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Varvara-Juliana de Krüdener, Russian author, 1764-1824

By Elena Gretchanaia

Varvara-Juliana de Krüdener was born in Riga, then situated in the Russian Empire, on 22 November 1764 to parents Baron Otto Hermann von Vietinghoff, first Councillor of State and Senator, and his wife Anna (née Countess von Münnich). Her parents took her with them on their travels across Europe in 1776 to Germany, France and England. In 1782, she married Russian diplomat Baron Burckhard Alexius Constantin de Krüdener (1744-1802). From 1784 she authored personal diaries in French. In 1789, she met Bernadin de Saint-Pierre who encouraged her to write, and between 1796 and 1798 she composed her first literary texts in French which were influenced by sentimental trends. In Berlin, at the end of 1799, she met Natal’ia Golovkina, who would later publish French-language novels. In September 1801, in Coppet, Mme de Krüdener became acquainted with Mme de Staël, Mme Necker de Saussure and Danish German-language writer Friederike Brun, who was part of Mme de Staël’s literary circle.

Mme de Krüdener’s Pensées et maximes appeared in the Mercure de France journal in 1802 with an introduction written by Chateaubriand. Her French-language novel, Valérie ou Lettres de Gustave de Linar à Ernest de G..., was published in Paris in December 1803. This autobiographical epistolary novel, based on the theme of impossible love, borrowed from the most fashionable literary models of the day, was very successful across Europe: five editions were published in 1804, including those in London and Mitau (modern-day Jelgava); an abridged German translation by Helmina von Chézy appeared in 1803; between 1804 and 1805 there were four editions of complete German translations, one of which was translated by Dorothea Schlegel (1804); and Dutch and Russian translations were published in 1804 and 1807 respectively. Laudatory reviews appeared in the French and German press.

Valérie was well received in 1804 by Sophie von La Roche, who quoted Mme de Krüdener from their meeting that year in Germany: ‘With Valérie she is happy to have repaid me for everything she has received from my writings over the years…’ Russian Empress Elizaveta Alekseevna (wife of Alexander I) copied quotes from Valérie into her album. That same year Stendhal spoke of the ‘the charming author of Valérie’ in a letter to his sister. Alexander Pushkin later mentioned ‘Mme de Krüdener’s charming novel’ in his novel in verse Evgenii Onegin.

At the beginning of 1804 Mme de Krüdener returned to Riga. In the years that followed, under the influence of Pietism, she advocated a new inner church free from confessional constraints. Louise, Queen of Prussia, Hortense de Beauharnais, Queen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Stephanie, Princess of Baden were among her interlocutors. Between 1808 and 1809, Mme de Krüdener wrote a novel about early Christianity called Othilde (only one fragment was published, and the manuscript is lost). In June 1815, she met Russian tsar Alexander I at Heilbronn and became his spiritual guide following him to Paris in July. During her stay in the French capital she also published Le Camp de Vertus, which exalts the Russian victory over Napoleon. This work was translated into Russian in the same year. Mme de Krüdener has been credited with playing a certain role in Alexander’s politics during this period, and especially in the conclusion of the Holy Alliance. In May 1818, she returned once again to Riga and then to her Kosse estate in Livonia. She spent some time in St Petersburg in 1821 where she became acquainted with Aleksandra Khvostova, author of spiritual works. In May 1824, Mme de Krüdener went to the Crimea where she died on 25 December 1824.


AsK November 2010

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