Adèle Bohomoletz

Tchaikovsky Research

Belgian translator and music-lover (b. around 1832 in Moscow; d. May 1897), born Adèle Depret.


She was born in Moscow as the daughter of the Belgian merchant Philippe-Joseph Depret (1789–1858) — whose wine and cigar shop on Petrovka Street was very popular with affluent Muscovites and is mentioned in the works of Ivan Turgenev, Lev Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov — and his second wife, Caroline Modeste (née Rougé; 1808–1885).

Adèle's elder brother, François Camille Depret (1829–1892), who was also born in the ancient Russian capital, would take over the Depret wine shop after their father's death. For some years, Camille also served as the Belgian Vice-Consul in Moscow, but he eventually moved to Paris (although he continued to pay regular visits to Moscow in order to supervise the family business). Camille Depret was acquainted with Turgenev and was responsible for putting him in touch with the notable Parisian publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel (1814–1886), who would go on to publish the French editions of almost all the works that Turgenev wrote after 1862. Adèle's younger sister, Marie Eugénie (1840–1915) married, in 1865, the French engineer Camille Clerc (1828–1882). The composer Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924), who in his youth was often beset by self-doubt and despair, found solace in the warm family atmosphere provided by the Clercs at their house in Paris.

Adèle herself married a landowner of Belorussian (or Polish) origins, Michel Bohomoletz, who had an estate near Antonopol, in Vitebsk province, but who made Paris his main home. They had four children: Marie (1856–1885), Adèle (1862–1889), Philippe (1865–1896), and Michel (1869–1911). It seems to have been shortly after the birth of their last child that Adèle Bohomoletz began to translate the works of Tolstoy into French. Her translation of Tolstoy's tragic short story Polikushka (1863) was forwarded by the publisher Hetzel to Turgenev in 1871 for his appraisal. Turgenev's opinion was evidently favourable [1], but Madame Bohomoletz's translation was for some reason not published. In general, Turgenev appreciated Madame Bohomoletz for her great modesty and, after he settled in Paris for good in 1871, he would dine with her at her house every now and then.

In October 1876, on his way to Paris where he intended to spend the winter in order to widen his musical horizons, Tchaikovsky's former student Sergey Taneyev (1856–1915) was invited to spend a day at the Bohomoletz family estate near Antonopol [2]. This invitation seems to have come about because Taneyev's elder brother, the radical thinker and jurist Vladimir Taneyev (1840–1921) — a contemporary of Tchaikovsky's at the Imperial School of Jurisprudence — was acquainted with the distinguished French medievalist Gaston Paris (1839–1903) and the latter was a first cousin of Adèle Bohomoletz [3]. Michel and Adèle Bohomoletz also invited Taneyev to stay in the lodgings that they had rented in Paris for the tutor of their eldest son, Philippe, until he managed to find suitable accommodation of his own [4]. During his stay in the French capital, Taneyev remained in touch with Madame Bohomoletz, who evidently introduced him to her sister, Marie Clerc, at whose house the young Russian musician had various opportunities to meet Fauré and various other French colleagues [5].

It is not clear when exactly Madame Bohomoletz began her most ambitious literary project — namely, the translation into French of Tolstoy's great novel Anna Karenina (1873–77) — but there is reason to suppose that it was none other than Turgenev who encouraged her to embark on this project at some point before his death in 1883, since he was not entirely satisfied with the first French translation of War and Peace (1865–69) by Princess Irina Pashkevich (1835–1925), which had been published by Hachette in Paris in 1879, and he was determined that his younger colleague, whom he considered to be the greatest living Russian writer, should find the recognition he deserved in France and elsewhere [6].

Adèle Bohomoletz's translation of Anna Karenina was eventually published, with no indication of the translator's name, by Hachette in 1885. This translation, which for fifty years remained the most successful on the French market (the last edition, the 22nd, appeared in 1936!) [7], was instrumental in bringing Tolstoy to the forefront of the French reading public's consciousness during the winter of 1885/86. The novel itself, by virtue of its sympathetic yet also objective treatment of the heroine's moral predicament, was a key text invoked by Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé (1848–1910) in his famous series of articles Le Roman russe (serialized in the Revue des deux mondes in 1885 and published as a book in June 1886), which opposed the compassionate realism of the Russian school to the 'cold' naturalism of Flaubert and his French disciples. Although Madame Bohomoletz had chosen to remain anonymous, her family and close friends were of course aware of her achievement in translating Anna Karenina. The notable critic Francisque Sarcey (1827–1899) also found out somehow, as we learn from the conclusion of his review of the novel: "I implore you: read Anna Karenina! I found the translation excellent. It is unsigned, but I have been told that it is by a French lady married to a Russian who is called Madame Bohomoletz. She writes a most limpid and forceful French" [8].

Tchaikovsky and Bohomoletz

In April 1886, shortly before travelling to Paris, Tchaikovsky read Sarcey's review of the French edition of Anna Karenina and he noted in his diary: "Read Sarcey's article about Tolstoy after tea and could hardly keep from sobbing... out of happiness, that our Tolstoy is understood so well by the French" [9]. It is very likely that Sarcey's confession of how deeply he had been moved by the scene in which Anna is allowed to see her little Serezha again struck a chord with Tchaikovsky, whose own separation from his mother, Aleksandra, in the autumn of 1850 when he was left behind in Saint Petersburg had been a traumatic experience for him. Moreover, a few days after his arrival in Paris on 15/27 May 1886, Tchaikovsky also bought a copy of Vogüé's Le Roman russe, and it is certainly no coincidence that once back home in Maydanovo later that summer he would make those well-known entries about Tolstoy in his diary. His renewed engagement with Anna Karenina in 1886 through his reading of the articles of Sarcey and Vogüé may also have induced him to give free rein to his compassion (like Karenin in the novel to some extent) for his deserted wife, Antonina, and her plight [10].

Although Sarcey, in his review of Anna Karenina, had revealed the identity of the translator, Tchaikovsky does not seem to have remembered this detail when he turned up at the soirée given in his honour by Adèle Bohomoletz at her house (her address in Paris was No. 144, Boulevard Malesherbes) on 7/19 June 1886. This is how the composer described the soirée in his diary: "Barely managed to ride home to change clothes and set out for the dinner given me by Madame. Bohomoletz. Rather many guests (among them Lefebvre, Fauré, Benoît, Lalo, the Marsick quartet, Boulanger with his wife Raïssa], and a crowd of unfamiliar ones). Magnificent dinner. Had a smoke and talked with Camille Depret. Madame. Bohomoletz's charming daughter and son. My quartet; Fauré's quartet; singing by Madame. Boulanger, Madame. Lalo as well as Lefebvre. [...] Acquaintance with the charming Fauré, Benoît etc."[11]. Neither in his diary nor in a letter to his brother Modest a few days later in which he referred to this soirée — "A certain Madame Bohomoletz, a rich half-Russian lady, gave in my honour a dinner and a soirée at which my quartet was performed (Marsick, Brandukov) and my romances were sung" [12]— did he mention the fact that his hostess was responsible for the French translation of Anna Karenina, which he would surely have done if he had known about it. Evidently, Madame Bohomoletz's self-effacing modesty prevented her from letting her eminent guest into the secret. Meeting Adèle's brother Camille Depret at this soirée also had some practical repercussions for Tchaikovsky, since shortly after his return to Russia, he paid a visit to the famous wine shop on Petrovka Street before leaving Moscow in order to travel on to his house in Maydanovo, as we learn from the composer's diary: "Bought wine and food at Lapin's and Depret's" [13]. Madame Bohomoletz's son-in-law, Eugène d'Eichthal (1844–1936), the husband of her daughter Adèle, also called on Tchaikovsky at some point during the composer's month-long stay in Paris in the summer of 1886, but he was only able to leave his visiting card, since Tchaikovsky was not in.

Tchaikovsky stayed in touch with Madame Bohomoletz and her family, and on his subsequent visits to Paris he received various invitations to dine with her again. It is interesting that, despite having grown up in Moscow and having translated several of Tolstoy's (and possibly also Turgenev's) works from Russian into French, she did not feel confident enough to write to Tchaikovsky in Russian. In Easter 1889, Madame Bohomoletz herself travelled to Russia accompanied by her two sons, Philippe and Michel, and they were able to meet Tchaikovsky in Saint Petersburg, as we learn from the composer's diary: "Dinner at Donon's restaurant: Modya, Vasya, Zet. (Makovsky, Bohomoletz, tutti quanti.)" [14]. In his last extant letter to Madame Bohomoletz, written in Paris on 6/18 January 1893, Tchaikovsky promised her that he would call on her the following day, but from the available sources it cannot be ascertained whether this meeting took place.

In the summer of 1893, while staying at her estate near Antonopol, Madame Bohomoletz translated from Russian into French the memoirs of Sofya Kovalevskaya (1850–1891), as well as, this time from Swedish into French, the biography of the famous mathematician written by Kovalevskaya's friend, Anne Charlotte Leffler (1849–1892) [15]. These two translations were eventually published by Hachette in 1895 as a single volume: Souvenirs d'enfance de Sophie Kovalevsky, écrits par elle-même, et suivis de sa biographie par Madame A.-Ch. Leffler, Duchesse de Cajanello, but again the translator's name was not indicated. She also hoped to continue translating Tolstoy into French, and on 24 February/8 March 1895 she wrote to him to ask which of his works he would like her to choose. Since her name, she added, might not mean anything to Tolstoy, she pointed out that she had translated Anna Karenina. Tolstoy does not seem to have replied to this letter.

Adèle Bohomoletz died in May 1897. Her essential contribution to acquainting French readers with one of the masterpieces of Russian literature, as well as with other shorter works by Tolstoy (and possibly other Russian writers too), has for a long time not been properly recognized — to a large extent because of her own modesty.

Correspondence with Tchaikovsky

2 letters from Tchaikovsky to Adèle Bohomoletz have survived, dating from 1888 and 1893, both of which have been translated into English on this website:

6 letters from Adèle Bohomoletz to Tchaikovsky, dating from 1886 to 1891, are preserved in preserved in the Tchaikovsky State Memorial Musical Museum-Reserve at Klin (a4, Nos. 279–284).


External Links

Notes and References

  1. See Turgenev's letters to Hetzel of 12/24 August 1871 and 15/27 September 1871 in: I. S. Turgenev: Полное собрание сочинений и писем (Leningrad, 1961–68), Письма ; том 11, p. 124, p. 135.
  2. See Taneyev's letter to his parents from Berlin on 14/26 October 1876 in: П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 379.
  3. From Ursula Bähler's monograph Gaston Paris et la philologie romaine (Geneva, 2004), p. 31, we learn that the maiden name of Paris's mother Pauline (1804–1865) was Rougé. Genealogical information on the GeneaNet website confirms that Gaston's mother Pauline and Adèle's mother Caroline were sisters.
  4. See Taneyev's first letter to his parents from Paris on 15/27 October 1876 in: П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 379. It was, incidentally, Turgenev who would help Taneyev to find affordable lodgings in the French capital.
  5. See, for example, Taneyev's letter to his parents from Paris on 15/27 February 1877: "Yesterday I attended a soirée at the house of M. Clerc, who is married to the sister of Madame Bohomoletz. He organizes musical soirées at which mainly the works of the old masters are performed: Bach, Haydn, etc. He has a small orchestra in which some very good musicians play". П. И. Чайковский. С. И. Танеев. Письма (1951), p. 384.
  6. As pointed out by Natalya Generalova, the director of the Turgenev research group at Pushkinskij dom in Saint Petersburg.
  7. Information provided by Lucinde Braun.
  8. Francisque Sarcey, 'Les livres', La Nouvelle revue, Vol. 8, No. 38 (1886), p. 406f. Quotation provided by Lucinde Braun.
  9. Diary entry for 2/14 April 1886. Quoted from Wladimir Lakond (transl.), The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 62.
  10. For more details on how Tchaikovsky's compassion for Antonina manifested itself in the summer of 1886, see Антонина Чайковская. История забытой жизни (1994), p. 79–84.
  11. Diary entry for 7/19 June 1886. Quoted from Wladimir Lakond (transl.), The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 86. Lakond transliterated the surnames Bohomoletz and Depret as spelt by Tchaikovsky in Russian as Bogomoletz and Depré respectively, and this has been tacitly corrected in the above quotation.
  12. Letter 2971 to Modest Tchaikovsky, 11/23 June 1886. Tchaikovsky describes Madame Bohomoletz as "half-Russian" because she was born in Moscow and she may also have had Russian citizenship according to Russian law at the time.
  13. Diary entry for 22 June/4 July 1886. Quoted from Wladimir Lakond (transl.), The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945). Again, Lakond's transliteration "Depré" has been tacitly corrected to "Depret" in the above quotation. Lapin was the owner of an equally popular meat and grocery shop in Moscow.
  14. Diary entry for 18/30 May 1889. Quoted from Wladimir Lakond (transl.), The Diaries of Tchaikovsky (1945), p. 279. Again, some spellings of names have been corrected. Julius Zet (Yuly Tset) was acting as Tchaikovsky's concert agent at the time. Konstantin Makovsky (1846–1920) was a well-known Saint Petersburg-based painter. (In a letter to Tchaikovsky on 16/28 March 1889, written when they were both in Paris at the same time, Madame Bohomoletz had announced her intention of coming to Saint Petersburg with her two sons during Easter — information provided by Lucinde Braun).
  15. As we learn from two letters, dated 23 March/4 April 1893 and 14/26 September 1893, from Madame Bohomoletz to her friend, the Russian journalist Lyubov Gurevich (1866–1940), that were discovered in April 2012 by Valentina Lukina in the archive at Pushkinskij dom.