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Soviet Union Acquires 13 Pushkin Love Letters

January 19, 1989

GENEVA (AP) _ The Soviet Union has purchased 13 love letters written by poet Alexander Pushkin in a transaction that fulfilled a lifelong dream of the late Russian- born choreographer Serge Lifar.

The yellowed letters, in Pushkin’s flowing handwriting, were handed over Wednesday night in a brief ceremony at a Geneva hotel to Yuri M. Khilchevsky. The deputy Soviet minister of culture described the acquisition of the letters by Russia’s greatest and most honored poet as a ″festive event.″

All but two of the letters are in French and addressed to Natalya Goncharova before Pushkin married her in 1831 after a turbulent courtship and against the will of her mother.

Once owned by a member of the czar’s family, Grand Duke Mikhail, they were acquired by Sergei Diaghilev, the famous impresario who died in 1929, and eventually were obtained by Lifar, the executor of Diaghilev’s will.

The Soviet Ministry of Culture paid an undisclosed price for the letters in a private deal negotiated through Sotheby’s, the auction house. The money will help fund the Serge Lifar Prize awarded annually to talented dancers.

Khilchevsky, alluding to the policy of perestroika launched by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, said a ″new political mentality″ had ″humanized relations.″ People, he said, increasingly valued the ″pure source″ of Pushkin’s works which he termed a ″symbol of Russian culture.″

The letters tell in dramatic prose of Pushkin’s love for Natalya who was separated from him for months because of a quarantine imposed on Moscow residents during a major outbreak of cholera in the summer of 1830.

Many are pierced with a pin, apparently in the belief this would kill the dreaded disease, experts said. One letter that was read aloud revealed his feelings for Natalya and his fear that her mother would prevent their marriage.

″Maybe she is right and I am wrong in believing that happiness would be mine. But in any case, you are absolutely free to decide. As for myself, I give you my word of honor that I will either belong to you or never marry.″

Pushkin died in 1837, at age 38, from injuries received defending his wife’s honor in a duel with his brother-in-law.

The letters will become part of the Pushkin Museum in Leningrad, the former St. Petersburg, where the author of ″Boris Godunov″ and ″Eugen Onegin″ settled after his marriage.

Lifar, who left Russia as a refugee, settled in France in the 1920s where he revolutionized French ballet. He died of cancer Dec. 15, 1986, at 81 in Lausanne after moving to Switzerland in 1981 with his companion of three decades, Countess Lillan Ahlefeldt of Sweden.

She attended the ceremony Wednesday night and told reporters Lifar hoped throughout his life the letters would return to the country where he was born. She said he had many offers from other countries, including the United States, but refused them all despite being in dire financial straits.

″Instead of selling the letters, he would eat biscuits or take the metro (subway),″ she told reporters. ″His hopes were raised by several visitors from the Soviet Union. They kept telling him you will hear from us. But they left him waiting till his death.

″He was already dying when they promised him that if the letters would come back, they would perform his famous classical ballets,″ she said.

″Even on the morning of the day he died he said to me go down to the concierge and ask if there is not a letter from Moscow. There wasn’t.″

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