12 February 2021
One of our key roles as curators is to explore the contemporary resonance of the Library’s collections in national and international contexts. I was acutely reminded of this two weeks ago when showing an item at an event connected to the exhibition, Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights. Together with colleagues from the European, Americas and Oceania collections, we each selected and discussed an item that we felt spoke to the themes of the exhibition and went beyond its UK focus, before joining the audience for an informal Q&A session.
Beginning with women's suffrage cartoons from a 19th-century newspaper published in Aotearoa New Zealand, the session also introduced our online audience to the cartonera book Afro Latina by the Afro-Brazilian lesbian author Formiga, as well as a work by the 19th-century French writer, feminist and anarchist Victoire Léodile Béra, known as André Léo.
The event was originally scheduled to take place in June 2020 at the British Library but was postponed – along with the exhibition – due to the pandemic and eventually re-conceived as an online session. Like many of the Library’s brilliant online events over the past year, the format allowed us to reach a much larger audience, with close to 100 people tuning in.
Ialtinskaia Delegatka. Yalta, 1927. Add MS 57556.
The item I presented was an enormous 2-metre long, hand-drawn Soviet wall newspaper, Ialtinskaia Delegatka (The Yalta Woman Delegate). Created by a local women’s committee in Yalta, Crimea, in the late 1920s, it contains reports on their achievements, as well as amateur poetry, drawings and stories intended to inspire and promote communist values.
In the bottom right hand corner is a drawing of a woman carrying out an epic feat of multitasking. She is simultaneously writing (possibly carrying out committee work for the newspaper), cooking, cleaning and watching a child. I find it particularly fascinating as it encapsulates the different – often conflicting and gendered - responsibilities that the new Soviet woman was supposed to balance: those of a Communist citizen, worker, mother and, increasingly by the late 1920s, wife.
Close up of a drawing from the newspaper of a woman simultaneously writing, cooking, cleaning and caring for a child
The newspaper is important as it gives us an idea of how the 1917 Russian Revolution and the first years of Bolshevik rule affected the lives of many women – as seen from the perspective of women themselves.
The Bolshevik revolution established the legal equality of women and men. In October 1918, legislation known as The Family Code granted illegitimate children the same legal rights as legitimate ones, secularised marriage, and allowed a couple to take either the husband or wife’s name once married. Divorce became easily obtainable, abortion was legalised in 1920, and communal facilities for childcare and domestic tasks were introduced with the aim of relieving women of household chores and dismantling the traditional, nuclear family. In 1919, a Women’s Bureau (Zhenotdel) was established. Its purpose was to disseminate propaganda among working class women and attempt to engage them in public life and the revolutionary process.
Cover of the women's journal Rabotnitsa, No. 1, 1923. BL copies at Mic.F.866 and Mic.A.20186. Image from Wikimedia Commons
By the mid- to late-1920s, both public and party attitudes towards family policy had become more conservative. This was partly in response to the social impact of some of the reforms of 1918, particularly de facto marriages, which were seen to in fact create inequality for women.
High unemployment among women in the 1920s and rising numbers of homeless children played a significant role in the return to the more traditional family unit. In 1926 a new marriage law granted registered and unregistered marriages equal rights and placed more emphasis on the obligations that came with marriage. Plans to free women from childcare and housework by creating communal facilities had also failed to fully materialise – as is perhaps clear from the drawing of the multi-tasking woman.
In the 1930s, Stalin further reversed many of the rights granted to women and families in the 1918 Family Code. Abortion was banned, divorce became extremely difficult to obtain, and the law on the rights of illegitimate children was revoked.
Stalin also closed the Zhenotdel in 1930 on the basis that women’s emancipation had been achieved in the Soviet Union and the department was therefore no longer needed. Despite this, throughout the entire history of the Soviet Union, women constituted (on average) only 3–4% of the party’s Central Committee.
Thus, the early Communist vision of women’s equality and liberation was never fully realised. As emphasis shifted back towards the traditional family unit in the 1930s, women were faced with the double burden of combining domestic duties with full-time work.
Although the newspaper had been at the back of my mind before the pandemic, it took on an additional significance in the context of the past year’s events. On seeing the drawing of the multi-tasking woman, one colleague remarked that it gave her goosebumps. Across the world, women are doing more unpaid domestic chores and family care as a result of the pandemic, often in addition to other work responsibilities. According to global data from UN Women, it could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality.
Official social media advert from January 2021 urging people to ‘Stay Home. Save Lives’
The use of gender stereotypes in the media only serves to reinforce this inequality. Just the day before the event, it transpired that the UK government had withdrawn a ‘Stay Home’ advert after it was criticised for its sexist portrayal of women. The advert showed a woman carrying out domestic chores and home-schooling children while the only man depicted is seen relaxing on the sofa.
The backlash to the advert, along with the countless inspiring stories of activism featured in the Unfinished Business exhibition, demonstrate that the fight for gender equality is far from over.
Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Although the physical exhibition space is currently closed due to lockdown restrictions, you can discover more about the stories, people and events that have shaped society, as well as the work that remains unfinished, through the exhibition web resource, podcast and fantastic series of online events.
Further reading and references:
Barbara Alpern Engel, Women in Russia, 1700–2000 (Cambridge; New York, 2004)
Catherine Baker, ed., Gender in 20th Century Eastern Europe and the USSR (London; New York, 2017)
Elizabeth A. Wood, The Baba and the Comrade: Gender and Politics in Revolutionary Russia (Bloomington, 1997)
Jane McDermid and Anna Hillyar, Midwives of Revolution: Female Bolsheviks and Women Workers in 1917 (London, 1999)
Marianna Muravyeva and Natalia Novikova, eds., Women's History in Russia: (Re)Establishing the Field (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2014).
Melanie Ilic, ed., The Palgrave Handbook of Women and Gender in Twentieth-Century Russia and the Soviet Union (London, 2017).
Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism, and Bolshevism, 1860–1930 (Princeton, NJ; Oxford, 1991)
Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild, Equality and Revolution: Women's Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905–1917 (Pittsburg, Pa., 2010)
Rosalind Marsh, ed., Women in Russia and Ukraine (Cambridge, 1996)
Wilma Rule and Norma C. Noonan, eds., Russian Women in Politics and Society (Westport, Conn.; London, 1996)
26 November 2020
This year marks the centenary of Sovremennye zapiski (‘Contemporary Notes’), the most successful Russian-language thick journal published by émigrés during the interwar period.
Appearing in Paris in November 1920, the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski was published by a group of five Russian émigrés in Paris. This ‘thick’ journal was an important literary and socio-political publication for the roughly 50,000 Russian immigrants in Paris during the interwar period. It would continue to appear irregularly until April 1940.
The first issue of Sovremennye zapiski, November 1920, P.P.4853.ak.
The post-October 1917 Russian emigration was composed of a diverse, fractured and confused population, drawn from every level of pre-revolutionary Russian society. There was a sense of outrage and helplessness among the émigré population as they attempted to establish new lives in indifferent foreign countries, receiving delayed and unverifiable news of events in Russia filtered through a chaotic telegraph system and the foreign press. From its first issue, Sovremennye zapiski both addressed the condition of exile for many Russian writers and offered analyses of events within the RSFSR.
Sovremennye zapiski provided Russian émigré writers with an important publishing forum, offering a livelihood as well as the prestige of contributing to a continuation of the illustrious Russian thick journal tradition. A ‘thick’ journal could publish work that writers would find difficult to place elsewhere, as émigré newspapers offered too little space and book contracts were hard to come by. While Sovremennye zapiski is known for publishing the early prose of Vladimir Nabokov, the journal would also publish the prose of other well-known Russian writers such as Nobel prize-winner, Ivan Bunin, the popular prose of Teffi (pseudonym of Nadezhda Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya), and the complex work of celebrated Silver Age poet, Marina Tsvetaeva. Sovremennye zapiski also offered their émigré audience the work of the new Russian writers who were developing their own voices beyond their homeland, such as Gaito Gazdanov. Divided into the traditional categories of Russian thick journals, Sovremennye zapiski offered an illustrious belles-lettres section, informed and thoughtful political and social commentary, literary criticism and poetry, as well as reviews of cultural trends and recent Russian-language works.
The shadow of revolution and the flight of émigrés from civil war looms large over this first issue of Sovremennye zapiski, five years on from the Bolshevik coup of October 1917. This first issue of the journal included the first instalment of Count Aleksei Tolstoy’s trilogy, The Road to Calvary, in which he traces the fate of the Russian intelligentsia on the eve of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Another notable contribution is In the Homeland by one of the journal’s editors, Mark Vishniak, a feature that would become a regular column commenting on Russian affairs and offering émigrés information and insight into their homeland.
The programmatic statement with which the first issue of Sovremennye zapiski opens, states that the new journal is uniquely placed to preserve a Russian culture for which there is no longer a place within Russia; ‘Sovremennye zapiski is devoted, first and foremost, to Russian culture. Our journal has been published at a particularly difficult moment for Russian culture.’ This editorial statement proclaims that only Sovremennye zapiski itself, can be considered the legitimate heir to this tradition, as it will publish the best work produced by Russian émigré writers, regardless of their political affiliation:
Sovremennye zapiski is dedicated, above all, to the interests of Russian culture. Our journal is fated to appear in particularly difficult conditions for Russian society; there is no place for free and independent speech in Russia itself, but here, abroad, such great cultural strength is concentrated, violently torn from its nation, and from true service to it. (‘Ot Redaktsii’, Sovremennye zapiski, 1920, Vol. 1, p3)
The networks of periodicals published by émigré communities around the world attest to the continued vitality of a society of émigrés abroad, despite their difficult circumstances, committed to serving the nation even beyond its national borders. These journals and newspapers also provide evidence of the formation and development of an émigré community in a foreign cultural sphere through political and literary activities.
Photographs of the five editors of Sovremennye zapiski (above) and caricatures of these editors by Navi (below), in Sovremennye zapiski (1920-1940): Iz arkhiva redaktsii, volume 1, ZF.9.a.9100, British Library.
The significance of Sovremennye zapiski is evident in the memoirs of its contributors. In The Italics are Mine, the writer Nina Berberova, a keen observer of émigré life, notes that Sovremennye zapiski was ‘a literary monument’ in which ‘in the course of almost a quarter of a century significant things, the old and the new, could appear’. The popularity of the journal gave rise to a mythology surrounding its editors, each of whom had held important political posts in the Constituent Assembly following the Revolution of March 1917. The legends surrounding the editors of Sovremennye zapiski contributed to the authority of the journal, making it the most prestigious interwar émigré journal in which to be included. All 70 issues of this important periodical are held by the British Library, including the collected correspondence between its editors and contributors.
Hannah Connell, Collaborative Doctoral Student, King’s College London and the British Library
Charlotte Alston, ‘British Journalism and the Campaign for Intervention in the Russian Civil War, 1918-1920’, Revolutionary Russia, Vol 20, No 1, June 2007, pp35-49.
Aleksei Tolstoy, ‘Khozdenie po mukam’, Sovremennye zapiski, No.1, November 1920, pp1-33
Nina Berberova, The Italics are Mine, translated by Philippe Radley (London, 1991), m01/33290.
29 October 2019
This year is the centenary of the Bauhaus, prompting worldwide celebrations from Brazil to the UK, from Germany to China. The Bauhaus as a school of art and architecture is long gone, but as a marketing and PR campaign it has not yet run out of steam. The history of art has put it on a pedestal, and for decades it has been widely recognised as the undisputed primary source of inspiration for Modernism, but is it?
The almost fanatical reverence for the Bauhaus in the West certainly overshadows its most influential contemporary, the People’s Art School, which was located in a small provincial town in modern-day Belarus called Viciebsk (Vitebsk), hundreds of miles from any major cities.
Teachers at the People’s Art School in Viciebsk, July 1919 (Wikimedia Commons)
The school was the brainchild of Viciebsk’s most famous son, Marc Chagall. It was approved in August 1918 by Anatoly Lunacharsky, head of the People’s Commissariat for Education, and officially inaugurated in January 1919, just over two months before the Bauhaus and amid the upheaval of the Russian Civil War. But it was what happened next that actually cemented Viciebsk’s place in the history of modern art. The following year in November 1919, Chagall invited the maverick of 20th century modern art, Kazimir Malevich to teach in his humble art school in Viciebsk.
Kazimir Malevich, O novykh sistemakh v iskusstve (Viciebsk, 1919), C.114.n.46.
2019 therefore marks the centenary of Malevich’s arrival in Viciebsk, and under Malevich, the People’s Art School became a completely different breed with a singular voice. Malevich was in fact persuaded to move from Moscow to Viciebsk by a young teacher who was already teaching there, El Lissitzky, who would later become a celebrated artist worldwide in his own right. With Malevich came his Suprematism, and a clash with the pluralistic approach to styles preferred by Chagall was inevitable. Lissitzky very soon was won over by Suprematism and created his famous/ infamous pro-Bolshevik propaganda poster ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919), a powerful image that graces the floor of the art school (now a museum) today.
El Lissitzky, ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ (1919) (Wikimedia Commons)
Next year will be the centenary of another significant event in modern art history: the emergence of UNOVIS, and this warrants separate mention. The group was first founded by students from the People’s Art School on 19 January 1920 under the Russian acronym MOLPOSNOVIS, meaning ‘Young Followers of the New Art’, but within days, the group was joined by the teachers and was renamed POSNOVIS, meaning ‘Followers of the New Art’.
On 14 February 1920 it was renamed again, this time UNOVIS, meaning the champions, or the affirmers of the New Art – not followers any more. The architect of this cult-like group was Malevich, and it counted many future superstars among its converts, including Lissitzky, Vera Ermolaeva (who was also director of the School for a time), Nina Kogan, and Lazar Khidekel. The transition of the school from the influence of pluralistic individualism championed by Chagall to collective, impersonal and non-objective art was now complete – all the works created by UNOVIS were signed with Malevich’s iconic black square for anonymity.
Kazimir Malevich, Suprematizm. 34 risunka (Viciebsk, 1920). Wikimedia Commons. The British Library holds two facsimiles of this work in Russian and English (X.419/3137 and YA.1997.a.15443).
The whole town of Viciebsk soon became their testing ground as members decorated it with Suprematist art in all its forms, but the group’s ultimate goal was to apply Suprematism to the largest and most permanent art form with a more lasting impact on society: architecture. Although the group did not actually realise any architectural projects during its ephemeral existence, its Suprematist aesthetics inspired and continue to inspire many architects, even its antagonists, throughout the 20th century and up to this day, including the late Zaha Hadid, one of world's most sought-after ‘starchitects’ of recent decades.
The Bauhaus as a school is famous for its short life-span which ended in 1933, but UNOVIS was even more short-lived, it lasted just over 2 years and was dissolved in May 1922 for various reasons including financial ones. Nevertheless, UNOVIS had announced its presence to the world and had a far-reaching impact on 20th-century art and architecture beyond its very short life. The legacy of Viciebsk was re-affirmed by a major exhibition held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris last year (the catalogue is available at the British Library, LF.31.a.6493). The Viciebsk Centre of Modern Art is also planning a series of UNOVIS centenary publications and events next year, including exhibitions, a conference, and a poster competition.
Issue of Supremus, a newspaper dedicated to Malevich and the legacy of Suprematism (Moscow/Zurich, 1991-2001). HS.74/803
There are a number of additional items related to this intensely creative period in Viciebsk in the collections of the British Library. Most notably, they include an original copy of Malevich’s manifesto Bog ne skinut: iskusstvo, tserkov', fabrika (‘God is not cast down: art, church, factory’; Viciebsk, 1922; C.114.n.33.). The Library also holds the first issue (1919) of the Viciebsk journal Revoliutsionnoe iskusstvo (‘Revolutionary Art’; C.191.b.6), which includes articles by Chagall and Malevich, as well as a facsimile of Almanakh UNOVIS 1 (Moscow, 2003; LF.31.b.1837), which was originally published in 1920. In addition, there is a strong collection of works by and about individual members of UNOVIS, as well as a wealth of secondary literature on the group.
Tszwai So, co-founder of Spheron Architects, is a London-based artist and architect
05 July 2019
The British Library holds a range of fascinating Russian-language periodicals published by Russian émigrés across the globe. The newspapers, magazines and journals published by the Russian community abroad during the interwar period is particularly rich.
A new wave of Russian emigration following the Revolutions of 1917 consisted in a great number of soldiers and civilians fleeing the destruction of the Civil War and famine in Russia. Many of these veterans of the Civil War later settled in the European centres of Russian émigré society such as Paris. Former soldiers remained deeply loyal to their regiments, publishing periodicals and newspapers which preserved the history of their regiment and reflected a strong sense of collective identity.
Finliandets, the magazine of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment, a Russian Imperial Guard infantry regiment founded in 1806, is an especially interesting example of such publications, though it is set apart from similar publications in the 1920s by its early manuscript form, hand-drawn illustrations and striking cover design.
Finliandets sought to preserve the memory of the regiment’s achievements and to maintain the sense of community among its members abroad. Finliandets appeared in Paris between 1925 and 1972. The British Library holds issues 1-42 as well as a ‘Jubilee Issue’ celebrating the regiment’s 150th anniversary in 1956. The first issue of the magazine was handwritten by Baron Pavel Adolfovich Klodt von Jürgensburg (1867-1938), the director of the Association of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment in France. Although the typewritten script of subsequent copies is fading, the careful hand of this editor in later issues can still be seen correcting and adding to the text.
This first manuscript issue envisages the magazine as a continuation of the regiment’s august service to Tsar and country, recalling the moment in which the regiment, on a routine manoeuvre, heard of the birth of its patron, the Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich, on 12 August 1904, the editor declares:
The memory of that which took place 21 years ago lives on in us today. In this love for the past we draw strength for the future. We will seek and rediscover that which has been forgotten, for the renewal of our esteemed regiment - a century-long, loyal service to Tsar and Fatherland. And, with the Lord’s help, our humble Finliandets too will serve this noble aim.
The magazine circulated in roughly 50 copies throughout its lifetime, and cost three francs. Half of the proceeds from sales went to the cost of producing the magazine and half to the organization itself.
In one appeal to members of the regiment to support an ailing comrade, Baron Klodt von Jürgensburg notes that the ‘Finliandsky Guard regiment’s incredible unity and solidarity has always set it apart’, appealing to members to ‘prove that this noble tradition is alive today’.
Finliandets reveals the importance of such publications for maintaining a sense of community within the distinct groups which characterized Russian émigré society. The magazine invites regiment members receiving the magazine to contribute to its production through verifying its contents, correcting and adding detailed information, and corresponding with Major General Baron Klodt von Jürgensburg at the Villa Marita, Avenue du Petit Juas, Cannes. The magazine often carried obituaries for veterans and the details of the organization’s administration, reflecting both an engaged and closely bound community abroad.
In 1956, a ‘Jubilee Issue’, more than double the length of the usual magazine, appeared between issues 33 and 34. The issue reflects on the regiment’s hope that this 150th anniversary could have been celebrated in their homeland. Despite the regiment’s continued exile, however, Colonel Aleksandr Likhosherstov, president of the Association of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment and a contributor to many émigré periodicals of the time, declares that ‘looking back over the history of our noble regiment, I am filled with a sense of pride at everything that the regiment has overcome during this period’.
This Jubilee issue contains a detailed history of the Finliandsky Guard Regiment from its inception, with lists and photographs of members of the regiment abroad in 1956, hand-drawn maps of military manoeuvres and even a reproduction of the musical programme, menu and invitation to the regiment’s centenary celebration, which took place in 1906. This five-volume series of bound magazines reflects the desire of former regiment to document and preserve its history.
An inscription in the first bound volume attests to the continued importance of this tradition into the late twentieth century.
The inscription may be roughly translated as: ‘For the son of Pyshkov, of the Volynsky Guard Regiment, to keep the memory alive, from Captain Zaitsev, Finliandsky Guard Regiment. 15 December 1977’
Finliandets is an important source of information on the history of the Russian regiments abroad, belonging as much to a narrative of Russian emigration in the twentieth century as to a history migrant groups in France. It also attests to the strength of the identity of Russian émigré groups, such as the Finliandsky Guard regiment, within the broad and diverse 20th-century Russian émigré community.
Sir John Hope Simpson, The Refugee Problem: Report of a Survey (London, 1939) Ac.2273/33.
Hannah Connell is a Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student at the British Library and King’s College London researching migration and diaspora through twentieth-century Russian-language émigré periodicals.
24 August 2018
Pavlo Skoropadskyi died on 26 April 1945 from wounds sustained during a US Airforce bombardment of Plattling Railway Station in Bavaria. His funeral took place in the small town of Metten against a backdrop of exploding bombs and whistling bullets. Only his daughter Elizabeth was present, who carried a cross before her father’s coffin, although badly wounded herself. The funeral was conducted by a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest who happened to be in Metten at the time. When he discovered the identity of the deceased, he said that it was a great honour for him to perform this last service for such a distinguished person. It was in these circumstances that the last Hetman of Ukraine, Pavlo Skoropadskyi, ended his time on earth.
Pavlo Skoropadskyi in 1918 (Photograph from Wikimedia Commons)
Pavlo Petrovych Skoropadskyi was a Ukrainian political and military statesman, and Hetman of the Ukrainian State – the official name of Ukraine during the period of his leadership – in 1918. Born in 1873, he was descended from an ancient line of Ukrainian Cossacks and nobility. This probably influenced him most in deciding his future path after the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. Prior to the February Revolution, he had enjoyed a glittering military career as one of the most respected, talented and decorated military commanders of the Russian Empire, a hero of the Russo-Japanese and First World Wars, an adjutant to Tsar Nicholas II and one of the Imperial Family’s few close confidants. In the lead-up to 1917 he was a Lieutenant-General of the Russian Army. In 1898 he married Oleksandra Durnovo, herself a descendant of the noble Kochubeyi family, and the marriage produced six children.
After Nicholas II’s abdication in March 1917 and the Bolshevik coup in St Petersburg in October 1917, Skoropadskyi faced a choice about whom and which path to follow. In his memoirs, written in 1919 after he had emigrated, he explained, “I followed the path which was closest to my heart. That path led to Ukraine.” Understanding the inevitability of Soviet aggression against the Ukrainian National Republic, which had been declared in November 1917, Skoropadskyi recognised the authority of the Central Rada even though he did not share its leaders’ socialist views. The military corps under his command blocked Bolshevik troops from advancing on Kyiv. As a result, not only did he save the city from occupation and devastation, but also Ukrainian statehood itself, which was still young and faltering.
However, because of his opposition to the politics of the Central Rada, he tendered his resignation at the end of December 1917 and soon afterwards was one of several initiators of a movement to unite right-wing forces to replace the government. He found significant support from landowners and leaders of the German and Austrian armies, who were in Ukraine under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. With the support of his associates and approval of strong allies, he hoped to develop Ukraine into a modern European country.
On 29 April 1918 at the All-Ukrainian Agricultural Conference in Kyiv, Skoropadskyi was proclaimed Hetman of Ukraine. He led the renamed Ukrainian State for seven and a half months, coming to power during a period of chaos, disunity and internal and external instability. Skoropadskyi and his government sought to rebuild the state. Compared to the destructive processes taking place in war-torn Soviet Russia, Ukraine followed a path of constructive nation-building, aimed at developing all spheres of economic, social and cultural life.
Skoropadskyi’s rule was not without controversy, however, and he faced opposition from a range of political and social groups. Although his objective was to include the widest possible spectrum of Ukrainian political thought in government, he was unable to reach a compromise with the socialist parties, who refused to serve under a hetmanate system, and his ministers were primarily conservative and liberal representatives. His highest priority was to form a strong and capable government and a professional administrative apparatus and for the period of its existence, the Hetmanate had some significant successes. Around 500 new laws were enacted, including legislation for a national currency, a national Senate, local self-government, the army, and reform of the agrarian system. The most noteworthy successes were in the spheres of culture and education, as the key drivers of national rebirth. The legacy of the Ukrainian State included the founding of 150 Ukrainian high schools, two Ukrainian universities in Kyiv and Kamyanets-Podilsk, and the Ukrainian Academy of Science. The National Library, National Archive, and National Theatre were also established during this period.
Pavlo Skoropadskyi as Hetman of Ukraine. Kyiv, 1918. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Central State Archives of Supreme Bodies of Power and Government of Ukraine)
Furthermore, the Ukrainian State made important foreign policy achievements. During its existence, Ukraine established 11 diplomatic and almost 50 consular missions in 20 countries, while in Ukraine itself there were 12 diplomatic and 42 consular missions from 24 countries.
The positive changes which took place during the period of the Ukrainian State showed that, like Finland and Poland, Ukraine had a realistic opportunity of becoming a modern European nation.
On 14 November 1918, under pressure from complex geopolitical and internal circumstances, Skoropadskyi made a declaration about Ukraine entering into a federation with a future non-Bolshevik Russia. He believed that this was the only way to save Ukraine from Soviet Russia’s colonial ambitions. Following an anti-Hetmanate uprising, he resigned his post on 14 December 1918 and left Ukraine.
Skoropadskyi lived as an émigré in Germany, where he established the Ukrainian Scientific Institute and was the leader of the Hetman (Monarchist) movement in Western Europe, the USA and Canada. In 1937 he became leader of the Association of Hetmanate Statesmen, whose activity was aimed at renewing an independent Ukrainian State.
Cover of The Investigator (London, 1932-1934) P.P.3610.fac., a periodical promoting the Hetmanate movement. An explanation on the verso of the title page reads: “The ‘Investigator’ is the sole organisation in England working in conjunction with, and with the authority of, the Hetman of the Ukraine, Paul Skoropadsky, and has no connection with any other body”.
Although a controversial figure to some, Pavlo Skoropadskyi remained to the end of his life a staunch Ukrainian patriot with an unshakeable faith in a better future for Ukraine. In the history of Ukraine’s path to statehood, he can be seen as one of its most prominent 20th-century leaders.
Tetyana Ralduhina, Historian, Chief Researcher of the period of the Ukrainian Revolution of 1917-1921, Kyiv
Pavlo Skoropadskyĭ, Spohady: kinets’ 1917 – hruden’ 1918 (Kyïv, 1995). YA.1997.b.7557
Iaroslav Lebedynsky, Skoropadsky et l’édification de l’État ukrainien (Paris, 2010). YF.2011.a.8342
R. Mlynovetskyĭ, Narysy z istoriï ukraïnsʹkykh vyzvolʹnykh zmahanʹ, 1917-1918 rr. (Toronto, 1970-1973). YA.1987.a.13800
G. V. Papakin, Pavlo Skoropadsʹkyĭ: patriot, derzhavotvoretsʹ, liudyna: istoryko-arkhivni narysy (Kyïv, 2003). YF.2006.a.16124
G.V. Papakin, Arkhiv Skoropads'kykh (Kyiv, 2004). YF.2006.a.16106
Oleksandr Reient, Pavlo Skoropadsʹkyĭ (Kyïv, 2003). YA.2003.a.39678
Hetʹmanat Pavla Skoropadsʹkoho – istoriia, postati, kontroversiï: vseukraïnsʹka naukova konferentsiia, 19-20 travnia 2008 r. (Kyïv, 2008). YF.2009.a.30088
Ostannyĭ hetʹman: ivileĭnyĭ zbirnyk pam'ia︡ti Pavla Skoropadsʹkoho, 1873-1945, edited by Olena Ott-Skoropadsʹka (Kyïv, 1993). YA.1998.a.5532
12 February 2018
2017 saw a number of important milestones in the history of Russian Marxism, including the 150th anniversary of the publication of the first volume of Das Kapital and the centenary of the Russian Revolution. From 1 May to 5 August 2018, the British Library will be celebrating 200 years since Marx’s birth with an exhibition in the Treasures Gallery.
This year will also see the centenaries of the deaths of five central figures from the generation of ‘Populist’ Russians who began to engage with the ideas of Marx – V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (b. 1829), Nikolai Danielson (b. 1844), Nikolai Liubavin (b. 1845), German Lopatin (b. 1845) and Vasily Vorontsov (b. 1847). The British Library holds original editions of many of their books, the manuscripts of the extensive correspondence between Danielson and Marx (Add MS 38075), and the fruits of their work: Russian translations of the three volumes of Das Kapital, completed between 1872 and 1896.
Above: Title page of volume 1 of Karl Marx, Kapital (St Petersburg, 1872-1896) C.185.b.12. The first translation of volume one of Das Kapital into any foreign language. Below: Inscription on the title-page of the second volume (completed by Danielson in 1885 after Marx’s death): ‘To the British Museum from the literary executors of Karl Marx. London 1.2.86. Presented by F. Engels & Eleanor Marx Aveling’.
These Populist ‘fathers’ represent something of a forgotten generation, overshadowed by the more familiar names of the Social Democratic ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’: the Mensheviks Georgi Plekhanov (who also died in 1918), Vera Zasulich, and Yuri Martov; and the Bolsheviks Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin.
Many commentators have depicted a rigid division between Populism and Marxism. Lenin wrote that Populism was a ‘whole vision of the world whose history begins with Herzen and ends with Danielson’ – a precursor of his own revolutionary ideology, but essentially non-Marxist.
Top row, left to right: V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky (date unknown) and Nikolai Danielson (1908). Bottom row, left to right: German Lopatin (c.1895) and Vasily Vorontsov (date unknown). Images from Wikimedia Commons
The ‘Populists’ did not see it that way. As well as being involved in the translation of Das Kapital into Russian (in the case of Danielson, Liubavin, and Lopatin), they also sought to grasp what it meant for Russia. In the book, Marx vividly depicted what he called the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’, which shifted resources from pre-capitalist agricultural forms to the developing industrial capitalist sector - with devastating consequences for agricultural communities.
In Marx’s work, this is a historical account of a task already substantially achieved by the bourgeoisie – the subordination of agriculture to industry. For his Russian readers, however, this process lay not in the recent past but in their immediate future. They feared that the famines and social dislocation of industrialisation in the British Empire might be repeated in Russia.
A common experience for Marx’s early advocates in Russia. Ilya Repin’s Arrest of a Propagandist (1880-92). Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Must Moscow travel the British road, ‘the expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil’? In the closing decades of the 19th century, Russian intellectuals drew on Marx to argue for various positions in relation to this question.
Though with differing emphases and political approaches, Bervi-Flerovsky, Danielson, Liubavin, Lopatin, and Vorontsov foresaw a ‘non-capitalist’ industrialisation in Russia, which would avoid the horrors of the ‘primitive accumulation of capital’. By exposing the economic mechanisms driving development in Western Europe, they argued, Marx opened up the possibility of a more self-conscious and planned process. They hoped for a more humane path which would allow the peasant commune to persist in some form, or at least enable the class of peasants to become modern socialist citizens without severe disruption.
Vorontsov’s Krest'ianskaia Obshchina (‘The Peasant Commune’) (Moscow, 1892) 08207.k.30.
Other readers of Marx advanced a more fatalistic interpretation. For Nikolai Ziber (1844-88), known as ‘the first Russian Marxist’, there could be no path to socialism except through a long period of capitalist development exactly as depicted in Das Kapital. There must first be a bourgeois-democratic revolution to enable the unfettered accumulation of capital. A socialist revolution would follow only once more traditional economic forms had been dismantled, and the peasantry forcibly transformed into a wage-earning proletariat. This reading became known as ‘orthodox Marxism’, influencing the Social Democratic movement as well as the Legal Marxist intellectuals like Peter Struve.
By 1917, Lenin had resolved to cut the Gordian Knot by a third solution: to try to spark a world revolution, and contribute to the success of socialism in the developed capitalist countries. Socialist Russia would then be able to modernise in collaboration with the advanced economies of Socialist Europe.
An early Soviet work about Lopatin. I. I. Popov, German Aleksandrovich Lopatin (Moscow, 1926) 010795.aa.85.
The daring actions of the Leninists in 1917 brought their particular strand of Russian Marxism to the fore, eclipsing all rival interpretations. In 1918 the Bolsheviks celebrated the centenary of Marx’s birth as the rulers of Soviet Russia, staking their claim to be his only faithful followers.
However, the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary ideology itself had emerged out of engagement with these older figures, albeit often in passionate argument with them. As the world socialist revolution failed in the years after 1917, the question of the fate of the peasantry along Russia’s path of industrial development, which had been so central for these early readers of Marx, returned with even greater urgency.
Mike Carey, Curator of East European Collections
Ewa Borowska, ‘Marx and Russia’, Studies in East European Thought 54, 1/2 (March, 2002), 87-103. 8490.413600
Henry Eaton, ‘Marx and the Russians’, Journal of the History of Ideas 41, 1 (January-March, 1980), 89-112. 5000.900000
Letters of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Nikolai Frantsevitch Daniel’son (1868-1895) Add MS 38075.
Derek Offord, ‘The Contribution of V.V. Bervi-Flerovsky to Russian Populism’, The Slavonic and East European Review 66, 2 (April, 1988), 236-51.
Albert Resis, ‘Das Kapital Comes to Russia’, Slavic Review 29, 2 (June, 1970), 219-37. 8309.385000
Andrzej Walicki, The Controversy Over Capitalism: Studies in the Social Philosophy of the Russian Populists (Oxford, 1969) X.529/10228.
08 November 2017
In November 1918, the first anniversary of the Bolshevik military insurrection (as the October Revolution was then known) was ‘celebrated in style’ in Soviet Russia. Around 3,500 metres of red fabric was allocated for decorating the Kremlin in Moscow. Over 400 metres of ropes were supposed to hold posters and panels during the celebration. On 7 November 1918 Lenin, who had made a remarkably prompt recovery after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt some two months earlier, managed to give several speeches in different parts of Moscow. A large memorial plaque in commemoration of those who lost their lives “in the struggle for peace and the brotherhood of nations” was unveiled on Red Square and a temporary monument to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was also erected in the centre of the capital. A mass show “The Pantomime of the Great Revolution” was staged in the streets. Such mass festivals and reenactments of “revolutionary events” would soon become a usual feature of each commemoration and celebration in the early years of Soviet Russia. You can see photographs of those first anniversary celebrations here.
Those Russian artists who embraced the Bolshevik Revolution were happy to glorify it in arts. Vladimir Mayakovski was quite active in promoting the celebrations. For the first anniversary he wrote a ‘comic opera’ – Misteriia-buff (Mystery-Bouffe) – which was accepted to be part of the festivities. Staged by the famous theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold with designs by Kazimir Malevich the play was premiered on 7 November 1918 and then shown two more times. The author also appeared on stage as a ‘common man’, but then had to play a couple more roles as some actors did not turn up.
Above: Designs by Kazimir Malevich, from Istoriia sovetskogo teatra ed ited by V.E.Rafalobich, Vol.1 (Leningrad, 1933). Ac.4635.ca.6; Below: Vladimir Mayakovski, poster for Misteriia-buff, 1918. From The Soviet theatrical poster (Leningrad, 1977). HS.74/2256
Seven pairs of ‘clean’ (‘bloodsuckers’) and seven pairs of ‘unclean’ (‘workers’), as well as The Hysterical Lady, The Common Man (The Man of the Future), Devils, Saints (including Leo Tolstoy and Jean-Jacques Rousseau) performed a ‘satirical drama’ in The Entire universe, The Ark, Hell, Paradise, Land of Chaos and finally – in The Promised Land. By the end of the year the play was published as a separate edition.
Cover by Mayakovski for the 1st edition of Misteriia-buff. (Petrograd, 1918). C.135.g.23
The Revolution affected everyone in the country, but it was also important for avant-garde artists and the Bolsheviks as well to stress the final divide between the past and the present, the rich and poor, the victors and losers, the heroes and victims and leave no space in between so that each and every one should clearly take sides. This irreversible split was also presented in another work by Mayakovski created for the anniversary – the album of drawings and short verses Geroi i zhertvy revoliutsii (‘Heroes and Victims of the Revolution’; Cup.410.c.81). Heroes (Worker, Red Army Soldier, Farm Labourer, Sailor, Seamstress, Laundress, Motorist, Telegraph Operator and Railway Worker) and Victims (Factory Owner, Banker, Landlord, Kulak, Lady, Priest, Bureaucrat, General and Merchant) are presented by four artists: Kseniia Boguslavskaia , Vladimir Kozlinskii, Sergei Makletsov and Ivan Puny.
And here are some of the ‘Victims’: Merchant, Kulak, Lady and Priest
It was proven before and happened this time again – Revolution devours its children. In 1919, Boguslavskaia and Puny left Russia for good; in 1930 Mayakovski committed suicide; in 1935, Malevich died of cancer having been banned from exhibiting ‘bourgeois’ abstract art; and in 1940, Meyerhold was shot dead in Stalin’s purges as an ‘enemy of the people’.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections
29 August 2017
As our exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths closes, the curatorial team involved share some memories, favourite items and ones that got away.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator
My research on the exhibition brought me to the State Russian Library in Moscow. I’m extremely grateful to all the Russian colleagues who work there. They allowed me into their storage rooms and brought piles of folders with Soviet and Russian posters, postcards and other visual ephemera. I wanted to get on loan and show here, in London, everything: colourful candy wrappers with a picture of the brave Cossack Kozma Kriuchkov (eventually we decided to honour him in the exhibition with a poster from the British Library holdings), letter-templatess addressed to relatives from the front lines so that illiterate soldiers could send greetings home, photographs of the devastation in the Moscow Kremlin in November 1917, and many more.
But, of course, the one poster that would have been so appropriate was this one – Veriu, sotuiu vstretim godovshchinu! – I believe, we will celebrate the centenary!
Image from http://www.sovposters.ru/view/347
The artist, who created this optimistic image in a pretty avant-garde style was Iurii Bondi (1889-1926). Curiously, his works for the Kostroma ROSTA (the Russian news agency) survived and today can be seen online, although he was best known among his contemporaries as a theatre artist and set designer, whose works often inspired the great Meyerhold, whom Bondi was working with. Bondi’s book illustrations were loved and praised by another big Russian celebrity of the early 20th century – poet Alexander Blok. We did not bring this poster to the British Library and did not ‘celebrate’ the centenary, but here is our one more chance to learn about people who lived through this extraordinary time.
Susan Reed, Co-Curator
Working on the Russian Revolution exhibition has been a wonderful experience, but also a steep learning curve since I am – full disclosure time! – not a Russian specialist. I found myself learning lots of things I didn’t know about Russia and the Revolution of 1917, and discovering that some things I thought I knew were not as I had believed. I even discovered an unfamiliar bit of my own national history, the intervention of British troops in Northern Russia during the Russian Civil War.
In fact it was researching British involvement in Revolutionary Russia that led to one of my more exciting moments: finding a map in the National Archives drawn by Arthur Ransome for a report advocating intervention, which showed where food supplies were most plentiful. I almost jumped out of my seat! As a child I loved Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ books with his hand-drawn maps on the end-papers, and here was a map with the same neat handwriting and detailed annotations, only this time in a deadly serious cause.
I was also able to advise on material from my actual area of expertise, Germany, where revolutions broke out in November 1918 and short-lived soviet-style governments were established in several cities. One of my favourite images in the exhibition is a cartoon from early 1918 showing a ‘Trojan Horse’ full of Bolsheviks being towed into Berlin, an example of how fears of revolution spread through Europe following events in Russia. Of course we had less space to deal with the revolutions outside Russia, but if there’s one exhibit I’d have liked to be able to show in this context, it’s Käthe Kollwitz’s picture of the murdered revolutionary Karl Liebknecht. Sadly we don’t have a copy ourselves, and decided not to borrow one, but like so much of Kollwitz’s work, it’s a powerful and moving image.
Käthe Kollwitz, Memorial for Karl Liebknecht, 1919. (Image from WikiArt)
Mike Carey, Collaborative Doctoral Student Nottingham University and BL
One thing we didn't get a chance to say much about was the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Chinese Revolution. A favourite item of mine which didn't make the final exhibit list is H.T. Tsiang's 'China Red' . The British Library has a copy signed by the author. He was a Communist, worked for Sun Yat-Sen's secretary up to 1925 during the first United Front, then emigrated to the USA when the KMT-Communist alliance split.
Cover (above) and author's signature (below) from H.S. Tsiang, China Red (New York, 1932) YD.2008.a.9385.
It's a series of letters between an émigré Chinese revolutionary in the USA and his partner who stayed behind, chronicling the split in 1926-7. It opens with a poem about Lenin which is quite eccentric:
Who is that guy?"
"He is not big
Neither is he high;
He has two hands,
And a pair of eyes;
Just as human
As you and I. ..."
H.T. Tsiang ended up working as an extra in Hollywood films – there’s a show-reel of him on Vimeo playing various caricatures and stereotypes. According to one account he became known in Hollywood for an ‘R-rated, one-man, one-hour adaptation of Hamlet’ which he performed every Friday night for ‘a dozen years’ (this Slate article has more about Tsiang).
Katie McElvanney, Collaborative Doctoral Student QMUL and BL
Over the past two and a half years, my involvement in the exhibition has included selecting and translating materials, developing storylines and concepts, meeting with curators in Moscow to discus loans, writing object labels and articles on women and journalism for the British Library website, and producing the timeline for both the website and the book published to accompanying the exhibition. Some of my favourite items on display include a beautiful hand-drawn wall newspaper issued by a local women’s collective in Yalta (complete with a sketch of the ultimate multi-tasking woman!) and an early Soviet propaganda poster promoting literacy.
One of the most valuable and rewarding aspects of working on an exhibition as part of a CDP is the chance to see how it takes shape over the three year period, from the early research and brainstorming stages through to the opening. As one of two CDP students working on the Russian Revolution exhibition project, I have benefited immensely from the knowledge, experience and support of a wider academic and exhibition team, as well as the wide range of British Library and CDP training and events on offer. While juggling the different aspects of a CDP is not without its challenges, I feel extremely fortunate and proud to have worked on the exhibition and to have gained such a range of experiences outside the immediate academic sphere of the PhD.
We'd like to thank all the many colleagues within the BL who also put so much work into the exhibition, our external lenders and advisers, and the many people who have come to visit. We hope you have enjoyed seeing the exhibition as much as we enjoyed working on it!
21 August 2017
As we mark 100 years since the Russian Revolution, we should also consider another centenary linked to it. In 2017, Finland has been celebrating 100 years of independence from Russia. Finnish independence was officially declared on 6 December 1917 by Pehr Evind Svinhufvid, the head of the majority in the Senate at the time. With Russian powers supposedly transferred back to Finland in the middle of 1917 thanks to laws enacted by the newly configured Finnish Senate and an election that returned a low number of Russian-supported socialists, Svinhufvid was able to proclaim sovereignty in December and this was formally recognised by the new Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Vladimir Lenin. Independence did not however mean stability for a nation that continued to be influenced simultaneously by various Russian and German forces and the Finnish Civil War ensued in the first half of 1918.
Johannes Erwig, Rødt eller Hvidt? Sandheden om Finland (Copenhgen, 1918) 8095.ee.23. A pamphelt from the period of the Finnish Civil War.
With this tumultuous beginning in mind, Finland is proudly celebrating this century of independence with a host of programmes worldwide under the banner ‘Finland 100’. One project that has been developed for this year between the Finnish Institute in London, The National Archives of Finland, the National Library of Finland and the British Library, with the contribution of other archives, is a ‘Tale of Two Countries’. This is a digital gallery offering ‘carefully curated pieces of the shared history of Finland and Britain and their cultural, political and economic relations.’
The British Library has contributed images from its digitized collections, and has also completed new digitizations of some significant relevant materials, including the first English translation of the Finnish epic Kalevala.
Ancient Finnish hero from The Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland, translated into English by J. M. Crawford (New York, 1888) 11557.d.8.
Another title to be newly digitized is M. Pearson Thomson’s 1909 travel guide to Finland, part of his series of guides Peeps at many Lands.
The folks at the Tale of Two Countries website proudly show off a book that ‘gives us everything we need to spread the good word about Finland. He takes a quick look into history and tells us what the Finns are like.’
Colour plate of a Finnish woman in traditional dress from Peeps at many Lands. Finland
In Winter sketches in Lapland, Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke travels through Lapland in a sledge describing for the reader the sights of the land and the customs of the people. The book’s 24 lithographs transport us to the winters of the Arctic!
Above and below: Sleigh travel, from from Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke, Winter Sketches in Lapland, or Illustrations of a journey from Alten ... to Torneå ... (London, 1826) HS.74/1112
With a host of material from the various partner organisations, the cultural relationship between Finland and Britain is illuminated in a special way in this virtual gallery. Whether it’s a letter from Jean Sibelius to the British pianist Harriet Cohen, or an issue of the Finland Bulletin (‘An English Journal devoted to the cause of the Finnish People’), the connected memory of two nations is preserved here.
A look at the website might even inspire your own peep at Finland… For those who have memories of Finland, there is even an option to share your memory through an uploaded image or a story. Have a peep!
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies
18 August 2017
One of the exhibits in our current exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is a cartoon from the satirical magazine Novyi Satirikon. It shows the religious mystic Grigorii Rasputin sitting on a throne, gazing out with his trademark intense stare. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra crouch at Rasputin’s feet while the German Kaiser Wilhelm II stands behind the throne.
This reflects the popular view at the time that Rasputin had undue influence over the Russian royal family and that he and the German-born Alexandra plotted against Russian interests during the First World War. The same belief is reflected in a Japanese cartoon of the period, which shows the Tsarina, Kaiser and Rasputin (in the guise of a demon) sitting conspiratorially round a table.
But one interesting point about the Novyi Satirikon cartoon is that it was actually published in April 1917, four months after Rasputin’s death (and two after Nicholas’s abdication). Such a caricature would of course have been hard to get past the censors while Rasputin was alive and enjoying the patronage of a still-intact monarchy. But it is striking that, even after his death and the fall of the monarchy, his image was a powerful enough symbol of corruption to make the front page of a satirical magazine.
This is an early example of Rasputin’s afterlife in propaganda, history, conspiracy theory and popular culture. Rumours and legends – such as his wartime plotting and the belief that he and Alexandra were lovers – had grown up before his death but afterwards they were given ever freer rein, with stories of a criminal youth, of wild parties and orgies in St Petersburg, of hypnotic powers, and of an almost supernatural resistance to his murderers’ poison and bullets.
A look at some of the books about Rasputin in our catalogue give an idea of his reputation. Titles describe him as ‘Holy Devil’ (10790.pp.22.), ‘Prophet, Libertine and Plotter’ (010795.aaa.7.), one of ‘Twelve Monstrous Criminals’ (06055.ee.17.), an ‘All-powerful Peasant’ (010795.a.52.), ‘Satyr-monk and Criminal’ (10796.aa.37.) and ‘Rascal Monk’ (10796.a.28.). This last was by the thriller-writer and conspiracy theorist William Le Queux who, perhaps thinking that ‘Rascal’ might sound rather playful, followed it up with the more strongly titled The Minister of Evil.
However lurid and fanciful some of their claims, these works were presented as factual – even George Sava’s bizarre Rasputin Speaks (London, 1941; 10795.p.27), supposedly Rasputin’s own story told to Sava through a Russian spirit medium. But of course Rasputin made his way into works defined as fiction too, beginning as early as 1923 with Ivan Nazhivin’s Rasputin (English translation New York, 1929; 010795.aa.66). Since then he has featured in everything from straightforward historical novels to elaborate conspiracy thrillers where he wields supernatural powers or works evil from beyond the grave. More recently Rasputin has appeared in graphic novels, usually in his more fantastical guise as in the Hellboy universe or Alex Grecian’s Rasputin series (vol. 2, 2016 at YKL.2017.b.2935).
Rasputin appeared on film even before he appeared in fiction, starting in 1917 with The Fall of the Romanoffs, featuring Rasputin’s former ally and later antagonist, the Monk Iliodor, as himself. The 1932 film Rasputin and the Empress led to a lawsuit from Prince Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin’s assassins, and his wife Irina, angered in particular that a character believed to represent Irina was portrayed as Rasputin’s lover. A curious, if indirect, aspect of Rasputin’s legacy is that the lawsuit resulted in the introduction of the now-familiar disclaimer in film credits that the characters ‘bear no resemblance to living persons’.
Of course Rasputin is a gift for any actor with a powerful presence and intense gaze – step forward, among the Brits, Christopher Lee (Rasputin the Mad Monk, 1966), Tom Baker (Nicholas and Alexandra, 1971) and Alan Rickman (Rasputin, Dark Servant of Destiny, 1996). While the latter two are straight historical dramas, the first is at the lurid end of the scale. But perhaps the nadir of Rasputin’s film career is the 1997 animation Anastasia in which he returns from limbo (with a wisecracking bat sidekick) to pursue the surviving Grand Duchess Anastasia.
In Anastasia, Rasputin gets to sing, as he also does in at least three operas: Rasputin’s End (1958; F.1256.q) by Nicolas Nabokov, and two works simply entitled Rasputin by Jay Reise (1988) and Einojuhani Rautavaara (2003). He has been sung about too, perhaps most famously in Boney M’s 1978 hit ‘Rasputin’ which immortalised him for a generation as ‘Russia’s greatest love machine’. But 45 years earlier Allie Wrubel and Joe Hoover had come up with a similar concept in ‘Rasputin, that Highfalutin’ Lovin’ Man’ (VOC/1933/WRUBEL).
Reputable modern non-fiction tends to reject the more lurid stories about Rasputin or to engage seriously with their origins and likely veracity. However, as so few facts are known about parts of Rasputin’s life and so many things reported as facts cannot be proven or otherwise, we can never know the whole truth. Clearly he was not the evil mastermind depicted by many writers, nor was he the kindly and slandered saint recalled by his daughter Maria in her two books attempting to clear his name of any scandal or wrongdoing. But even for those who seek a balanced and scholarly view of the real Rasputin, there is much fascination in exploring his enduring afterlife in popular culture.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
The exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website.
European studies blog recent posts
- Multi-tasking women from the 1920s to the 2020s
- Celebrating the centenary of Sovremennye zapiski
- UNOVIS – the Bauhaus of the East
- Finliandets: the magazine of the Imperial Russian Finland Guard Regiment in Exile
- Pavlo Skoropadskyi – Hetman of the Ukrainian State 1918
- 1918 and the Eclipse of Populist Marxism
- Heroes and victims of the Revolution
- Hope, Tragedy, Myths - and Curation.
- A Tale of Two Countries
- Devil, Rascal, Love Machine? The Afterlives of Rasputin