the lifetime of Varvara Sokolova who married Konstantin Tsiolkovsky


In the future I realised that I had been writing rather a lot about Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, however it had by no means occurred to me surprise about his spouse or companion. Was she concerned in his work? What was her life like?

A lot of the sources in English merely point out that he married Varvara Yevgrafovna Sokolova (or Sokolovaya). He met her within the city of Borovsk, 70 miles south of Moscow, the place he was a instructor. Varvara is described because the daughter of an area preacher or priest (eg French and Burgess 2007: 21). They received married in Borovsk in 1880 (French and Burgess 2007:21). The variety of kids reported from their marriage varies from two to seven. That is just about all you may see in most English language sources. 

Extra often, Varvara Sokolova shouldn’t be talked about in any respect or is written out of the story altogether. Within the 1957 movie ‘The Street to the Stars’, Tsiolkovsky is represented as a bachelor. He sleeps alone in a single mattress. That is an historic trope the place girls are related to the flesh and the weak spot of the physique, and therefore are inimical to rationality and the work of the thoughts. 

Was there extra to her story? In fact I’m considerably hampered by lack of entry to the Russian literature, however it turns on the market are fairly just a few assets in translation, in addition to scholarly work. All the identical, we now have to learn Varvara Sokolova into the areas of the home and the gaps within the narratives which centre round her husband. Seeing her is a piece of feminist enquiry.

Previous Believers in Borovsk

Varvara Sokolova was born in 1857 and lived within the city of Borovsk in Kaluga province, along with her father Evgraf Nikolayevich Sokolov.  Her mom had died and he or she had no siblings. In all probability, after leaving faculty, Sokolova stored home for her father. They lived by the Protva river. In keeping with Anatoly Zak, Borovsk was a provincial backwater, with 

a repute as a city of truck farmers and merchants, whose drunken fistfights and perception in witchcraft made them the laughingstock of the neighboring cities.  

It was additionally a stronghold of Previous Believers, and Varvara’s father was an Previous Believer priest (Shubin 2016:25). These have been individuals who rejected the modifications made by the Patriarch Nikon to the rituals and liturgy of the Orthodox Church within the mid-1600s, and continued to follow the outdated rites. Whereas Previous Believers have been initially persecuted, Catherine the Nice handed an Act in 1762 permitting them to follow freely, though they may not work within the civil service till 1905 when Tsar Nicholas II launched an Act of spiritual freedom. 

It is doubtless {that a} priest didn’t earn a lot. To complement their revenue, the Sokolovs rented out rooms of their home on the river. 

The city of Borovsk (picture from Wikipedia)

Varvara accomplished highschool, however doesn’t appear to have educated for any occupation. At 22, she was residing along with her father when Tsiolkovsky (additionally born in 1857) arrived in 1880 to take up a instructing publish. He wanted someplace to reside and he needed to be by the river. 

Aleksandr Romanovich Belyaev, a science fiction author know as ‘Russia’s Jules Verne’,  recorded interviews with Varvara later in her life. She described the younger man who would suggest to her and the day of the marriage  (Shubin 2016: 234):

It was time to marry, and I married with out love, hoping that such a spouse wouldn’t flip me round, would work, and wouldn’t forestall me from doing the identical. This hope was justified. Such a buddy couldn’t drain my power: firstly, she didn’t appeal to me, and secondly, she herself was detached and unemotional. So she retained power and talent to psychological exercise till she was outdated. I connected solely sensible worth to marriage. We went to marry for 4 miles, on foot, didn’t gown up, didn’t let anybody into the church. Then returned – and nobody knew something about our marriage. On the marriage day, I purchased a lathe from a neighbor and reduce glass for electrical automobiles.

Tsiolkovsky promised Varvara a life stuffed with laborious work with few social pleasures. He refused a dowry, saying his earnings can be sufficient for them to reside on. Quickly after marrying, they moved from Varvara’s father’s home to their very own place in Borovsk. It can’t have been a boring life. The younger married couple might not have held events, however guests frequently got here to the home to have a look at Tsiolkovsky’s toys and experiments, which introduced him a stage of notoriety. In keeping with Tsiolkovsky, 

In my home, electrical lightning flashed, thunders rang, bells rang, paper dolls danced … Guests admired and marveled on the electrical octopus, which grabbed everybody with its toes by its nostril or fingers, after which it received hair stood on finish and sparks popped up from any a part of the physique. As if alive, he wandered from room to room, following the air currents, rising and falling.

Presumably Varvara noticed her father frequently and maybe she attended church. In 1881, she gave delivery to their first little one, a daughter they named Lyubov, which means ‘love’. This will likely have represented the depth of feeling that this tiny being evoked in them, because it doesn’t appear to have been a logo of their marriage. Lyubov was two years outdated when her brother Ignaty was born in 1883. Two extra sons adopted, Alexander in 1885 and Ivan in 1888. Eight years after their marriage, Varvara was managing a family with a laboratory and 4 kids, and with a number of home strikes in between as nicely.

The Kaluga years 

In 1892, Tsiolkovsky took up a brand new instructing place within the provincial capital metropolis of Kaluga (French and Burgess 2007:21).  In one among their early homes in Kaluga, Tsiolkovsky constructed one of many first wind tunnels in Russia in 1897 for aerodynamic experiments (Gorbushin and Volobuyev 2014). The scientific installations in the entire Tsiolkovsky households will need to have supplied a backdrop for the youngsters to dream and picture, and a undertaking for Varvara to handle as she went in regards to the day’s duties of cleansing, cooking, washing and little one rearing.

After initially residing on the town, Eduard and Varvara took a log home on the outskirts of the town in 1905. After this there have been no extra home strikes; the household stayed in the identical home till 1933.

In keeping with Anatoly Zak at Russian Area Internet, the home was a two story wood cottage which was bought in 1905. It has a small backyard. Inside, it had white partitions and easy wood furnishings.  A big chimney on the bottom ground was coated in conventional embellished Russian tiles. From the hallway, there was a steep staircase (later dubbed the ‘area stairway’ by visiting cosmonauts). It led to a trapdoor. On the opposite aspect was his workroom and laboratory. Elena Timoshenkova, a granddaughter of Tsiolkovsky and Varvara, instructed Zak that 

His kids knew when this door was closed, no one may go upstairs to hassle him. He was very strict along with his kids, however turned a lot softer with the grandchildren.

The Tsiolkovsky ‘log cabin’ in Kaluga.
Picture courtesy of


Life continued to be austere, as Tsiolkovsky spent all his cash on furthering his analysis. As Belyaev says, ‘The quantity of his revenue that he devoted to his experiments was a sacrifice he made on behalf of heaven’ (Shubin 2016:235). In a single account, Tsiolkovsky divided his wage in half, giving Varvara one half for the youngsters and family and maintaining the remainder to finance his experiments. Because the variety of kids grew, making ends meet will need to have been a problem for Varvara.

Three extra kids adopted in Kaluga: Leontiy in 1892, Maria in 1894, Anna in 1897. Now there have been seven kids (however we do not learn about miscarriages, stillbirths or different kids who didn’t survive).  Lyubov was 11 after they moved to Kaluga, and 16 by the point Anna was born. In several methods, it appears all the youngsters have been co-opted into being spectators, helpers and servants of their father’s pursuit of the celebrities. The youngsters all attended native colleges. When Lyubov accomplished faculty, she studied to develop into a instructor like her father. She additionally acted as her father’s secretary. An unknown supply  describes Varvara and Lyubov as ‘his first and devoted helpers’. 

Leontiy lived for only a 12 months. He was the primary little one within the household to die, in August 1893, on his birthday it appears. Ivan and Anna have been additionally ‘sickly’, a commonly-used time period for youngsters who have been consistently in poor health and didn’t thrive.  This might imply respiratory diseases, and even tuberculosis. 

Tsiolkovsky was very happy by Ignaty who was thinking about maths and physics. Lyubov, in her memoirs, says that Ignaty was very conscious of how the household was struggling financially, and began to earn cash when he was 16. Ignaty labored each summer season as a tutor to avoid wasting sufficient cash to help his personal college research. Whereas at college in Moscow in 1902, he dedicated suicide by taking potassium cyanide. He despatched the rest of the cash to his father, who gave it to Lyubov so she may proceed her research to develop into a instructor. Tsiolkovsky blamed himself for the demise (Costin 2020) however there isn’t any document of how Varvara felt in regards to the demise of a second little one.

Ivan had some continual situation from childhood. He accomplished faculty, and studied accounting, however his sickness made him incapable of labor. As an alternative, based on Lyubov, he helped Varvara with the family chores; maybe this was the primary time the youngsters’s labour was diverted to assist her fairly than their father. However Ivan additionally turned his father’s lackey together with Lyubov. He ran errands to the publish workplace and the printers, proof-read, and helped with experiments. Tsiolkovsky wrote that he ‘was an energetic and meek worker of my household’ (Kostin 2020). 

Because the eldest, Lyubov was instantly drawn into her father’s work, turning into an assistant and secretary. She was no doormat, although. In 1911, when she was 30, she was arrested for revolutionary actions. Her memoirs will need to have way more element, however clearly she was launched and in a position to return to her household. 

In a letter to Maria, Anna gave a snapshot of every day life within the Kaluga home within the spring of 1914. ‘In our home, as at all times after dinner, silence. Dad sleeps within the eating room. Mum within the center room by a window embroiders on a hoop’. In 1915, she wrote “Dad reads, Mum is standing by a sofa within the center [room] and speaking to me, textbooks are open on the desk round me, we simply had dinner’ (Kostin 2020). It was a quiet, home scene, whilst occasions hurtled in the direction of revolution and civil warfare.

The Russian Revolution, from the abolition of the monarchy in 1917 to the institution of the Soviet republic in 1923, introduced extra hardship to the household. The disruption of meals manufacturing and distribution attributable to the Revolution led to widespread starvation culminating within the famine of 1921-1922. Ivan died in 1919 of meals poisoning from dangerous sauerkraut. 

The tragedies continued. There was not sufficient cash for Alexander to go to college so he studied to develop into a instructor. He married, moved to the Ukraine, and dedicated suicide in 1923 (Costin 2020). Anna had married a Communist social gathering member in 1920, however turned in poor health with tuberculosis and died on the age of 24. 

Maria turned a instructor, married, and went to reside in a village close to Kaluga. Through the civil warfare, she and her husband despatched help to Tsiolkovsky and Varvara. In 1929, Maria and her household moved in along with her dad and mom to assist them. She took over the monetary and family administration, in addition to elevating her six kids (Kostin 2020). The home was crammed with kids once more, however this time Varvara was not bearing many of the burden herself. A photograph which is usually introduced as Tsiolkovsky with Varvara and the youngsters is extra more likely to be Maria and her six kids, taken throughout this era..

Varvara, Eduard and Maria’s household. Picture courtesy of Science Picture Library.

Tsiolkovsky and Varvara lived within the wood home till 1933, after they got a newly repaired home by the Kaluga Soviet (Maksimov 2007:327). Maria moved to the brand new home too with Lyubov to handle the funds, guests and enquiries. 

After Tsiolkovsky’s demise in 1935 on the age of 78, Varvara was awarded a considerable authorities pension. Maybe now she had cash to spend on herself for the primary time in her married life.  However the shades of warfare have been gathering over Europe. Varvara died in 1940 (Shubin 2016:233) so she missed the invasion of Kaluga. The Soviet military have been pressured to retreat and Kaluga fell to the Nazis on October 13 1941. Lower than three months later they have been expelled, however not earlier than burning many homes of their retreat. Happily, the Tsiolkovsky home on the sting of city survived.

Representing Varvara

Within the biographical data, there appears to be an funding in Varvara being a easy Russian housewife with few pursuits. Belyaev notes that she had accomplished highschool, however expressed herself in ‘elementary’ language. He additional says Tsiolkovsky’s work was ‘attention-grabbing to her, a novelty’ (Shubin 2016: 235). Maybe there are different interpretations to be derived, nevertheless. In Belyaev’s quotes, cited in Shubin 2016, Varvara appears way more perceptive and humorous (see beneath). Belyaev additionally says that all the household was included in Tsiolkovsky’s area aspirations, and he mentioned his analysis with Varvara (Shubin 2016: 235). She supplied recommendation and was clearly engaged along with his work, way more than a mere home servant.

In a eulogy for Tsiolkovsky written by Belyaev 5 years after and within the 12 months of Varvara’s demise,  Varvara is described as his ‘devoted companion’ as if she have been a canine. Belyaev stated, 

Her demise forces us to recollect the personal and household lifetime of the Tsiolkovskys, which may be very informative. A lot relied on his private life, together with a lot of his scientific work.  His household house was additionally his examine, workplace, laboratory and workshop’ (Shubin 2016: 233).

It is a good acknowledgement that the ‘lone genius’ didn’t exist in a vacuum; regardless of the privations of their life, Tsiolkovsky’s capability to create was supported by the laborious work of Varvara and the devotion of the youngsters. The household portrait (above) reveals Vavara as careworn and dour, a diminutive determine swamped by husband and grandchildren. Her life is unremarkable for a girl of her time, anticipated to subordinate her id to the wants of others.  

The distinction between female and male, Heaven and Earth, and physique and thoughts have been additionally interesting to commentators on their life. As Belyaev stated, 

She was involved with home issues and every day chores, whereas on the similar time her husband lived in outer area among the many stars (Shubin 2016:234)

Any mental contribution that Varvara might have made is elided within the factor of drama supplied by this distinction. However maybe we will see her affect at locations in his work. In one among his discussions about life in a microgravity area habitat, he mentions that ladies’s skirts is likely to be impractical as they’d float up; and he talks about how terrible situations within the latrines can be. Maybe these snippets got here from time for supper conversations, Varvara providing her ideas with the wry humour we see in her oral historical past with Belyaev. In that case, Tsiolkovsky was impressed sufficient along with her insights to incorporate them in his ebook.

A dispassionate life

Though Tsiolkovsky was decided to not be distracted by intercourse and keenness, many of the sources I’ve cited above lead one to consider that there was nonetheless a lot love and respect within the household. A distinct story is instructed by Michael Hagemeister:

Tsiolkovskii’s personal life was gray and monotonous. He described his
selection of spouse, Varvara Evgrafovna Sokolova, the daughter of a priest, as
‘unlucky’ (neudachno) and their offspring as ‘deplorable’ (pechal’nye).
The youngsters have been sick and two sons dedicated suicide. Tsiolkovskii
fled from the miserable confinement, the sensation of humiliation and
materials worries into his world of innovations and creations and into
the goals of flying and everlasting human happiness. Alternatively,
he was detached in the direction of his household, so long as they didn’t disturb
his work. In his youth, he already regarded himself as a genius (‘I’m
such an awesome man as has by no means been earlier than, nor will ever be’).  (Hagemeister 2008:28)

Tsiolkovsky had a super of married life, however actuality didn’t align with it via the unlucky truth that ladies are human and males are too:

The biblical ‘legend’ of the delivery of Jesus from the Virgin Mary was additionally interpreted by Tsiolkovskii as an ‘ideally suited of the long run girl, who will present kids, however is not going to be topic to animal passions’ (Hagemeister 2011:31). 

The sources for this are ‘Tsiolkovsky’s autobiographical recordings, held within the
archive of the Academy of Sciences, in addition to a persona examine, written in
1937 by the well-known neurologist Samuil Blinkov’ (Hagemeister 2011: 36). Extra of the autobiography is quoted right here

Was it good: marriage life with out love? Is marriage simply sufficient respect? Who gave himself to greater objectives is nice for that. However he sacrifices his happiness and even the happiness of the household. I didn’t perceive the latter then. However then it confirmed up. From such marriages, kids should not wholesome, profitable and joyful, and all my life I lamented the tragic destiny of youngsters. 

I put the blessing of the household and family members on the forefront. All for top. I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t spend a single additional penny on myself: for instance, on garments. I used to be at all times nearly ravenous, poorly dressed. I moderated mysefl in all the pieces to the final diploma. My household additionally suffered with me … I used to be typically irritated and possibly made the lifetime of others tough, nervous.

On this passage, he acknowledges that the austere and passionless marriage he embraced was not a recipe for both his happiness, or that of Varvara and the youngsters. I do not suppose we ought to be anticipating a coherent or constant view, although; and maybe we won’t additionally assume that Varvara skilled something in the best way Eduard imagined.

Regardless of his obvious perception that sexual ardour sapped the mind, Tsiolkovsky clearly was not prepared to forgo the expertise. Contraception was not an possibility in nineteenth century Russia. The ages of the Tsiolkovsky kids point out that the couple had an energetic intercourse life from the time of their marriage in 1880 for at the least sixteen years afterwards. Tsiolkovsky pretended that neither he nor Varvara have been ,  however clearly at the least one among them was. We do not know what Varvara thought, however Tsiolkovsky’s internal conflicts will need to have been one other facet of her complicated duties of family and laboratory administration, together with the sick and depressed kids. It was a tough life certainly.

How a lot of Tsiolkovsky’s views about relationships and intercourse have been formed by his Cosmism? Tsiolkovsky was already a Cosmist by the point he arrived in Borovsk, having been influenced by Nikolai Federov who labored within the library the place Tsiolkovsky spent most of his time in Moscow. Fedorov had an concept about ‘optimistic chastity’, which was ‘the redirection of sexual power in the direction of the restoration of life to the useless’ (Hagemeister 1997:193). The seven Tsiolkovsky kids are agency proof that Tsiolkovsky didn’t embrace this concept to the extent that Federov disciple Alexander Gorsky, who didn’t consummate his marriage, did.

However my intention right here is to not get slowed down in Russian cosmism; I am solely thinking about it to the diploma Tsiolkovsky’s beliefs affected Varvara’s life. Clearly there’s way more to be explored right here.

Eyes within the Sky

Varvara shouldn’t be silent or forgotten. The artist Anna Hoetjes made a movie set up in 2018 for which Varvara was the narrator. In an interview, Hoetjes stated:

Hardly any data may be discovered on her. My curiosity wasn’t a lot to reconstruct her actual life, however fairly to create a fictional life for her. To introduce her as an authority, a watch witness, an explorer, adventurer and pioneer. To let her act out the hypothetical theories of her husband, who little doubt relied on his spouse’s labour in a roundabout way or one other whereas creating his visions. Individuals who see Eyes within the Sky typically assume that Varvara’s narrative is predicated on present diaries or interviews, irrespective of how far fetched, fictional and body-horrific her experiences in my piece are. 

 She explains additional:

The truth that girls carried out infinite calculations originally of the twentieth century, however have been by no means included within the fantasy of an precise area journey, turned so problematic for me that I began designing my very own feminine area pioneer. On this work the spouse of the ‘Kosmist’ and area pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Varvara, is the primary individual to journey into area, the place she go away behind her eyes.

Nonetheless from Eyes within the Sky by Anna Hoetjes, 2018.

As a feminist area scholar, my job is to interrogate the deeper story behind generally accepted accounts. That is solely a begin: if solely Lyubov’s memoir have been translated! I might additionally prefer to re-read Tsiolkovsky’s works to search out extra traces of Varvara. Little doubt I’ve received a lot fallacious on this account. All the identical, step one has been taken just by centring Varvara within the story. Taking inspiration from Anna Hoetjes’ work, I think about evenings when Varvara escaped outdoors the home to gaze on the stars and dream her personal goals. 


Costin, A.V. 2020 Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky. A Brief Biography.

French, Francis and Colin Burgess 2007 Into that silent sea: trailblazers of the area period 1961-1965. Lincoln: College of Nebraska Press

Gainor, Chris 2008 To a Distant Day. The Rocket Pioneers. Lincoln: College of Nebraska Press

Gorbushin, Anton and Valery S. Volobuyev 2014 The primary aerodynamic balances in Russia. AIAA

Hagemeister, Michael 2011 The Conquest of Area and the
Bliss of the Atoms: Konstantin
Tsiolkovskii. In  Eva Maurer, Julia Richers, Monica Rüthers
Carmen Scheide (eds) Soviet Area Tradition. Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Societies. Palgrave MacMillan pp 26-41

Hagemeister, Michael 1997 Russian Cosmism within the Twenties and at the moment. In Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal, ed. The Occult in Russian and Soviet Tradition., pp 185-202.  Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell College Press

Maksimov, A.J. 2007 one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Ok.E. Tsiolkovsky. Founding father of Cosmonautics. Thermophysics and Aeromechanics 14(3): 317-328

Shubin, Daniel H. 2016 Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky. The Pioneering Rocket Scientist and His Cosmic Philosophy. New York: Algora Publishing

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