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Chervinskaya, Lidiya Davydovna (1907–1988)

Chervinskaya, Lidiya Davydovna (1907–1988)

Russian emigré poet and literary critic who was one of the most original and distinguished poets of the Russian emigration of the interwar decades. Name variations: Lidia Chervinskaia. Born in Russia in 1907; died in Paris, France, in July 1988; moved to Paris in the early 1920s; published three volumes of verse and a large body of essays and criticism.

Born in Russia in 1907, Lidiya Chervinskaya experienced the hardship and chaos of war and revolution, fleeing her native land for France in the early 1920s. Bare survival was of paramount importance to most of the Russian emigrés in Paris, but for Chervinskaya things of the spirit were equally if not even more important. By the end of the 1920s, she was writing a series of poems on the most basic aspects of life, including the nature of God, sin, loneliness, the difficulties of human communication, and the ultimate separation of human beings from one another, namely death. By 1934, a volume of poems, entitled Approaches, was published in Paris, but like her two other books of verse, published in 1937 and 1956, they received encouraging reviews in the Russian emigré press but sold relatively few copies.

Lidiya Chervinskaya's poems are considered by critics to be the most outstanding examples of the "Parisian note" (Parizhkaia nota) of the Russian emigré literary scene. Highly emotional, the poems written during this period refer to moods of love and longing, hope and despair, joy and deep sadness. The musicality of her verses was enhanced by skillful use of repetition, anaphora and rhetorical questions. Sometimes the scenery of Paris appears, but the essence of her work from this period inhabits a world of vague impressions and half-shadows. Much of the inspiration for Chervinskaya's poetry came from her often flamboyant personal life, which led to her being called the "Greta Garbo of Russian Montparnasse."

After surviving the difficult war years, Chervinskaya lived for a number of years in Munich, where she worked for Radio Liberty, which broadcast news and cultural programs to the Soviet Union. During this mature phase of her poetry, she increasingly defined pain not as having to part from a lover, but rather in terms of a generalized suffering, some of which was now derived from the continuing separation from her Russian homeland. The lost mother country was gone forever, as was "a lost language, once glorious and powerful." Lidiya Chervinskaya died in Paris in 1988, still longing for her beloved Russia. As one admiring critic has written, hers "is the poetry of belated regrets, pangs of conscience, and the domination of merciless intellect."


Couvée, Petra. "Chervinskaia, Lidia Davidovna," in Marina Ledkovsky et al., eds. Dictionary of Russian Women Writers. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994, pp. 130–131.

Kasack, Wolfgang. Dictionary of Russian Literature Since 1917. Translated by Maria Carlson and Jane T. Hedges. NY: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Pachmuss, Temira, ed. and trans. A Russian Cultural Revival: A Critical Anthology of Emigré Literature before 1939. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981.

Terras, Victor, ed. Handbook of Russian Literature. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.

John Haag , University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

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