The Genres of “An Otherworldly Evening,” or How Marina Cvetaeva Rewrites her Encounter with Mixail Kuzmin

Julia Zarankin, Princeton University

Marina Cvetaeva wrote “Nezdešnij večer” [An Otherworldly Evening] in response to Mikhail Kuzmin’s death in 1936. The two met only briefly in 1916 at a literary soirée in St. Petersburg. Their near meeting occurred in epistolary form in 1921: Cvetaeva wrote Kuzmin a letter (with an embedded poem) after reading, and immediately connecting with, his book of poems Nezdešnie večera [Otherworldly Evenings]. A final, though also incomplete, encounter takes place in the form of a memoir. This paper will examine how Cvetaeva consciously refashions her past by intricately weaving together various literary genres: a letter, a poem and a prose essay.

In contrast to the practice of her contemporaries (Xodasevič and Gippius, among others), Cvetaeva does not name the subject of her memoir in the title. Rather, she alludes to him through a work of literature. As in her other literary memoirs, she does not provide the reader with a chronological account of the life of a member of her aesthetic circle, but rather of the imprint that the particular life leaves on her. That Cvetaeva is able to write an entire memoir about someone she had only met once (and for only a few hours!) suggests a principle of temporal expansion at work in her memoiristic writing.

This paper will focus on Cvetaeva’s various rewritings of her encounter with Kuzmin in 1916: the 1936 memoir quotes directly from the 1921 letter, but expands its scope by adding historical background, detailing the interior setting, embellishing certain secondary characters, layering the images, and inscribing the meeting into an extended idyllic moment. “Nezdešnij večer” leaves the reader with a glimpse of Cvetaeva rewriting, revisiting and appropriating her subject, as well as the temporal moment he inhabits, to suit her own poetic needs and vocabulary. Cvetaeva thus stretches the limits of the definition of “memoir” and proposes instead that literary memory be predicated on intertextual (or intratextual) and acoustic, rather than chronological, links.