February 01, 1999

The Life and Death of the Mushroom Eater



This February, Russia marks the 170th anniversary of the tragic death of poet Alexander Sergeevich Griboyedov, who was savagely assassinated in February 1829 in Teheran. Griboyedov was a contemporary of Pushkin, with whom he had common first and patronymic names. Yet, unlike Pushkin, this Alexander Sergeevich wrote only one famous literary work - the comedy, The Woe of Wit. But what a work it was! Russian Life asked Semyon Ekshtut to explore the author’s life and work, to consider how Griboyedov’s promising career as a writer was repeatedly cut short by the demands of the state.

The life of Alexander Sergeevich Griboyedov, eminent poet, playwright and diplomat, is shrouded in mystery. To begin with, we still don’t know the exact date of his birth. According to official documents and the memoirs of others, he was born in Moscow on January 4, yet opinions differ as to the year, sometime between 1790 and 1795. (At present, a number of biographers are inclined to think that the former date is correct).

It has been speculated that Griboyedov’s mother, Nastasya Fyodorovna Griboyedova, gave birth to Alexander out of wedlock. Then, in an effort to provide her son with a legitimate father and avoid unwanted gossiping, she sought and found a husband with the same last name as she (thus pretending she took the name of her husband). While this is speculative reasoning, it is otherwise difficult to explain the marriage of Nastasya Fyodorovna, a well-known noblewoman who owned thousands of serfs, to a retired officer, Sergei Griboyedov, of  rather low military rank (major) who was notorious for his drinking bouts and a passion for card games. And whereas Nastasya’s nobility dated to 1503, the ancestors of Griboyedov’s father ascended to the rank of nobles only in the 18th century – shared birth names is all that seems to have brought them together.


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