Gleb Uspensky hotel, Tomsk

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Gleb Uspensky (1843-1902) is one of those Russian writers on whom, let’s be honest, the sun rarely shines any more. In his time, however, he was well known and well respected – Vladimir Lenin was a fan and he was hardly alone. Uspensky was a believer in literature as a means to affecting social change and was close to the progressive People’s Will movement. He wrote primarily about the poor and the disenfranchised, publishing almost exclusively from 1868 to 1884 in the popular literary journal Notes of the Fatherland, which was edited by the great civic poet Nikolai Nekrasov and the great satirical novelist Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin. Uspensky traveled much throughout Russia and Europe, gathering information for his writings. After visiting Germany, France, Belgium and England, he noted the lack of “general fear” that he saw in Europe. “In France,” he wrote, “the people are their own bosses.”
He arrived in Tomsk on July 13, 1888, and stayed in the building you see here – it was then called the European Hotel. Its address is now 1 Rosa Luxemburg Street (Magistratskaya Street when Uspensky was there). On June 9, a month before his arrival, the Siberian Newspaper ran the following note: “Our famous writer Gleb Ivanovich Uspensky will travel throughout Siberia this summer and will arrive in Tomsk on one of the next steamboats. As they say, Gleb Ivanovich is traveling with the goal of acquainting himself with the migrant movement.” Indeed, Uspensky was inspired to travel to Tomsk, and to Siberia in general, by his close friend the writer Vladimir Korolenko, who had spent time in Siberian exile. Korolenko’s stories about the people who remained in Siberia, or who traveled there freely to avoid problems in “European Russia,” fired Uspensky’s imagination.

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It so happened that Uspensky arrived just as Tomsk University, the first university in Siberia, was officially to be opened. Seeing as how he was a well-known figure, he was invited to attend the ceremonies. But he chose instead to go to a party at the home of Nikolai Naumov, a local writer of democratic leanings whose tales and reports about people and life in and around Tomsk brought him national fame in the 1870s. Still, on his return journey to St. Petersburg, Uspensky felt compelled to send a note back to the Tomsk municipal government, in which he said, “I sincerely add my joy to that of all Siberians and Tomsk citizens, especially, on the occasion of the opening of the university. Social progress (however it may come about) undoubtedly must move forward.”
Just one year after having been in Tomsk Uspensky experienced his first bout with mental illness. Eventually his malady led to a diagnosis of insanity (officially called “progressive paralysis”) and he was admitted to an insane asylum in 1892 in Novgorod, where he lived out the last decade of his life. He was buried in St. Petersburg in the Volkov Cemetery.

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