Monika Spivak Bely-Asya-Natasha in Russian collections


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Monika Spivak 

Bely-Asya-Natasha in Russian collections



There are relatively few materials directly from the Dornach period in Russian Collections. Most are of more recent origin. However, they are important, because the Dornach materials can help to understand Bely and his biography, and at least in part to untangle the complex web of relationships that connected with Andrei Bely to the Turgenev sisters. Here I would like to draw attention to just one set of materials showing how Bely evaluated the role of Natasha and Asya in his own fate.

Ill. 1.

This is the “Line of Life” of Andrei Bely, an autobiographical sketch, covering the period from birth through to 1927.

On the enlarged piece of the big picture we see that Asya is present from the late 1900 's.

Ill. 2.

1909 was the year of the beginning of their romance. Asya painted a portrait of Bely; they grew close. The closeness with Bely, collapses not in 1922 year, as is generally supposed, but in 1919, when in in January 1919 Bely received a cool letter from Asya that offended him deeply. In Berlin in 1922, if you follow Bely’s sense, it was only the exterior rupture of what had occurred earlier.

The period of meaningful relations with Natasha starts at the same time as with Asya, and ends in 1916, with the departure of Bely from Dornach to Russia. Contact with Natasha is depicted in black. I do not know whether the other colors used have symbolic value. But black is definitely a negative color.

In the details noted as "The Culminating Point of Life" his life with Steiner is depicted.

Ill. 3.

The diagram clearly shows that with the advent of Natasha into the Dornach life of Bely there is a disruption of his mystical journey, a spiritual fall. The name of Natasha appears three times on the diagram and all three times the lifeline suddenly descends. This break is especially abrupt for the second time, after a trip to the Nord-Koeping in August 1914. It is symptomatic that Natasha's role in his life, probably for its destructiveness and catastrophic nature, Bely actually compares to World War I, which put Europe on the brink of destruction.

The third detail that Bely gave a projection of life from the point of view of the impact of the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

Ill. 4.

Asya appears in 1909 as a bright Angel. She is transformed into a dark phase in 1922, when she abandons Bely. Natasha is given a singular demonic character.



Materials that are directly related to Dornach can be divided into two categories. Those Bely himself brought to Russia, and those that came to Russia in the 1990 's-2000 's.

The first is quite small (there are several manuscripts). Returning through the warring countries, Bely simply technically was not able to carry a lot of luggage.  He also never imagined that he would be leaving the Dornach forever. From what he brought, too, likely not everything survived. Some ended up in the State Archives (NIOR RSL), some it seems to me were simply destroyed, some might have fallen into private collections and hopefully someday will resurface.

Recently we were given at the Museum a valise with mementoes of the writer’s items. Klavdia Nikolaevna Bugaeva, his second wife, shortly before her death gave the valise to a young friend, the literary scholar Alexander Bogoslovsky. Bogoslavsky was connected with the dissident movement, feared searches and arrests, and in the 1980-s the valise made its way to Paris, where for more than 30 years it stood in the home of one of the Embassy staff.  The valise was returned to Moscow in 2010. Among Bely’s items there happened to be a small piece of tile from the roof of the first Goetheanum. It is clear that Bely had brought it from Dornach as a treasured memory ­— like a splinter stuck in his heart. Because Dornach for Bely was not only joy and happiness, but also an incurable wound, persistent pain.



Those Dornach materials that have began to appear in Russia since the mid-1990 's , can be traced back mainly to the archive Asya Turgeneva. One part fell to the famous translator, Swetlana Geier, another to Valentina Rykova, and some even to someone else. Among the materials submitted to us in the Museum that are of particular interest are books by Andrei Bely, including books autographed.

These books belonged to the Asya, and Natasha, and the husband of Natasha, Alexander Pozzo, that can be identified by the owner’s inscription. Apparently after the death of her sister in 1942, and the death of Alexander Pozzo in 1941, Asya took away some of their books for herself.

For books published before 1912, it is clear that Bely brought them with him to Dornach and left them. However, the vast majority of books, preserved in the library of the Asya, were published after 1916, the year Bely returned to Russia.

For example, books published in 1918: The Crisis of Life, The Crisis of Thought, the poem Christ is Risen. All three are dedicated with inscriptions to Asya, one of which is very poignant: “Dear Asya, almost without hope to see you.” Apparently, Bely had (by mail or by personal courier) succeeded in transferring these books out of revolutionary Russia to Dornach.

In Asya’s collection there are also books from the second half of the 1920 's: Moscow under Attack (1926), The Christened Chinaman (1927). It is unclear whether the Bely sent these books or they were obtained in Europe. Be that as it may, but it seems, that shows that either Asya or Natasha (there are no indications of the books) continued to be interested in Bely after the separation.

Of special interest, almost detective like, are the books published in Berlin during Bely’s emigration. There are many of them. Most of them were published after the break in relations between Bely and Asya (March-April 1922).

We know that after the departure of Asya, Bely in desperation moved from the center of Berlin to Zossen, where he wrote a book of poems, After the Separation. Most of the poems in the book are devoted to Asya and the tragic feelings associated with her. And precisely this very candid book Bely passed on to Asya—a year after the breakup. The inscription reads: “To my dear Asya//Anna Alekseevna Turgeneva//The author//Holy Wedensday//1923//Stuttgart.” The mention of Stuttgart indicates that the meeting with Asya occurred in March of 1923, during the Congress of Anthroposophists, at which Dr. Steiner spoke. (Bely then had with him their last, conciliatory conversation). There were performances of Eurythmy in which apparently Asya participated. It is noteworthy that Bely traveled to Stuttgart with Klavdia Nikolaevna, his future second wife ...

Beyond or behind the lines of the dedication the “To my dear Asya//Anna Alekseevna Turgeneva//The author...- remains a dramatic story still not read in its entirety. Asya somehow erased the inscription made in pencil, (the text was restored later by indents on paper). She might not have like the demonstratively dual treatment: “Asya” and “Anna Alekseevna Turgeneva,” indicating two possible relationships: the formal, first name, patronymic, last name, and a close, intimate one in which, as before, by the addressee's autograph and the entire book was for Asya, the wife and beloved.  I suspect in these words there was something else for Asya, something unpleasant or painful, most likely associated with Holy Wednesday.

First of all, it is, of course, there is the indication of the date of delivery of the book.

Orthodox Easter in 1923 fell on April 8th and Holy Wednesday on April 4th. However, by April 1st, Bely had already returned to Berlin since the Anthroposophical Congress had ended (it took place on March 25 to 29). So, this use of Holy Wednesday as the date is impossible. But Roman Catholic Easter fell on the first of April, and Holy Wednesday respectively on March 28. Exactly in the middle of the “Stuttgart” week. Thus the writer was referring to the Catholic Holy Wednesday.

In general dating according to the church calendar was uncharacteristic for Bely. Therefore it is logical to assume that there was some sort of additional meaning. Holy Wednesday, for example, might have played an important role in the personal calendars of Bely and Asya. Perhaps it was on Good Wednesday, 1922, a year previously, that there had been a serious conversation signaling the breakup ... In 1922 the Christian and Orthodox Easter coincided on April 16th. The times fit.

But it is possible that Bely and Asya were also aware of the liturgical symbolism of Holy Wednesday. The verses read on this day are composed of the remembrance and a comparison of two Evangelical events: the anointing of Christ with oil, performed by the “harlot” Mary Magdalene, and the treacherous intent of Judas. For example: “Extend your hair, harlot, to the Master, extend your hand, Judas, ... ” Perhaps she read here an offensive allusion to her betrayal. However, this assumption deserves special study.

In any case, it is clear that a year after the breakup Bely, handing to Asya the collection, After the Separation, once more expressed his love and asked that she heed his pleas to return.

No less important seems to be that Bely gave a copy of After the Separation not only to Asya, but also to ...  Natasha. The inscription to Natasha is more tender and, I would say, intimate, than on Asya’s copy of the book: “To my dear Natasha //as a sign of true//love //Andrei Bely//26 Sep 1923 //Berlin.

On the same day, Bely gave Natasha another of his books, Notes of an Eccentric, that as in After the Separation, tells with utmost sincerity of his love for Asya and the pain caused by separation from her. Bely accompanied this gift with and even more tender inscription: “Dear Natasha Pozzo-//Turgeneva//with sincere love and affection //Andrey Bely.//26 September1923.

Judging from the Raccourci for a Diary, Bely met with Natasha twice in Berlin. Once in 1921, immediately after his arrival in Berlin. The second time was in the fall of 1923, from the inscription on September 26th. By that time Bely had already obtained permission of the Peoples Commissariat for Education to return from Germany, but was still anxiously awaiting his entry visa. Bely was so to say sitting on his suitcases and his meeting with Natasha (identified in his Raccourci as “Natasha's arrival”) was his farewell.

We can again only guess at what Bely discussed with Natasha during her September visit and what meaning he imparted in a parting gift and the highlighted gentle words of the inscription. Indubitably, it was not about the return of his former passion. It seems, speaking of his true love and affection for Natasha (especially on the books filled with feelings for Asya), that Bely wanted to return to the previous system of relationships and if not restore the old, idyllic relations, not obscured by dark passions, which once connected him with Asya and Natasha, then at least to leave on a positive note.

I believe that he succeeded. Bely left Berlin on October 23rd and began his life in Soviet Russia, with its sorrows and joys of joys. Among the joys was the discovery of a new love. I speak, of course, of Klavdia Nikolaevna.

The final chord in this long and very confusing play was Bely’s death in 1934. There was an obituary written by Asya Turgeneva (perhaps at the request of Marie Sievers). Natasha, according to the announcements in the newspaper, Latest news, organized in February in Paris an evening in memory of Bely and a little later, in April, spoke on “the significance for our time of life and works of Bely.”  Nor did Alexander Pozzo, still husband of Natasha, stay on the sidelines. In 1934 he was working in Warsaw, where he also lectured on a Bely, and shared his memories. “The talented lecturer”- the press reported–“was able to draw a tragic and gentle image of the stormy soul of the poet-thinker and a loving son of his unfortunate homeland. One of the most brilliant students of Vladimir Solovyov, then a devotee of Rudolf Steiner (the Anthroposophist) and, in the end, an indentured citizen of his Bolshevik country. A sensitive, idiosyncratic and subtle philosopher among the crude, stupid, ignorant, but self-assured Bolshevik bosses.”

So —all the participants of the Dornach drama spoke out. One would want to think that death swept away all that was oppressive and evil tin what had transpired between the Bely, Asya, Natasha and Alexander Pozzo. And that death revealed what was actually at the heart of their relationship.

In conclusion, I would like to quote from a letter from Bely to Marie Sievers, written on January 15, 1915, that is in the heat of this dramatic story. In the letter, preserved in the Steiner archive in Dornach, Bely tried to explain what united them all:

“My relationships with people whom I hold near and dear (Asya, Natalia Alekseevna Pozzo, Alexander Pozzo) were established not only on the basis of ...  sympathy, or an intimate appreciation of one another, or mutual searches for the path of life ...; with each one of them individually there was  the joy of the encounter; <...> the entirety of our relationship, I bear with me, as something valuable and huge in my life. Consequently their <...> temporary disharmony I carry in my soul <...> like the development of a symphonic theme” <...> “There is a secret connection among all those who have crossed over the line of the established” <...> I could apply these words as a Leitmotiv of the relations of the four of them to one another.


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