- Pillars of the Profession: The Correspondence of Richard Pipes and Marc Raeff by Jonathan Daly
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The published correspondence is a notoriously difficult genre. Unless both correspondents are famous and witty, their birthday greetings, struggles to publish, and travel plans can bore quickly. The Willy–Nicky correspondence rewards royalists with precious little. The letters of Turgenev and Flaubert lose even diehard fans ten pages in. That is why biographers and other scholars exist: they slog through hundreds of letters precisely to save others the work of doing so, using their skill to cull a few useful nuggets. As a source of entertainment or edification, letters really work only when both parties are like Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford, treating their exchange as an occasion to amuse one another and to preen with style. Or when it is the summer of 1921 and the letter writers are Rilke, Tsvetaeva, and Pasternak.
There may be an exception, however. If both correspondents were renowned enough, if their epistolary exchange is consistently interesting enough, and above all if it sheds light on episodes in their lives or works that would be inaccessible otherwise, one can make a case for it. This applies especially to people who worked in roughly the same field and who wrote one another at key historical moments. Do their letters allow readers to better understand their field, and the historical moment in which they worked?
This is the frame in which to approach the correspondence of Marc Raeff and Richard Pipes, assembled faithfully by Jonathan Daly. The importance of both men to the field of Russian history in the United States goes without saying. Both their books and their personalities [End Page 390] left an indelible impression on those fortunate enough to have encountered them. Their parallel life stories are emblematic of an entire generation. Refugees escape Hitler and Stalin to make their way to the United States where they formed public perceptions of the empire that was home to their ancestors. This story has been covered in the field of culture broadly speaking, whether it is Balanchine and Stravinsky and the ballet, or Russians in Hollywood. It has been covered for literature and nuclear physics. But for fields like history it is less obvious.
Jonathan Daly began this prosopographic project in an article that included three more scholars: Leopold Haimson, Martin Malia, and Nicholas Riasanovsky.1 But the Raeff–Pipes correspondence is something different. The project was clearly a labor of love, especially as regards Richard Pipes. Daly was Pipes's graduate student. His awe, even reverence, for his mentor shines through nearly every page of the introduction and conclusion. As regards Marc Raeff, there is a certain imbalance. Despite Daly's attempt to give Raeff his due, he admits that he "only saw him once in person … and did not formally meet him" (P. 3). With all the good will in the world, it is hard to correct for such lopsidedness. Moreover, when the two men have a mysterious falling-out, the correspondence breaks off for nearly fifteen years. The reader is thus left to judge the book and the relationship based on what is there in the pages – and, if she is lucky, based on her own knowledge of the two men. (Full disclosure: I was Pipes's student as an undergraduate at Harvard and Raeff's as a graduate student at Columbia, but neither directed my own research.)
Let us consider what is not there. First, a sense for the charisma each man exerted. In Raeff's case in particular, this is a real loss. In reading this book, one misses his courtliness, kindness, and attentiveness; one misses both his profound respect for his subjects and the twinkle in his eye. In Pipes's case, one misses the full impact of his deliberately outrageous statements. (I will never forget the time a fellow undergraduate asked about Russian monasteries and got a terse "Dens of homosexuality. Next...