January 01, 2008

Of Tatyana, Comets and Champagne

On January 25, Russians celebrate Tatyana’s Day. Although originally a feast day commemorating the martyrdom of St. Tatyana, the date eventually became associated with students, after an ukaz by the Empress Elizabeth that affirmed the creation of Moscow University (see Russian Calendar, page 17). Elizabeth chose this date to honor Tatyana Shuvalova, the mother of her court favorite, Ivan Shuvalov, a patron of education and the arts (see Russian Life, Nov/Dec 2007).

Russian folk wisdom predicts that any girl born on Tatyana’s name day will end up a good cook, though it’s not clear why, since the saintly Tatyana was thrown to the lions and not known for her culinary prowess. The Russians’ most immediate association with the name Tatyana is the beloved heroine from Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin’s famous novel in verse. This Tatyana is generally considered a kind of saint in relation to the callous Onegin, who lives a carefree bachelor life in St. Petersburg.

Pushkin’s work reveals a good deal about daily life in the first quarter of the 19th century. Of particular interest is Stanza XVI from Chapter One, in which Onegin goes out for a night on the town:

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