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literature

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Russian Literature  
 
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By denouncing the couple to the young woman's father and offering to marry her himself so as to cover up her condition, Negorev sets himself up for a major career in the government bureaucracy. (Unlike in Germany or England of the time, blackmail for homosexuality seems to have been unknown in nineteenth-century Russia.)

The Reforms of Tsar Alexander II

Homosexuality became somewhat more visible in Russian life and literature after the momentous reforms initiated by Tsar Alexander II in the early 1860s that abolished serfdom, replaced an archaic legal system with trials by jury open to press and public, and reduced the censorship of books and periodicals.

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Konstantin Leontiev (1831-1891) was an ultraconservative political philosopher, a literary critic, and novelist, who spent much of his life in consular service in the countries of the Near East. Bisexuality was a theme he often treated in his fiction.

In his early novel A Husband's Confession (1867), the husband loves his young wife, but he also falls in love with a mustachioed Turk taken captive during the Crimean War. To give expression to this second love, he encourages his wife to become the Turk's mistress and to run away with him to Turkey.

Such simultaneous infatuation of a man with a well-bred but drab female and with a robust and colorful male is also the situation in Leontiev's best-known novel, The Egyptian Dove (1881). His story "Hamid and Manoli," published in 1869, is an account of a love affair between two men, a Turk and a Cretan, which ends in a bloody tragedy because of the prejudices of the Cretan's Christian family. It is the only piece of Russian literature of the nineteenth century that denounces the ugliness of .

One of the greatest Russian celebrities in the second half of the nineteenth century, both at home and abroad, was the explorer and author of travel books Nikolai Przhevalsky (1839-1888). His accounts of his travels and adventures (such as his famous discovery of the undomesticated horse, Equus przevalskii) were best sellers in Russia and were widely popular in translation in England and America.

A recent biography by Donald Rayfield showed that each of Przhevalsky's expeditions was planned to include a young male lover-companion. The great love of his life was Piotr Kozlov, who spent Przhevalsky's last years with him and who later became a noted explorer in his own right.

The literary qualities of Przhevalsky's books were greatly admired by Anton Chekhov, who in his obituary of the explorer called him "a hero as vital as the sun." Vladimir Nabokov, in the most personal and perfect of his Russian novels, The Gift, based the character of the protagonist's father on Przhevalsky (minus his homosexuality). Nabokov's description of the father's expeditions to the remote regions of Central Asia is a set of variations on themes from Przhevalsky's writings.

The Mass Emergence of Lesbians and Gay Men in the 1890s

The decade of the 1890s saw a mass emergence of lesbians and gay men on the Russian cultural scene. There were several quite visible gay grand dukes (brothers, uncles, or nephews of the last three tsars). The most overt of them was the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, brother of Alexander III and uncle of Nicholas II, who appeared with his current lover at official functions and at the theater and opera.

Close to the tsar's court was the reactionary publisher Prince Vladimir Meshchersky. When the latter got involved in a scandal because of his affair with a bugle boy from the imperial marching band in the late 1880s, Tsar Alexander III ordered the case to be quashed and the witnesses silenced.

An associate of the Grand Duke Sergei and of Meshchersky was the poet Alexei Apukhtin (1841-1893), author of flashy salon lyrics and a classmate and one-time lover of Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky. Apukhtin's and Tchaikovsky's orientation was generally known, as was that of the liberal lesbian publisher Anna Yevreinova (1844-1919) and the poet and editor Polyxena Soloviova (1867-1924). Both of these women lived openly with their female partners, arrangements that were accepted by their families and by society.

The association of critics and artists "The World of Art," headed by Sergei Diaghilev, which in 1898 launched their epochal journal of the same name, was predominantly gay. It was on the pages of that journal that the Symbolist poet Zinaida Gippius (1869-1945) published in 1899 her travelogue "On the Shores of the Ionian Sea," where she described in detail the homosexual colony at Taormina in Sicily, which was grouped around Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, the pioneer photographer of male nudes. Elsewhere, Gippius published an extended account of a gay and lesbian bar that she had visited in Paris.

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