Legend of Mary SHERVASHIDZE and Galaktion TABIDZE
(extract from the Igor Obolensky’s book “The Enigmas Georgia”)
There are some masterpieces of the world literature that are being argued and discussed even a century later.
Researchers are still stumbled in revealing the real objects of adoration by such geniuses as Byron and Pushkin.
Another enigma appeared in 1915, when the great Georgian poet Galaktion Tabidze published his poem “Mary”.
A century passed but admirers of this famous poet have still been trying to comprehend who that mysterious Mary is? Whom the Great Galaktion devoted his love and adoration?
This is one of the biggest mysteries of the 20th century literature.
When Galaktion was asked whether his Mary really existed he replied, “That’s my secret”.
“Mary” is believed to be a prominent Georgian aristocrat lady Mary Shervashidze, a lady-in-waiting to Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century.
Mary had a great power of spreading her charming beauty and endow with inspiration all around. But, she became immortal due to Galaktion Tabidze and his poem “Mary” rather than her amazing beauty.
You were married that night Mary!
Mary, that night your eyes were dimmed,
The glints and hues of Heavens weary –
With autumn’s sadness overfilled!
Lady Mary herself wrote to a Georgian collector and historian Papuna Tsereteli, “I did not know Galaktion Tabidze in person. I got married in Kutaisi on 20th of September 1918. It was already evening though still light, and weather was fine. That’s all I can tell you about.”
Mary held a respectable position in the Georgian high society, as well as the Russian Imperial court for the last few decades of its existence. Certainly, she and Galaktion belonged to different social communities. And, it is quite possible that the poet just saw a glimpse of amazing young lady or was even met at some metropolitan celebrities meeting but the lady neither paid any attention nor remembered him.
It is obvious that they knew each other either. In1923 there was issued a collection of poems by Galaktion. And, in one poem he describes himself cutting the name of “Mary Shervashidze” on a wood.
Galaktion’s friend remembered they often saw Mary in Kutaisi.
Once, Galaktion even brought Mary’s photo to prominent Georgian artist Lado Gudiashvili and asked to paint a portrait. Gudiashvili wrote the order, but Galaktion did not like the painting.
Love-story of genial Galaktion impressed me so much that I tried to find the very Mary and look into the personal features of that legendary lady.
Tatuli Gviniashvili, Princess Babo Dadiani’s daughter, helped me greatly. Princess Dadiani, an aristocratic Tiflisian lady, was a best man at Mary and aide-de-camp of Emperor Nicholas II George (Gigusha) Eristavi’s wedding. That was the wedding Galaktion bitterly described into his poem.
Tatuli Gviniashvili told me that once she asked to Tabidze whether Mary really existed, and he replied, “Existed!”
“They might have not had any relations. That’s quite natural. Mary Shervashidze spent most of her life in Saint Petersburg.
But, even one glimpse might have been enough for Galaktion’s great sense of imagination to write such masterpiece.”
Tatuli was lucky to know Galaktion in person and meet Mary Shervashidze several times in Paris.
Thus, all life-stories about that mysterious Lady she got from the original source.
“In late 60’s I arrived to Paris for the first time and immediately got invitation from Mary. She herself called and invited me. You know, my mother and she were close friends.
I was so excited while driving to her house. My uncle, Babo’s brother, accompanied me. We chatted a bit:
(my uncle) – You have no idea what you are going to see! This is incredible beauty!
(me) – On, what an extraordinary beauty I will see. Don’t you know Tbilisi is full of extremely beautiful women?
(my uncle) – No, Mary is something completely different.
And, he was absolutely right.
I was shocked when I saw Mary Shervashidze. She was amazingly charming.
Once, Duchess of Leyhtenberg met Mary at the Royal Palace in Saint Petersburg and couldn’t hide her admiration, “I’d get married blindly to a Georgian who has even a small portion of your charm”, Mary smiled and replied, “I will show you the one right now”, and called Levan Melikishvili, a knight guard being on duty that day.
Young Georgian knight was really handsome and the Duchess felt in love with him and got married. They had a son Teimuraz.
After the Bolshevist revolution the family moved to Tiflis in 1917, and later was forced to flee Georgia in 1921.”
In 1917, Mary Shervashidze left Saint Petersburg for Georgia.
After returning back to Georgia Mary Shervashidze got married to former aide-de-camp of Emperor Nicholas II George (Gigusha) Eristavi, who was grandson of great King Irakli II of Georgia.
The country lived full artistic and cultural life during its independence until 1921.
Prominent portraitist Savely Sorin visited Georgia at that time and painted portraits of several Georgian beautiful ladies. The master was amazed and impressed with Princess Mary.
After returning to France he used to rebuke his models, “Why are you acting like that? Do you imagine yourself being Mary Shervashidze-Eristavi? Then keep in mind, there is no other woman like her!”
Savely Sorin devised Mary’s portrait to Georgia after his death, but his widow liked it so much that decided to keep it at her house in Monte Carlo.
After her death she devised the portrait to Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco.
They say Mary’s portrait decorated Princess’ bedroom, and she looked at the portrait before morning dress every single day. That was the way one of the most beautiful ladies of the world decided whether she looked good enough that day.
During 80’s of last century, Mrs Sorin hosted a legendary Georgian dancer Nino Ramishvili in Monte Carlo. The widow was in perfect mood and unexpectedly offered Nino Sukhishvili Junior (Nino Ramishvili’s granddaughter) to take the portrait to Georgia. But, the young lady felt shy to take such a gift. Certainly, she deeply regrets her timidity now…
…A day before Soviet Red Army invasion Mary together with her husband, and relatives and friends flee Georgia in March 1921. At first they lived in Constantinople and later moved to Paris. Beautiful Mary was surrounded by admirers in Paris either, where she easily found a job.
At that time increasingly popular Coco Chanel offered a modeling position to Mary. Because of the losses incurred as a result of fleeing Georgia, Mary’s family met some financial problems and she had to put aside her principles and accepted Chanel’s proposal. “That was the only reason Aunt Mary walked on the podium”, noted Mary’s relative and her closest friend Princess Dadiani’s granddaughter.
Here should be noted that during 20’s of last century a modeling position was called dummy and definitely was not as prestigious as nowadays. Hence, the Princess enjoying respect and admiration at the Emperors court short time ago had to step over some of her values.
In 1947 Mary’s husband George Eristavi passed away. She stayed as his widow the rest of her life though had dozens of proposals. Mary did not have any children but nurtured her niece Nanuka and nephew Konstantin.
Nanuka died at her early age and Aunt Mary gave way to despair staying all days round at home. Another great grief was her beloved nephew Konstantine’s death.
Princess Mary became all alone. She looked after her cats like her own babies.
Princess Shervashidze was in correspondence with Princess Dadiani, who came back from emigration to the Soviet Georgia. The correspondence still exists and is preserved. I was lucky to look at Mary’s letters though it was hard for me to read them as the Princess Shervashidze had rather original handwriting, “Warm-hearted feelings and emotions fill my soul every time I get your cordial letters. I wish to be with all of you there. I am so lonely here, but blame no one as people have their own concerns”…
In the final years of her life Mary lived to a nursing home having three rooms.
But, she kept her apartment in Paris as she noted, “Just to play cards with friends”. She had to give cats to others. Her finances covered the apartment’s rent but couldn’t afford the maid. For many years the Princess lived on the pension she got as forced displaced person.
Princess Shervashidze-Eristavi like all other Georgian émigrés refused to gain French citizenship.
Despite her age Mary had admirers even at the nursing home. An old Earl brought a bunch of fresh flowers every day. Princess Shervashidze behaved as though she did not care much, but if the Earl happened to come without flowers Mary refused to talk to him, in that case the only way for the Earl to atone was a cute bunch of flowers.
Mary’s financial problems were saved by one of her admirers Vadim Makarov, a son of Admiral Makarov Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Fleet. Vadim named Princess Shervashidze-Eristavi into his will.
Vadim Makarov used to serve together with Kolchak in Siberia for few years and then immigrated to America. He met with Mary thanks to his sister Alexandra, who was former lady in waiting to Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna of Russia.
Vadim Makarov was a good entrepreneur and made about 3 mln US Dollars fortune that was huge sum of money in 1964. Most of his fortune was given to his sister Alexandra, and several ten thousands to Princess Shervashidze-Eristavi…
The Royal court evenings of Saint Petersburg and Chanel’s podiums all remained in the past, but Mary still kept looking after her appearance.
Princess Dadiani’s daughter Tatuli Gviniashvili remembered her leaving Paris for Georgia in 60’s. All Georgian emigration community gathered to see Tatuli off at the station but only Mary was late. Everybody joked “The train will be arriving to Tbilisi when Mary comes”. And while joking and laughing, the Georgians noticed that all other people were looking at one direction. The Georgians also turned towards it and were shocked – Mary was walking along the platform wearing violet shirts and jacket and holding a bunch of beautiful violets in her hands…
Princess Shervashidze was always late. That was a part of her extraordinary character and she was always forgiven.
Once, being a lady in waiting to Empress Alexandra Fiodorovna of Russia she was late on some Royal funeral. She went into the hall after Emperor Nicholas II that was strictly forbidden upon the Royal Palace Etiquette. Mary expected the Emperor’s fair anger but His Royal Majesty charmed with her beauty could only state, “It is a sin to have such beauty”…
As for Mary’s admirer Galaktion, he passed through a tragic life.
His wife Olga Okudjava was shot during Stalin’s repressions. Loosing of beloved wife turned into real tragedy to the poet. He could not overcome the grief.
Tabidze began drinking alcohol and absolutely did not care about his appearance in the streets of Tbilisi. Strangers recognized and saw him home with respect and sorrow quite often. But Galaktion never minded…
The only thing he minded was creative thought. And, the only thing he cared about was his little notebook that he always kept into his pocket. That was the notebook where Galaktion wrote the poem “Mary”…
Galaktion Tabidze suicide himself on the 17th of March 1959. He jumped off a hospital window. The great poet was buried on the Holy Mount Mtatsminda Pantheon of Prominent Georgians in Tbilisi.
Meanwhile, Mary Shervashidze could not understand why everybody around was excited about the real addressee of Tabidze’s poem. She kept saying, “Isn’t it enough that the poem is simply genial?!”
Indeed, such discussions pleased her much.
She wrote to Princess Dadiani, “My dear Baboshka, you cannot imagine how pleased and happy I was receiving your letter and realizing how lovely you care about my fame and image. When the poem “Mary” was published I was often told to be the addressee. I could not say anything since he did not hand me the poem. I wish I could come back to my Motherland and see and hug all of my dear people there, and talk about everything”…
Unfortunately, Mary was never able to come back to her native Georgia. Though, she always missed it and felt real nostalgia.
She always kept asking her friends, “How’s Georgia there?” One could always find a book of “A Knight in Tiger’s Skin” by Rustaveli on her bedside table. She could read much of the poem by heart.
… Mary Shervashidze died in 1986 at the age of 97.
She kept clever mind and renowned beauty till her last days.
Mary Shervashidze-Eristavi was buried on the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois near Paris, France.