Despite his later career as a senator under the Second French Empire, d'Anthès's name is most famous because of the duel he fought with Russia's greatest poet, Aleksandr Pushkin. He is possibly the most cursed character in Russian literature.
Born in Colmar (France) to a French royalist émigré family, first boy among six children, he was destined for a military career. He was therefore sent to Saint-Cyr, the prime French military academy, and, in 1830, as cavalry officer, he supported Charles X's party during the July Revolution. After the exile of the latter, d'Anthès refused to serve under the July Monarchy, resigned from the army and withdrew to his father's home in Alsace.
As he was authorized by the French government to serve abroad without losing his nationality, he set off for Prussia, then for Russia, countries where his family had many connections (his mother was Prinz von Hatzfeld's niece). In St. Petersburg, he succeeded in entering the Knights Guards of the Empress as cornet. Two years later, in 1836, he became lieutenant.
His family ties and his handsome look gave him access to the St. Petersburg best society. That's the way he met the Dutch Plenipotentiary to the court, Baron Heeckeren. This man, coming from an old noble Protestant family, had begun his career in the Dutch navy, then had served under Napoleon I for many years. From that period, he had got a great attachment to France, a title of Empire baron and a conversion to Catholicism. He was a bachelor and he didn't want his name to die out with him. After a lengthy correspondence and a journey to Alsace, he proposed to d'Anthès's father to adopt his son as his heir. The old man accepted, and, after the agreement of the King of the Netherlands by letters patent dated May 5 1836, Georges-Charles d'Anthès took the name of Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès. Considering this unusual adoption, Serena Vitale has speculated on the relationship between Heeckeren and d'Anthès, presuming that they were lovers .
D'Anthès met also Pushkin and his wife, Natalya ("Natasha"), a beautiful flirtatious young woman, who had many admirers. D'Anthès courted her in such a way that Pushkin threatened him verbally. D'Anthès then married Natalya's own sister, Ekaterina Goncharova, on January 10 1837. It is questionable whether d'Anthès's engagement and marriage to Natalya's sister was devised to contradict society gossip that he was in pursuit of Natalya. In any event, this was not enough to soothe the conflict between the two new brothers-in-law, especially since an anonymous letter went round, nominating Pushkin Deputy Grand Master and Historiograph of the Order of Cuckolds. His furious jealousy made him write an insulting letter to d'Anthès' adoptive father. Pushkin having refused to withdraw these abuses, a duel became inevitable.
On the evening of 8 February 1837, d'Anthès shot first, mortally wounding Pushkin in the stomach. Pushkin, who had fought several duels, managed to rise and shoot at d'Anthès, however, only lightly wounding him in the right arm. As he lay on his deathbed, Pushkin sent a message to d'Anthès pardoning him of any wrong doing. d'Anthès, who was barely wounded, only laughed lightly and said, "Well, tell him that I forgive him, too." After Pushkin's death, d'Anthès was imprisoned at Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. Dueling was illegal in Russia, and d'Anthès came to court, but he was pardoned by the Emperor, considering the gravity of the abuses written by Pushkin. Stripped of his rank, he was escorted back to the frontier. In Berlin, he was joined by his wife, who never doubted him. Both returned to France, in his father's region. There, he began a successful political career : at first president of the local assembly, then member of the National Constituent Assembly from 1848 to 1852, and, at last, irremovable senator from 1852 to 1870. In 1852, he was assigned a secret mission by Napoleon III : he had to go to St. Petersburg and approach the Emperor of Russia to know his feeling in case Napoleon III proclaimed himself emperor. This mission was doubtless successful, because he was appointed senator on his return.
His wife died on October 15 1843, giving birth to their fourth child. He died on November 2 1895 at his family house of Soultz-Haut-Rhin.