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Mandel’shtam, Nadezhda Iakovlevna

(1899–1980), memoirist and cultural critic. Nadezhda Mandel’shtam figures as the best-known and most talented “widow of Russia,” a female survivor of the Stalinist era who preserved the politically suppressed work of her husband, the poet Osip Mandel’shtam. As a memoirist and raconteur among friends, she also served as a keenly perceptive, highly opinionated source on Soviet culture and society.

Nadezhda Mandel’shtam was the youngest of four children in the upwardly mobile Khazin family. Assimilated Jews, her mother, a medical doctor, and her father, a well-educated barrister, moved the family to Kiev when Nadezhda was still a young girl. Nadezhda was enrolled in the Kiev Women’s Gymnasium and thereafter worked in the studio of Aleksandra Ekster, a renowned avant-garde theatrical artist.

Nadezhda Khazina met Osip Mandel’shtam in 1919, married him in 1922, and shared with him a nomadic life shaped by war, political persecution, and poverty. Though she resisted the role of obedient wife, she acknowledged the primary value of her husband’s poetry and gave up painting to serve as his secretary and to support them both with translating and editorial jobs. She accompanied her husband into exile in Voronezh in 1934 after he was sentenced for his defamatory poem about Stalin; his second arrest in 1938 and disappearance in the gulag separated them forever.

During her four decades of widowhood, Mandel’shtam subsisted as a teacher of English and completed a doctorate in linguistics in 1951. But her main goal, which she pursued openly only after the political thaws of the 1950s, was to preserve Osip Mandel’shtam’s poetry and “to leave something in the nature of a letter telling of our fate.” She helped establish a Mandel’shtam literary heritage commission and collaborated on a first edition of his selected works. As she came into contact with a post-Stalin intelligentsia eager for her testimony, she produced her first volume of memoirs, translating into print her spoken anecdotes, analyses, and opinions about her personal life and her experience of Soviet culture. Published only abroad in Russian and English in 1970, this volume garnered her worldwide celebrity and encouraged her further writing—a memoir on Anna Akhmatova, an essay on Mozart and Salieri, and a second volume of her own memoirs. This second volume, which delivers Mandel’shtam’s last fulsome word on her ordeal and era, outraged many Russian readers with its frank opinions about revered cultural figures.

Raised to be a tolerant atheist, Nadezhda Mandel’shtam embraced Russian Orthodoxy before she died, but in her later writings she asserts the Jewish provenance of “any real intellectual,” marvels at Jewish endurance, and attributes her own “staying power” to her Jewish heritage.

Suggested Reading

Beth Holmgren, Women’s Works in Stalin’s Time: On Lidiia Chukovskaia and Nadezhda Mandelstam (Bloomington, Ind., and Indianapolis, 1993); Charles Isenberg, “The Rhetoric of Hope against Hope,” in Autobiographical Statements in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, ed. Jane Gary Harris, pp. 193–206 (Princeton, 1990); Carl Proffer, “Nadezhda Mandelstam,” in The Widows of Russia and Other Writings, pp. 13–61 (Ann Arbor, 1987); Nataliia Shtempel’, “Pamiati Nadezhdy Iakovlevny Mandel’shtam,” Pod”em 6 (1989): 209–213.