Because of my diverse set of interests, plus my dogged insistence on looking up references to even the most minor names I run across in a text, I sometimes happen on striking coincidences that bring together utterly different realms, and I am about to recount one such happenstance. (A warning for those who dislike literary gossip: this post involves literary gossip.)
I’m reading an extremely interesting book, Time of Troubles: The Diary of Iurii Vladimirovich Got’e: Moscow, July 8, 1917 to July 23, 1922 . Very few diaries exist from the period of the Russian Revolution and Civil War (those foolish enough to set down their views of current events during that time of violence and starvation tended to sensibly destroy them once the all-encompassing vigilance of the Bolshevik rulers became apparent), and this one survived only because an American, Frank Golder, was in Russia in 1922 and persuaded Got’e to let him smuggle it out of the country (Got’e [Готье], by the way, is a Russianized form of Gautier—his great-grandfather, “Jean Dufayet dit Gautier,” was a French immigrant during the reign of Catherine the Great, and the family had owned the main French bookstore in Moscow for over a century). It’s fascinating to see this grumpy forty-something historian reacting to events as they happen; on Oct. 13, 1917, he writes “Moscow is full of rumors about a citywide strike and bolshevik manifestations—either on the 15th or the 20th. Is this the frightened fantasy of the terrorized townsman or is something really being prepared?” It turned out, of course, that the latter was the case, and within a couple of weeks he is writing about gunfire within earshot of his apartment at No. 4 Bol’shoi Znamenskii pereulok (a few blocks west of the Kremlin). On November 6 he mentions a visit by “V. E. Kokoshkina,” and a footnote tells us that she was married to Vladimir Kokoshkin, the brother of Fedor Fedorovich Kokoshkin, a name well known to students of the Russian Revolution—he and his fellow Kadet and member of the Provisional Government Andrei Shingarev were murdered in their hospital beds in January 1918 by Bolsheviks, one of the first clear signs of the brutality that was about to descend on Russia.
I didn’t think there would be much if anything available on Fedor’s unknown brother, but I googled anyway, and was rewarded with this Russian page containing basic information on both him (1874 – 1926, Brussels) and his wife, Vera Egnatevna (1879 – 1968, France). Armed with this, I googled some more and got a hit on Vera’s name from Brian Boyd’s Vladimir Nabokov: The Russian Years, a book I own. What was she doing in a Nabokov biography? It turns out that twenty years after her visit to Got’e, she was living in Paris with her daughter Irina Guadanini. Now, Irina Guadanini is a name well known to Nabokov aficionados; she was his last serious lover, for whom he nearly left his devoted wife Véra in 1937. Brian Boyd describes their meeting thus:
The reading [in Paris, on January 24, 1937] was not just a literary event. In the crowd were a woman called Vera Kokoshkin and her thirty-one-year-old daughter, Irina Guadanini. Knowing that Irina was strongly attracted to Sirin, her mother had approached him after his February 1936 reading in Paris, complimented him assiduously, and invited him back for tea. He had accepted and had been amused by Mme Kokoshkin’s acting the procuress for her daughter. Now once again she took matters in hand, and invited Nabokov for dinner with [Ilya] Fondaminsky and [Vladimir] Zenzinov [editors of the emigré journal Sovremennye zapiski, where Nabokov/Sirin’s great Russian works appeared].
Her plans worked. Irina was an attractive blond with the strikingly regular features of classical statuary, a cultured woman, observant, playfully derisive, with a fine memory for verse. She was soon frequenting cafes and cinemas with Nabokov. By February an affair was under way.
By summer’s end, Nabokov (whose wife had found out about the affair) was determined to break it off, but Irina came down to Cannes to try to change his mind: “Though Nabokov had asked her not to come, her mother had persuaded her to try.” He told her he still loved her but would not leave his wife; it was the last time they met. (You can read more gossip about this and other aspects of Nabokov’s love life here.)
Two snapshots from what must have been an interesting life; I wonder if Vera ever wrote her memoirs?
(Incidentally, googling Irina’s name in Russian gets two different patronymics, Fedorovna and Yurevna, neither of which fits with Vladimir Kokoshkin; was she the daughter of a previous husband of Vera’s? Still more mysteries to be solved…)