The Louise Simone-Dimanche Affair

Aleksandr Sukhovo-Kobylin made theatre history with his plays "Krechinsky's Wedding" and "The Death of Tarelkin", but he could just as easily have written detective stories and romantic dramas. The circumstances of his life were quite conducive to just that.

Many still believe that he was a murderer who had escaped justice. Sukhovo-Kobylin earned this reputation in 1850, when he had not yet written a single play.  One of Russia's most blue-blooded and richest individuals, he led a life of idleness, partied at the balls, spent lots of time at the races, and took great pleasure in chasing after social butterflies.  And in his spare time he studied Hegel.  He was almost as enthusiastic about philosophy as he was about women. He even toyed with the idea of creating his own philosophical system.  Instead he ended up in jail.

After attending a course at the Heidelberg University, Kobylin went off to Paris.  He walked into a restaurant there and saw an attractive lady sitting at a nearby table.  He introduced himself, apologized profusely and solemnly stated, "Allow me, a foreigner, to propose a toast to all French women in your person."

Not surprisingly, that chance meeting turned into a love affair. A year later Louise Simone-Dimanche, who was just a little over twenty years old at the time, came to Moscow and moved in with him.  She was not considered Sukhovo-Kobylin's wife and could not appear in public with him.  For all their love and fortune Louise's life was no picnic.  From time to time Sukhovo-Kobylin would become infatuated with a new woman.  A man of passion, he would get smitten with just about every Moscow beauty.   Though, admittedly, he always came back to Louise.  They drank wine, argued, reconciled once more.

However, when he began a serious affair with Nadezhda Naryshkina, the wife of a gubernial secretary, Mademoiselle Simone snapped.  An angry scene followed: her throwing reproaches at him, him slamming the door.  Things were heading for a break-up. Louise began packing up her things, getting ready to return home to France.

Then came the denouement.   An entry in the police record: "The body of a woman of unknown title was discovered some distance from the Presnenskaya Gate, about two and a half versts from the wall that fences in the Vagankovo Cemetery." That was the body of Louise.  The investigation put forward a theory that was rather logical given the circumstances: a crime of passion.

Sukhovo-Kobylin was arrested. He was put through eleven hours of interrogation.  The police reconstructed the crime as follows.  That fateful evening Dimanche walked around Naryshkina's house, trying to find out whether her cohabiter was inside.  From her window Naryshkina spied a woman that stood wrapped in a fur coat, watching her house intently.    A wicked idea occurred to her.  She called Kobylin over, opened the window and kissed him in front of Simone-Dimanche.  Louise stormed into the house, made a scene.  Sukhovo-Kobylin, livid with anger, struck her with a candlestick.  It caught her on the temple, instantly killing her. Kobylin then ordered the servants to take the body to the outskirts of the city.  A typical crime of passion.

When it became clear that nothing of the sort had actually taken place, the police executed a search of Kobylin's apartment and found blood stains. Though, admittedly, it was soon discovered that the blood belonged to a chicken: the cook was cutting up fowl in that room. A murder has indeed taken place.  A murder of a chicken.

The case has clearly fallen apart.  But the police still wouldn't clear Sukhovo-Kobylin. He was thrown in jail, then released again.  He was called in for questioning, threatened, told that his situation was hopeless -- that he was looking at hard labor.  It was during those months that he began writing what would later become one of the most frequently performed plays in Russian theatre.  He wrote it in jail.  The same way that Cervantes wrote his "Don Quixote".

The investigation dragged on for seven years.  The reason for that was simple: they were trying to squeeze him for money.  The lead investigator offered him to dismiss all charges for the price of 30 000 rubles.  Everyone asked for money: the police, the judiciaries, the office bureaucrats.  He paid, and he went from one government official to another; he even appealed to the Empress. Eventually the case was dropped.  Sukhovo-Kobylin was acquitted, and penance was imposed on him "for an adulterous affair".   One hundred years later examination of the archives fully confirmed his innocence: he didn't kill her.

Nadezhda Naryshkina's subsequent fate is rather fascinating.  After the murder of Mademoiselle Simone, she moved to Paris.  Once there, she became friends with Duke de Morny, a prominent politician and brother of Napoleon III.  She subsequently married Alexander Dumas, fils, author of "The Lady of the Camellias".

As for Sukhovo-Kobylin, to his dying day he kept a pale pastel drawing in a gilded frame hanging above his bed.  On it was a pretty woman with flaxen curls, holding a flower in her hand and smiling sadly.  Looking at her he wrote, "So many things that happened, so many disasters, cares, regrets, plans that have gone up in smoke, and so much of what was really there but is now gone forever.  I find myself transported into the past that often appears like the present.  A hazy image of Louise with two enormous tears in her eyes is looking straight at me; her loving blue eyes fixed on me.  And there are two tears in those eyes. A wound on her neck, a wound in the heart...  Dear God, how could I not have known that I loved her so.  Farewell, my past, farewell, my youth, farewell, my life."

Yan Shenkman


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