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About Антонина Ивановна Чайковская
Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova (Russian: Антонина Ивановна Милюкова; 5 July [O.S. 23 June] 1848 – 1 March [O.S. 16 February] 1917) was the wife, and after 1893, the widow, of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
After marriage she was known as Antonina Tchaikovskaya.
Little is known of Antonina before she met Tchaikovsky. Her family resided in the Moscow area. They belonged to the local gentry but lived in poverty. The family was also a highly fractious one. Tchaikovsky tells us as much in a letter he wrote his sister Alexandra Davydova during his honeymoon:
After three days with them in the country, I begin to see that everything I can't stand in my wife derives from her beginning to a completely weird family, where the mother was always arguing with the father—and now, after his death, does not hesitate to malign his memory in every way possible. It's a family in which the mother hates (!!!) some of her own children, in which the sisters are constantly squabbling, in which the only son has completely fallen out with his mother and all his sisters, etc., etc.
In a separate letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck he added that, in the company of his in-laws, "all nearly at daggers drawn with one another... [His] torments increased ten-fold.... I find it difficult to express ... what a terrible degree my moral agonies were reaching."
Antonina first met Tchaikovsky in 1865 at the Moscow home of a mutual friend, Anastasia Khvostova, a well-known singer. His close friend Alexei Apukhtin was staying with her, and Anastasia's brother Nikolai had been a classmate of Tchaikovsky's brother Modest at the School of Jurisprudence. Antonina was 16 at the time; Tchaikovsky was 25. He did not remember her from this meeting. She, on the other hand, reportedly held a torch for him from that time forward.
She reportedly gave up work as a professional seamstress to study music at the Moscow Music Conservatory. Tchaikovsky was one of her professors. Eventually she had to abandon her studies at that institution, probably as a result of financial troubles. She wrote to Tchaikovsky on at least two occasions in 1877, two years after she had left school. At that time she was 28, far past the age at which women of that time generally married.
Marriage to Tchaikovsky
By June 1877, Tchaikovsky proposed marriage, in order (according to one theory) to please his family and put any social rumors regarding his sexual proclivity to rest. He described Miliukova as "... a woman with whom I am not the least in love."
They were married at the Church of Saint George in Moscow on 18 July 1877 (6 July 1877, old style) and held their wedding dinner at the Hermitage Restaurant.
The marriage was disastrous. A permanent separation followed after only six weeks of them being together. This has traditionally been blamed in large part on Antonina's character, especially by Tchaikovsky's brother Modest in his biography of the composer. Modest describes her as a "crazed half-wit." She may have been a simpleton, a woman of common ideas and tastes, as she has been described dismissively. Responsibility for the failure of the marriage may actually lie more with Tchaikovsky than with her. "In truth," Tchaikovsky biographer Anthony Holden suggests, "Antonina was as much the right woman for Tchaikovsky as any other. It was marriage which was the wrong institution."
Moreover, Tchaikovsky and Antonina did not come to a mutual understanding before their marriage regarding Tchaikovsky's homosexuality. He might not have told Antonina that he preferred men to women. If he did tell her, she might not have understood what he meant because social conventions of the period did not allow a person to be direct about such things. Sexual matters were to be discussed with allusions and euphemisms. In such a conversation, a woman as naïve or uneducated as Antonina might literally not have known what she was hearing. She might have simply agreed to anything being said. Tchaikovsky could have convinced himself that Antonina had no problem with his sexual preferences and would not mind marital abstinence. Antonina would not have entertained the thought that such preferences as his even existed, and she probably still expected him to perform sexually for her. Mutual frustration may have been inevitable.
Question of divorce
Due to strict regulations regarding divorce in Imperial Russia, the two remained legally married until Tchaikovsky's death. This did not mean the question of divorce was out of the question. On the contrary: the possibility arose in 1878 and 1879. Since the only legal ground for divorce was adultery, Antonina would have to perjure herself about being unfaithful. This she would not do—even, in 1878, with a 10,000-ruble incentive from von Meck. This sum would have been payable through his publisher, P.I. Jurgenson, once a divorce had been finalized. Antonina's unwillingness plus the possibility of unwanted revelations regarding Tchaikovsky's sex life may have led him to drop the matter.
Antonina may have helped fuel Tchaikovsky's fear of public exposure by her unpredictable behavior. She wrote him wild letters during her stay at Kamenka immediately following their separation. In them, she sometimes accusing him, sometimes cajoling him. In July 1880, she accused him of spreading rumors about her throughout Moscow. She also threatened the worst: "Why didn't you start with yourself, telling ... about your own terrible vice?"
However, in March 1881 Antonina gave birth to a child out of wedlock. Tchaikovsky now had legal grounds for divorce. He did not act. He might have thought that legal action would drag up matters he hoped were forgotten or at least buried. He continued to send her a regular allowance, which may have helped buy her silence. Divorce would have meant Tchaikovsky's freedom from any further financial responsibility for her. Eventually, she produced three children by (allegedly) three different fathers. She gave up all three of these children to foundling hospitals.
In later years, the couple met briefly only a couple of times, much to Tchaikovsky's displeasure. Though she outlived Tchaikovsky by 24 years, she spent the last 20 of them in an insane asylum.