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In 1890 Kovalevskaya wrote the novella NIHILIST GIRL. The first edition was printed in Geneva, 1892, a year after Sofya Kovalevskaia's death. The print was due largely to the efforts of Sofya's fiancee the prominent sociologist and jurist, Maxim Kovalevsky.

The novella is closely based on a incident in Kovalevskaya's life that occured a few years after her return to Russia from study abroad.

NIHILIST GIRL is the story of a young aristocratic woman who longs to be of use to People. She decides that the best way to do this is by entering into a ficticious marriage with a political prisoner, serving as his link to the outside world. Without someone to help on the outside, life for a prisoner was almost impossible. The story ends with the GIRL following her "husband" into exile.

The narrator of the story represents Kovalevskaya. The prototype for the heroine is Vera Sergievna Goncharova, niece of N.N. Goncharova, Pushkin's wife.

Sofya was the agent for making the Pavlovsky - Goncharova marriage a possibility. With concealment about the nature of the relationship, she was able to talk Dostoevsky into helping to arrange the 'marriage'. (See Letter #23 to Dostoevsky)



The prisoner of Sofya's novella is based on Isaac Iakovlevitch Pavlovsky (1853-1924). In 1874 Isaac became a student at the Medical-Surgical Academy in Petersburg. The young man came to Petersburg from his home town of Taganrog (south Russia near Rostov) where for a while he was a boarder in the family home of his schoolmate the future playright Anton Checkov ( 18xxx ... 19 xx) . Isaac and Anton maintained their acquaintance for life. In Petersburg, Isaac became involved with the group of young reform minded students. Many were swept up and inprisoned by the fightened reactionary government. Eventually, for some after years of imprisonment, these idealists were brought to trial. The trial drew great public interest and sympathy. It became known as the Trial of the 193 .

The Trial of the 193 is a turning point for the autocracy. Here's the background. In 1874 a group of educated, reform minded young people decided to share their ideas of a more liberal, tolerant government with the peasants of the country. Groups of young men and women visited small towns and talked to the peasants about freedom and reforms needed in the country. The movement was a failure. The peasants wanted no part of action against the government. The government, frightened by some student unrest and attempted assassinations, overreacted and began arresting hundreds of the young idealists. The situation came to a head with the Trial of the 193 in the winter of 1877-1878. Public sentiments were with the young prisoners many of whom had been inprisoned in appalling conditions and maltreated for years before the actual trial.

Before the trial, Isaac had been inprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress for two years. In 1876, while still a prisoner, he marries Vera. He was sentenced to six months in prison.

Immediately after the verdict, in February of 1878, another event that will shape Isaac's future takes place.

Vera Zazulich, a young woman already involved in revolutionary circles, attempted the assassination of General Trepov, Governor of Petersburg. Trepov is notorious for his cruelty and outrageously mistreatment prisoners. Trepov is hated by many for his cruel suppression of a Polish revolt some years earlier. (Kovalevskaya speaks of how much she hated this cruel suppression in her Remembrances of Childhood.) Outraged over Trepov's mistreatment of xxx, she shot and wounded the police chief. Her trial was another public cause celebre. Although she was clearly guilty as charged, the jury declared her innocent. Before any appeals could be made, she was whisked out of the country for her safety. The juries understandably sympathetic, but misverdict caused grave doubts among conservatives about the use of trial by jury. The beginning of a time of true reactionary terror by the government is marked by this incident.

A few months after his release from prison, Isaac became a vocal supporter of Vera Zazulich during her trial. For this, Isaac is arrested and sentenced to exile at Pineaga (small city close to the Baltic and the Cola pennisula).

With the help of radical sympathizers, Isaac was able to escape. He made their way to Paris late in 1878. Vera joined him in1879. In Paris, Isaac obtained the help of Ivan Turgenev, the noted Russian novelist and a sympathizer with the liberal cause.

In 1879, Isaac published an article in the French newspaper "Time" entitled "In a Cell, Memories of a Nihilist" describing the cruel conditions in prison. The article causes a stir in the Russian emigre community. Through Turgenev and other literary contacts, Isaac landed the position of foreign correspondent for the Russian paper "New Times". (This is the paper that Sofya and Vladimir became part owners, contributors and editors for in 1876? Sofya and Vladimir left that paper when the views of the main editor and owner, Suvorin, turned too reactionary for the Kovalevskaya's taste.)

The marriage of Vera and Isaac turned from platonic to real with one and possible two children born to them in Paris between 1879 to 1882.

By 1882, the marriage of Isaac and Vera is in serious trouble. Vera is accusing Isaac of severe cruelty. At this time Sofya is in Paris renewing her efforts in mathematical research with the goal of obtaining some financial stablity for herself and her daughter. Sofya's own marriage has desolved into an uneasy separation punctuated by occassional emotional visits from Vladimir. Sofya and Vera again become friendly. When Vera comes to Sofya relating her unhappy story of marital problems, Sofya offers Vera money and the use of her passport to return to Russia. Vera leaves with the child/children. * When Isaac realizes Vera is missing and has been to see Sofya, he comes to Sofya's apartment and threatens to throw acid in her face if she does not reveal where Vera has gone. This is the story Sofya relates to her friend Maria Jankowska Mendelsohn. Sofya, keeping her head, is able to talk Isaac out of this drastic action.



The death of one of Vera and Isaac's children is mentioned in a letter from Pavlovsky to E. Zola. 1884??


Pavlovsky continues his writing career in Paris. He travels frequently to Switzerland and particularly to Spain where he developes close relationships with the leading Spanish authors. In 1887, Pavlovsky's book MEMORIES OF TURGENEV is published (Savine, Paris 1887). The book causes a stir as Pavlovsky relates some rather severe judments of French authors by Turgenev.


In 1891, Pavlovsky married Theodotia Vandacourova (1865-1932). The couple have four children.


In 1895, Pavlovsky continued to have a distinguished journalistic career. His achievements include

* Syndic of the Foreign Press in Paris auprés of the two Rooms and delegated Quaestorship of the Housees of Commons and Senate

* Member of the Property owners' syndicate of the foreign Press in Paris

* Member of the Committee of the Russian Press in Paris

* Member of the Association of the foreign parliamentary Press in Paris

* Cofounder and Delegated Trade union of the Russian Press in Paris


He received the Legiion of Honor in 1895.


At the turn of the century, Isaac became a strong supporter of Drefus, falsely accused and framed on charges of spying. Pavlovsky's support of Dreyfus caused a final break with his Russian publisher Suvorin.

About this time, Pavlovsky visited Checkov at this home in Autka near Yalta in the Crimea. This picture was taken about 1907.

Photo courtesy of the Jacques Pavlovsky Collection.




The fate of Vera after her return to Russia is not known.


Pavlovsky's many correspondences with leading literary figures are kept at the National Library of France and at the National Library in Spain.

He is mentioned in the biographies of many of the great Russian literary figures of the 19th century.

Patrick Waddington has compiled a collection of Pavlovsky's letters to Turgenev : Turgenev and Pavlovsky: A friendship and a correspondence



Sources for Pavlovsky:

The papers of Isaac Pavlovsky have been donated to the National Library of France Reference no. 13532
> Madame Odile GERMAIN
Conservateur en Chef
Departement des Manuscrits, Division Occidentale
Bibliothèque Nationale de France
58 rue de Richelieu

Jacques Pavlovsky's website devoted to his grandfather Isaac Pavlovsky:
In French : I. Pavlovsky
In English : I. Pavlovsky