tempered man who abused her, even to the point of laying his hands on her, and eventually forced her to flee for her own safety.
[to be continued]