Russian Language Blog

Three Iconic Russian Love Stories Posted by on Feb 12, 2015 in Culture

As Valentine’s Day is approaching, I was thinking about the archetypal love stories — you know, the Romeo and Juliet (Роме́о и Джулье́тта) tales that are immediately recognizable and referenced whenever people want to evoke love. What follows is not complete or representative by any means, and I encourage you to share more examples in comments. However, these stories will likely be recognized by anyone brought up in Russia (and, I imagine, many of the neighbo/u/ring countries).

Nikolay Rezanov and Conchita Argüello

This story has its roots in real events. Nikolay Rezanov (Нико́лай Реза́нов) was a Russian explorer who was involved, among other things, with Russian colonies in Alaska. In 1806 he traveled to California to secure provisions for the colonies. There, he met Concepción “Conchita” Argüello (Кончи́та Аргуэ́льо), the governor’s daughter, and the two got engaged. It is thought that both parties might have, at least initially, sought a marriage of convenience. Rezanov had to return to Russia but promised to come back. On his way back, he fell ill and died. Conchita never got married and became a nun.

The couple inspired several works of arts, including the “rock opera” Juno and Avos (“Юно́на и Аво́сь”), named after Rezanov’s ships. The play enjoys iconic status in Russia, and Rezanov’s role for played by Nikolay Karachentsov (Никола́й Кара́ченцов) for many years until he was seriously injured in an accident in 2005.

The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita (Ма́стер и Маргари́та) is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov (Михаи́л Булга́ков). The book took more than 10 years to write and, despite being finished in 1940, was not published until 1967. The novel has multiple story lines and biblical motifs and is worth reading on ts own merits, but a love story is central to the plot.

Master (whose real name we never learn) is a writer working on a novel about Pontius Pilate (По́нтий Пила́т), which is attacked by Soviet literary critics. One day he runs into a woman carrying yellow flowers, and the two instantly fall in love. Margarita leaves her husband and moves in with Master. She encourages him to finish the novel and is ready to enlist the Devil’s help to this end — this is actually quite humorous and not as ominous as may sound from this description. Margarita is thought to be based on Bulgakov third wife, Elena.

Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lilya Brik

Vladimir Mayakovsky (Влади́мир Маяко́вский) was a Russian/Soviet poet and graphic artist, known for his innovative style of writing and, among other things, for his love affair with Lilya Brik (Ли́ля Брик). Lilya Brik was married at the time she met Mayakovsky, who she was introduced to by her sister (the future French writer Elsa Triolet). The Briks were in an open marriage, and Mayakovsky ended up moving in with the couple.

Lilya was active in the art scene of the 1920s Russia and is thought to have inspired much of Mayakovsky’s work. Even after their affair ended, and Mayakovsky started seeing other women, the two remained close friends.

I would like to end this post with a song version of Mayakovsky’s poem “Ли́личка!” addressed to Brik. Yes, it’s Mayakovsky in the footage. I’m looking forward to your additions to the list in the comments!

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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available in English on her website and Twitter and in Russian on Telegram.


  1. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    You can see a statue-monument to Rezanov in Krasnoyarsk and if you are in Moscow you might check out the very unusual house-museum of Mayakovsky. Not your usual house-museum!

    • Maria:

      @Moonyeen Albrecht Moonyen, thanks for the addition. I’ve seen Mayakovsky’s flat, but I felt bad they didn’t preserve any of the original building, other than the room where he presumably killed himself. Still a nice learning experience.

  2. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    Maria, I saw the Mayakovsky museum apartment in January of 1997. Has it been changed since then? I thought we were in the original building but I’m not sure.

    • Maria:

      @Moonyeen Albrecht I’m not sure; I saw it in the mid-2000s. What bothered me is that they only preserved the one room and turned the rest of the building into some kind of spiral staircase, gluing original documents to the walls and painting over them. Maybe it was different before.
      I still think the content is informative; it’s the presentation that I didn’t think was ideal.

  3. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    Maria, maybe it’s the same as when I saw it. I remember the spiral staircase, but I also remember the entrance area with the strange exhibit with the chairs. We saw it on an extremely COLD day and one of my vidid memories is our little group of American tourists doing a “group hug” to stay warm – all 14 of us hugging together in front of the building. I love Russia!