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Letters from Vladivostok, 1894-1930

Letters from Vladivostok, 1894-1930

by Eleanor L. Pray

Publication Year: 2013

In 1894, Eleanor L. Pray left her New England home to move to Vladivostok in the Russian Far East with her husband, a merchant apprentice. Over the next thirty-six years— from the time of Tsar Alexander III to the early years of Stalin’s rule—she wrote over 2,000 letters chronicling her family life and the tumultuous social and political events she witnessed. Vladivostok, 5,600 miles east of Moscow, was shaped by a rich intersection of European and Asian cultures, and Pray’s witty and observant writing paints a vivid picture of the city and its denizens during a period of momentous social change. The book offers highlights from Pray’s letters along with illuminating historical and biographical information.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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pp. vii-ix

List of Place Names

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pp. xi-xii


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pp. xiii-xv

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Introduction: Between the Two Bays: Eleanor Pray’s Vladivostok, 1894–1930

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pp. xvii-xxviii

CITIES, LIKE PEOPLE, ARE MUCH MORE COMPLEX THAN THE BOOKS and pictures that describe them. Certainly, a good guidebook will outline the history, architectural landmarks, and special events of any metropolis, and pictures such as Camille Pissarro’s Parisian boulevard scenes and Alfred...

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Biographical Sketch: The Smiths and the Prays

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pp. xxix-xxxi

CONNECTED BY FAMILY TIES, A SHARED PURPOSE, AND A DEEP, LOVing friendship, Charles and Sarah Smith and Frederick and Eleanor Pray, all originally from New England, made Vladivostok their home and became eloquent witnesses to its character. Without these four people, the Eleanor L....

Part I. The People

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pp. 3-37

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1. A Victorian Home in Siberia

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pp. 5-26

THE FAMILY CALLED THEIR VLADIVOSTOK HOME “DOM SMITH.”1 A mixture of Russian and English, this name reflects the two cultures that the Smiths and the Prays not only inhabited but also wished to bridge. They were foreigners in Russia, brought up in the Victorian traditions of Europe and the...

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2. Women’s Work and Leisure

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pp. 27-44

MOST OF THE WOMEN IN ELEANOR PRAY’S PREREVOLUTIONARY circle—merchant wives in Old Vladivostok—had no professional training nor salaried positions in commercial enterprises. They were wives and mothers, homemakers and hostesses, and their customary freedom from financial...

Part II. The City

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pp. 45-79

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3. Vladivostok Scenes

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pp. 47-63

ON 16 AUGUST 1929, ELEANOR PRAY WROTE TO HER SISTER-IN-LAW Sarah Smith in Shanghai that yet another couple of friends were about to leave Vladivostok. Both women knew well that, for many of the foreign residents, this was a place of transfer—into Siberia to explore its natural wealth,...

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4. Historic Names

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pp. 64-83

FROM ITS VERY BEGINNINGS, VLADIVOSTOK HAS HOSTED NUMEROUS prominent visitors. Before the Trans-Siberian Railway functioned regularly in the late 1890s,1 transport from Saint Petersburg and Moscow to East Siberia, while not impossible, was achieved in three complicated ways. One...

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5. Life at the Dacha [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 84-122

FROM THE SHORE OF AMUR BAY NEAR THE TRAIN STATIONS TODAY named Okeanskaia and Sadgorod, one can see the Peninsula of De Vries, with its stately avenue of trees leading north to a prominent hill. For more than three decades, this was the site of the Novogeorgievsk Estate, known...

Part III. The History

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pp. 123-157

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6. The Russo-Japanese War, 1904–1905

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pp. 125-145

THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR, CAUSED BY THE TERRITORIAL AMBITIONS of several world powers, raged in Manchuria and on the seas between Korea, Japan, and China for a year and a half. The surprise attacks at Port Arthur and Chemulpo (today Incheon, the port of Seoul) on 8–9 February 1904; the...

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7. The Riots of 1905–1906

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pp. 146-159

AFTER PEACE WAS ANNOUNCED IN AUGUST 1905, THE PRAYS HOPED FOR Sarah’s speedy return and for a resurrection of their home’s remembered splendor. Sarah dreamed of refreshing both Dom Smith and the American Store, repainting surfaces, replacing household goods and wallpaper, and adding...

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8. Wars, Revolutions, and Foreign Intervention

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pp. 160-193

IF THE RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR SEEMED TO ELEANOR PRAY A SERIES OF haunting still pictures, the cataclysms of 1914–22 increasingly recalled an engrossing movie at full speed: “Life is more or less like a cinema with its quick changes” (22 March 1916 to Aunt Anna). Millions dying in war-related...

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9. A Window Flung Open: New Beginnings

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pp. 194-216

IN EARLY SPRING 1927, ELEANOR PRAY DESCRIBED THE VIEW OVER the Amur Bay from the Nielsens’ dacha at 19th Verst: “If I could only lend you my eyes for a moment—the big window is flung wide open, in the foreground is the . . . purplish brown of the still bare trees, with the background...

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pp. 217-220

I will always be grateful to my Russian friends: Alexander Zemtsov, who organized my fi rst trip to Vladivostok, and Boris I. Vasiliev and his lovely wife Eneida, who made me feel so welcome when I stayed with them in Vladivostok. I also thank Boris for making me an honorary member of the...

Glossary of Uncommon Terms Frequently Used by Eleanor Pray

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pp. 221-222

Appendix: Biographical Notes on Persons Frequently Mentioned in the Letters

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pp. 223-228


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pp. 229-249


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pp. 251-260


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pp. 261-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780295804804
E-ISBN-10: 0295804807
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295993249
Print-ISBN-10: 0295993243

Page Count: 308
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vladivostok (Russia) -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Vladivostok (Russia) -- Social life and customs -- 20th century -- Sources.
  • Vladivostok (Russia) -- Social life and customs -- 19th century -- Sources.
  • Americans -- Russia (Federation) -- Vladivostok -- Correspondence.
  • Pray, Eleanor Lord, 1868-1954 -- Correspondence.
  • Vladivostok (Russia) -- History -- 20th century -- Sources.
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