When we left off yesterday, little Tasha, daughter of the deceased poet Alexander Pushkin, had not quite even turned 17 years old but had just consummated a rash and what was to be an unsuccessful marriage with Mikhail Leontievich Dubelt, a career military officer (born 8 February 1822) almost twice her age.
When Tasha announced her engagement to Dubelt, the adults in the room knew already that she was making a big mistake. Her mom Natalia Lanskaya wrote as follows to Petr Viazemsky, the Russian poet and literary critic who had been a close friend and correspondent of Alexander Pushkin and remained a friend to the Lanskoy family even after the poet’s untimely death:
“That little devil Tasha very quickly matured from a child to a woman, but there is nothing I can do about it — destiny cannot be avoided. For a full year I have been fighting with her, but in the end I cannot overcome the divine will nor Dubelt’s impatience. My greatest fear is her extreme youth — in other words, her childishness.”
Now a married woman at the ripe old age of 17, Natalia Pushkina-Dubelt, acquired a reputation in high society of being one of the great beauties of her era. This part of the story is reminiscent of the life of Pushkin’s heroine Tatiana Larina after she married the “fat general”, except that the fat general was nice to his wife; whereas Dubelt was neither fat nor nice.
Noticing Tasha at a society ball, the son of the writer Mikhail Zagoskin was struck by her charms and described her as follows: “In my whole life I have never seen a more beautiful woman. Tall, extremely slim, with magnificently broad shoulders and a remarkable paleness to her skin, she almost dazzled with a kind of blinding light. Despite the slightly irregular features of her face, reminding us of the African type of face possessed by her father, she could still be described as a true beauty; and once you add to that her sharp mind and graceful manners, then you will understand why she was always surrounded by people at the balls; why the young dandies always flocked to her; and the old men could not stop staring at her.”
This attention lavished on young Tasha was not appreciated by her jealous husband, Dubelt. Society gossip had it that he was known occasionally to raise his hand to his young wife. These rumors reached the ears even of the Emperor Alexander II (reigned 1855-1881). The Tsar punished Dubelt by forcing him into retirement. [yalensis comment: Er… wouldn’t that just give the guy more free time to stay at home and beat his wife?]
In 1862, Tasha (doing the math — she is now around 26 years old) took her children and fled from her sadistic husband. The piece does not say how many children she had, or what their names were. Around that time, an increasingly egregious Dubelt had gambled away all their property, including his wife’s dowry. Their total fortune was, or had been, 28,000 (silver).
Tasha fled to Hungary and went to live with her aunt (her mother’s sister), the Baroness Vogel von Friesenhof. Formerly known by her maiden name of Alexandra Nikolaevna Goncharova. Even there Tasha was not safe. Just like Julia Roberts husband in “Sleeping With the Enemy“, Misha Dubelt followed her all the way to Hungary and tried to force her to return to Russia with him.
Tasha’s younger half-sister Alexandra Lanskaya (daughter of Tasha’s mom and the latter’s second husband Lanskoy) was apparently present, and described the unpleasant scandal that was created, which was like something out of a Dostoevsky novel: “It is difficult for me even to recall the unpleasant scene which took place. Eventually the Baroness’ insistent entreaties forced Dubelt to retreat from her estate, giving his wife (=Tasha) a temporary respite. Her situation seemed hopeless, her future – a nightmare.”
For a quite a long time after this, and with the help of her friends, Tasha attempted to obtain a divorce from Dubelt. It was only in 1864 that she obtained a permit to live apart from her husband; and in 1868 she finally obtained an official divorce.
[to be continued]