Posted in Russian history

Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova

This was originally written on 18 June and 2 July 2015, and scheduled for 16 April 2016. I opted not to use it for that year’s Blogging from A to Z because it seemed too much a repeat of my post about Grand Duke Mikhail and focused too much on Natalya’s relationships instead of her life as a whole. Regardless, I put too much work into it to keep it gathering cobwebs in my drafts folder!


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Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova (née Sheremetyevskaya, formerly Mamontova and Vulfert), 27 June 1880–26 January 1952

Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova was Grand Duke Mikhail’s wife. It was her third marriage, and his first and only marriage. This was a woman like Yoko Ono or Natacha Rambova, someone most people either strongly love or hate. There aren’t too many people taking a more balanced opinion. I personally lean more towards sympathy.

Natalya was the third of three daughters born to Sergey Aleksandrovich and Yuliya Vladislavovna, a bourgeois Muscovite couple. Her older sisters were Olga and Vera. Theirs was an intellectual home, full of serious conversations about world events, literature, art, music, social movements, all the things which were judged too heavy for Imperial society to discuss. All three sisters received a very good education, including a live-in French governess.

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Natalya with Grand Duke Mikhail

Natalya married pianist Sergey Mamontov in 1902, and had a daughter, also named Natalya, the next June. Her daughter was called Tata, instead of the more usual Natasha. Their life was anything but domestic bliss, though, as Natalya quickly bored of his retiring nature. She loved going to parties and the homes of people just as intelligent and educated as she was, while Sergey preferred to come right home from work and not be very social. They amicably divorced in 1905, with Sergey pretending infidelity, the only reason divorce was permitted in the Russian Empire.

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Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail with their son Georgiy

Natalya divorced Mamontov to marry Vladimir Vladimirovich Vulfert, a Blue Cuirrassier officer of Baltic–German descent. Their life in Gatchina was happy at first, but then they met Grand Duke Mikhail at a Blue Cuirassier event, and their marriage began heading for the rocks. Mikhail was instantly smitten by Natalya, and for a long time cultivated a friendship with them as a couple so as not to give away his true intentions. However, the attraction became mutual, and Vulfert eventually discovered his wife’s emotional infidelity. Things got extremely ugly, complete with domestic abuse, spousal rape, and threats to shoot Natalya or himself.

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Natalya (centre) and Grand Duke Mikhail (far left) with friends

Natalya separated from Vulfert in 1909, and she and Mikhail finally became lovers in August of that year, when Mikhail was on holiday in Denmark with his mother, the Dowager Empress. They continued seeing one another when they returned to Russia, and set up a living arrangement in Moskva. This was no small feat, since a woman couldn’t live apart from her husband without his permission. If the husband refused, the police could apprehend the wife and compel her to come home. Such a couple could live apart only after a lengthy investigation into their relationship, to determine who was at supposed fault. A wife could get a temporary permit to live alone in the interim, but she still wasn’t free to leave permanently without official permission.

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Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail in 1912

Natalya gave birth to a boy named Georgiy in July 1910, when she was still legally married to Vulfert. She was terrified her estranged husband would take her child from her, and quite a lot of money and legal trouble was expended to not only get a divorce, but also to get a second birth certificate. The second birth certificate listed Georgiy as the “bastard” son of an unmarried woman, but at least that was better than a birth certificate claiming him as the child of a man who wasn’t his father. Mikhail had to fight his brother long and hard to get Georgiy made “legitimate,” and in 1915, he was created Count Brasov. Natalya was also created Countess Brasova.

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Following their marriage in October 1912, Mikhail was banished from Russia, and also received many other draconian punishments from his brother. Almost everyone in the Imperial Family was furious Mikhail had married a twice-divorced commoner, and some very ugly things were said about Natalya. The little family spent the next few years living in France, Switzerland, and England. Only after the outbreak of war did they get permission to come home. Mikhail was sent to the front lines as punishment for having married morganatically, but he served very bravely and got to come home a few times.

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May 1909, the first known surviving photograph of Natalya and Grand Duke Mikhail. The believed photographer is her then-husband Vulfert

Natalya escaped the new Soviet Union with her children in 1918, after Mikhail’s murder. They started a new life in England, though money was tight. The family later moved to France. Sadly, Georgiy was killed in a car accident in 1931, and Natalya died alone, in poverty, of cancer.

Posted in 1950s, Couples, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, Writing

WeWriWa—Passionate proposal

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, from Chapter 55, “The Streets of the Future,” of my WIP A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. This chapter, which closes Part I (to be published as Volume I), is mostly set over Orthodox Christmas 1950.

Twenty-year-old Bogdana Sheltsova, who survived two horrific, life-altering events six weeks apart, is now living with her aunt Fyodora in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. She didn’t expect her friend Achilles to visit with roses and a gift bag after their awkward last encounter in the underground clinic where Achilles assists.

Achilles and Bogdana went to another room to speak alone about an idea regarding the unorthodox request Bogdana made yesterday. She’s stunned when Achilles suggests he can teach her how to pleasure herself if he becomes her lover. Bogdana has long been attracted to him, but won’t let herself believe she’s worthy of a relationship with a nice guy.

“I’m saying I’ll help you if you become my girlfriend.” He makes even deeper eye contact. “I’d do it in stages, until you’re ready for a complete union, heart to heart, soul to soul, mind to mind, body to body, skin to skin. God in heaven, you deserve a man who knows how to make love to a woman. I want you completely, but only if you want me in return.”

Bogdana stares at him, numb with shock. “Did you just say what I think you did?”

“You need a man who knows how to treat a woman properly instead of subjecting her to an act of grotesque violence. I wish I still had my Sabina, but now that I’ve lost her, I shouldn’t live the rest of my life alone. I’m so lonely, and you stole my heart.”

Posted in 1920s, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Emotional reunion

This was originally put together on 10 January 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop, as part of Naina, Katya, and Karla’s story. It differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use accent marks, Katrin’s husband is now called Sandro, and some passive voice is eliminated.

***

This week’s excerpt is the conclusion of Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba’s friend Sonya, who lives in Toronto, comes down to Long Island on the last day of summer vacation to pick up her niece Naina and her best friend’s daughter Katya. Naina and Katya were friends with Lyuba’s youngest stepsisters in the Soviet orphanage system, and were delighted to be reunited several months earlier. Sonya, who’s been away on vacation with her three surrogate daughters all summer, has only recently found out Naina and Katya are not only still alive but safe in North America. (The reader knows what happened to Sonya’s surviving daughter Karla, but Sonya won’t know for several more chapters.)

***

While they’re eating breakfast, the doorbell rings. Mrs. Samson gets up from a game of Mahjong with Mrs. Whitmore and pulls open the door to find Sónya.

Naína looks up from her waffles and dimly recognizes her aunt from the old family pictures she hid under her clothes at the orphanages. Kátya, four years Naína’s senior, only recognizes her a little bit better. Sónya, who hasn’t seen them since they were young girls, can only pick them out because they’re the only people at the table she doesn’t recognize.

Naína runs into her sobbing aunt’s arms, Kátya following and joining the embrace from the side. All three of them are invoking God and proclaiming their love, while the people at the table look away politely. Katrin kicks Anastásiya under the table when she catches her gaping at them.

“We’re going to go right to the depot and get on the next train heading for Toronto. I came here last night and stayed in a hotel, so don’t think I’m going right from one train to another. My dear sister Zinoviya, my brother-in-law Antón, my best friend Yuliana, and her husband Karl have been watching over you the entire time!”

“And I had a gun,” Naína smiles through her tears. “Papa handed me one of his handguns before we were taken away, and I hid it under my dress all through our years in the orphanages. It’s waiting to be packed up in my suitcase now.”

“I brought some thank-you presents for Sándros and Katrin for sponsoring you and putting you up in their home, and for the Konevs, Eliisabet, Kat, and Álla for taking care of you for an entire summer. I won’t hear of your refusing them. I also brought down our anniversary gift for Iván and Lyuba.”

“Do I get anything?” Anastásiya whines.

Everyone around the table laughs.

“Have you taken any active part in taking care of my niece and my best friend’s daughter, or have you just sat around thinking only of yourself as usual?”

“She doesn’t even take care of her own little boy, Tyotya Sónya,” Naína says. “He thinks Katrin is more his mother than she is, and he’s only twenty-one months old.”

“We got you and Iván an anniversary gift, Lyubochka,” Kátya says. “We’ll give it to you before we leave. And we got a little something for Tatyana and Fédya’s baptismal anniversary.”

Sónya goes into her suitcase and hands out the gifts. Anastásiya whines again when Sónya also gives some money to Mrs. Samson, Mrs. Oswald, and Mr. Rhodes, as well as small trinkets to Viktóriya, Véra, Natálya, and Fyodora.

“We’ll see you again sometime next year,” Sónya says. “As soon as you girls finish breakfast, you can finish packing your things and we’ll go to the depot. I can’t believe my little niece Náyechka carries a gun.”

“It came in handy when I encountered wardens who wanted to steal my necklace. It was the last thing my mother ever gave me, and damned if I’d let some overgrown bully steal it.”

“It belonged to my mother, your grandmother, before you. She gave it to you because citrine is your birthstone too. And look how well it matches your dark blonde hair.”

“My birthstone used to be citrine too,” Lyuba says. “Naína’s corrected birthday is the same day my birthday used to be before we switched to the Gregorian calendar, November twenty-ninth. She’s a fellow Sagittarius.”

“I bought my Lyuba a beautiful citrine bracelet ten years ago,” Iván says as he pours more maple syrup on his plate. “For the life of me I can’t remember what became of it. Someone must’ve stolen it, and it was too late by the time I remembered it and was free to give it to her after she was no longer with Borís and I wasn’t in that phony relationship with Voroshilova.”

“It may still turn up somewhere when you least expect it,” Sónya says encouragingly. “I found my dear sister’s only child and my best friend’s only child after assuming they were lost forever. Don’t give up hope too soon.”

***

At 9:00 at night, Kátya and Naína stagger into their new house with Sónya. After the eight-hour ride from Long Island to Toronto, all they want to do is sleep.

“Are these my new aunts you told me about?” Yuriy asks.

“Yes they are, and they can’t wait to play with you,” Sónya smiles. “But right now, they most want to be shown to their new room so they can sleep.”

Natálya steps forward. “I can’t wait to get to know you and have two new sisters. I’m Natálya Yeltsina and I’m thirteen, and those are my sister Léna, who’ll be twenty-one at the end of the month, her husband of a year, Karl Tsvetkov, also twenty-one, and Léna’s best friend Antonína Petróva, who’s twenty.”

“We’ve met Antonína before, a long time ago,” Kátya says. “We didn’t know her for very long, but we remembered her since she was the one who wrote the paper epitaph for poor little Mikhaíla.”

“I remember you too,” Antonína nods. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you a lot better. I honestly never thought I’d see you again after you left Mrs. Voznesenskaya’s orphanage, and never dreamt I’d end up with Naína’s aunt for my surrogate mother.”

“Follow me,” Léna says. “I’ll take you to your new room. It’s the last available room in this house big enough to be converted into a bedroom. Now we’re up to five bedrooms. When Kárlik, Yura, and I move out within the next few years, we plan to build a house next door so we can always be together.”

Kátya and Naína drop their suitcases as soon as they’re shown into the room, putting Kárla’s little suitcase into the closet. After throwing their travel clothes on the floor and pulling on their new nightgowns Katrin bought to replace their ugly orphanage-regulation ones, they climb into bed and look up at the stars through their window.

“It’s been a long way from Russia to Toronto,” Kátya says. “Perhaps somewhere out there, our Kárlochka is looking up at the same stars and being looked after by decent people.”

“Perhaps. We found Sónya and our old friends the Lebedevas after so many years. I guess some miracles aren’t supposed to happen overnight, since we might not appreciate them as much.”

“We’ll see her again someday. We have to believe that. Even if we’ll never see our parents or other relatives ever again, we know Kárla could be out there somewhere.K It’s only a matter of time till we’re happily reunited with her the same way we were reunited with Sónya.”

*****************************************************

Posted in Editing, Historical fiction, Rewriting, Third Russian novel, Writing

Walking through second edition edits

As it turned out, prepping Journey Through a Dark Forest for its print edition entailed more than tightening up the kerning to remove awkward gaps and catching the odd overlooked typo or minor error here and there. The changes are nowhere near exhaustive, since this wasn’t a rewrite, but they’re noteworthy enough to walk through.

In no particular order:

1. As I’ve been writing A Dream Deferred, it emerged that the Konevs and their best friends moved to rural Minnesota and stayed there so long for all the wrong reasons. Not only that, they made their oldest kids feel compelled to run right home to become farmers themselves after graduating university. Thus, their kids now say they wish they could stay in NYC and are only returning to Minnesota out of duty or outright parental pressure. Others comment on what a bad decision this is.

2. Tatyana’s ocelots, whom Boris gives her as a baptismal anniversary gift in 1937, are now named Nyx and Hemera, after the primordial Greek goddesses of night and day, respectively. Nyx is light and Hemera is dark. Pet characters need names too, even if they don’t constantly appear!

3. Fedya’s clown doll is now named Koko, after Max Fleischer’s very popular clown cartoon series.

4. Darya’s beloved doll from St. Paul is now called Alisa, and the stuffed bunny she got on her first birthday is Cadbury. Obviously, the Cadbury Bunny didn’t exist back then, but they’ve been making Easter chocolates since the 19th century. Doll and stuffed animal characters also deserve names. It’s one thing if they’re only mentioned once, but it’s so impersonal to keep calling them, e.g., “Jane’s doll” or “his tiger.”

5. Katya’s dear old stuffed parrot likewise needs a name.

6. Correcting the depiction of a Manhattan duplex from side-by-side to upstairs and downstairs two-story units.

7. Correcting depictions of other Manhattan architecture to make it clear these houses have multiple stories, stoops instead of verandas, and that Boris’s Harlem brownstone has three, not only two, stories. I have an upcoming post on writing about NYC architecture and housing styles.

8. Reworking Chapter 44, “Martian Panic,” to make it even more obvious only a TINY minority was not just duped but terrified by The War of the Worlds.

9. Inessa now offers Vitya (her future second husband) sympathies on the arrest of his wife after their first proper meeting, and says some of her cousins gave their kids invented Soviet names like Vitya and his wife. As originally written, Inessa says she likes some of those names, but doesn’t know anyone who used them. Huge discrepancy with how all eighteen of her first-cousins once-removed who come to America in 1950 have such names! Inessa also names a few of those cousins.

10. Fedya’s university was changed from Columbia to Cooper Union and back again. Though Columbia didn’t offer a BFA till 1947, Cooper Union only offered art certificates in this era. Absolutely no shame in getting a certificate instead of a degree, but it implies fewer than four years of study, and Lyuba and Ivan place great importance on their kids getting university degrees.

Another reason I changed it back to Columbia was because its 1948 graduation date, vs. any other NYC school, is the only one that works with the timeline of the final chapters. Too much frogging and radical reconstruction otherwise.

11. Reworking sections based around too-early semester start dates in autumn 1942 and spring 1946. I initially moved up the former dates until discovering that too would involve too much frogging and reconstruction. Novomira will have to go into labor her first day back at Barnard, not during a test a few weeks later. For the latter, Fedya will meet with his advisor instead of starting the semester “late” and going about his first day of classes. That semester started on 12 February.

12. A few little tweaks with the Cast of Characters to include or correct birthdates and delete characters who never appear in that volume.

13. While writing A Dream Deferred, I began picturing Lyuba and Ivan’s next-youngest child Sonyechka as blonde and wavy-haired, despite her initial description as raven-haired. There’s now a mention of all her hair falling out at six months (which is very common) and growing back wavy and very dark blonde, to Lyuba’s great shock. Her eyes are also described as very dark blue.

14. After the Siyanchuks and Duranichevs move to Queens Village, Patya tells his daughter Karina she’ll go to the independent Garden School in Jackson Heights. Originally, he said she’d now go to public school.

15. The first book Katya reads on her way back to California in 1946 is now If He Hollers Let Him Go. I had such a sour experience with The Member of the Wedding!

16. Liliana’s nickname was changed from Lilka to Lilya.

17. Dusya’s full name was changed from Nadezhda to Avdotya. I couldn’t find any strong evidence Dusya is a nickname for Nadezhda.

18. Alla’s husband is no longer called Karmov, but Daniil. It felt wrong to call this one character by his surname when no one else is referred to that way.

Posted in 1950s, Couples, Fourth Russian novel, Historical fiction, Writing

WeWriWa—Stunning suggestion

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, from Chapter 55, “The Streets of the Future,” of my WIP A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University. This chapter, which closes Part I (to be published as Volume I), is mostly set over Orthodox Christmas 1950.

Twenty-year-old Bogdana Sheltsova, who survived two horrific, life-altering events six weeks apart, is now living with her aunt Fyodora in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. She didn’t expect her friend Achilles to visit with roses and a gift bag after their awkward last encounter in the underground clinic where Achilles assists.

Achilles asked Fyodora if he could speak with Bogdana alone, and she approved. He has an idea for fulfilling Bogdana’s very unorthodox request of yesterday, an idea which stuns her.

Bogdana leads Achilles to the library, the box with the necklace in her hand. She can’t accept this, but doesn’t want to hurt his feelings by point-blank telling him so. She’ll give it to a friend after he leaves. Whatever his ideas for granting that unorthodox request might be, she can’t accept them either. She disgraced herself enough yesterday, and doesn’t want his pity assistance.

“I want to teach you how to pleasure yourself,” Achilles begins, looking her straight in the eyes. “But only as your lover.”

Bogdana’s blood runs cold. “What did you just say, Doctor? After the lecture you gave me?”