An Unofficial Marriage : A Novel About Pauline Viadot and Ivan Turgenev by Joie Davidow - 2021 - 283 pages
I give this marvelous novel my complete endorsement. The more you know and have read in Turgenev the more you will love this book.
The salient facts below of Turgenev’s life are derived from the novel
Born November 9, 1818 - Oryal, Russia - his notoriously cruel very rich mother owned 6000 serfs
1843 - St.Perrsburg, Russian. Falls deeply in Love with The opera singer Pauline Viradot after seeing her in The Barber of Seville.
This encounter will shape both of their lives from then on.
In 1845 he leaves Russia to follow Paulina all over Europe. He becomes part of the household of Paulina and her husband. He will worship her the rest of life, putting her above everything else. He buys prpoprrties in
Paris, Venice, Baden-Baden and Rome to be able to attend her performances. Paris becomes his spiritual home..
1852 - publishes A Sportsman’s Sketches
1862 - Father and Sons
Much of his time was spent in Paris. He became good friends with Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant and other Paris based writers and artists.He was an important figure in the Russian Émigré Community. He was fluent in French as were most aristocratic Russians He became very involved in the Paris centered European opera world. He maintained residences in Paris while periodically traveling back to Russia to deal with business matters from property holdings and concerns over his very extensive publications. There was unsubstantiated gossip that he was the father of two of Pauline’s four children. A child he had with a serf woman was moved to Paris to join the Viardot household. He never married. Davidow depicts him as having a number of casual relationships with Russian women from his social caste. The serf mother of his daughter was paid by him for sex and to give up her daughter to be raised as a Turgenev.
His relationship with Paulina lasted forty years.
Died September 3, 1883 - Bougival, France
Born: 18 July 1821 - Paris - her fsther was a fsmous singer
1840 to his death 1883 she was married to Louis Viradot.
Louis Viardot was a French writer, art historian, art critic, theatrical figure, and translator. He managed his wife’s very succesful career as an opera singer
Died: 18 May 1910, - Paris. She had four children and acted as a mother to Turgenav’s dsughter.
An Unofficial Marriage has much to offer besides just facts of the lives of a great author and famous opera singer. Opera singers were the super stars of the 19th century. The opening sequence in which Ivan first encounters Paulina is very lushly done. Paulina is not a conventional beauty, if anything a bit plain. Why did Ivan fall so deeply Under her thrall on first encounter? He is portrayed as mesmerized by the power of her preformance. He arranged a meeting with her. He knew and respected that she was married. He got along very well with her husband, almost an older brother, they both loved hunting, they collaborated on Pushkin translations. Ivan had his own suite in the Paris mansion. Louis knew Ivan loved Pauline, he wondered is Ivan my wife’s lover? As time went by he knew of the gossip. Davidow shows us how full of gossip the Parisian opera seen appears. At least two of the children strongly resembled Louis so they did have a passionate connection as well as practical.
Davidow’s narrative does include several very powerful sexual encounters between Paulina and Ivan. (In her epilogue she acknowledges there is no way to know if they ever had sex.). Paulina has a very strong attraction to Ivan as potrayed.
As the forty plus years covered pass, much happens. Ivan’s daughter turns into a nearly spoiled brat. Paulina’s children marry. I enjoyed learning of their futures. Louis dies, then Ivan and Paulina no longer has great drawing power but enough to live comfortably.
There is a lot to be learned about the business side of 19th century European opera here. These are tumultous times in French and Russian politics and Davidow takes us there. Davidow tells us How Turgenev treated Family serfs after his mother died.
I loved this book.
It is said that Turgenev is the most French Russian writer. Maybe we can see a bit why now.
There is a detailed bio of The author on her website