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Literary Moscow

The Alexander Ostrovsky House
Text and photos by Marina Kashpar

f the noise and rumble of the centre are getting you down, go by Metro to “Tretyakovskaya” or “Novokuznetskaya.” There is no other part of Moscow where so many ancient churches and old estates, small streets and quiet gardens have remained. This is Zamoskvorechye, one of the few parts of old Moscow to survive into the present age.

Malaya Ordynka street is a very quiet and cozy street, strange as that may be for the centre of Moscow. There is a small wooden house at #9, set back from the road in the way that estates were in the 19th century, and surrounded by almost a hectare of land. This is one of Moscow’s most unusual buildings. Here in the summer you can see sunflowers and roses in the yard, in the spring—lilies-of-the-valley and white lilac, in autumn—pumpkins and tomatoes in the vegetable garden. Just opposite, is the beautiful white stone church of Nikolai Mirlikiiskogo v Pizhakh.

Ostrovsky’s family, Nikolai Fedorovich and Lubov Ivanovna (the writer’s father and mother), stayed here for only two and a half years, but right here, in this house, on the 31st of March 1823 at 4 a.m., the future classic of Russian drama, Aleksander Nikolaevich Ostrovsky was born, and this is the place where Moscow celebrates the famous writer with a museum dedicated to him.

He called himself a native resident of Moscow, where “all Russians became closer and more understandable.” Ostrovsky lived in Zamosckorechye for 20 years. Almost all of his 48 plays are based on Zamoskvorechye’s way of life, its special accent, which he knew so well, He cultivated drinking tea from his Russian samovar, sitting nibbling sunflower seeds in the area’s sleepy, cozy yards and gardens.

Ostrovsky’s father was from Kostroma, from a clerical family (his grandfather, after his wife’s death became a monk of Donskoi Monastery). Nikolai Fedorovich had a clerical education, but became a lawyer. After arriving in Moscow, he rented the ground floor of the house. But then, after he made his way up in the world, bought a couple of houses of his own, also in Zamoskvorechye.

From 1823-1826 the Ostrovsky family lived rather humbly, not even having a servant. The three rooms they inhabited had narrow windows, low doors and squeaking floors. But they seemed comfortable for them.

Even now it is seems cozy here. All the furniture in the house is original. Everything was saved by relatives: a secretaire, a folding screen, round tables, armchairs, a bookcase filled with the same books the same age as those that filled the bookcase in 1823.

There is an old white tile stove still there, so attractive that you want to touch it to warm your hands. There are a lot of flowerpots on the windows, according to the custom of Zamoskvorechye, as well as simply coloured curtains, stripped braided mats, shabby carpets, old candlesticks and icons. It’s a pity you can’t hear the clock ticking, otherwise the picture would be completed—as if you were in the house of one of Ostrovsky’s characters: the merchants Bolshov or Baraboshev, the petty bourgeois Mavra Agurevna.

Of all the rooms, the most interesting is the study of Nikolai Fedorovich Ostrovsky, the writer’s father, due to the original furniture and decoration it contains. Aleksander Ostrovsky didn’t have a study of his own in this house, as he only lived here for the first three years of his life. That is why there are no personal things which belonged to the writer here either. However the second floor of the museum is devoted to Alexander’s creative works at the Maly Theatre, which became his second home.

A wooden staircase with fretted balusters leads to the second floor of the house, where you find yourself in old Moscow. All the walls are covered with pictures and paintings of Moscow at the beginning of the XIXth century. In one of the museum’s rooms there is a model of the Maly Theatre.

All the other rooms on the second floor are devoted to Alexander Ostrovsky’s works. It’s a bit like a mirror, where you can see the life and the way of life of the people who settled in Malaya Ordynka at the time when the writer lived here. Ostrovsky was the first person in Russian literature to write about those people and that part of Moscow, that is why he was called “a Pillar of Zamoskvorechye.”

It is difficult to find any other writer who describes the peculiarities of this part of the city with such irony and love at the same time. For instance he wrote: “Nobody here sticks to any kind of fashion. It is even considered to be indecent. Fashion is a constant and inexhaustible theme for jokes. And imposing men, looking at a person in a modern suit, shake their heads with smiles of regret; it means—hopeless man. Better to be a hard drinker, then a man of fashion.”

In the newspaper, Zamoscvorechye, Ostrovsky is mentioned several times, that he wrote: “The whole of Zamoscvorechye falls asleep at 9 p.m.

Museum address:
Malaya Ordynka, 9
(Metro Tretyakovskaya, Novokuznetskaya)
Working hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday,
Saturday, Sunday, from 12:00-19:00
Tel: +7 (495) 953-86-84

There is nobody in the streets except dogs. Don’t even try to find a cab.”

The exhibits at the museum help us to understand more deeply Ostrovsky’s words, his thoughts and the images of his plays. In the honour of the writer, musical and literary parties are held here as well as performances of his plays. The house is alive and continues to live, which is as great a monument to the great writer as is possible to have.

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