How Helena P. Blavatsky, having left Russia in 1850, returned to her homeland in 1858:
Nikifor V. Blavatsky’s letter to Nadyezhda A. Fadeyeva,
November 13, 18581
1. In the references to the second Russian edition of the H.P.B. biography by S. Cranston (Krenston S. YE.P.Blavatskaya: Zhizn’ i tvotchestvo osnovatel’nicy sovremennogo teosofskogo dvizheniya [H.P.Blavatsky: The Life and Influence of the Founder of the Modern Theosophical Movement]. 2-ye izdaniye, dop. Riga-Moskva: Ligatma, 1999), mark (Ed.) refers to the Ligatma editors’ additional notes and footnotes that are not found in the English book.
How did it happen that in the summer of 1849 young Helena Hahn was forced to marry and become a Blavatsky. Why, after she soon ran away from her husband back, by the summer of 1850 (not in 1849) she had to flee Russia. Because of what, at the end of 1858, she needed to return urgently to her family (but not to her husband) and how she was able to arrange this. For what reasons in Tiflis in 1861-62 she lived with her husband Nikifor Blavatsky for about a year, and not with her relatives. Why in 1865 she left Russia again and how many times she has been to her homeland since then. Why in December 1872 she wrote the Odessa letter (unjustly nicknamed “spy letter") and why she soon left Odessa for good.
In these and some other episodes of Helena Blavatsky's Russian life, often interrelated, there is still much that has not been elucidated. Both she and her relatives had good reasons for not to publicly disclose a number of complicated circumstances, so as not to affect the memory of deceased loved ones and the honor of influential third parties. However, as time has passed, a careful study and comparison of the testimonies that have come down to us still makes it possible to reconstruct the main details and motives of what happened.
This article focuses on the third of the aforementioned issues and is based on the original letter of Nikifor Blavatsky to Nadyezhda Fadeyeva (1858), known from an incomplete and not entirely accurate 1959 English translation in The Theosophist. Together with other sources, including those used in the Russian edition of S. Cranston's book ("Ligatma", 1999), it allows us to lift the veil over the events of Helena Blavatsky's life in the period 1848-1867 and over the rare properties of her character.
At the beginning of 1850, when she was 18, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky left Russia. There remained her numerous relatives, as well as 40-year-old husband, Vice Governor of the Erivan Province Nikifor Vasilyevich Blavatsky, from whom she, in fact, fled
The story of her marriage is still quite mysterious. And there were good reasons for that: according to H.P.B., none of her relatives could and would tell the whole truth about it, including herself: «It is impossible to say the truth without incriminating people that I would not accuse for the world now that they are dead and gone.»2 2. Blavatsky H.P. The Letters of H.P.Blavatsky to A.P.Sinnett and Other Miscellaneous Letters. Pasadena, CA: TUP, 1973 (facsimile ed.; 1st ed. — L., NY, 1925), Letter LXII, p. 157. Seems like widespread statement about the departure of Helena Blavatsky from Russia in 1849 which turned out to be inaccurate also could be due to these carefully concealed circumstances.
Briefly about it. In an article about H.P.Blavatsky in one of the New-York magazines of 1878, it was stated: «Prince Emil Wittgenstein, a cousin of the present [Russian] Empress, in writing to Col. Olcott, of New York, said that he knew Mme. Blavatsky well some twenty-five years ago at Tiflis…»3 3. [Buchanan J.R.] Helena P. Blavatsky // The Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated. New York, 1878, March, pp. 134–137.
4. Since 1936, Tbilisi. It is known that Prince E. Wittgenstein, appointed as adjutant to the Commander-in-Chief in the Caucasus in 1844-1853, Prince M.S.Vorontsov, arrived in Tiflis4 in early February 1850 and spent several months there before the outbreak of the summer hostilities. To meet in Tiflis with H.P.B., who lived there with her family since 1847, he could only during this period of time.55. For more details, see: Krenston S. YE.P.Blavatskaya… P. 680 note 229 (Ed.).
6. See: Ibid. P. 646 note 27 (Ed.). Also in H.P.B.’s petition to Prince A.M.Dondukov-Korsakov, the Commander-in-Chief in the Caucasus in 1882-1890, sent along with the 1884.06.03 personal letter to him, she wrote that she had left Tiflis to Odessa and abroad the next year after her wedding.6
However, in the fall of 1858, H.P.Blavatsky was in London and she had a sick baby boy in her arms, for whom she was responsible. For the sake of full care for him, she needed to return to her relatives as soon as possible. At the same time, she was not going to return to Nikifor Blavatsky. Divorce in Russia in those years was an extremely difficult matter; the Orthodox Church gave permission for it only in exceptional cases. While the legal husband had the right to pursue his wife who had run away from him, that is, to petition for her search and return. In other words, upon returning to her homeland, H.P.Blavatsky could quite find herself in the same situation, because of which she had to flee.
Thus, by all means, she had to first find out what Nikifor Blavatsky was going or not going to do in connection with his «vague» marital status. However, not knowing his plans, she in no way could give him any information about her whereabouts.
From Nikifor Blavatsky’s letter (the original kept in the archives of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, India), which is given down below, we understand that this delicate mission was perfectly accomplished by Nadyezhda Andreyevna Fadeyeva (1829–1919) — H.P.B. own aunt with whom they grew up together and who was only two years older than her.
Her letter to Nikifor Blavatsky has not survived to this day; as can be seen from his answer, it was not dated (of course, not by chance) and, perhaps, did not come by mail.
The surviving answer of Nikifor Blavatsky makes it possible to clarify a number of details from the life of Helena Blavatsky. His letter was published in English in 19597,7. The Theosophist. 1959, August, Vol. 80, No. 11, pp. 295–296. however, due to illegible handwriting and interspersed expressions in Ukrainian, the version was incomplete and sometimes deviating from the original. The facsimile of this letter (kindly provided by K. Williams, USA), as well as its full text in modern spelling, can be found in the Russian version of the article.88. Published in full for the first time. See also: Krenston S. YE.P.Blavatskaya… Pp. 87 (the author’s version was edited without additional marks), 645 note 2 (Ed.).
13 November 1858, Erivan
Your message, which I received yesterday, made me very happy. There is no date on it, so it is unknown when it was written. A human being sins are countless** Play on words in the original. The previous and this sentence use the same expression «bez chisla», literally «without number». In the first case, it means «without date», and in the second, first of all, «countless», although not without some cross-talk with «without date», but in such a way that it should not be taken for reproach. Nikifor Blavatsky not only noticed the absence of date but, of course, perfectly understood the reasons for this., but as far as my attitude to you is concerned, I am clean both in actions and in conscience. I desired always only one thing — to receive your messages at least occasionally as they are so dear to my heart. But even of this happiness, I have been deprived, due to unknown causes.
Still, I don’t know anything of H.P.’s return to Russia; and to tell you the truth, this [p.2] ceased to interest me long ago. Time sponges out everything, all sorts of memories are gone. You may assure H.P. on my word-veto that I will never pursue her. I wish ardently that our marriage be annulled and that she could marry again. It is possible that I too may marry again, of convenience or inclination, feeling not yet unsuited to family life. So make every effort by uniting your forces to finish the case, and let her also from her part do her best for this.
I tried my part, but Exarch Isidor refused me. Therefore I do not intend to start [p.3] a new lawsuit anymore, let alone make an official request to declare on the wanted list throughout the [Russian] Empire a person whose whereabouts are unknown to me because I consider it entirely useless after having received your message. I beg you earnestly to endeavor to end the matter, to the satisfaction of both parties. Anyway, if it stops and doesn't resume, I repeat, I will not attempt to pursue her, nor [about] the search orders, nor about separation.
You know that a man loses less in public opinion than a woman, in whatever circumstances he may happen to be. And he will always justify [himself], no matter how he might behave morally rather than a woman.
[p.4] It will soon be 10 years since my misfortune, and therefore, willy-nilly, I've developed my character enough and became indifferent to everything. And very often I even laugh at the stupidities which took place and comfort myself by realizing that in this world they happen not only with me. All I care about is that**** The following few words are in Ukrainian. The 1959 translation doesn’t include this sentence. no devil bothers me.
Everything takes getting used to. So I have got used to a joyless life in Erivan. I became indifferent to everything, and even though this life has failed, it will not touch me. However, I soon intend to leave the service altogether. I'll get to the farm****** In Russian, «hutor» — a small rural settlement in Ukraine, consisting of one or more peasant farms., in such a remote place that no one will know, and I will live and live there, of course, surrounded by all the pleasures, having escaped from Erivan. Always devoted
Your servant N. Blavatsky
H.P.B. was then 27 years old, Nadyezhda Fadeyeva was 29, and Nikifor Blavatsky was 49 years old, and nevertheless, he signs the letter with his last name with one initial, while invariably addressing them both by patronymic (full or abbreviated).
The letter refers to what was known to both parties and may slip away from readers, so we’ll try to make a brief reference on this.
The statement about the messages of Nadyezhda Fadeyeva illustrates that this is far from the first letter from her, which Nikifor Blavatsky held in his hands. Apparently, after Helena’s wedding, Nadyezhda kept up a correspondence with her sending warm messages to the Blavatskys, but with Elena’s departure to Tiflis this was suddenly cut.
Further, in the above-mentioned English translation of 1959 we read: «Until now I knew nothing of H.P.’s return to Russia…» So, because of one illegible letter in the word «know» (in Russian, as in English, knew and know differ only by one letter), in the English book by S.Cranston there appeared (and is still there) an incredible story about how H.P.B. first, secretly from all her relatives, arrived in Russia (where the police could be looking for her!), and then agreed with Nadyezhda Fadeyeva about a letter to Nikifor Blavatsky. In «Incidents in the life of H.P.Blavatsky» by A.P.Sinnett (1886) this episode was not included while in 1883 Vera, H.P.B.’s sister, wrote about these events that «H.P. ‹…› making sure that she had nothing to fear from her husband’s persecution, decided to petition to return to Russia».9.9. Zhelihovsky V.P. (I.YA.) Pravda o Yelene Petrovna Blavatskoy [The Truth About Helena Petrovna Blavatsky]. I // Rebus. St. Petersburg, Russia. 1883, Vol. 2, No. 40, p. 358. (In Russian); also: Krenston S. YE.P.Blavatskaya… P. 76 footnote (Ed.).
The next page and a half in the letter takes up the answer to Nadyezhda’s question about his further actions regarding Helena. The description of Nikifor Blavatsky’s efforts to get a divorce shows that these were not just words. According to the Russian laws of that time, cases of divorce were under the jurisdiction of the spiritual consistory. In this case, the reason could be obscure absence of the spouse for at least 5 years (then the process would began with the announcement of the wife on the wanted list for a year). Thus, N.V.Blavatsky could address Metropolitan Isidore (see about him below) with this question in 1855–1858.
But why did Nikifor Blavatsky refuse to take further steps towards divorce, despite the fact that in March 1858 another person became Exarch of Georgia? The letter does not mention this directly, but it can be concluded that it followed from the Metropolitan’s answer: without the petitions of both living spouses, this case was not subject to consideration. The reasoning that men lose less in such collisions than women, in a sense, also reinforces what was written earlier, that everything depends on the other side.
As far as we know, this issue was never raised again, and certain advantages of official marriage turned to be very useful. When Helena Blavatsky in 1860 arrived in Tiflis, she lived for about a year in the house with her grandfather, A.M.Fadeyev, after which she had to move out of there. The reasons for it, we’ll someday have to tell in detail. By that time, Nikifor Blavatsky no longer served in Erivan1010. Since 1936, Yerevan. and, assigned to the Chief Department of the Viceroy of the Caucasus, lodged in Tiflis, not far from Helena’s relatives. Having found herself in such a situation, by agreement with Nikifor Blavatsky, she moved to live with him1111. For more details, see: Krenston S. YE.P.Blavatskaya… P. 646 note 27 (Ed.). — probably, together with the child who was in her custody. Later, in August 1862, the Civil Governor of Tiflis, on the basis of the application of Nikifor Blavatsky, issued H.P.Blavatsky a kind of passport for a period of one year for a trip with Yuri to some provinces of Russia in which the boy was mentioned as their infant-ward.1212. H.P.Blavatsky’s passport (№11159), 1862.08.23 (Old Style) (Theosophical Society Archives, Pasadena, California, USA; see documents here); Zirkoff B. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky // H.P.Blavatsky. Collected Writings. Vol. 1. 2nd ed. Wheaton: TPH, 1977, p. xlvi.
It is interesting to note that in the first two formular lists (service records) of the married Nikifor Blavatsky responses to the question “Is he single or married to whom, does he have children, who are they; birth dates of children (year, month and day); where are they and what religion are they?” are but “Married” (December 4, 1852) and “Married with no children” (October 28, 1855). However, after H.P.B. met him again in Tiflis, in the next formular list the answer is complete: “Married to Helena, the daughter of Colonel of Artillery Peter Hahn, Orthodox. Has no children” ([on] 1864).1313. For details of Nikifor Blavatsky's public service, see: Tyurikov A.D. Materialy o N.V.Blavatskom iz RGIA [Documents about N.V.Blavatsky from the Russian State Historical Archive (RGIA)] (https://art-roerich.org.ua/?q=blavatskaya/articles.html). (In Russian). A longtime enthusiast for searching archival sources in Russian related to H.P.B., Mr. A.Tyurikov is a native of Bahmut (Donetsk region, Ukraine) that is currently being shelled upon by the enemy army.
What else does this letter say?
First of all, it is clear that in due course Nikifor Blavatsky was informed of Helena’s residence abroad (this meant that he had no means to find her and return her back). Now Nadyezhda directly wrote to him that Helena would not return to him in any way («…let alone make an official request to declare on the wanted list throughout the [Russian] Empire a person whose whereabouts are unknown to me because I consider it entirely useless after having received your message»), telling him nothing definite about perspective of her return («Still, I don’t know anything of H.P.’s return to Russia»). Obviously, Helena herself had not written anything to him over the years.
Note that this letter on four pages was written in the same smooth handwriting throughout without a single correction, and only the final few lines were slightly compressed to fit everything. This could only mean one thing: the letter was a fair copy, rewritten from a draft in which Nikifor Blavatsky had carefully selected expressions and turns suitable for the occasion.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the next paragraph, in which Nikifor Blavatsky speaks so distantly about the events that connected his fate with the young Helena Hahn.
It will soon be 10 years since my misfortune, and therefore, willy-nilly, I've developed my character enough and became indifferent to everything. And very often I even laugh at the stupidities which took place and comfort myself by realizing that in this world they happen not only with me. All I care about is that no devil bothers me.
The phrase «It will soon be 10 years since my misfortune» once again indicates that their wedding took place not in 1848 (as H.P.B. repeatedly wrote) but a year later.
Brief biographical note. Blavatsky Nikifor Vasilyevich, from nobles, became a civil servant in 1823 in the Poltava Province, from 1829 he continued to serve in Georgia…, from 1843 the Head of the Erivan District. At the formation of the Erivan Province at the end of 1849, he was appointed Vice Governor, and acted as governor three times since (a total of about six months); being awarded five Russian orders, a Persian order, Badge of Excellence for 25 Years Faultless Service, etc., in 1857 he was promoted to State Councilor with seniority1414. Seniority denoted the date from which the period of promotion in this rank was counted. According to the Russian Table of Ranks, State Councilor was equated with the military rank of Brigadier (abolished in Russia at the end of the 18th century), which was superior to Colonel but inferior to Major General (the first General rank).
15. See note 13. from December 1856.15
Surprisingly, in relation to the events that took place 10 years before, the skilled official, not alien to introspection, does not seem to recognize himself as an actor who bears at least a grain of responsibility for what happened then. We see no implicit regrets about any of his own mistakes or wrong steps. The impossibility of creating a normal family (which, naturally, was first said about H.P.B.) pretty upsets him, but what led to this is for some reason described as a kind of disaster over which the person himself had no power. It would seem there were no problems to acknowledge some of his old mistakes and, having confessed, with a light soul, try to draw a line under the past together. But no: in trustful communication with Nadyezhda who knew perfectly well everything that had happened, we find not even a shadow of worries about a possible connection between the current situation and one’s own previous actions!
Willy-nilly, the words from H.P.Blavatsky’s Odessa letter (December 26, 1872, Old Style) come to mind: «…I ran away from ‹…› my husband, forced on me by Princess Vorontsova.»
Let’s try to grasp what could the Nikifor’s phrase imply. Recall that by 1849 Helena’s mother was gone, while her father was far away, had not seen his children for several years and could not know the details of what was happening in Tiflis. The final decision on «such an unequal marriage with the elderly Blavatsky, which, from a secular point of view, was an inexplicable mesalliance» (as reported by Helena Pisareva with reference to Maria Yermolova, whose husband was the Tiflis Governor in 1847–1849)16,16. Pisareva E.F. Yelena Petrovna Blavatskaya: Biograficeskiy ocherk. 2-ye izd., ispr. i dopoln. [Helena Petrovna Blavatsky: A Biographical Sketch. 2nd ed., revised and enlarged]. Jeneva, 1937, p. 37. (In Russian) was made, of course, in the Fadeyev family. Initially, as it is known, Helena herself turned to N.V.Blavatsky touched to the quick by the governess, who declared that no one, even such a person as he, would agree to marry a girl with her character. Nikifor Blavatsky did not refuse a perky girl from a high-ranking family of the state general A.M.Fadeyev, a Member of the Council of the Chief Department of the Transcaucasian Region, and immediately proposed to her to marry him, which she accepted, continuing the game she started.1717. Sinnett A.P. Incidents in the Life of Madame Blavatsky. L., 1913, Ch.2, pp. 39-40; Blavatsky H.P. The Letters of H.P.Blavatsky to A.P.Sinnett… L., 1925, Letter LXII, p. 157. But what did Princess E.K.Vorontsova have to do with it?
Let’s quote a modern research on the marriage ceremonial of Russian noblemen in the XIX century: «Basically, the opinion of daughters about their future fate was not taken into account. ‹…› A noble, rich and middle-aged groom could propose marriage without the consent of the girl, who yielded to the orders or insistence of her parents. In this case, the bride had the opportunity to realize her refusal in the church. However, due to tradition it was difficult to go against the will of the parents due to tradition. ‹…› If the bride rejected the marriage at an earlier stage or her parents found this party unsuitable, the refusal was made in a ritual form: the applicant was thanked for the honor, but was told that the daughter was not yet thinking about marriage, that she was too young…»1818. Chizhikova A.S. Brachnyj tseremonial rossijskih dvorjan v XIX veke [Marriage Ceremonial of Russian Noblemen in the XIX century] // Vestnik slavjanskih kul’tur. М., 2011, Vol. 22, No. 4, pp. 76-77. (In Russian)
Note that no accusations were made against the governess afterwards. It is clear that neither she nor Helena doubted that this prank would not have any serious consequences. However, it turned otherwise: Helena’s later attempts to explain to her relatives that it was but a joke on her part proved futile. And the subsequent Nikifor Blavatsky’s marriage proposal was accepted in the Fadeyev’s house with full favor.
The above-mentioned phrase from Helena Blavatsky’s Odessa letter shows that Princess E.K.Vorontsova, the wife of the Viceroy of the Caucasus, could play a decisive role in this. In what way? There seems to be only one possible answer here. By virtue of her position, in a conversation with A.M.Fadeyev the Princess could insist on the need of the marriage. And, of course, she could discuss with Nikifor Blavatsky what was going on, so that nothing would change on his part and he would have no opportunity to heed Helena’s requests1919. Jelihovsky V. Helena Petrovna Blavatskaya // Lucifer. 1894, November, Vol. 15, No. 93, p. 204; The Theosophist. 1895, January, Vol. 16, No. 4, p. 241. and retreat. However, it is unclear why the Princess was worried at all and why she might need to definitely marry young Нelena Hahn. In those years there were many brilliant young officers in Tiflis, participants in the Caucasian War, and among them there were admirers of the future bride.2020. Ibid; among Helena’s admirers was K.P. von Kaufman (1818–1882) who later served as Engineer-General and Adjutant-General, from 1867 the first Governor-General of Turkestan, Commander of the military forces of the Turkestan military district, under whose leadership the Khanate of Kokand was annexed by Russian Empire and a Russian protectorate was established over the Khanate of Khiva and the Emirate of Bukhara (see the 1881.12.05 letter from H.P.B. to A.M. Dondukov-Korsakov: H.P.B. Speaks, Vol. II. Adyar; Wheaton; L., 1986 (1st ed. - 1951), p. 28). However, as one can conclude, for some reasons the possibility of any other bridegroom but Nikifor Blavatsky was excluded — though he served several hundred kilometers from Tiflis, in Erivan. One may wonder how and by what act could Helena cause such a strong Princess’s irritation that the latter didn’t want to see her in Tiflis anymore. Besides, we have to keep in mind that the Fadeyev family would never go against their conscience and would not have agreed to this strange marriage if they saw it as a complete injustice towards Helena. Of course, the clue should be sought primarily in the epistolary heritage of H.P.B. and her relatives. But this goes beyond the scope of this article.
By the winter 1848/49 Nikifor Blavatsky was an ordinary official on the eve of his 40th birthday, head of the Erivan District, single and awaiting his imminent appointment as Vice Governor in the Erivan Province that was in the process of being established. And then such an unexpected opportunity for a profitable marriage, presented to him as if on a silver platter and then, under the watchful eye of superiors, safely brought to the wedding. Of course, he could not foresee what this marriage would lead to later. Actually, this is the explanation of the fragment from the letter of Nikifor Blavatsky that puzzled us. On his part, there really was no choice or act in which he could sincerely admit his own mistake.
Briefly about what happened next with Nikifor Blavatsky and with his intention to resign. After almost 35 years in the service, his health began to fail, and in the summer 1860 he went to Berlin for several months for treatment. Dismissed for health reasons from the post of Vice Governor of the Erivan Province at the end of 1860 and assigned to the Chief Department of the Viceroy of the Caucasus in Tiflis, he again visited Berlin for treatment in the summer of 1861 and finally retired at the end of 1864.
A farm mentioned by Nikifor Blavatsky in his letter was not fictional either. In his previous formulary lists (1848–1855), the family parental estate in Pereyaslavsky District of the Poltava Province with 75 serfs was invariably included. But in the next formulary list ([on] 1864), after the abolition of serfdom in Russia (1861), instead of this estate «a small estate without a population» (i.e. hutor or farm) was listed as his personal property in the Kremenchugsky District of the Poltava Province.2121. See note 13. From the 1877.06.19 (Old Style) letter of Nadyezhda Fadeyeva to Helena Blavatsky we can conclude that it was exactly the place where he went from Tiflis after his retirement: «About ‹…› Blavatsky, I made inquiries: he had already left Kremenchug about a year ago and moved to Kiev or somewhere in the Kiev Province. I do not know whether he sold his farm or not. But only he left for good.»2222. Archive of the Theosophical Society, Adyar. See also: Krenston S. YE.P.Blavatskaya… P. 652 note 55 (Ed.).
The aforementioned Exarch of Georgia Isidore (Jakob Sergeevich Nikolsky, 1799–1892) — since 1844, Archbishop (since 1856, Metropolitan) of Kartala and Kakheti, Exarch of Georgia, since March 1, 1858, Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia, and since July 1, 1860, Metropolitan of Novgorod, Saint Petersburg, Estland and Finland — knew the whole Fadeyev family intimately. In May 1860, being in Zadonsk, he recognized among the parishioners Helena Blavatsky and her sister, Vera Yakhontova (later Zhelihovsky), who were heading to Tiflis. Metropolitan Isidore invited them to his chambers and had a long conversation with them.2323. Krenston S. YE.P.Blavatskaya… Pp. 98-99, 646 note 25 (Ed.).
Metropolitan of Novgorod, St. Petersburg and Finland
So Nikifor Blavatsky’s letter had opened the way for Helena Blavatsky to her homeland, and by Christmas 1858 she arrived to her sister Vera in Pskov. Vera had just been widowed and had come there to her father-in-law's house for the winter with her two toddlers and her father.
The boy Yurochka (diminutive of Yuri)2424. See the 1884.11.23 (Old Style) letter from Nadyezhda Fadeyeva to Helena Blavatsky (Archive of the Theosophical Society, Adyar). with whom Helena arrived and for whose upbringing she was responsible did not live long and, to her greatest grief, died in 1867. The reason why she had agreed to take care of raising the baby was to protect the honor of his parents, whom both H.P.B. and Nikifor Blavatsky knew very well.2525. Fuller J. O. Blavatsky and Her Teachers: An Investigative Biography. L., 1988, pp. 18, 21, 54-56. But this is another story.
Prepared by Leonid Danilov
with the assistance of Anatoly Kirsanov.
Translated from Russian by Oscar Skorsky
Posted on: 4. 10. 2022