On October 1, 1935, the 80-year-old writer and journalist Vladimir Gilyarovsky died in his Moscow flat. Following Chekhov’s example, he drank some champagne and passed away peacefully.
Interestingly, Gilyarovsky had a life that was anything but peaceful. It was, in fact, a life patterned on his personality. His ancestors were rebellious Cossacks – a fact he always stressed with pride. Gilyarovsky was born in 1853 (some sources say 1855) into a wealthy family, but his mother died when he was just eight. The family moved to Vologda and Vladimir was sent to a good gymnasium and was supposed to go on to university. But, in 1871, before he had even finished his studies at the gymnasium, he decided to change his life radically. He did not want to acquire “manners,” to study Latin or Greek and get a good job. His wish was to be free – and to know “real life.” So he ran away from home and for a decade worked in a variety of menial jobs. He was especially proud later in life that he worked as a burlak – a man who towed boats up the Volga while strapped to a long rope. This work required immense physical strength, which Gilyarovsky had. He also worked as a cabbie and an artist; he was a soldier and a fisherman, a woodcutter and a fireman.
Life showed Gilyarovsky its hard edges, but he managed to make his own way while remaining as kind and caring as he was in his childhood. The most important thing in his life was a constant thirst for adventure. And, after much searching, he at last found an occupation which wonderfully sated this thirst while thriving off his charismatic personality. He became a journalist. But not just any journalist. He was a muckraker who wrote what others dared not.
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