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Aristocrats and Working Girls: Towards a History of Russian Emigre Women in the United States* Beth Holmgren The published history of the post-revolutionary Russian emigration to the United States, the wave dubbed "first" by Russianists, has stalled for decades at the "Who's Who" phase, composed of snapshots of its rich and famous. Russian emigre history has drawn scant attention in American scholarship or the American press, marginalized initially due to America's interwar isolationism and then its post-war obsession with an expressly Soviet enemy. Nor did the emigres lend themselves to easy categorization. Relatively tiny in number and far more diffusely settled than the emigre diaspora in Europe or Harbin, China, post-revolutionary Russian emigres in the United States exerted a highly individualized impact on American art, science, technology, and educationl Unlike the millions of poor folk who had preceded them, these former tsarist subjects arrived equipped with the skills and cultural knowledge to fit themselves into professional American society and to insinuate Russian experience, topics, styles, and standards into what they created, taught, or, most reliably, left for posterity. To their relatively good fortune they engaged with an American society that had grown sophisticated enough culturally and varied enough professionally to exploit and promptly nationalize their gifts. The life story of the Russian emigre Marina Ledkovsky, this volume's inspiration and honoree, furnishes an excellent case in point. In her interview with Hilde Hoogenboom and Maude Meisel, Ledkovsky retraces her rapid, impressive ascent in America from cleaning houses to graduate studies and a professorship in Slavic languages and literatures at Columbia University. The author thanks Carol Leadenham, Assistant Archivist for Reference at the Hoover Institution Archives, for her help in locating materials; and the Esphyr Slobodkina Foundation (particularly its Director, Anne Marie Mulhearn Sayer) for their kind permission to quote from the Esphyr Slobodkina Papers held in the de Grummond Children 's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi. 1 Estimates of this emigration's numbers range from 63,000 to 95,137. For general surveys of this emigration, see Raeff, Russia Abroad: A Cultural History of the Russian Emigration , 1919-1939; and Glad, Russia Abroad: Writers, History, Politics. For more specific focus on the diaspora in Paris, see Johnson, New Mecca, New Babylon; and on the diaspora in France and the U.s., Hassell, Russian Refugees in France and the United States. Mapping the Feminine: Russian Women and Cultural Difference. Hilde Hoogenboom, Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy, and Irina Reyfman, eds. Bloomington, IN: Siavica Publishers, 2008, 23 1-47. 232 BETH HOLMGREN This emigration's quite extraordinary success stories-the novels of Vladimir Nabokov, the pioneering aviation designs of Igor Sikorsky, the musical and institutional achievements of Serge Koussevitsky, the very founding of the fields of Russian history and Russian literature in American higher education by, among others, Mikhail Karpovich and Gleb Struve - form just the glittering tip of the iceberg. Even a hefty directory of the famous is dwarfed by the enormous cache of self-published emigre memoirs and personal papers entrusted to American archives. The burgeoning collection of Columbia University's Bakhmeteff Archive, founded by one of their number, epitomizes the post-revolutionary Russian emigre's legacy industry2 This literate, educated , terribly aggrieved emigration, raised to believe in the moral and political power of the written word, was positively document-addicted. Deprived of their property and homeland, dismissed in public discourse on both sides of the ocean as political losers, these emigres inscribed their experiences and preserved their papers in hopes of proving correct their political points of view, witnessing and working through the traumas of revolution and dislocation , and laying claim to their historical value in some not-too-distant, deBolshevized future. Their history might best be assembled through comparative cultural biography, an approach that draws on the emigre's copious selfdocumentation and tracks his or her complicated blending of Russian and American experiences and values. This essay experiments with such an approach on a small scale, analyzing and comparing the letters, diaries, memoirs, and, wherever possible, the public record of four Russian emigre women-Marie Annenkova Bryzgalova, Alexandra Tolstoy, Nadezhda Shapiro, and Esphyr Slobodkina. As subjects, these women project a representative spectrum of emigre status and success, ranging from marginal celebrity to working everywoman. Tolstoy, the last surviving child of the famous writer Lev Tolstoy, headed the Tolstoy Foundation and the Tolstoy Farm, established primarily to care for Russian and other political refugees. Slobodkina earned a modest reputation as a founding member...


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