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Literature: The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar

The Death of the Vazir-Mukhtar ("Смерть Вазир-Мухтара", "Smert' Vazir-Mukhtara") is a historical novel by early Soviet literary historian and critic Yury Tynyanov, set in early 19th century Russia and Persia and centered on the last year in the life of Aleksandr Sergeyevich Griboyedov, a famous Russian playwright, poet, Oriental scholar, polyglot and diplomat. It opens with his return to Moscow after a successful diplomatic mission in Persia; from there, he goes to St. Petersburg to report to his superiors, and, after a short while, sets out on a new mission to Persia in the capacity of Minister (Ambassador) Plenipotentiary, or, as the Persians call him, "Vazir-Mukhtar". Along the way he visits Tiflis (Tbilisi), another important location in his past, then goes on to Tebriz, and finally, Tehran. And then he dies. The book ends with a Persian embassy to Russia, sent with the purpose of making up after the circumstances of Griboyedov's death, that goes through many of the same places and encounters many of the same people as Griboyedov did in the beginning. Note that all this traveling, while thematically very important, is of course the skeleton of the novel's plot; the meat is Griboyedov's encounters with a colorful cast of characters inhabiting all those locations, as well as trying to fulfill some of his many ambitions, be they career, political, matrimonial or literary, all while dealing with various personal issues and setbacks.

Major historical issues include the Golden Age of Russian literature, the aftershock of the 1825 Decembrist uprising (which involved many of Griboyedov's old friends), the incipience of the Anglo-Russian Great Game and the godwaful state of Persia under the middle Qajars.

This book is notable for a lot of things - a fairly quirky writing style (slipping into the nigh-incomprehensible on a few occasions), plenty of various lyrical, psychological and historical digressions, the realization of Tynyanov's modernist theories of literature, detailed and sometimes striking psychological insights into many - often entirely incidental - characters, as well as simply being an extraordinarily well-researched piece of Historical Fiction. Its critical reception has been variable - Solzhenitsyn in particular found a lot of things he disagreed with in its style and its specific arguments - but despite being relatively obscure and overshadowed by other early 20th century works, it is still a part of the Russian high school curriculum. It is not entirely unknown in the West, either, at least not to Tynyanov's fellow literary critics. It was translated in 1938 as Death and Diplomacy in Persia.


Provides Examples Of:

  • A Day In The Lime Light: While the main body of the text follows Griboyedov, many other characters get some portions dedicated to their own POV, sometimes in an unique frame (Professor Adelung has a diary, for instance; General Sipyagin gets a drunken monologue that alternates between Tear Jerker and Crowning Moment of Funny). Pretty much all of them are noteworthy in some way.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: The Russian embassy in the penultimate chapter.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Chaadayev and some of the other "people of the [eighteen] twenties" tend to have viewpoints; Griboyedov tends to notice that this might be because their careers are ruined already.
  • Angst? What Angst?: Griboyedov apparently deliberately went into this mode having stopped for some rest and a brief love affair in the middle of nowhere (or, more specifically, somewhere between St. Petersburg and Tiflis). It's lampshaded and justified in the book itself:
    "It is easy to imagine that a man is in love with a girl from the Caucasus, that he has plans, that they must be carried out and that he is unhappy. All of that is so, but that's not the point. He can't always be unhappy and he can't always be in love. During a friend's funeral one is healthy and the sun is shining, and suddenly one would notice with horror that he is happy... It's a strange matter: he was happy."
  • Apron Matron: Griboyedov's mother.
  • Arabian Nights Days: Persia is thought of by some to be more like this, but it's actually shown realistically, or, if we speak in tropes, as 1/8th this (mostly for the cream of the aristocracy, and even then not entirely) and 7/8ths The Dung Ages, not just because of serious health and hygiene problems, but also because the overwhelming majority of the population is poor, miserable and very unhappy about it.
  • Arranged Marriage: As the opening narration explains, idealistic concepts of love among Romantic poets did not get in the way of this at all. Griboyedov's marriage with Nina counts, but then again, they were already in love for years now and her parents knew as much, though some of the Gossipy Hens might deny this. Skryplov and Zaynab was a variation on this, as the marriage was "arranged" between Skryplov himself and Zaynab's father.
  • Artist Disillusionment: Griboyedov has such tendencies, at any rate. He isn't very happy being a role model for people like Maltsov, either.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Arguably, Maltsov. While not in any obvious way a big fan of adventure literature or what have you, he did take Griboyedov, as an apparent political rising star and successful diplomat, for something of a role model, and so was very enthused about accompanying him on his new appointment in Persia. Gradually he turned into The Resenter for all the classical reasons.
  • Ass in Ambassador: Griboyedov can act like that sometimes, though entirely on purpose and with a calculated risk in mind; this nevertheless exposes him to one-sided criticism that focuses on those sides of his activity. He has been known to be the opposite of that as well on other occasions, thanks to his intricate knowledge and understanding of Persia and Persian culture.
  • Benevolent Boss: Rodofinikin and Nicholas I both try to seem like this to Griboyedov; he doesn't buy it.
  • Big Eater: Faddey Bulgarin.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: Subverted with Praskovya Nikolaevna Akhverdova's "wooden house in the garden" (wherein "happiness was kept") in Tiflis, which seemed like a natural set-up for this, except that even with all the financial and career difficulties and occasional disagreements and personal tragedies, Akhverdova's personal charisma somehow keeps all the many relatives, in-laws and family friends she has collected under her roof (on a permanent or temporary basis) a big happy family (despite often not even being related in any real way). The description of the wooden house and its residents (and of Griboyedov's return there on the way to Persia) is a downright Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Surprisingly averted when two Tatars mock Griboyedov behind his back in the Tiflis bathhouse. Griboyedov doesn't understand what they're saying, but thinks that they are being very respectful. Griboyedov knows many languages, but apparently Tatar isn't one of them.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Lots of foreign languages are used, most of them are translated in the footnotes, but some aren't (particularly Armenian).
  • Broken Pedestal: Griboyedov himself is this to... a whole lot of people, mainly participants of the Decembrist uprising. This is understandable: given his Lyceum background and the fact that his literary masterpiece is a satire denouncing reactionary aristocratic elements in Moscow, he certainly seemed to have let down a lot of people when, after the failure of the Decembrist uprising, he a) disavowed all ties with it, b) proceeded to have a highly successful political and diplomatic career and c) became very close to the political elite of Nicholasian Russia, which is pretty damn similar to all that he has condemned in Woe from Wit. So naturally it looked like a Face-Heel Turn to all those people, who, in keeping with this trope, began to compare Griboyedov with Molchalin, a highly negative character in his play (Griboyedov himself is not adverse to such a comparison in moments of self-deprecation). Nevertheless, during one such conversation a wise minor character reasonably points out to others who have just finished explaining just how broken Griboyedov's pedestal is that this is rather hypocritical of them - after all, they are basically judging Griboyedov for his fancy uniform while refusing to judge Chatsky (the protagonist of Woe from Wit) for his ballroom dress. Who knows what he's really thinking about all this?
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Professor Senkovsky, with his insistence on bringing his huge dog to an examination and other Mad Artist antics.
  • Buy Them Off: As per history, after pretty much letting an angry mob kill Griboyedov, the Persian government patches things up with the Tsar by sending an embassy with gifts, including a huge and really impressive diamond. It works.
  • Byronic Hero: Griboyedov is this or pretty close anyway; he is even compared to Byron by an Englishman at some point, though this is quickly dismissed, as he is a bit more subtle than that.
  • Cool Old Guy: That's how Griboyedov remembers his late uncle. Sipyagin and Samson Khan might qualify as well.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Griboyedov's death is actually pretty tame - he just gets slashed a few times with sabres and that's (evidently) it. What the mob does to his body immediately after is this, though: they literally tear his body into pieces and parade him across Tehran. "Vazir-Mukhtar continued to exist", sure.
  • Cunning Linguist: Griboyedov was an incredible polyglot even by the high standards of early 19th century Russian aristocracy, knowing 16 languages in all, including many Oriental languages, which predictably is rather handy when working as a diplomat in Persia.
  • Dances and Balls: Again, much as one would expect from a novel dealing with 19th century high society, both in St. Petersburg and in Tiflis.
  • Deadly Decadent Court
  • Defiant to the End: Hodja Mirza Yakub.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: Bulgarin gravitates towards this.
  • Dirty Coward: What Maltsov turns out to be. He admits it readily to himself when it is revealed, at least.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Griboyedov is very prone to this; he generally seems to be much more calm and even cheerful when things are going straight to hell.
  • During the War: The Russo-Turkish War 1828-9, though the previous Russo-Persian War 1826-8 is actually more important to the plot.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: The angry mob attack on the embassy is this for at least three characters, besides the garrison:
    • Hodja Mirza Yakub Markaryan pulling an ethnic version of Dying as Yourself by encouraging to mob to tear him into pieces in Armenian, after realizing that his plan to return to the land of his birth fell through for good. His This Is Gonna Suck reaction to the whole angry mob thing counts too.
    • Professor Adelung, an elderly German doctor, wildly lashing out at the mob with his sword to hold it at the door. He loses a hand, quickly and calmly patches up his arm and then jumps out of the window to attack the mob again. Griboyedov is impressed to say the least: "Jolly good. Jolly good! What a man!"
    • And, ofcourse, Griboyedov himself. First there is the fact that he basically knowingly put himself in harm's way in order to ensure the enforcement of a treaty that has his name on it. Then there is the way he reacts to the huge mob at the embassy's door crying for his head. And then there is him assuming direct command over the garrison, competently directing its fighting retreat inside the embassy despite having no real military experience to speak of. Oh, and when it turns out that the rioters killed his manservant, who was probably his closest friend since childhood, his Dissonant Serenity briefly switches to Tranquil Fury, he grabs a rifle from a Cossack's dead fingers and calmly and precisely guns down several of the rioters, briefly forcing the rest to fall back or at least hide from him, which incidentally helps win time for the aforementioned fighting retreat.
  • Ermine Cape Effect: An Oriental version of this for Persian royalty, full stop.
  • Epigraph: One for each chapter but the last, taken from songs or poems in different languages (Russian, French, Farsi, Arabic...).
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Discussed in a historical digression and utterly deconstructed. Of the three high-ranking eunuchs that actually appear in the book, none are major villains, all of them are at least in some part victims (well, duh) and at least two of them are strongly sympathetic ("But completely incomprehensible is the love of an eunuch." Also, the bits about their "hobbies".). One of them ends up doing a Heel-Face Turn in hopes of seeing his native Armenia one last time. Yeah, that doesn't work out. But the fact that he proceeds to die bravely is arguably an even bigger subversion of this trope.
    • Agha Mohammed Khan Qajar, on the other hand, is very much a monster (though the eunuch factor is still the one thing that makes seem at least somewhat pitiful rather than purely reprehensible), but certainly no Sissy Villain, being a qualified city-razing family-slaughtering Evil Overlord.
  • Evil Brit: When you think of it, Doctor McNeal actually fits this pretty well (at least the stereotypically British part; as far as evil goes he is a Punch Clock Villain at most), only with 19th century Russian rather than 20th century American British stereotypes. Which is to say he is ridiculously melancholic, somewhat wimpy, polite and prone to quoting Shakespeare.
  • Evil Plan: A fairly weak one on Alajar Khan's part towards the end - he wants to assassinate Hodja Mirza Yakub, thus violating the peace treaty outright, getting the Qajars into another war with Russia and so hopefully driving the country to a breaking point and paving the way for his coup d'etat. He is easily overruled by other Persian courtiers who can do the math just as well as he.
  • The Evil Prince: Abbas-Mirza, "the Persian Napoleon" and heir to the throne, arguably qualifies, though note how he is in no hurry to seize de jure power as he already seems to be de facto in charge.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Griboyedov, at least as far as rescuing the Russian theater is concerned. Everybody notes that he has a lot of promise in all the areas he applies himself to, but ultimately he can't seem to be able to accomplish much. Pushkin said it best in the end and in real life: "Perhaps a Descartes who never wrote anything? Or a Napoleon without any soldiers?"
  • Fan Convention: An early 19th century Russian literary version - Faddey Bulgarin's dinner.
  • Fat Idiot: Faddey Bulgarin, though he's not as stupid as he might seem at first.
  • Feigning Intelligence: General Ivan Paskevich is accused of this, though it's only partly true and he's not all that stupid to begin with.
  • Flashback: Several, as Griboyedov reminisces about some of his old friends and the places he has been in (his first time in Tiflis; his meeting with some of the Decembrist leaders including Burtsev in Odessa; a disastrous duel he has maliciously arranged between some of his acquaintances). There is a historical flashback to the destruction of Tiflis by Aga Khan.
  • The Fettered: Burtsev. "Moderation was his religion."
  • Foregone Conclusion: Not only is the title a dead giveaway as soon as you learn what a "vazir-mukhtar" is, but also if you've ever heard about Griboyedov (and everyone in Russia has, as he is in the curriculum), then chances are you've also heard of how he died.
  • For Science!: The apparent motivation of Professor Adelung, the science in question being Oriental studies.
  • Framing Device: "The Story of Samson Yakovlich".
  • Friendly Enemy: The entire British Mission is like this, hardly even antagonistic until the denouement.
  • Friendship Moment: Subverted cruelly; in the last part of the Moscow chapter, Griboyedov visits Begichev, who is probably the most loyal and understanding of all his friends. They have a nice, meaningful conversation that seems like it might be heading towards this, but by the end of it Griboyedov sort of becomes, or turns out to be, more cold and distant than before. Begichev begins to feel somehow uneasy, while Griboyedov drifts off and muses serenely on how he has pushed "all the good people" away and is incapable of reconciling with Moscow just yet.
  • Funny Foreigner: Doctor McNeal seems to fit this pretty well while in Russia. Mushadi, who taught Griboyedov Farsi, is deliberately being a Funny Persian in Tiflis. Rodofinikin occasionally tries to be an affable Funny Greek; it's pretty transparent and not very successful, though.
  • Gambit Pileup: Most every character in the book has some sort of plan, sometimes several, and a lot of those plans all collide during Griboyedov's visit to Persia. Griboyedov pretty much puts the nail in his coffin while trying to deal with the resultant diplomatic chaos - and causing a convergence of several major players against him in the process.
  • General Failure: What Paskevich is portrayed as.
  • Gilded Cage: Three captive Persian khans are temporarily held in a fortress inside Tiflis, but have access to most every luxury they had at home other than their wives.
  • Glory Days: Lots of characters, even those who are doing outwardly well, tend to look back towards "the Twenties" (i.e. the years before the 1825 uprising) as this - it is an all-permeating theme. Some obvious examples include General Yermolov and many of the Decembrists. While Griboyedov's own political and social career has been doing well, his artistic career and personal life have arguably been better and happier earlier (the latter probably only applies before his marriage, though), causing lots of nostalgic reminiscing.
  • Good Morning, Crono: The book begins with Griboyedov waking up at the house of his birth in Moscow, having just returned there two days earlier.
  • Good Is Old-Fashioned: Sort of: see Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!. The Decembrists and "the people of [eighteen] twenties" in general are certainly both objectively old fashioned and, at least in the common historical reading, "good"; whether this is correlation or causation is a different question.
  • Gossipy Hens: Many, many examples - what would you expect from a book with so many 19th century high society characters? Faddey Bulgarin probably takes the cake though; he's practically an early 19th century Russian Paparazzo, and he evidently can't help but comically spout out semi-fabricated rumors about various literary world greats to his friends.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Lots of foreign languages are used (mostly French, but also English, Farsi, Arabic...), but not gratuitously in any way. There is the internal example of Sasha occasionally using Farsi words to seem smarter, though.
  • Grey and Grey Morality: All named characters have flaws, but none are unsympathetic monsters and all have at least some redeeming or empathetic traits.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Both Hodja Mirza Yakub and ensign Skryplev attempt to defect (sort of; the book goes into detail on the nuances of both cases, the former was from a territory now recognized as Russian and so had the right to leave for Russia per the Treaty of Turkmenchay, the latter was just a nearly accidental defector who decided to defect right back) to Russia. Hodja managed to get into the embassy and died when it was attacked by an angry mob, the latter implicitly didn't even make it that far.
  • Hero Harasses Helpers: Griboyedov is prone to harassing the overly enthusiastic and annoying martinet Maltsov; his other helpers, not so much, but he doesn't seem to think too highly of them either, and occasionally abuses his manservant, even though ultimately he considers him his closest friend.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Averted and possibly even inverted: all the contemporary characters, including those who are traditionally idolized in Russia, are shown warts and all and their hypocrisy, together with other flaws, is highlighted, possibly too much so. Views on various matters are also left unupdated.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Possibly Doctor McNeal. Maltsov gets more of a Historical Jerkass Upgrade; it has been noted by many critics that Tynyanov clearly exaggerated his rottenness, likely because of his historically rather inglorious survival of the attack on the embassy.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Burtsev and several other Decembrist officers are shown to be this to Paskevich, each of them within his own sphere.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Griboyedov's background is close to this, though he himself is rather more successful.
  • In with the In Crowd: Griboyedov in with the Russian political, social and military elite, even more so than he was before the success of his diplomatic career. But Lonely at the Top because he can't stand most of them, while driving away many of his old friends simply by being successful.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Actually, Griboyedov was always pretty jaded, but he himself seems to think that he got even worse after some of the things that happened during his previous, otherwise successful diplomatic mission.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Bulgarin would be this if he wasn't always so friendly despite also being a scumbag. Griboyedov is either this trope player straight or an inversion - while contemptuous, he likes to help people, but largely because it feels good to know that you have the power to make or unmake them; in other words, it usually is just a way of reinforcing his own sense of superiority.
  • The Jester: Fazil Khan the Qajar court poet is this in the broader sense of the trope. Subverted with fatal consequences when Griboyedov mistakes a dervish for this as well and idly wonders what a dervish is doing at the court during an important reception without getting a closer look; the dervish turns out to be Abdul-Vehab, an influential, high-ranking clergyman who casts the deciding vote for putting Griboyedov on trial for violation of the Sharia, launching the sequence of events that directly leads to the destruction of the embassy and the death of Griboyedov.
  • Jumped at the Call: Griboyedov, at the end of the St. Petersburg portion of the book, decides to jump at the call of becoming the Minister Plenipotentiary in Persia, even though the position was offered to him partly as a snub, just to spite his superiors and to get away from St. Petersburg society.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Doctor McNeal really doesn't seem like it at first, but his arrival in St. Petersburg ends up greatly changing the overall tone and course of the story, as he: a) reminds Griboyedov about Persia, b) delivers an angry letter from another candidate for this trope, Samson Khan and c) semi-inadvertantly drives an officer Griboyedov was trying to help out to suicide, increasing Griboyedov's despair and contributing to his decision to leave for Persia.
  • Large Ham: Professor Senkovsky and Samson Khan (the latter even more so in his letter than in everyday life - and he is a Large Ham in everyday life).
  • Life Imitates Art: To an extent; Griboyedov's famous play begins with the main character returning to Moscow, only to realise that he is a Stranger in a Familiar Land. The beginning of the novel is similar enough in the broad outline, but very different in all the details. Many other themes from Woe From Wit turn out to be quite significant in the novel and are openly discussed.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: A variation - there are lots and lots of entirely incidental one-shot characters who nevertheless are described with some psychological detail and receive some memorable lines and/or internal narration, and sometimes a Crowning Moment Of Awesome.
  • Lonely Funeral: Griboyedov's funeral isn't actually shown in the book (the procession carrying his remains back to Russia is, and it certainly fits), but you just know it's going to be this, as even his closest friends are pretty quick to abandon him in spirit if not in word, and most people are only concerned with his death as an unpleasant diplomatic incident.
  • Lovable Coward: One of Bulgarin's many endearing vices.
  • MacGuffin: Griboyedov's number one mission in Persia is to extract the kururs, i.e. the war reparations so as to finance the war effort against Turkey. Subverted in that it is only marginally significant to the actual plot, and the only one who really cares about them is Paskevich; Griboyedov's other superiors eventually decide that it would be better to forgive some part of the kururs, though by this point Griboyedov is disinclined to listen anyway.
  • Malicious Slander: Plenty of it all around. Bulgarin likes to spread this in his literary journal, and the aforementioned numerous Gossipy Hens like it too; one early bit of Malicious Slander (referred to in the page quote) was about how Griboyedov is supposedly helping Paskevich feign intelligence. It's a cause of some annoyance, but ultimately isn't such a major plot point.
    • Maltsov's Malicious Slander against Griboyedov is nevertheless notable for putting a capital M into Malicious, as you realize that he is blaming Griboyedov, who is dead, for everything that went wrong, whether it was in any way his fault or not, all to save himself.
  • May-December Romance: Griboyedov and Princess Nina Chavchavadze. This is not so bad by the time of the book, as he is 34 and she is 16, but he was clearly in love with her from quite a time earlier, an some of his daydreaming about "the little Georgian girl" earlier in the book can be disconcerting, though at least he is willing to wait.
  • Meddling Parents: Griboyedov's mother, who goes out of her way to ensure a successful diplomatic career for her son whether he likes it or not.
  • Minored In Ass Kicking: Griboyedov, as it turns out. Also, Adelung.
  • Modest Royalty: Nicholas I prefers military uniforms, as per history and in apparent contrast to Persian royalty.
  • Morality Pet: Nina is definitely this for Griboyedov. Subverted with ensign Vishnyakov earlier in the book: Griboyedov tries to help him, but in the end Vishnyakov is still demoted to a private for all his worries, gets drunk, blames Griboyedov for everything and commits suicide. It has a sobering effect.
  • The Mourning After: Nina's eventual fate after Griboyedov's death.
  • The Neidermeyer: Rozyov-Ptitsa (Rozyov the Bird) in "The Story of Samson Yakovlich". Prone to hogging all the good horses for himself in a dragoon unit. Eventually drives Samson into deserting the army and later defecting to Persia.
  • Nepotism: The fact that Griboyedov is Paskevich's in-law is a very big deal for a lot of people, including his superiors, Nesselrode and Tsar Nicholas I (the latter having once served under Paskevich while Crown Prince). While Griboyedov is certainly talented and, at any rate, very knowledgeable, he would not have become the Vazir-Mukhtar if not for this connection.
  • Nerd Glasses: Technically, a 19th century version of this is what Griboyedov has, but they still somehow manage to seem both cool and, in Persia, intimidating (despite never once being mentioned as shiny). Towards the end he is often referred to as "the kafir with glasses".
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Inverted: Griboyedov has never accepted his hometown, Moscow, and its high society. He does think about reconciling with it after Woe from Wit (which was basically an expression of his frustrations with this city; a big, long "The Reason You Suck" Speech aimed at the whole of local aristocracy), but decides that he isn't ready yet. And he never will be.
  • Never Found the Body: Subverted cruelly in that not only is Griboyedov certainly dead, but also they literally didn't find most of his body - the mob did a real number on it and they had to go with some substitutes plus what little they could ascertain as Vazir-Mukhtar bits.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: A very odd case - most character names are given as they were, but a few names are slightly or not-so-slightly changed for some reason that is not immediately apparent. It's barely noticeable, though, as those particular characters were hardly what you might call celebrities at all.
  • No Hero to His Valet: Griboyedov and his manservant - and closest friend since childhood, though it might not seem that way at first - Sasha.
  • Not so Above It All: Granted, he hardly ever pretended to be; his overall persona just seemed like it was above a lot of things. But anyway, Griboyedov is perfectly willing to engage in some admittedly childish pranks on several occasions, despite bemoaning the folly of humanity.
  • Not So Different: On a national level - Russia and Persia are repeatedly shown to be very, very similar in many regards - Griboyedov is particularly prone to noticing this soon after going from one to another. The Persians also tend to insist on this, even when it is apparently inaccurate (see Succession Crisis). Arguably, likewise with the British and the Russians in the incipient Great Game; as the British ambassador to Persia and his staff often point out, they're all Europeans among savages.
  • Not So Stoic: Griboyedov generally can keep up a stoic facade, but still has a few outbursts here and there, in particular to his friends such as Bulgarin:
    "Could I write? I mean, I have a lot of things to write. So why am I mute, mute as the grave?"
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Many characters seem somewhat silly or downright dumb at first glance, while actually rather clever. Griboyedov usually can see through them, though.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: A lot of people, arguably including Griboyedov himself; the ultimate example, however, is Nesselrode, whose entire ambition consists of maintaining an unsatisfactory status quo in all affairs of state to further his own career and whose entire plot function is to obstruct people with bureaucratic excuses.
  • Odd Friendship: A cynical, contemptuous stoic, Griboyedov finds it way easier to be friends with the endearingly flawed, somewhat hyper and silly gutter journalist/trash writer Bulgarin than with his fellow ostensibly brilliant and lofty Romantic poets, and not just because of their hypocrisy. Griboyedov generally seems to find obviously flawed people so much easier to like and to get along with.
  • Old Master: Ivan Krylov is basically this to the literary world.
  • One-Book Author: Griboyedov himself, with his famous play "Woe from Wit". Surpassing this status is one of his plans, but it doesn't work out.
  • One Steve Limit: Subverted with both first names and patronymics. Griboyedov is called Aleksandr Sergeyevich, Pushkin is also Aleksandry Sergeyevich, and Griboyedov's manservant Sasha's full name is Aleksandr Sergeyevich.
  • Parental Incest: Fat'h Ali Shah's favourite wife is also his daughter. Their two children are both his sons and his grandsons and horribly inbred as you can imagine, which is a plot point as it gives the British an additional advantage in Persian harem politics thanks to their diplomatic use of medicine.
  • The Philosopher: Chaadayev. Griboyedov gently mocks him and goes on with his life.
    • Professor Adelung also has such tendencies.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Averted: Griboyedov as an ambassador does a lot of boring ambassador-ish things, attending official functions and overseeing the implementation of various clauses of his treaty with due observance of all technicalities.
  • Plague of Good Fortune: Not as such, but see Victorious Loser below; up until then, Griboyedov was feeling downright miserable with all the successes he's been having.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Faddey Bulgarin.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Nesselrode is a textbook example. Possibly Emperor Nicholas I as well.
  • Police Brutality: Griboyedov interferes to stop some of this in St. Petersburg.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: Persia has been teeming with those for months now, owing to bad and degrading living conditions and in particular the most recent disastrous war with Russia. So it's no surprise when one of those crowds in Tehran goes and explodes in Griboyedov's face.
  • The Professor: Professor Adelung, obviously.
  • Quintessential British Gentleman: Colonel Macdonald, the British Ambassador in Persia (despite being Scottish and apparently not from a very wealthy background).
  • Renegade Russian: Samson Khan and his followers have been doing this some 150 years before it was cool.
  • The Resenter: Griboyedov is slightly like this towards Pushkin, since the latter seems to have a much easier time with his poetry. Maltsov eventually becomes this to Griboyedov having started out as a fanboy, then getting harrased as well as being shocked by Griboyedov's reckless style of diplomacy.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Averted. Maltsov thought the Persians were going to do this to him for a while, but later calmed down.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Averted and practically defied by Fat'h Ali Shah, but done with gusto by Shahzade (Crown Prince) Abbas Mirza.
  • Sadist Teacher: Professor Senkovsky at the examination in the School of Oriental Languages. To be fair, all he does is ask (read: relentlessly bombard students with) mostly reasonable questions about Arabian and Persian poetry, but the manner in which he does it and the way he practically chews students out over every little mistake or imperfection in their translations qualifies him for this. Griboyedov is forced to intercede to the relief of the students and all the other professors.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Maltsov in the end, though he only actually quits after everyone else in the mission is dead, so it might not count.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Despite being knowledgeable, cynical and competent, Griboyedov still matches this trope by being highly reliant on his servant with regards to everyday matters.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The whole story, when you consider it - Griboyedov spends all this running around, trying and failing to do all kinds of things, and then he is killed by a mob.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: What Griboyedov ends up saying to the "liberalist" Burtsev, verging on a Hannibal Lecture about how the Decembrists would've created a dictatorship and found a way to maintain serfdom in deed if not in name had they succeeded. Generally the position of "the sons" or "the new people" towards "the fathers" or "the old people" (i.e. mostly the people who were associated with or sympathetic towards the secret societies behind the Decembrist uprising; needless to say, the divide is not strictly speaking generational, and a major theme throughout the book is that Griboyedov actually belongs to both groups at once) as described in the very beginning of the book.
  • So Happy Together: Halfway in, Griboyedov marries his beloved Nina Chavchavadze. They really are very happy together, which only makes the Foregone Conclusion of Griboyedov's impending death so much more tragic.
  • Standard Royal Court: The militaristic, disciplinned, obsessively orderly and yet also somehow pompous Russian court of Nicholas I and the several interconnected luxurious horribly complicated courts of the Shah and the various Crown Princes in Persia (complete with harems, eunuchs, religious authorities, foreign specialists and all kinds of different vested interests).
  • Stealth Insult: Upon encountering the Persian court poet, Griboyedov flatteringly compares his poetry to "the verses of our famous poet, the excellent Count Khvostov". Khvostov was (and still is, to a fair amount of educated people in Russia) a legendarily bad Russian poet.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: The basic premise of the first half of the book is that Griboyedov is revisiting Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tiflis, and finding out how all of them - and all of the people who lived there - had changed since he was last there.
  • The Strategist: Aleksey Petrovich Yermolov, the previous commander of Russian forces in the Caucasus, has been reduced to this; all he does now is sit around brooding in his Moscow house, provide angry political commentary to his fans among the local officers and come up with intricate military plans for both sides in the Russo-Persian War (and presumably other wars as well). In a subversion, hardly anyone outside of his fan club really seems to care about him much, and certainly no one plans to put in charge of anything any time soon.
  • Strawman Political: Averted with Burtsev, a "liberalist"; it is explained that contrary to common stereotypes and later caricatures, liberals can be pretty brave and decisive too (and Burtsev's arguments against Griboyedov's plans are certainly quite reasonable and understandable).
  • Sweet Tooth: Nesselrode.
  • Succession Crisis: The Persians don't seem to see much more to the Decembrist uprisin than just this. The ever-impeding Succession Crisis in Persia itself is something of a Red Herring - everyone talks a lot about how all hell will break loose when Fat'h Ali Shah dies, but he doesn't.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Griboyedov eventually begins to think this way about his respective Persian and British partners in negotiations, Abbas Mirza and Colonel Macdonald. He certainly thinks more highly of them than of his superiors, and considers them perfectly normal, intelligent and decent people caught up in much the same problems as himself.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: But ofcourse; and for a bonus, it's incited by the Shi'a religious authorities, due to the terms of Griboyedov's Treaty of Turkmenchay clashing with a specific point in the Sharia. Note that as the angry mob that attacks the embassy consists largely of urban craftsmen, they come armed with their tools of labour - hammers for blacksmiths and so on. Since some Persian soldiers join the mob as well, it also has some swords and rifles on its side.
  • Tough Act to Follow: Woe from Wit is shown as this for Griboyedov; he literally can't follow it with anything, although he tries.
  • Turn Coat: The trope is discussed in some detail in a literary digression. Samson Khan and his followers are this; so is ensign Skryplov when he tries to defect from them back to Russia.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Faddey Bulgarin and Lena.
  • The Unfettered: Griboyedov himself has shades of this, especially with regards to politics and diplomacy.
  • Unwanted Rescue: Happens when an elderly German asks for Griboyedov's help in retrieving his daughter from a Persian harem (apparently she was abducted and sold into slavery a while back). She utterly refuses to recognise him, at least at first, and is adamantly against returning to her previous poor life and chores after experiencing the luxuries of a harem. Griboyedov ends up persuading the German to forget him. It is implied that similar scenes happen very, very often, though ultimately it is subverted with Dil-Firuz, who decides to go back to her Shamkori father (who is probably much poorer than the German above, while she is the favourite concubine of one of Persia's highest-ranking courtiers as opposed to a mere sayeed).
  • Victorious Loser: Strange variation - after his plans to persuade his superiors to support his project for a "Caucasian Agrarian, Manufactory and Trade Company" finally hit a major snag, Griboyedov feels incredibly relieved and liberated, muses on how "those who have not experienced failure do not know what it means to breathe freely and deeply" and takes a nice walk around St. Petersburg, looking at people, having a nice private dinner instead of a boring one with some generals that he would've gone to otherwise and visiting his friends.
  • War Is Hell: Well it certainly isn't much good when you get the plague, anyway. Or when you got sent to the frontlines as a form of punishment for political crimes and are treated by your superiors accordingly.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Griboyedov gets that a lot, with varying subtlety and directness, usually because he is seen as going to great ends to help out and ingratiate himself with the Russian government and various military and political leaders. The one that really gets him, however, is the one his confrontation with Burtsev, who reads through his plan for a Russian East India-style company in the Caucasus, congratulates him for his vision and then flat out tells him that he would oppose this plan with all his power because it would inevitably result in Russian peasants being used as slave labour ("like negroes, like convicts") all for the sake of Greed. Griboyedov fires back with a devastating Hannibal Lecture, but nevertheless "the Project" that he has been almost consistently obsessing over until now suddenly doesn't look as good or as interesting to him anymore.
  • Wicked Cultured: Abbas Mirza, being an Oriental Crown Prince with great interest in Western culture.
  • Yes-Man: Maltsov, until he breaks down.
  • You Are The Translated Foreign Word: Vazir-Mukhtar, Minister Plenipotentiary.

The Dain CurseLiterature of the 1920sThe Decline of the West
Dead SoulsRussian LiteratureDefinitely, Maybe
Dear CanadaHistorical Fiction LiteratureDeath to the French

alternative title(s): The Death Of The Vazir Mukhtar
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