Most curious hobbies of Russia’s greatest writers

These authors were not only known for their works, but also for unusual and sometimes dangerous activities their free time.

1. Alexander Pushkin — women & duels

Russia’s main poet was a very passionate person. This is, quite obviously, seen in his poems, in gambling (which he wrote about many times in his works), in his multiple love affairs and in duels.

Before marriage, Pushkin had so many women that he made a whole ‘Don Juan list’, having written down dozens of names of women. Poems also reflect his amorousness. ‘To Natasha’, ‘To Masha’, ‘To her’, ‘To the young widow’ and even ‘Beauty, who sniffed tobacco’. And his most famous love poem, ‘I Recall the Wondrous Moment’, was dedicated to a particular woman - Anna Kern.

Duel between Alexander Pushkin and Georges d'Anthès

In addition, Pushkin was a “bretteur”, one who was easily irritated, easily calling people to a duel and accepting such challenges. Biographers count more than 20 duels on his account. Unfortunately, the last one was fatal.

2. Mikhail Lermontov — painting

Mikhail Lermontov. Self-portrait

The main occupation of Lermontov was military service, so we can safely say that poetry and literature were just for him a hobby. But, in addition, Lermontov was fond of painting and was quite a good artist. During his military service in the Caucasus, he painted dozens of landscapes of the surrounding mountains. His self-portrait in uniform is also widely known.

3. Leo Tolstoy — physical labor & active lifestyle

Ilya Repin. The Ploughman (Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy at the Plough)', 1887

The writer was known as a weirdo among his own peasants. Hardly you could see any other noble count that would mow the grass. But, Tolstoy enjoyed it and even described his feelings in detail in ‘Anna Karenina’. Remember, Levin also mows in the novel? Tolstoy was actually keen on physical labor; for example, he learned leather craftsmanship and made his own boots!

Leo Tolstoy posing with his bike

Another hobby of the writer was sports: he walked a lot in the fresh air, even walked from his ‘Yasnaya Polyana’ estate to Moscow (about 225 kilometers!). Already at a very old age, he went for hours-long walks and tormented all his guests to join him. Tolstoy also only learned to ride a bicycle at the age of 67.

Leo Tolstoy playing 'gorodki'

Meanwhile, he could ride horseback for hours, as well as play tennis and the ancient Russian game of ‘gorodki’ (something similar to bowling).

4. Ivan Turgenev — hunting

The author of 'Father and Sons' loved hunting from childhood and was always happy when his father, also an avid hunter, took him along. “I love hunting for the sense of freedom, for the sunrise and sunset, for the fact that with it, as with poetry, there is a special feeling, which is above everything and depends only on me," he wrote in a diary.

Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky. Turgenev hunting

Turgenev's works about his hobby speak for themselves. In the cycle of short stories ‘A Sportsman's Sketches’ (in Russian ‘Zapisi Okhotnika’ ‘Notes of a Hunter’), he very colorfully and vividly describes the scenes of hunting, the characters and variety of hunters and poetic Russian landscapes.

5. Fyodor Dostoyevsky — gambling

Dostoyevsky the gambler

Many Russian writers were gamblers, as well as other nobles of the 19th century, as cards were a part of social leisure.

But, Dostoevsky surpassed them all. He was a true gambler and, for ten years, was literally addicted to games.

Mostly, Dostoevsky indulged in his sin abroad. Roulette Paris and Baden-Baden saw his sad losses and despair more than once. However, it was because of his debts and shattered financial situation that he was forced to write more and more new works in record time, receiving an advance from the publishing house. So, now, we can enjoy his novels, one of which, ‘The Gambler’, is devoted to gambling and how roulette can become the meaning of life.

6. Anton Chekhov — dogs

Anton Chekhov posing in Yalta alongside his two dogs in 1901

The author of stories and plays was a big fan of dogs. His ‘Kashtanka’ short story is one of the most touching stories about animals in Russian literature. The writer had a special love for dachshunds. He joked that these dogs are the result of crossing a mongrel with a crocodile.

Chekhov had two dachshunds, their names were Brom (which means ‘Bromine’ in Russian) and Hina (literally ‘Cinchona’) and he truly loved them. As Chekhov's brother recalled, the dogs used to put their front legs on the writer's lap and he could talk and joke with them for half an hour, while everyone around him was dying laughing.

7. Vladimir Nabokov — butterflies & chess

Nabokov caught his first butterfly at the age of six at the family estate near St. Petersburg.

Hunting and studying them, however, became more than just a hobby for Nabokov. He organized entomological tours, published scientific articles and, in emigration, worked at the Harvard Zoological Museum as curator of the butterfly collection. Experts of Nabokov's novels have calculated about 570 mentions of butterflies in his works!

Vladimir Nabokov carrying a net while hunting for butterflies in the rain, Zermatt, Switzerland

Nabokov was also a great fan of chess and practiced his skills by inventing complex chess problems. He mentioned chess, as well as butterflies, several times in his novels and the protagonist of ‘The Defense’ is a chess genius.

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