- The Construction of a New Émigré Self in 20th-Century Russian Paris in Short Stories by Nadezhda Teffi1
It is rarely a case in history that many prominent writers, artists, scientists, and intellectuals leave their motherland to go into exile en masse. However, it was the case of the Russian intelligentsia in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917: among those who left Russia were Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), Dmitry Merezhkovsky (1866–1941), and Aleksandr Kuprin (1870-1938), Russian writers who were well known in Russia before 1917. In the aftermath of the October Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, more than 45,000 Russians settled in and around Paris (Struve; Menegaldo; Klein-Gousseff; Johnston; Foshko; Raeff; Glad). Nadezhda Teffi (1872-1952) was also one of the writers who came to live in Paris. It was a difficult decision for Teffi, as she enjoyed immense popularity as a writer in prerevolutionary Russia: even Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), the future leader of Bolshevik Russia, once praised Teffi’s early verses (Teffi, Moya letopis’ 257). Teffi was a sophisticated lady, a welcome visitor in most prestigious literary salons and Petersburg’s beau-monde; in her reminiscences, she wrote about her encounters with Fyodor Sologub (1863-1927), Ilya Repin (1844-1930), Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), the healer of Prince Alexei (1904-1918), who acquired an immense influence on Nicholas II’s wife, Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918), most famous Russian writers and poets, and many other fine representatives of Saint Petersburg’s society. Teffi needed to undertake a difficult and dangerous journey through Ukraine to Constantinople and then to Paris. In the City of Light, Teffi was one of the most active members of the Russian literary communities: her short stories and feuilletons appeared in the widely-read Russian newspapers Poslednie izvestiia, Vozrozhdenie, Illiustrirovannaia Rossiia [Latest News, Revival, Illustrated Russia] and many others.
Emigration brought an immense trial for the Russian émigrés, especially for the Russian intelligentsia. Before 1917, the Russian writers enjoyed the world of sophisticated [End Page 81] intellectual discourse, a variety of literary and artistic events, wealth, fame, and success. With emigration, the reading audience for Russian works dramatically shrank. Emigration brought the world of poverty, even misery, an alien linguistic milieu, an uncertain future and, worst of all, the realization that there was no return to the past life, and that it was necessary to reinvent one’s life, one’s identity, and to find a new voice, and a new self. A new émigré self whimsically interwove a deep nostalgia for the lost motherland and Russian culture, memories of old Russia and pride in the Russian cultural heritage with efforts to be better integrated in the cultural life in France. Teffi especially highlighted the tragedy of Russian émigrées: many women lost their husbands, sons, and fathers during the First World War and the civil war and became single parents. In this article, I shall examine the process of the construction of a new émigrée identity in the works of Nadezhda Teffi (1872-1952) (Starostina, “On Nostalgia”; Starostina, “Nostalgia and the Myth”; Starostina, “One Just Wonders”; Neatrour; Haber).
This article’s argument is inspired by cultural history and memory studies. Many recent studies analyze the construction of memory as a tool to legitimize the relations of power in society (Boym; Fritzsche; Golan; Halbwachs; Hutton; Lowenthal; Nora; Starostina, Memory and Mythology). In the 1920s, French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) studied collective memory and ways the past is remembered (Halbwachs). He showed how society constantly redefines memories of the past in order to legitimize the relationships of power. According to Halbwachs, collective memories ensure the cohesion of a group and contribute to the preservation of its traditions. While highlighting the importance of representations of the past for defining national identity, French scholar Pierre Nora sets apart memory and history, two ways to remember and to represent bygone events (Nora). Emphasizing the selectiveness of memory and its tendency to forget events that do not fit into the dominant narrative, memory studies encourage historians to investigate nostalgia as a part of the construction of memory. Literary critic Svetlana Boym shows that a nostalgic discourse...