Pavlova, Karolina (1807–1893)

views updated

Pavlova, Karolina (1807–1893)

Russian poet, translator, and 19th-century belletrist who composed verse in Russian, French, and German and translated freely between these languages, and whose influential literary translations generally move from Russian into French or German. Born Karolina Karlovna Jaenisch in the Russian city of Yaroslavl in 1807; died in Dresden in 1893; daughter of Karl Jaenisch (served at the School of Medicine and Surgery in Moscow); married Nikolai Pavlov (a writer), in December 1836.

Karolina Pavlova was a talented poet and translator of 19th-century Russia. Although generally categorized as a "Russian" literary figure, Pavlova became a literary polyglot because of her particular biography and interests, and thus she belongs to that class of 19th-century belletrists who transcended national categorization. The apogee of her career occurred in Russia during the 1840s, but she would live the latter half of her life in her second native land, Germany. Throughout both periods, she composed verse in Russian, French, and German and translated freely between these languages. Her most poignant original creations appear generally in Russian, and her greatly influential literary translations generally move from Russian into French or German.

Karolina Karlovna Jaenisch was born in 1807 in the Russian city of Yaroslavl. The principal portion of her childhood and the first portion of her adulthood were spent in Moscow. Her father, the transplanted German national Karl Jaenisch, served at the School of Medicine and Surgery in Moscow. He cared deeply for Karolina and was committed to providing his daughter with a comprehensive education. Since young women could not enter the formal education system, Karolina received extensive home tutoring. Her education, coupled with her literate upbringing in German culture, provided the young Karolina with the foundation of erudition which would mark her adult years.

A German by familial bonds and a Russian by geographical and social situation, Karolina readily assimilated the three languages of her surroundings: German, French (the language of international discourse and of educated Russian society), and Russian; by all indications, she operated equally comfortably in all three. She also had a certain knowledge of Spanish, Italian, Swedish, and Polish. This "multi-lingualism" would become yet another trademark of her future oeuvre.

In the 1820s, Karolina entered Moscow's literary beau monde, and two important events mark this decade in her life. First, she began to translate verse between the various languages which were native to her. The translation of verse comprised a standard component of language and literature education during this period, and presumably Karolina first engaged in such activities in the course of her philological education. However, because of her marked talents, such exercises naturally evolved into independent, creative endeavors. The second notable event was her association with the preeminent Polish poet of the day, Adam Mickiewicz. Mickiewicz was uniformly recognized as the leading voice of Polish Romanticism and as a poet of unimpeachable talents. Although a committed Polish patriot living during a period when the Russian Empire controlled Poland, Mickiewicz remained a sociable literary figure, esteemed by Russian literary society, and he was a recognized face in the Russian literary salons of the day. Karolina and Adam entertained notions of marriage during the late 1820s, but the potential union was rejected, most likely on national and/or religious grounds. Although Karolina would have been recognized as a Russian at this time, she remained a Lutheran throughout her life, a fact which links her again with her German ancestry, and whether Russian or German, Orthodox or Lutheran, Karolina's background would have conflicted with that of the Polish Catholic Adam. Certain accounts suggest that Karolina's family pressed refusal. Others suggest that, while reluctant, the family and her father ultimately would have allowed the marriage, but Karolina herself decided against it on practical grounds.

The relationship with Adam nonetheless exhibited a marked influence on Karolina's life because of her exposure to yet another literary tradition (her initial knowledge of the Polish language would have come through Mickiewicz) and because of her first exposure to a poet of great talent and significance. Her association with Adam appears to have increased her commitment to her experiments in verse and to her translations, and in this respect the relationship assumes a certain mentor-protégé quality from a professional perspective.

Karolina's first publication appeared in 1833. She issued a collection under the title Nordlicht, containing the translations of numerous Russian poets into German. Her most historically significant translations moved from Russian into French and German, and thus Nordlicht marks the beginning of a large portion of her intellectual efforts.

In the mid-1830s, Karolina developed an acquaintance and later a romance with the prose writer, Nikolai Pavlov. The two married in December of 1836, and Karolina Pavlova acquired the family name by which she is known ever after (in Russian, feminine forms of family names have the grammatical marker of a final "a"). The circumstances and motivations behind Pavlov's courtship remain unclear. Certain accounts point to Nikolai's predilection for gambling and his attraction to Karolina's sizable inheritance. Contemporaries and mutual acquaintances of the two, however, record a heartfelt romance and an initial love shared by both. Whatever the case, the marriage soon transformed into something quite unpleasant for both; the reasons seem to be relatively clear. Whether or not he concealed mercantile intentions initially, Nikolai eventually coveted his wife's wealth and later indeed gambled away the Jaenisch estate into which he had married. Moreover, Nikolai engaged in infidelities which naturally eroded the substance of the marriage. Finally, he is almost uniformly considered an inferior literary talent, and envy regarding his wife's literary abilities almost certainly soured his disposition toward her. Whereas Karolina Jaenisch Pavlova often earns the rubric "underappreciated," Nikolai Pavlov is generally considered a writer with unrealized potential.

The difficulties of their marriage notwithstanding, the Pavlovs held a literary salon which would become one of Pavlova's major contributions to the literary history of the period. The salon received virtually all of the luminaries of the day—poets, scholars, artists, musicians—and indeed members of all political and aesthetic inclinations were welcomed. The salon was, by all accounts, a place of rich social life and a fecund ground for intellectual and artistic exchanges. It first opened its doors in 1839 and lasted until the mid 1840s, at which time the growing rancor between the two vying political-intellectual trends of the day, Slavophilism and "Westernism," necessitated its closing. The Pavlovs tried to renew their salon later in the 1840s, but by this point, the death of certain prominent figures and the emigration of one of the salon's established visitors, the prominent thinker and Westernizer Aleksandr Herzen, left the salon bereft of its former glory. Pavlova's own politics were unique; on the one hand, she tended to be more sympathetic to the Slavophile and socially conservative elements, but on the other, she was regarded as something of an outsider because of her ancestry. Above all, she valued art and her beloved craft of poetry, and this sensibility led her away from the politicized literature promulgated by the liberals and later the socialists. The program of viewing literature as social commentary and the valuation of literature for its ability to influence social attitudes were anathema to this woman who devoted herself to beauty and her "holy craft" above all else. It is not surprising, therefore, that she would become close to the young Fet, a person of similarly mixed heritage, who fiercely defended the musicality and pure beauty of poetry in a time when social commentary dominated literary criticism.

The 1840s were a productive period for Pavlova's literature. From 1844 to 1848, she composed the largest of her works, the multigenre piece A Double Life. The work appears ostensibly as a novel but nonetheless differs from the conventional, 20th-century understanding of the novel due to its peculiar form which combines both a prose narrative and abundant lyric verse. The novel genre was experiencing its formative evolution in the 1830s and 1840s, and A Double Life belongs to a group of works during this period which press the questions of longer narrative genres. Concurrently, Pavlova was also actively engaged in her lyric poetry, and she composed some of her most memorable and valued pieces. She often shared her verse with her salon visitors, and one can assume that the intellectual ferment provided by her guests prompted the special productivity of these years.

In the early 1850s, Pavlova's life would take its most painful and significant turn. By this time, her husband had squandered virtually all her wealth, and Karolina was not fully aware of her husband's activity until the estate was essentially lost. In 1852, she instigated civil action against her husband. The proceedings, the circumstances of which are not clear, led to Nikolai Pavlov's arrest and internal exile. Despite Nikolai's conduct, the intellectual community blamed Karolina for her husband's detention, and she was effectively ostracized. She departed for Dorpat in 1853, moved to Dresden in 1858, and lived there for the remainder of her life.

Pavlova's de facto exile injured her profoundly but by no means ended her literary career. She continued her composition of poetry, with her most productive period crossing the point of exile and lasting from the 1840s to her release of the collection Poems in 1863. Also during this period she formed the most significant collaboration of her life. The esteemed and talented Alexei K. Tolstoy, a poet, essayist, and humorist, whose best-known novel is Prince Serebryany, visited Pavlova in Germany, and the two began a long, productive professional relationship which lasted until Tolstoy's death. Pavlova translated large portions of Tolstoy's work into French and German, and thanks to her, Tolstoy became one of the few Russian poets to successfully cross into the international scene and to garner international acclaim. Pavlova also became an active reader and collaborator in the composition of Tolstoy's work, and he praised her for her insight and literary gifts.

After Tolstoy's death in 1875, Pavlova faded into obscurity from which she would not emerge again. She died in 1893 in Dresden, and Russian literature had completely forgotten her. Valerii Briusov, the prominent figure of Russian Symbolism, praised Pavlova's verse and restored her memory with the publication of a collection of her works in 1915. Although certainly not occupying a prominent place in the Russian literary mindset, Pavlova's memory has been preserved by several subsequent figures of the 20th century, including the more prominent poets Marina Tsvetaeva and Anna Akhmatova . Tsvetaeva's lyric collection Craft owes its title to an utterance proffered by her predecessor Pavlova who pronounced her poetry her "holy craft."

Pavlova's literary activity can be divided into three areas: original works, translations, and the maintenance of her literary salon. The last two areas should not be discounted as insignificant for two reasons. First, as Pavlova was a woman, opportunities for publishing original works would not have been widely available. Thus, her translations and salon offered venues for participation in the literary community and for expression of her literary sensibilities. Secondly, regarding the salon specifically, the literary salon constituted a vital portion of the literary culture of the day. The salons represented the stage for new work and an "editorial" conference for work in progress, and they, along with the so-called "fat journals," were the principal stage for the exchange and evolution of literary and aesthetic ideas. Pavlova's salon therefore positioned her as a literary force and significant influence in Russia of the 1840s.

Nevertheless, her original works are of course her most important, lasting legacy, and her poetry places her as the preeminent Russian woman poet until the emergence of Symbolism in the 1890s. Pavlova's works do not exhibit uniform genius, and she is generally at her best when engaged with the internal questions of the heart and soul and when she avoids the clichés of the Sentimentalist and Romantic styles. Certain consistent questions, all of them interconnected, regularly recur in Pavlova's lyrics: alienation, the inner self, the divide between the internal and external worlds, and the nature of poetry itself.

The question of alienation emerges from Pavlova's particular position; that which endows Pavlova with her particularly variegated biography also perpetually confers upon her the label of outsider. She was never fully accepted as a Russian because of her German heritage, but Germany would not necessarily offer her a national home either. Ironically, her political inclinations were more sympathetic to the Russian Slavophiles, but this group would never truly accept her and indeed excoriated her after her husband's arrest. She was a woman who aspired to participate in the male-dominated literary sphere, but she also rejected the "George Sandism" and "emancipation" promulgated by the emergent feminine voices of Russia. These various influences led Pavlova to compose her contemplative verse, which has a sad undercurrent to its feelings of alienation. At its best and most poignant, this undercurrent is often understated and coupled with a sense of resignation. She conveys this resignation through frequent references to hopes and passions "in vain" and to the "poor in spirit," denoting those who have hoped and been disappointed. In "About the past, about the perished," she writes:

The heart is oppressed by the wordless thought
Of what's past, of what's perished, what's old;
I have met with much evil in life,
I have spent much emotion in vain,
I have sacrificed much to no point.

Such sentiments do not dominate all of Pavlova's verse, and what at times appears as alienation may also appear as a willful and celebratory withdrawal into the inner self. This inner life is indeed linked to Pavlova's vision of poetry, another frequent theme, because the moment of introspection and meditation can lead to a sense of true beauty (poetry) and a vision of higher truth. Thus, she opens "Life calls us" with a declaration of the individual's purpose—the apperception of distant paradise:

Life calls us, and we go, massing our courage;
But in the short hour when grief's thunder stints,
And passions sleep, when the heart's strife is mute,
The soul takes breath awhile from the world's troubles,
And suddenly the far-off Edens shine,
And meditations come to power again.

The full impact of Pavlova's largest work, A Double Life, is achieved only when seen within the context of her poetic vision. The dual-genre aspect of the work reflects this aesthetic perspective, and the "real world" portions of the work appear in prose, whereas the "inner world" portions appear in poetry. The poetic segments themselves comprise a poetic cycle much as the prose chapters comprise a "novel." Not coincidentally, the poems are situated as dreams, and as such they reflect the deeper symbolism occurring as Pavlova moves into her genre of meditation and vision. The plot of A Double Life prepares these dreams, which arguably contain the greater substance of the whole work.

The plot follows the young woman protagonist who is of the age of emergence into society. The prose sections of the work reveal her absorption into conventional society with its pretenses, hypocrisy, and gossip. In this regard, A Double Life can serve as a social statement, a sort of "society tale," satirizing and debunking the conventional life of the period. It resembles Pavlova's other work of substantial length, the narrative poem Quadrille. In that work, Pavlova is even more direct in questioning the dames' and debutantes' roles in society, lampooning those who fall into the pattern of balls and gossip and lamenting those who would aspire to something more substantive—something more poetic in Pavlova's discourse. Although eschewing the politics of "emancipation," she clearly observes that society deprives a woman of the search for substantive intellectual and spiritual pursuits, relegating her instead to the niceties of good society and drawing-room talents.

What Pavlova seeks manifests itself in the poetic segments of A Double Life and in her lyric poetry. The "second" life referred to in the title is that which is beyond the conventional, expected existence of a Russian woman. As she expresses it, Pavlova wishes her protagonist and any individual generally to "live the soul's life fully":

You will understand inspiration's secret,
You will live the soul's life fully.
What the genius learns in waking
You will learn, my child, in sleep.

Because of this perspective, Pavlova writes a great deal of poetry about poets and poetic creation which, for her, are tantamount to holiness, and this juncture represents the subject of Pavlova's most famous piece "You have stayed whole within my beggared heart." The opening stanza reads:

You have stayed whole within my beggared heart,
I salute you, my sorrowing verse!
My bright light above the ashes
Of my blessings and my joys!
The one thing in this shrine
That even sacrilege could not touch;
My misfortune! my enrichment!
My holy craft!

Here all of Pavlova's particular personality comes together: the alienation, the duality of the external and internal worlds, the introspection, the celebration in the beautiful, and the spirituality of aesthetic creation. This poem presages much of the 20th-century poetic spirit from Tsvetaeva and Akhmatova because of its view of the internal poetic spirit which endures through a profane external world. The religious language is particularly emphatic, and Pavlova demonstratively asserts her ability to persevere in her "second" world and in her inner shrine, despite all external efforts to deprive her of a true home. Her home of course was neither Russian society nor Dresden; rather, she persistently dwelt in her holy craft.


Greene, Diana. "Nineteenth-Century Women Poets: Critical Reception vs. Self-Definition," in Women Writers in Russian Literature. Ed. by Toby W. Clyman and Diana Greene. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.

Heldt, Barbara. Terrible Perfection: Women and Russian Literature. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Kelly, Catriona, ed. An Anthology of Russian Women's Writing, 1777–1992. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

——. A History of Russian Women's Writing: 1820–1992. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

Pavlova, Karolina. A Double Life. Trans. by Barbara Heldt Monter. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1978.

Perkins, Pamela and Albert Cook, eds. The Burden of Sufferance: Women Poets of Russia. NY: Garland, 1993.

Andrew Swensen , Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan