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Odessa Love Story: Ivan Bunin and Anna Tsakni


In Odessa, in 1897, an aspiring writer and future Nobel laureate, Ivan Bunin, met the daughter of a Greek revolutionary Anna Nikolaevna Tsakni. In 1898 he married her for love, but their happiness lasted only two years…


Love

The future Nobel laureate, 28-year-old Ivan Bunin, then lived at the summer house of the director Fedorov in Lustdorf. One of the dry summer days, the Tsakni couple, well-known in Odessa, arrived there. He – Nikolai Petrovich Tsakni (ethnic Greek born in Balaklava), was a publisher and editor of the “Odessa Review” newspaper. She – Eleonora Pavlovna, a wife who brought in fact a beggar husband a considerable fortune – an attractive woman, who in the past dreamed about a stage, who took lessons from Pauline Viardot herself, who, as they said, did not start the lesson if there was no golden louis on the piano. Eleanor Pavlovna was approaching that dangerous female age, and Ivan Bunin immediately felt this on himself. Eli’s gaze was more eloquent than any words, and she told him about Paris, Cannes and Nice, which, of course, were not were in no way comparable with the provincial Lustdorf. Eli (she invited Bunin to call herself like that) was the company’s soul, she could charm and captivate. She invited everyone to her summer house, which was at the 7th station of the Big Fontane, and whispered to Bunin that she would wait for him impatiently.

But, alas, the outlined summer cottage romance had no continuation. But something happened to him for the first time: at Tsakni’s summer house, he saw a girl who seemed to him as a vision, revived by an ancient Greek fresco, mysterious and beckoning to himself in such a way that it was not that there was no strength to resist, but from everyone the surging feelings left is the desire to rush into this pool of black eyes and enjoy the dreamed proximity.

Adorable, direct, bright and lively Anya (Anna) Tsakni, a native of the French capital, whose soul was full of impatient desires: she wanted to write poetry and paintings, sing, teach children, but, most importantly, she wanted to be happy.

They became friends. Anya treated him tenderly and romantically. She was eighteen. And he, a novice writer, without means and fortune, wanted to determine this fate. Once he rode with her father on a steam train that went to the Big Fontane in those days, went to the site, smoked, dad talked about his Narodnaya Volya past, how he fled from Siberia, ended up in France, where he had to sweep the streets. And Ivan Bunin suddenly said: “You know: I ask you for the hand of your daughter.”

Ivan Bunin in 1891
Portrait of Ivan Bunin by Leonard Turzhansky, 1905

And the former member of Narodnaya Volya, pushing his hat to the back of his head, replied: “Yes, dear, what have I to do with it? This, it seems to me, is Anna Nikolaevna’s case. As for me, I have nothing against it.”

But in all this there was one awkwardness: the stepmother of his young Donna was Eleanor Tsakni: Narodovolets Nikolai Petrovich married her in Paris after the death of his first wife, from whom was his daughter Anya. Both Anna and her stepmother Eleonora became aware of Bunin’s serious intentions. The first responded to the writer with a handshake and roses, and the second “hated obscenely.”

The Wedding and life on 44, Khersonskaya street (now Pastera street)

By this time, Ivan Bunin was a person who had seen life. The first time he lived in a civil marriage to the doctor’s daughter Varvara without an official wedding, her father categorically forbade Varvara to marry poor Bunin because a wedding is already forever! And in Odessa, Eleanor Pavlovna insisted on the wedding.

They married Anya on September 23, 1898 in the Church of the Presentation of the Lord, which was then at the New Bazaar (now the buildings of the New Market are located in its place). The stepmother paid for the ceremony, the wedding dress and hired a carriage. Bunin did not have the money for all this; he came to the Church by foot. The wedding ceremony was of little interest to him. Moreover, when they got married, he and his father-in-law seemed so carried away by the conversation that they left the church together, forgetting the guests and the bride.

The main thing is that a scandal erupted at the wedding that looks like a vaudeville. During a merry feast, wife Anya jokingly told her husband Ivan that some believe he married her because of her money. “Who said that? Who thinks so ?!” Anya hinted at the writer Fedorov and his wife. In anger, Bunin (as those who knew him well) resembled Othello performed by the negro Salvini. True, the matter did not come to immediate satisfaction. He shouted and expressed everything he thinks about yesterday’s friend, slammed the wedding door, and locked himself in his room. The Tsakni couple persuaded him and Anya after the wedding to live with them on Khersonskaya street. Anya sobbed. She was knocking on Bunin’s door without any result. The guests dispersed. True, the writer Fedorov, the culprit of the events, was drunk and went to bed with his wife Lydia just in the bed prepared for the newlyweds. Lydia will tell the world about this real vaudeville later, and Fedorov – a truly literary man – inserted this episode into one of his “immortal” works. In the morning, Bunin emerged from his captivity. Everyone asked each other for forgiveness and swore eternal love.

Then there was the winter, which the young couple spent in Paris, then Mocsow and Saint Petersburg.

Anna Tsakni
Anna Tsakni, 23 September 1898

To fight with a shadow or living in the shadow of the great – it is so boring.

Anna Tsakni

But a happy family life on Khersonskaya street did not work out. Some (and Bunin) accused Eleanor Pavlovna of this, who secretly plotted against her yesterday’s lover, others spoke of the writer’s utter jealousy. Most importantly, Anya was indifferent to the work that he considered his life’s work – to writing. She did not like the poems that he published in her father’s newspaper at all.

He needed another wife ready to devote entirely himself to him, to his work. After all, this is exactly what he met. And I was very young and wanted to live.

Anna Tsakni


“What is this? – Anya asked herself. – I was mistaken in him. He is not at all talented.” They argued. She was carried away by the art of opera: they all became apart. And when she became pregnant on fifth month, he left Odessa.

Until such degree not to understand … my condition, and not to relate to me softer, to such an extent internally disrespect my nature, do not give me a penny, as Anna Nikolaevna does – this is one thing is irreparable, and I have to live with her forever.

Ivan Bunin, 14 (26) December 1899

Ivan Bunin was drawn to Odessa to his son, and some thought that maybe if Anna Nikolaevna had not been so implacable, they would have come together and put their lives together.

I have reached the state when they kill themselves – and burst into hysterical tears yesterday, because I felt – I am alone, I am a beggar, I am killed, and I have no help. And then she confessed that she didn’t love me, with terrible agony. She is now so killed by this that she is barely alive
and only keeps repeating: I am not to blame. There is no measure of my anguish – one melancholy and nothing else – neither sadness nor self-intoxication with despair.

Ivan Bunin, August 10, 1899

Later, he admits that he did not feel much love for Anya, it was just “the pleasantness consisted of Langeron beach, big waves on the shore and the fact that every day for dinner there was an excellent trout with white wine, after which we often went with her to the opera”. At this point, he was not just cunning but lied. His second attempt at family life ended not only in failure but also in tragedy: a boy was born, whom Bunin hardly saw, but whose photograph he reviews before his own death. And the boy died at the age of five from scarlet fever.

Nikolay (Kolya) Bunin

As far as I know, Ivan Alekseevich two years after the break hoped for a reconciliation. He stopped believing it only in 1902.

Vera Muromtseva-Bunina, the third wife of Ivan Bunin

Only in 1922 Anna Tsakni would give the writer an official divorce, which would allow him to register a marriage with his second wife.

After

The fate of Bunin’s Odessa wife was decided later. Beauty, she shone in the secular society of Odessa and Moscow. Then, she married a nobleman from the Deribas family known in Odessa – Alexander Mikhailovich, who was elder then her on 23 years. The Deribas family keeps in touch with an educated world, artists and writers.

But everything collapsed in 1937, when Alexander Mikhailovich’s adopted son Daniil Deribas (Yakhnenko), a professor of chemistry, was arrested on a fictitious charge and shot three months later. Alexander Mikhailovich died at the age of 80 from a “heart attack”, when the NKVD brought him the bloody clothes of his adopted son.

Anna Tsakni-Bunina-Deribas, an unearthly beauty who descended from an ancient Greek fresco, lost everything in this life – her family, friends, and loved ones. She inherited from her father twelve rarest paintings of Russian impressionists and many antiques. She lived quietly in the former house of her father, and now the building of the Odessa city library on the street Kherson, house number 44 on the first floor and sold for a penny property, paintings, bronze. Her personality was not of interest to the Soviet government.

Soon she was evicted from her father’s house. They left a room twelve meters away, where she perished in poverty alone, rereading with tears in her eyes the old letters of Ivan Bunin. Anna Tsakni was forgotten by everyone in Odessa. She was starving and burned with anguish. Anna Nikolaevna died in a nursing home at the age of 84 in 1963, having survived for ten years of the first husband and 26 years of the second. And Kolya Bunin, who died at the age of five, remained her only child. Anna Nikolaevna was buried in the Second Christian cemetery, far from her husband Alexander Deribas, with an inscription on a plate of a modest monument “to the memory of Kolya Bunin”, whose grave was destroyed in the 1930s.


As it was repeatedly mentioned in the media, Bunin visited Odessa about 30 time, the last – in 1918-19, before emigration, with the third wife of Vera Muromtseva-Bunina (1881-1961), when they lived here for a year and a half (mainly in the Eugene Bukovetskiy apartment on 27, Knyazheskaya street). The beginning of their civil the marriage dates from April 1907.