A 16 year old girl from a once prestigious family meets the famous poet Alexander Pushkin at a Moscow dance and loses her heart. Natalya or Natalie, as Pushkin calls her, devotes herself to the mercurial, passionate, often impecunious writer despite her mother’s misgivings. Pushkin is clearly talented and his works beloved by many Russians, yet his support of anti-government rebels and his populist political views make him a possible threat to reigning Czar Nicholas who frequently censors his work. Natalie becomes his wife and she sets out to become a fixture at the society galas and balls in an attempt to further her husband’s literary career. But Natalie’s wit and beauty attract not only men who try to tempt her away from her husband but also the philandering czar himself. Her husband, often struggling for his craft and for the funds he needs to support their growing family, is often churlish and frequently excludes her, choosing to pursue flirtations of his own. Natalie is caught in a no-win situation. By participating in society and getting the attention she so desperately craves, she finds herself the subject of vicious rumors that wound her overly jealous, insecure husband. When a letter circulates around St. Petersburg labeling Pushkin a cuckold, the poet can take it no more. He challenges a man to a duel that ultimately costs him his life. Most are quick to blame the beautiful Natalie, the one who did little but be admired by powerful men. Many of the poet’s biographers believe that the blame of the poet’s untimely death belongs at Natalie’s doorstep, but Pushkin himself absolves her of all fault on his deathbed. So why is Natalie so reviled by the public and in the pages of history after her beloved husband’s death?
Ms. Limm provides a fictionalized version of the Pushkins’ love story that tries to provide a fresh, possibly more realistic look at Natalie’s role in her famous husband’s life. This sympathetic look is a welcome balance to the overdone narrative many historians would have us believe: that Natalie was shallow, grasping, and the mistress of the czar. The author’s note reminds us that it’s more than possible – even likely – that Natalie was the victim of snap, unfair judgement by those who never knew her. By labeling historical women as either devils or angels decades or even centuries later, historians have done these women, and society in general, a great disservice. Instead, we should consider them within the times in which they lived and understand that each woman’s story is not necessarily as black and white or as polarizing as historians have portrayed it. This book is an excellent attempt to do just that.
Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for my review.
Amazon link is here.