Mmes. de L. and R.

On a slightly lighter note, Dmitry Bykov, “one of Russia’s most colorful, versatile, and recognizable public intellectuals” and currently a visiting professor at UCLA, occasionally suffers from a condition typical of preternaturally productive speakers and writers: getting facts wrong in an entertaining way.

Last month, Bykov gave a short talk on Maximilian Voloshin on the Ekho Moskvy (Moscow’s Echo) radio station. Voloshin was a major Russian poet of the so-called Silver Age, largely remembered today for his long poems on the Civil War. During the first Russian revolution, in 1905-6, Voloshin wrote The Head of Madame de Lamballe, a poem about the execution, or rather lynching, of Marie Thérèse of Savoy, Princess de Lamballe, in 1792. Speaking of Voloshin on the radio, Dmitry Bykov said, literally: “You remember his famous verses about Madame Récamier,” and quoted the first two lines from The Head of Madame de Lamballe.

It takes some bad luck to confuse Princess de Lamballe (1749-1792), the highborn superintendent of Marie-Antoinette’s household, with Julie, or Juliette, Récamier (1777-1849), the great Paris hostess of the first half of the 19th century, from the Consulate through the end of the July Monarchy. The famous depictions of Madame Récamier by David and Gérard are so obviously post-Revolutionary.

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