Aleksandrovna, Vera (1895–1966)

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Aleksandrovna, Vera (1895–1966)

Russian émigré literary critic, historian, and editor. Born Vera Aleksandrovna Mordvinova in 1895; died in New York in 1966; married S.M. Shvarts, who introduced her to Marxist theories, in 1919.

Exiled to Germany (1921), to France (1933), to the United States (1940) where she worked with Margaret Mead, the anthropologist; served as editor-in-chief of the Chekhov Publishing House, making important contributions to Soviet literature.

When Vera Aleksandrovna Mordvinova was born, tsarist Russia was in its final decline, a fact that would shape the whole of her life. Her family was politically patriotic and intellectually conservative, beliefs Vera soon rejected. She studied in Odessa and Moscow, where she spent much of her time in artistic and literary circles centering around religious and mystical ideals. In 1919, she married the Menshevik activist S.M. Shvarts who introduced her to Marxist theories. Strongly opposed to Lenin's concept of a proletarian dictatorship led by the Bolsheviks, she became a Menshevik with beliefs similar to that of the Social Democratic movements of Western Europe. This break with Leninist party doctrine had immediate consequences, as the new Soviet regime was aggressively purging Soviet Russia of dissidents. In 1921, she and her husband went into exile in Germany.

Throughout the next dozen years, she contributed numerous articles to leading German and Austrian Social Democratic publications under the name Vera Aleksandrovna. By the late 1920s, she had also become a respected contributor to the émigré Menshevik magazine Sotsialisticheski vestnik (Socialist Herald). In 1933, politics again intervened in Aleksandrovna's life with the advent of Nazism in Germany; she and her husband fled to Paris, which had a large and intellectually vibrant Russian émigré community. For several years, she continued her journalistic work and deepened her knowledge of the history of Russian literature. In June 1940, Hitler's troops invaded France, and leftists like Aleksandrovna and her husband were targeted for extinction. The couple's last flight was to New York in 1940. Virtually penniless but full of hope for the future, she was soon a regular contributor to the respected émigré journals Novoe russkoe slovo and Novyi zhurnal. As her reputation in New York intellectual circles grew, she also wrote for a number of English-language periodicals.

Vera Aleksandrovna became involved with many literary projects in the United States. Her contributions to the magazine Amerika from 1946 through 1948 gained a widening audience. She also worked on a research project concerning human behavior led by Margaret Mead at Columbia University. From 1951 to 1956, Aleksandrovna was editor-in-chief of the Chekhov Publishing House, one of the leading voices of the Russian émigré intelligentsia. During the last years of her life, she worked on English-language editions of histories of Soviet literature, which gained wide critical acclaim.

Vera Aleksandrovna's vision of the future was not Stalin's harsh socialism or Hitler's cruel fascism. She believed the modern state could provide jobs, health care, and retirement benefits for all its citizens, while allowing them to function in a democratic state.


Aleksandrovna, Vera. A History of Soviet Literature, 1917–1962. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1963.

——. A History of Soviet Literature, 1917–1964: From Gorky to Solzhenitsyn. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964.

Terras, Victor, ed. "Aleksandrovna, Vera," in Handbook of Russian Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985, pp. 18–19.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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Aleksandrovna, Vera (1895–1966)

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