Tag Archives: Alexander Fadeev

Alexander Fadeev plaque, Moscow

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This is one of the gloomiest places in Moscow, I think. I feel the oppression of the surroundings whenever I am here, and I have been here many hundreds, if not thousands of times over the last 28 years. The heavy, stone walls. The pompous columns crammed into space too small to fit and too high to see properly. The messy pipes and sloppy stray wiring and unused decorative grills. The noise and the arrogance of Tverskaya Street… All of these things influence what I feel when I am here. But there’s a lot more to it than that. One building away from here is the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, stolen from Vsevolod Meyerhold before he could build his planned theatre here in the late 1930s, and before he was shot in a Lubyanka basement in 1940. A towering monument to Vladimir Mayakovsky, all bright and  bushy-tailed, stands a few hundred feet from here on Triumphal Square – yes, the poet who shot himself out of despair at the age of 37 in 1930. I’ve written about all these places elsewhere in this space. Go to Meyerhold or Mayakovsky or Lubyanka if you’re interested.
But there is another reason for the morbidity and despondency that overcome me here. Alexander Fadeev lived here at 27 Tverskaya Street from 1948 to 1956. I’ve written about Fadeev a time or two on this blog, so I’ve already laid out the basic facts of this tragic personality’s biography. It goes from the high hopes and praise garnered by an early novel (The Rout, 1927), to a self-inflicted bullet wound that in 1956 killed the man, an alcohol-soaked, bought-and-sold government functionary at the age of 54. Although this precise spot on the map is not where Fadeev did his final deed – that was done at his dacha in Peredelkino – still, as his last address of record it is closely bound up in his ultimate, despairing act of self-destruction suggesting that conscience had not yet abandoned him entirely.
Look at how short a human being’s life is. Consider how little time we have to make our mistakes, take our chances, and reap what we will from that. First major success in 1927. Dead by suicide 1956, 29 years later.
The fact of the matter is that Fadeev supported or led many of the most heinous Soviet policies by which writers and other artists were not only driven out of their professions, but were often arrested, tortured and/or killed. He once called Joseph Stalin “the greatest humanist the world has ever known.” (Interesting fact: Most of today’s leading Russian writers and artists – I know many of them personally – would not be caught dead sharing space with the “humanist” word. It is considered an evil, horrible notion. When we look at the way the notion of “humanist” was mutilated and transmogrified into its precise opposite by folks such as Fadeev, we begin to understand the squeamishness of our contemporaries.) Fadeev stood by as dozens of the greatest Russian artists of his time were persecuted and executed. Occasionally he just stood by silently; sometimes he even helped them out; but there were times he was part of the machine that sent the most talented minds of the time to a bitter end. What did this do to the man? Here is something he said about himself later in his life, drawn from a detailed biography on the So People Will Remember website:
God gave me a soul that is capable of seeing, remembering and feeling good, happiness and life, but since I am constantly distracted by life’s swells and am incapable of controlling myself or putting my will at the service of reason, rather than express to people this life-spirit and good in my own personal life – as elemental and vain as it is – I transform this life-spirit and good into its opposite and, since I am easily offended and I have the conscience of a tax-collector, I am particularly weak when I feel I am guilty of something, and, as a result, I torment myself and I repent and I lose all sense of spiritual equilibrium.”

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Throughout his adult life Fadeev mixed the life of a writer with that of a bureaucrat. He once admitted that he could not imagine life without conflict – it wouldn’t be life otherwise. Even before the publication of his first major novel he played a major role in the creation and running of RAPP, the notorious Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. It was one of the first “cultural” organizations in the early Soviet period that took it upon itself to police and chastise artists who strayed from the Communist Party line. Remaining with RAPP until its dissolution in 1932, he immediately joined the Writers Union and worked his way up the ladder there. That increasingly repressive organization made him one of the most powerful, feared and hated individuals in the Soviet literary world. He was secretary of the Union from 1939 to 1944; the general secretary from 1944 to 1954; and secretary of the board from 1954 to 1956. You will notice that within a year of Stalin’s death (1953) Fadeev was kicked upstairs and that within three months of Nikita Khrushchev’s famous denunciation of Stalinism at the 20th Party Congress in February 1956, Fadeev was dead.
If you like numbers, you will also see that Fadeev moved into the prestigious digs at the apartment building on Tverskaya Street just two years after his most famous novel, the patriotic The Young Guard, was published in 1946.
Fadeev’s suicide note (not published until 1990) was long, angry and despairing. The writer/bureaucrat lashed out at all kinds of enemies, but also revealed his own personal pain and, perhaps, guilt. Dated the day of his death, May 13, 1956, and addressed to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, it begins with the following words:
I see no possibility of living on since the art, to which I devoted my life, has been destroyed by the self-assured, ignorant leadership of the party, and now nothing can be done to correct that. The best cadres of literature –  in number so much greater than the Tsar’s strongmen could ever have dreamed – were physically destroyed, or were lost due to the criminal connivance of those in power. The best men of literature died too early; the rest, still of some value, and capable of creating true values, died before reaching the age of 40-50.”
He rants at bureaucrats and other evil people who destroyed lives and art, almost as if he doesn’t realize the brutal irony – that he stood at the head of one of those horrible machines. But then he adds:
Born to make great art in the name of communism, associated with the party, workers and peasants for 16 years, and possessing extraordinary, God-given talent, I was filled with the highest thoughts and feelings which can come into being only due to the life of the people, coupled with the beautiful ideas of communism.” Then there comes that but, that huge, crushing but: “But I was turned into a draft horse. I spent my entire life groaning under the weight of mediocre, unjustifiable and countless bureaucratic affairs that could have been performed by anyone.”
Backing off slightly from his former adoration of Stalin, Fadeev declares that the new people who have come into power are utterly worthless and that “we can expect worse from them than even from the strongman Stalin. He was at least educated – these are ignoramuses.”
Yes, yes, yes. All of that, I say all of that blows in the wind around the building at 27 Tverskaya Street. The place has the look and the temperature of death, ignorance, lies…
And of messy paradoxes… Let me add one more story from an article by Pavel Basinsky in 2015. Just one month before Fadeev shot himself, the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova presented Fadeev with a collection of her poetry and signed it, “To a big writer and a good person.” That may be even more bizarre than any of the contradictions wending through Fadeev’s biography. After all, Fadeev was one of the leaders of the so-called Zhdanovism attacks on writers in 1946. He personally called Akhmatova out as a “vulgarity of Soviet literature.” In 1939, doing his bureaucratic duty, he personally banned the publication of some of her poetry. Meanwhile, as a bureaucrat, he helped her find an apartment when she needed one and he even nominated her for a Stalin Prize in 1940.
Go figure. But I come back to what I say. The air around 27 Tverskaya Street is as rotten as it is anywhere in this city.

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Angelina Stepanova apartment, Moscow

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Here is still another of those buildings in Moscow that housed large numbers of interesting people. It was built between 1930 and 1933 as a cooperative intended for actors working at the Second Moscow Art Theater. As of today it still bears no markings of its historical value. In fact, as photos taken from the courtyard show, it is in pretty bad shape. It doesn’t look like it has ever been painted, and the bricks are showing wear and tear from the harsh Moscow winters. It would appear that the top floor was reconstructed with new bricks sometime in the recent past, but I can’t verify that. The street-side facade, with its cement covering on top of the bricks, still looks fairly good, if heavily weathered.
I took note of this building at 1/12 Gazetny Lane after going through one of the directories of theaters and theater workers that I have in my personal library. (At the time under discussion Gazetny Lane was called Ogaryov Street.) This Theater Directory, published in 1936, provides addresses and phone numbers for many actors, directors and writers for that year. I kept a running list as I ran through the book and was interested to see this building crop up with high frequency. There were more people of interest who lived here, but here are some of the residents:
Vera Pashennaya, actress, Maly Theater, apt. 10. Her phone number was 3-80-55.
Olga Androvskaya, actress, Moscow Art Theater, apt. 36. Tel. 1-29-80.
Angelina Stepanova, actress, Moscow Art Theater, apt. 49. Tel. 2-43-19.
Serafima Birman, actress MOSPS Theater (today’s Mossovet Theater), apt. 60. Tel. 1-14-14.
Alla Tarasova, actress Moscow Art Theater, apt. 71. Tel. 1-10-93.
I am attaching this post to Angelina Stepanova (1905-2000) for several reasons, one being that I photographed the entrance she would have used when living here. The door itself would have been different, of course, but the entrance below, providing access to apartments 41 to 65, would have been Stepanova’s. It stands in the crux of the building’s bend in the courtyard area. Stepanova moved here from her previous places of residence on Krivoarbatsky Lane and Maly Vlasyevsky Lane, which were (are) located in the famous Arbat district. More about them some other time.
Stepanova was one of the leading ladies at the Moscow Art Theater from the 1920s through the 1970s and even ’80s.
I came within a hair of seeing her perform in her last role in Lyudmila Petrushevskaya’s The Moscow Choir (1988). She played the character of Lika in turn with Iya Savvina, and Savvina performed the night I saw that show.

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Another reason I chose to write about Stepanova today is that she played a large part in the life of the playwright and screenwriter Nikolai Erdman in the late 1920s and first half of the 1930s. They were lovers, although both were married: he to the dancer Natalya Vorontsova, she to the director Nikolai Gorchakov. The affair was strong and deep and it undoubtedly meant much to both. It is also clear that Stepanova would have liked it to become permanent, while Erdman, not the greatest committer-to-relationships, ultimately remained emotionally ambiguous and sexually promiscuous. The building pictured here is a physical reference to that time when Erdman and Stepanova lost touch with one another – 1935/1936. Surely one of the great culprits in that break was Erdman’s arrest in mid-October 1933 and his exile to Siberia which lasted until fall 1936.
By the time Stepanova moved into Apt. 49 at Ogaryov Street she was well on her way to finalizing her divorce with Gorchakov and marrying the writer Alexander Fadeev (about whom you can read more elsewhere in this blog). That marriage took place in 1936.
Stepanova’s affair with Erdman began no later than 1928. In her archive there remains a short note from Erdman that year which reads:

If you knew how many times I began writing letters to you, you would understand how often I think about you. I am agonizingly bad about writing letters. Don’t incriminate me, Lina, but rather allow me to write to you without end and without beginning as often as I am able to. Answer me, sweetheart, the very day that you receive this note. I miss you very much. I dream of seeing you, Nikolai.

The last letter from Erdman to Stepanova, whom he often affectionately called “Skinny,” was written from Erdman’s place of exile in Tomsk, probably in 1935, but possibly in 1936. As he usually did when writing her from Siberia, he sent the letter to Stepanova’s place of work, the Moscow Art Theater. This last letter begins as follows:

My mother writes: “Lina is very sad, she receives no letters.” My young lady, what are we to do? I wrote you letters, then began sending post cards – for awhile I wrote them every day, then I began writing letters again. I hope you have received at least some of them. I had nothing from you for over a month. Nothing at all. Not a single line. Before that were a few stray post cards. I don’t know if others are writing me or not, but I receive almost no letters at all – perhaps, of course, because no one is writing...

Stepanova once traveled to the small city of Yeniseisk, where Erdman lived in exile from 1933 to 1934. But by the time he was moved to the larger city of Tomsk in 1934, they were drifting apart. Stepanova learned that other women were making the long trek to Siberia to visit the writer and it understandably didn’t sit well with her. That does not mean she forgot the man whom many decades later she called the love of her life. In fact, in a rather twisted turn of events, she began to hound her new husband Fadeev, who was in good standing with Soviet officials, to help ease Erdman’s lot. For several years in the 1950s Erdman and Stepanova lived in buildings just two long blocks from each other on Tverskaya Street. As strange as it seems, they never once saw each other, or so Stepanova claimed. Their last meeting took place in 1957 after Fadeev’s suicide. It happened in the apartment of Erdman’s brother Boris, and Stepanova recollected that  “oceans of time” had passed since their last meeting, nothing was left of their former feelings.
I’ve drawn quotes and information on the Stepanova-Erdman relationship from Vitaly Vulf’s annotated collection of their correspondence.

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Alexander Fadeev monument, Moscow

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If the case of Alexander Fadeev doesn’t make you stop and think about the meaning of success and failure, I suspect nothing can do the job. Fadeev (1901-1956) began his writing career in fine fashion. After writing a handful of undistinguished stories he published his first novel, The Rout (1927), which was hugely popular. That catapulted him into the first rank of Soviet writers. However, he never finished his second novel and, for good or bad measure, he didn’t finish his last, either. It’s true that he produced one blockbuster in between – The Young Guard (1945), a novel that was huge not only as literature, but as the basis for а wildly popular feature film in 1948 as well. A bushelful of Stalin Prizes were handed out to people involved, Fadeev himself grabbing one in 1946 for the novel. A sculptural group honoring Fadeev and his characters was put up in Miusskaya Square not far from the Belorussia train station in Moscow in 1973. It was done by sculptor Vladimir Fyodorov. So what’s the big deal, you ask? Why the gloom and doom beginning to this little note? Well, just 10 years after receiving his Stalin Prize and 17 years before this sculpture went up, Fadeev shot himself dead, that’s why.

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Fadeev attached himself to Soviet power early. He was instrumental in the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers from 1928-1932 and was a champion of socialist realism from the very start. He was named head of the Soviet Writers Union in 1946 – surely on the strength of The Young Guard – and he remained in the post until 1954, shortly after Stalin’s death. During those eight years he was in charge of a great many repressive measures that Stalin instigated against writers and critics. When this and other actions Fadeev had been involved in became public knowledge after Khrushchev’s secret speech about Stalin’s cult of personality on Feb. 25, 1956, Fadeev lost his bearings. He was a heavy drinker as it was – perhaps that was the only way this simple man from Siberia could live with himself all those years – but now he was rarely seen sober. On May 13, 1956 he shot himself with his own revolver while at his dacha in Peredelkino. His wife, the famous Moscow Art Theater actress Angelina Stepanova, was on tour abroad at the time and she was called back home to deal with her husband’s death, although she wasn’t told why she was being called home until she reached Moscow.

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Fyodorov’s sculptural group is a nice one for a family park. As you can see in these photos kids and adults alike enjoy gathering around them. Pigeons also appreciate them. One extremely stubborn pigeon on top of Fadeev’s head refused to budge the entire time I was shooting the pictures. In order to get at least a few shots without it looking like the granite writer had feathers coming out of his head, I had to come right up close to the foot of the monument and shoot from below at a steep angle. I must say there’s something irritatingly attractive about the sculptures. They are faceless and bloodless like so many Soviet works of art. Fadeev, particularly, is almost a blank slate. His face, his greatcoat and his pants are as featureless as they can be. Almost like one thinks may happen after a vampire sucks the blood out of a person leaving behind nothing but an empty shell. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I find some truth in these images – because I rather suspect that is pretty much what happened to Fadeev. The last photo I include below is taken on Fadeev Street, which runs right behind Miusskaya Square. As the plaque notes, the street was named after Fadeev in 1967, six years before the ensemble of sculptures would go up.

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