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Life Stories of Russian Women from 1917 to the Second World War

edited by Sheila Fitzpatrick & Yuri Slezkine & translated by Yuri Slezkine

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-691-01949-5
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

A collection of life stories of Russian women, accompanied by an analytical introduction and edited by scholars Fitzpatrick (History/Univ. of Chicago) and Slezkine (History/Univ. of California), from the perspective of direct participants in the unfolding historical drama begun in 1917.

Contributing to the completeness of the picture, the documents selected for this publication vary in genre from literary autobiographies to edited interviews to formal letters and speeches, and their authors are just as diverse in social class, experience, age, and occupation. The objectivity of the narrative is bolstered because events are assessed from opposite points of view (from that of both the victims and the beneficiaries of the Revolution). These antagonistic positions merge in camp memoirs written by those who were at first strong supporters of the Bolshevik cause, but later fell from grace. One principle unifying almost all the narratives is the suppression of personal information. Instead of the traditional focus on marriage, childbirth, and family life, these women defined themselves in terms of historical and public events. The Revolution, civil war, collectivization, and industrialization were the major milestones of their lives. These personal accounts differ significantly in length and style. From Lenin’s wife Nadezhda Krupskaia, for instance, we have a brief, dry, and extremely factual third-person account of her political activities. Princess Sofia Volkonskaia, on the other hand, produced a highly emotional story of her return to Russia from emigration in order to rescue her husband from jail. But even here, private circumstances are viewed against the broader background of disarray and brutality that reigned in post-revolutionary Russia. Yet another patriotic and upbeat narrative filled with praise of Stalin can be found in the autobiography of the Soviet Union’s most decorated labor hero, tractor driver and Supreme Soviet Deputy Pasha Angelina.

Each autobiography here transforms the story of a private life into the story of the country and the times: a volume sure to attract early Soviet history buffs.