“If you think about it, it is a town in which you can live free and easy… In Odesa there are sweet and oppressive spring evenings, the spicy aroma of acacias, and a moon filled with an unwavering, irresistible light shining over a dark sea… Literature`s Messiah, so long awaited, will issue from there – from the sundrenched steppes washed by the sea”. This bold statement of Odessa writer Isaac Babel does not seem so groundless if one learns about the number of talented writers, poets, publicists, who was born in Odessa, and about writers, which our city has inspired to immortal works….
For the first time, Odessa was described in the second half of 1795 (a year after its establishing) by the Englishwoman Mary Guthrie in the book “The Journey to Tavrida in 1795-1796 …” and since then South Palmyra has become one of the favorite ideas of writers, who have visited it. “…I devoted the evening to books once more, namely books about this region, published in the city. There are plenty of them, it proves such deep cognitive work, and Odessa, from this perspective, is the leader among other cities. I must admit that such dynamism in the fifty years old city is notably remarkable…Printing houses are in constant motion from professors of the academy and other educational institutions to people who are somehow connected with science, – most of them have written a book on their subject. It’s impossible not to be surprised at this, nor to admire”. V.Kraszewski “The memories of Odessa…»
Alexander Pushkin was definitely the most famous guest of Odessa. The poet saw Odessa for the first time in the fall of 1820, traveling from Crimea to Bessarabia. He stayed in our city for several days in March 1821, then he lived there for more than two weeks in May 1823, and, finally, Alexander Pushkin arrived in Odesa on 3d July to stay here for the famous thirteen months, thanks to which Odessa entered the history of world culture for eternity.
In Odesa, Alexander Pushkin wrote about three chapters of the novel in verse “Eugene Onegin”, completed the poem “The Fountain of Bakhchisaray”, wrote a significant part of the poem “The Gypsies”, and created more than 30 lyric poems. When the poet described Odesa in “Eugene Onegin”, he gave the city, in the words of V.Tumansky, “guarantee of immortality”.
I lived then in dusty Odessa….
There for a long time skies are clear.
There, stirring, an abundant trade
sets up its sails.
There all exhales, diffuses Europe,
all glitters with the South, and brindles
with live variety.
(Translated by Nabokov Vladimir)
Monuments to A.S. Pushkin were erected on the Primorsky Boulevard in front of Odessa City Hall and on the Pushkinska Street,13 near Odessa Pushkin Museum. “Shadow” of Alexander Pushkin will always meet you on the corner of Derybasivska and Rishelievska streets.
The poet Vladimir Raevsky stayed in Odesa from 1820 to 1821. Konstantin Batyushkov lived and finished the cycle of translation “From Greek Anthology” in Odesa in 1818. Ten years later, Nikolay Gnedich completed in Odesa the translation of Homer’s poem “The Iliad”.
Vasily Zhukovsky visited our city in 1837: his niece, children’s writer Anna Sontag, and his great friend, publicist Alexandru Sturdza, lived here.
The Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz came to Odesa in 1825, exiled here for his freethinking. He lived here for nine months, taught at the Richelieu Lyceum on Derybasivska street. Nowadays, the memorial plaque is installed on this building, and Adam Mickiewicz Monument decorates Alexandrovsky Avenue in the city center.
Nikolai Gogol visited Odesa in 1848 and in 1850-1851.He lived on Nadezhdinskaya Street (now Gogol Street). The writer worked on the second part of “Dead Souls” here and prepared a new edition of a four-volume collection of his works.He attended the performance of his play “The Government Inspector” during his stay in Odesa. Odessa residents have a legend that silent “dead souls” settled in the house where Nikolai Gogol lived, and the burned second part of his immortal novel still rests within the walls of his former apartment.
The monument of Nikolai Gogol was erected in Sculpture Garden of the Literary Museum in 2009.
Leo Tolstoy also visited Odesa in 1854, passing from the Danube Army to Sevastopol.
Alexander Ostrovsky visited Odesa in 1860, whose plays were successfully performed on the stage of the Odesa Theater. The Ukrainian poet Lesya Ukrainka has repeatedly been in Odesa. “The instant” magazine has readily published her poems. Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky worked at the Odesa commission against phylloxera in 1892-1895. This period was reflected in his first story “Taking revenge” and in the novel “Fata morgana”.
Isaac Babel, born in our city, glorified it and his works with “The Odessa Tales”. “The brevity of the content competed in my works with decisive forgetfulness of decency…And now I will speak, as the Lord spoke on Mount Sinai from a burning bush. There are people already doomed to death, and there are people who have not yet begun to live. Some people know how to drink vodka, and some people do not know how to drink vodka but are still drinking it. And then the former enjoy sorrow and joy, and the latter suffer for all those who drink vodka, not knowing how to drink it. You know everything. But what’s the use if you still have glasses on your nose and autumn in your soul?…” I. Babel.
The monument of Isaac Babel is erected on Rishelievska Street opposite the house where the writer lived, and one of the streets of his hometown bears his name.
The roots of beloved children’s writer, translator, literary researcher and critic Korney Chukovsky are also connected with Odessa. He studied at the Odessa gymnasium, from the 5th grade of which he was expelled by decree of “cleansing” from children of “low” origin. Korney Chukovsky described the Odesa events of that period in several of his works. The memorial plaque is installed on his house on Panteleymonivska street, 14.
Sholem Aleichem lived with his family on Myasoedovska Street in Odessa in 1890. He collaborated with the newspapers “Odesskiy Listok” and “Odessa News”, and also published his works in Odessa.
Mendele Mocher Sforim, the founder of new Jewish literature, who lived in Odessa from 1881 to 1917, left his mark on the life of the city.
Young Aleksey Peshkov (Maxim Gorky) came to Odessa from Bessarabia in 1891. He worked as a loader in the port and lived in a shelter with working people. Maxim Gorky described this period of his life in Odesa in his works, in particular, in the story “Chelkash”.
The Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko visited Odessa in 1909. Ivan Bunin often came and lived for a long time in Odessa. He was friends with many prominent writers, and collaborated with the Odessa newspaper “The Southern Review” in 1898, where he published his articles and stories. Ivan Bunin lived on the Knyazheska Street, 27 in Odessa in recent years before emigration (1918 – 1920).Therefore, the memorial plaque was installed on this building on the 110th anniversary of the writer.
The writer Boris Zhitkov has studied and has worked in our city. Vladimir Mayakovsky arrived in Odessa for the first time in 1914. He performed poetry at the Odessa Russian Dramatic Theatre. The poet remembers Odessa in the poem “A Cloud in Trousers”: “You think I’m delirious with malaria? This happened. In Odessa, this happened. “I’ll come at four,” promised Maria. Eight…Nine…Ten”.
Many famous writers have visited Odessa at different times: Vladimir Korolenko, Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky, Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. The Bulgarian writer Ivan Vazov has been in exile here. The classics of foreign literature have visited Odessa: Theodore Dreiser and Mark Twain, who has specially come to Odessa to see the miracle of the world – the Giant Staircase (the current Potemkin Stairs) firsthand.
The work of Aleksandr Kuprin inextricably linked with Odessa. According to the memoirs of his daughter, he loved Odessa more than other cities. Here he wrote many stories and essays, and his famous “The Garnet Bracelet”, which became a symbol of exalted love. Alexander Kuprin often visited the beer-house Gambrinus, which is still located on the corner of Deribasovska and Preobrazhenska Streets, where the musician Sashka has masterly played. Port loaders, fishers, sailors, who became characters of the writer’s story of the same name, was coming here to listen to him and relax. Konstantin Paustovsky, recalling the Odessa period of his life, wrote that he had a chance to conduct the musician Sasha in his final journey, and thereby put a peculiar point in the story “Gambrinus” by Kuprin, who was not alive anymore. One of the Odessa lanes bears his name, and the memorial plaque is installed on his house on Marazliivska street,2 in memory of the great writer.
If Kyiv has been a city of childhood and adolescence, school years, and the first attempts at writing for Konstantin Paustovsky, Odessa has become a city of youth and serious works as a journalist and writer for him. For the first time, Konstantin Paustovsky arrived in Odessa during the First World War as part of a field ambulance train. Then he got acquainted with inhabitants of Odessa and discovered for himself their unique language and humor. Later, he captured these impressions in his many works. There is Museum of Konstantin Paustovsky in Odessa, City Library № 2 bears his name, and monument “Time of great expectations” is erected in his honor in the Sculpture Garden of the Literary Museum.
Anton Chekhov arrived in our city at the end of the 19th century. His plays “Three Sisters”, “The Bear”, and “Uncle Vanya” were staged at the Odessa Theater.
Ivan Bunin visited Odessa yearly since 1896. His several stories are connected with our city: “The Village”, “Strength”, “I Can Do Everything”, “A Holy Tale”. He left Odesa to tragic immigration in 1920. The last two years of his life in Odesa was described in his diary “Cursed Days”.
Here the remarkable writer Alexander Grin saw the sea for the first time and fell in love with him for a lifetime. He captured the features of our city in the stories “Captain Duke”, “By-Law”, “Random Income”. Grin called Odessa the beginning of his major voyage.
The major event in the literary life of Odessa after the revolution and civil war was the creation of literary club the Green Lamp in 1918. The creative career of Eduard Bagritsky has begun from here, who dedicated beautiful poetry to his hometown.
I’m all alone. The vast Odessa sun
Rose up above me in his heavy might,
He hits the soil, the grass, the carts alike,
His bristling rays directing upright down.
I whistle in despair, — this call of mine,
Consisting of three trills and two clucks, soars
Up like a homeless lark above the crowd.
(translated by Boris Meshcheryakov).
Ilya Ilf, Vera Inber, Lev Slavin were born and published their works in Odessa. Stepan Oliynyk has written memories about the literature Odessa of the twenties and thirties. He got an education, defined as a poet and journalist in our city. The literary club Collective of poets, created in 1920, united plenty of talented writers and poets, many of whom became classics of world literature: Eduard Bagritsky, Valentin Kataev, Yury Olesha, Vera Inber, Volodymyr Sosiura, Ilya Ilf, Alexey Chicherin, George Shengeli, Zinaida Shishova, Semyon Kirsanov, Lev Slavin, Ivan Fioletov, Nina Gernet, Boris Babovich, Alexander Kranzfeld, Adelina Adalis, Mark Tarlowski, Osip Kolychev, Simon Geht, Sergey Bondarin.
The writers Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov, two famous Odessa citizens, met in Moscow in 1925.Three years later, they created their first novel “The Twelve Chairs”, which brought them worldwide fame. The Twelve Chairs monument decorates the Odessa City garden.
A vibrant literary life has always attracted famous writers and poets to our city, who received a high creative charge here: Vsevolod Ivanov and Boris Pilnyak in 1924, Mikhail Svetlov and Mikhail Golodnyi in 1925, Ostap Vyshnya in 1928, Tatar poets Musa Dzhalil and Ahmed Iskan, Ukrainian poets Maksym Rylsky and Mykola Bazhan in the 30s.
The modern literary life of Odessa also has plenty of talented writers, decent literary museums, studios, and communities. The living classic of satirical miniatures Mikhail Zhvanetsky was born in Odessa, and his love for hometown became the main topic of his works. However, just like all the famous citizens of Odessa… “There are a lot of writers in Odessa because they don’t need to make things up. They only need to open a window and capture… for writing a story. Odessa has continually exported writers, artists, musicians, and chessplayers to other cities and countries. Physicists and mathematicians are slightly worse, although the father of our astronautics Korolev is from Odessa. However, Babel, Ilf and Petrov, Kataev, Oistrakh, Gilels are all my relatives. Mechnikov and a bunch of great people” (Mikhail Zhvanetsky).
It is quite natural that Odesa became the Literary City of UNESCO in 2019. After all, the talented writer George Golubenko said: “Odesa is not a city – it’s a smile of God”.
translated by HANNA PETROVA
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