THE publisher proudly proclaims on the face of the jacket; “A Biography of Russia’s Greatest Poet.” But the advertising copywriter, with perhaps more discretion then decency, tones this claim down on the inside flap of the jacket to: “Lydia Lambert has written a novelized biography ... It is Strachey strained through Maurois to emerge as the redvetio ad absurdum of all impressionistic, romanticized biographies.
The author goes to work in the approved fashion to turn the poet Pushkin into a capricious Casanova. Seizing upon a joking remark attributed to Pushkin that his wife was his one hundred and thirteenth love, the author digs up from fact, fiction, and poetic allusions the other hundred and twelve, and gallops through these real and imaginary affairs at the rate of about one to every two pages.
The author gets her erotic hero off to an early start, for she pictures Pushkin at the age of nine or ten reading the licentious verse of the French eighteenth-century poets. This child read, the author writes, with “his cheeks burning, his breath coming short . . . The mysteries of love.
. . . Obscurely he anticipated them with all his warm, muscular body. Women . . . Already their softness, their odor, the strange secret of their forms preoccupied and troubled him. Ah, to be big, to be strong . . . When would he ever reach sixteen?”
Poor Pushkin! He reaches sixteen in only another few pages, and then: “His new virility no longer tortured him as he lay on his dormitory bed through the nights of May, no longer made blue circles under his eyes. He had pressed a woman’s thighs between his strong boy’s knees, still marked with black-and-blue spots and the scars of scratches.”
Ho-hum. Still a hundred and eleven pages to go! If only this book does not find its way to the Soviet Union, where Pushkin is venerated as the Russian Shakespeare, we may be spared still another international scandal.
ERNEST J. SIMMONS