Thursday, April 6, 2017

Born Today April 6: Aleksandr Herzen


Russian writer Aleksandr Ivanovich Herzen (first name sometimes spelled Alexander) was born on this day according to the New Style Dates in Moscow.  (His Old Style Dates are 25 March 1812--9 January 1870).  He was born out of wedlock, the son of a very wealthy Russian landowner and a young Protestant woman from Stuttgart, Germany.  He is related by blood on his father's side of the family  to the important early Russian photographic pioneer Sergey Lvovich Levitsky, who would take several iconic "portrait" photographs of Herzen.  Neither one of his parents had the surname, but instead, it was supposedly his father who gave him the name Herzen (obviously Germanic in origin) because he was a "child of the heart."  Herzen was born during contentious times for Russia, having been born just after Napoleon invaded.  Owed,  though, to his father's prominence, the family was barely affected, quickly gaining the dictator's approval to relocate in France.  The family returned to Moscow one year later.  As a young man, Herzen attended Moscow University.  But, in 1834, he and a friend were arrested and convicted to attending a festival that anti-Tsarist songs were supposedly sung.  His punishment was that he was exiled.   He remained in exile until the Grand Duke at the time visited him along with prominent poet Zhukovsky; he was then allowed to leave for Vladimir, where he became a newspaper editor.  While there, he married a cousin in secret.  By 1840 his full exile was lifted and he returned with his growing family to Moscow.  Upon his return he was given an important government secretarial job.  He also made the acquaintance literary critic Belinsky.  Despite that upon his father's death, he inherited a large amount of very valuable land, he and his family (his mother included) left Russia for Italy, never to return.  They then went to Paris and finally to Geneva, Switzerland.  By this time Herzen was a pretty well known political writer; but he found European socialist movements woefully lacking--complete failure.  However, by this time his views on Russia, and his call for serious political change there, caused the Tsar to freeze all of his assets.  It took the intervention of Baron Rothschild to negotiate to unfreeze them.  By 1852 his mother, his wife and one of his children had died, so he decided to leave Geneva for London.  While there he founded the Russian Free Press.  He left London in 1864 and headed back to Geneva, and very shortly found himself back in Paris.  He died there from complications due to tuberculosis on the 21st of January (NS), at 57 years of age.  He was originally buried in Paris, but his remains were subsequently re-buried in Nice.  As to his writing, he is by far and away best known for his political writing advancing his complete adherence to socialist ideas; he did, however, also write stories--and it is these that come into play in regards to film.  Only three productions have been made using his stories as source material, and the first of these came in 1920 with Thieving Magpie  which was made in his native Russia.  The first sound film was made by the Soviet owned Mosfilm in 1960 with Soroka-vorovka.  The most recent, and only other, use of his work came as an episode of Spain's Novela, with Almas gemelas.  

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