Moussia 4: The beginning of a turbulent life

Toronto World 3, January 1918                Poverty Bay Herald (NZ), 20 February 1918

The Russian couple Vladimir Baranovsky and his wife Maria, née Sila-Nowicki, arrived in San Francisco  3 january 1918 on the ss Ecuador of the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. from Japan. They had fled from Russia via Siberia and Vladivostok, after escaping from the Bolsheviks in the beginning of November 1917, only a few days after the second revolution that year.

Recap. In my previous article on Maria Viktorovna Sila-Nowicki, I reported that she and Prokofiev met in Los Angeles around Christmas 1920. Prokofiev called her Baranovskaya in his diaries, after a while he called her Frou-Frou because he was fond of her and found her an impressive personality, but she could not convince him to marry her. It was Lina Codina whom he married. After Maria’s marriage to Alexander Borovsky, the two couples became close friends and their children grew up together, until the return of the Prokofievs to Russia in 1935.

Natasha Borovsky was in touch with Lina Prokofiev after her departure from Russia in 1974, having suffered in a labour camp for eight years years.

She also re-established contact with Lina’s sons Sviatoslav and Oleg, her friends during the first eleven years of her life.

After Prokofiev had met Maria for the first time, he noted in his diaries the gossip he had heard: “She is twenty-eight, but looks younger, comes from a good family and has had several husbands. For some time she has lived in Paris, and then came to study with Meyerhold. The combination of these experiences has given her the stamp of refinement. The Baranovskys and the Rumanovs had met in San Francisco and had become friends, whereupon the gentlemen swapped partners, Rumanov and Baranovskaya going to New York while Ariadna and her man – I am not sure whether it was Baranovsky or by this time someone else – stayed by the Pacific. Baranovsky has in any case disappeared into the blue yonder, and the remaining trio live together in perfect harmony and friendship. Whether Rumanov divides his attention between the two women or whether there is some other combination I do not know, but he is easy to get along with, cultivated and obliging.”

As his friendship with her deepened, she took him fully into her confidence and he had to simplify his understanding. He had guessed correctly that she was younger, she had only just become 26, she had only been married to Vladimir Baranovsky but her marriage was in trouble,  and she knew Kerensky, the leader of the Provisional Government between the two revolutions of 1917: “She knows Kerensky well, he had been married to one of her cousins and during this time in power had divorced his wife in order to marry another cousin. Her family, monarchist to a man, were very hostile to him, but Baranovskaya herself was a friend and told me many interesting things about his daily family life. She said he was a hysteric, and this, in her opinion, was the source of both his strength and his weakness. We then talked of her husband.”

One year later, in January 1922 in New York, when she talked of marriage, she told him that the husband from whom she had separated two years ago had died in Mexico the year before and she had the documents to prove it.

Who was this Maria Viktorovna, where did she come from, who was her husband Vladimir Baranovsky with whom she had fled Russia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution?  How were they related to Alexander Kerensky?

Since my three introductory articles, I came into contact with a wonderful family in the United States, relatives of Vladimir Baranovsky’s second wife, who gave me a documented insight into his background and details about the flight of the couple from Russia.

Vladimir Baranovsky did not die in Mexico, but re-surfaced in San Francisco after Maria had moved to Los Angeles, following their separation. In fact the story is a bit more complicated than that, but I will try to unravel that in the course of my following articles.

This unexpected windfall of information is the reason why I had to put the sequel on hold for two weeks. I am now able to continue. The following articles will deal with the family background of Maria, whose stagename was Moussia, the name under which she would be known to all until her death in 1959. For that purpose, I can draw on Moussia’s own archives, which now reside partly with her daughter’s husband Stuart Dodds in California and partly with Karin Antonini, whom Giacomo Antonini married after the death of Moussia. Thereafter, I’ll broaden the story to include the flight of Moussia and Vladimir from Russia in 1917. And what happened thereafter.


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