Tag Archives: Sytin Printing Press

Sergei Yesenin home, Moscow

Click on photos to enlarge.


I’ve been working under a double whammy that has kept me from making posts to this blog. I’ve been crazy busy, and then my computer with all my photos died. The guy at the shop swears he’ll fix it, but until he does, I’m running on zero. As a result I just now ran out with my camera to grab some shots of a place not far from where I live – the house in which the poet Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) was registered as a resident from 1911 to 1918. (Many sources say he did not actually move here from his birthplace in the Ryazan region until 1912.) He didn’t live here for that entire period, but this home apparently was his official place of residence.
It’s an odd little location. I can hardly think of a better place to put something that you want no one ever to find or enjoy once they’ve found it. The address is 24 Bolshoi Strochenovsky Lane, bldg. 2. A small plaque announcing the presence of the museum is almost lost in a small sea of other plaques indicating the location here of five or six businesses. The building itself is located behind a tall fence and is blocked off from access by one of those awful little booths manned by a grumpy guard. You pass through a double door and, when you reach the guard, he is just itching to tell you you can’t go through. There’s a huge sign: “Entry by pass only!” But a magical little thing happens when you say you want to visit the Yesenin museum – the guard’s face goes limp with disappointment and he waves you through the second door, the one to the left. What cracked me up was that it doesn’t matter if you go through the door to the left or the one to the right – where you must have a pass to pass – you still end up in the same open courtyard in front of the Yesenin house. But them’s just details.
Yesenin lived here in Apartment No. 6 with his father Alexander Yesenin, who worked in a butcher shop belonging to a certain N.V. Krylov. This two-story, wooden building, erected in 1891, belonged to Krylov. The original structure perished in a fire and it was rebuilt  in 1992, becoming the Yesenin museum in 1995. Apparently, the original idea was to make the entire building into a museum, but economic realities were such that, in the end, just two rooms of approximately 40 square meters each were turned over to the museum. The second floor is occupied by one or more business concerns.

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The young poet was still searching for himself and his place in the world at the time he was registered here as a resident . At first he took a job alongside his father in Krylov’s meat store, but did not last long there. This was much to the chagrin of his father, who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps. In March 1913 Yesenin took a job as a corrector’s assistant at the nearby Sytin printing press, about which I have written previously in this space.  Yesenin’s first wife Anna Izryadnova had this to say about this period in the poet’s life (as quoted in the Walks in Moscow site):
“His mood was depressed – he was a poet, no one wanted to understand that. Editors were not publishing him, his father was grumbling that he was loafing and that he should get a job. He had the reputation of a leader, he attended meetings [of the Surikov literary-musical circle? – JF] and distributed illegal literature. He would throw himself at books, spent all his free time reading, wasted all his pay on books and magazines, never at all thinking about how to live…”
Yesenin and Izryadnova met on the job at the Sytin printing concern where she was also a corrector. They never were married officially, although they had a son, Yury, in December 1914. That, incidentally, is precisely the month that Yesenin quit his job working for Sytin and devoted himself entirely to a life of writing poetry. His first ever published poem, “Birch Tree,” appeared in January 1914 in a magazine, The Little World (Mirok), published by Sytin in January 1914. In 1915 he headed for St. Petersburg for awhile, although this home in Moscow continued to be his official residence.
I could not enter the museum today because I ran out not thinking of anything but shooting photos. The entry fee is 200 rubles and I didn’t have a kopeck on me. However, the door was open so I snapped the picture immediately below, of a small statue of Yesenin that stands in the entryway. If you’d like to see some of the exhibits inside, another Moscow Walks site hosts a fairly large gallery of photos.

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Sytin Printing Press, Pyatnitskaya Ulitsa, Moscow



Our little march up and down Pyatnitskaya Street this week ends today with a building I see every time I emerge onto Pyatnitskaya from the courtyard in which I live. It’s a beautiful, stately old structure that has been abandoned for many of the years I have been here. That’s beginning to change and I’m thrilled about that. In the section of the building that faces 2nd Monetchikovsky Lane (the glass windows running away from the main peach/white structure in the picture above) several restaurants have gone into the first floor. One of them, Coin, has a great, inexpensive “business lunch” from 1 to 5 p.m. every weekday. You can often find Oksana and me there after 4 p.m. But, as with so many locations in Moscow, there is much, much more here than meets the contemporary eye.
This huge building, and many of the wings and additions stretching out over the entire city block covering Pyatnitskaya 71-73, once belonged to Ivan Sytin, one of the great publishers in Russian history. He was from a simple family and was not overly educated. Anton Chekhov described him as “a great, but completely unlettered man who came from the people. A bundle of energy together with slackness… and lack of firmness.” (I pull this quote from Charles A. Ruud and Marina E. Soroka’s introduction to My Life for the Book: The Memoirs of a Russian Publisher.) But Sytin had a nose for publishing and business and, leaning on the advice of many important cultural figures – Leo Tolstoy and Chekhov among them – he effected a revolution in Russian publishing. He made books, chapbooks, picture books, maps and such things available at extremely low cost, meaning they could reach masses. At one time or another he published the works of Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Krylov, Tolstoy, Chekhov and many others. He obtained the property on which his huge printing factory was built in 1887 and he put it to use immediately. Later he had the architect Adolf Erikhson build a fabulous new home for his business – that was in 1903 and that is pretty much what we see today. Because of Sytin’s stinginess and his exploitative relationship to his workers, this building was gutted by fire during the Revolution of 1905. However, it was rebuilt and working again within the year. It’s also worth noting that those same workers, or their “descendants,” if you will, were extremely loyal to Sytin. When the new Soviet government appropriated the building it took them nearly three years to get the workers to accept Communist Party representation. The workers were unhappy that their boss had been treated so badly.

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According to the great Know Moscow website,  many of the top writers of the age paid visits to these offices, including Chekhov, Tolstoy, Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky. The poet Sergei Yesenin, before he was a poet or Yesenin in anyone’s mind but his own, worked as a copy editor here when he was 18 years old in 1913. Also of interest is that the future playwright Alexander Ostrovsky lived in his father’s home in a building on this plot that I am assuming was destroyed at some point. If I understand correctly, this would have been somewhere near the point where the peach and yellow buildings meet in the very last photo below.
I personally encountered Sytin for the first time in Nikolai Erdman’s black comedy The Warrant. At the beginning of Act III the old Avtonom Sigismundovich is horrified to hear that his tattered old copy of the newspaper Tsarist News has perished, i.e., was used as toilet paper by his servant Agafangel.
“How could it have perished?” Avtonom Sigismundovich asks. “My, what a healthy issue it was. The print. The ideas. The letters. Why do you think that was? Because people then were great. Take Sytin, for example. He published the newspaper Russian Word. And, oh, how he did publish it! He built a three-story building and printed it on every floor. Every time you’d ride by, you’d think to yourself, ‘There it is. The bulwark of the Russian empire. The three-story Russian Word…'”
In fact, Sytin began publishing Russian Word at the behest of Chekhov, who believed the country needed a good, cheap newspaper. As for the translation from the Erdman play, that’s taken from my own translation published in The Major Plays of Nikolai Erdman.