Yesterday's papers: Gilyarovsky

(From Starosti.ru)

On 10 December, 1908 (27 November Old Style), Russkoye Slovo newspaper wrote:

Yesterday, well known journalist and writer Vladimir Alexeyevich Gilyarovsky celebrated 25th anniversary of his life in literature. For the whole day postmen were delivering congratulations from numerous admirers of Gilyarovsky's talent: from the chairman of the charitable society for senile theatre actors Garin-Winding, from the agricultural society to its first secretary, from Mr.Moter from Prague, the translator of Gilyarovsky's stories into Czech language, from Bulgaria, from Don Cossacks and others.

The Fisher's Photography presented the artistic portrait of the hero of the day. By the way, a deputation of vagabonds from Hitrov market also visited Vladimir Alexeyevich. One of the received letters was from the narodnik writer Maxim Semyonov, with the stamp of the jail where the author currently serves his sentence.

Wikipedia is rather laconic about Gilyarovsky:

Vladimir Alekseyevich Gilyarovsky (Russian: Владимир Алексеевич Гиляровский, 26 November 1853 - October 1, 1935), was a Russian writer and newspaper journalist, best known for his reminiscences of life in pre-Revolutionary Moscow ("Moscow and Muscovites"), which he first published in a book form in 1926.

He was born on the 26 November 1855 (according to church records, 1853 according to his own writings) on a manor near Vologda where his father, a Novgorodian, worked as an assistant to the manor's bailiff, a Zaporozhian Cossack whose daughter he later married. Gilyarovsky treasured his partly Cossack descent: as a young man, he posed for one of the Cossacks depicted on Repin's huge canvas Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks (this part of the picture is on the right. DM); he was also a model for Taras Bulba, whose figure is part of the Gogol Monument in Moscow.

Raised by his well-educated mother (who died when he was 8) and his aristocratic stepmother, he left home early and, after a series of odd jobs (which included stints at a toxic lead paint factory in Yaroslavl, as a tutor and as a barge hauler), he enlisted as a volunteer during the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish war. After a short career as a provincial actor, he established himself as a journalist, winning praise and notoriety as one of the best crime reporters in Moscow. His first book, "The Stories of the Slums" (1887) recorded his experiences with the Moscow underworld, the Moscow of poverty and crime, finding its epitome in the area of Khitrovka.

After the revolution he dedicated himself to writing memoirs. Among those were "My Travels" (1928), "Newspaper Moscow" (published posthumously), recording his reminiscences of the newspaper business of pre-revolutionary Moscow and of some famous people he'd worked with (such as Anton Chekhov), and "Theatre People" (also published posthumously). He died in Moscow on October 1, 1935.

Some days ago I couldn't find the English translations of poems by Cherubina de Gabriak, so now I am a bit disappointed by the absence of Gilyarovsky's stories in English. The translators still have a lot of work :). In the meanwhile, learn Russian and read these stories here. Or, just to get a general idea of what he wrote about and how he wrote, reread The Road by Jack London and imagine it was written in Moscow.

A short biography of Gilyarovsky was written by Lyubov Tsarevskaya and translated by the authors of Voices from Russia blog:

Some people become living legends. One such person in Russian history was Vladimir Gilyarovsky, a reporter who at the turn of the twentieth century was famous throughout Moscow, and was lovingly dubbed “Uncle Gilyai” by Muscovites. In giving directions to a coachman, you would simply say, “To Gilyarovsky”, and you would be taken straight to his house in Stoleshnikov Lane in the very heart of Moscow. Today, the house bears a memorial plaque. Next to his name stands but one word, “writer”. This tells the truth, of course, but not the whole truth. Nevertheless, no plaque can be large enough to carry the list of all the occupations and merits of this amazing man.

The future writer spent his early years in the town of Volga in northern Russia. At 17, he dropped out of school, and ran away from home leaving a note that said, “I’m gone to work as a manual labourer on the Volga”. This meant he would become a barge hauler, a hard occupation that required extraordinary physical strength and endurance. However, Gilyarovsky had such strength. He received it from his father. Once, as a grown-up, he came home and just for fun tied a poker in a knot. Of course, his father got angry, “why should my son damage kitchen utensils!”, but he did not say a word to his son. He simply took the poker and… undid the knot!

During the first decade after he left home, Gilyarovsky tried a variety of odd jobs. He worked as a barge-hauler and docker on the Volga, as a horse-herder, and volunteered to fight in the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-1878, serving in a unit consisting of audacious intelligence officers. For his conspicuous bravery, he received the highest military award, the Order of St George. Then, Gilyarovsky joined a circus and enraptured the public with the daredevil stunt of racing on an unsaddled horse. Travelling with a company of wandering actors, he acted on the stage himself and dabbled in simple plays. He faced numerous dangers, and many times was on the verge of death. Nevertheless, he lived to be 83! He followed his own recipe of longevity, “Don’t let anybody or anything scare you, never be angry, and you will live 100 years”. His cheerful audacity and good-nature also came from his parents as well as his last name itself, which was given to his father when he entered seminary. In Latin, it means “cheerful”, and it was changed into a Russian last name. Gilyarovsky’s father never became a priest, but, the name stuck.

Update @2008-12-10 20:28: Etymologically, a more exact translation would be not "cheerful", but "hilarious". Both "hilarious" and "Gilyarovsky" are derived from Latin "hilaritas" and Greek "ἱλαρός" with the same meaning "cheerful, merry". DM

In 1881, at the age of 28, Gilyarovsky made Moscow his home, and lived there until his death in 1935. In Moscow, he became the recognised king of reporters, a journalist who knew today what was going to happen tomorrow. He described this ability in these words, “Many can see the facts. However, it is up to reporters to take a careful look at things. I love my profession with all my heart, and plunge into it often risking my life. Not a single time was my report turned down. Each was strict, verified, and pure truth”.

This was even more amazing since Gilyarovsky covered every aspect of life, ranging from theatre and society news to criminal happenings. He had a perfect knowledge of Moscow, particularly, the districts of the homeless, beggars, and thieves. Muscovites tried to avoid those neighbourhoods. However, Gilyarovsky was not scared. He sympathised with the hopeless, and understood the tragedy of their situation. Outcasts trusted him, and often turned to him for help. Gilyarovsky entitled his first book People of the Slums. The government censors suppressed the book and burned the whole edition.

After a long interval, Gilyarovsky issued several more books about Moscow and Muscovites, which put together, one might describe as an encyclopaedia of Moscow’s life at the turn of the twentieth century. No one produced a more extensive and trustworthy record of those days. As another twentieth century writer, Konstantin Paustovsky, put it, “Gilyarovsky was picturesque in everything. In his biography, his looks, his manner of speaking, his carefree attitude, and his diversified and many talents…”

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