Harari, Manya (1905–1969)

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Harari, Manya (1905–1969)

Russian-born co-founder of the influential Harvill Press, who was co-translator of Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago and played a crucial role in bringing dissident works of Russian literature to the attention of the Western reading public . Born Manya Benenson in Baku, Russia (now Azerbaijan), on April 8, 1905; died in London, England, on September 24, 1969; daughter of Grigori Benenson and Sophie (Goldberg) Benenson; had three sisters; married Ralph Andrew Harari (1892–1969), in 1925; children: son, Michael.

Throughout her life, Manya Harari appeared to be, in the words of Michael Glenny, "a frail wisp of a woman who might, one felt, be blown away if one coughed too hard." This was a complete misreading of a woman who pursued her varied interests "with passionate resolution." Born in 1905, a dozen years before the end of Tsarism, into an extremely wealthy Russian-Jewish family (her father Grigori was a successful financier), Manya Benenson grew up in her family's opulent St. Petersburg apartment, spending summers in a splendid country estate in nearby Redkino. At the start of 1914, the Benensons migrated from Germany, where they had been visiting, to London. Manya received an excellent education, first at Malvern Girls College and then at Bedford College, London, graduating in 1924 with second class honors in history. During these years, Manya's father was busy creating another financial empire, and the family enjoyed the fruits of his success, living not in a house but in a succession of luxury hotel suites.

In 1925, Manya visited the struggling Jewish community in Palestine, and while there she met and fell in love with Ralph Harari, a wealthy and cosmopolitan member of the Egyptian-Jewish community who divided his time between merchant banking and the collection and study of both Islamic and modern art. Manya married Ralph that same year and settled into the opulent lifestyle of Cairo's elite. Soon, however, she became bored with high society and began to search for greater fulfillment. She gave birth to a son Michael, worked briefly in a Zionist kibbutz, and was active in welfare work among Cairo's poor, all before the Hararis returned to London. After much thought, she became a Roman Catholic in 1932, but always emphasized that her decision in no way diminished her continuing identification with the Jews as a nation and people. Through her new religion, Harari began to move in Roman Catholic intellectual circles, including Cardinal Hinsley's Sword of the Spirit movement. She became actively associated with the Dublin Review and for several years in the early 1940s was editor of her own periodical, Changing World. When her journal ceased publication in 1942, Harari took a position as translator with the British government's Political Warfare Department.

In 1946, with Marjorie Villiers as her partner, Manya Harari founded a publishing house. Named the Harvill Press (after Harari and Villiers), the small but imaginative firm concentrated on translations of foreign works of fiction, as well as books on art, psychology, religion and philosophy (including an edition of Pascal's classic Pensées). From the start, Harvill Press showed an interest in publishing animal books with an African slant, an orientation that proved to be lucrative when Harari decided to publish a book that had been rejected by numerous publishers. Joy Adamson 's Born Free was a runaway international bestseller. In 1954, the Harvill Press was sold to the Collins publishing firm, but both Harari and Villiers were retained as directors of what was now an important subsidiary.

Harari's Russian origins, linguistic abilities, and discerning eye gave her a significant advantage over other publishers. Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, she discovered and published under the Harvill Press imprint, major works of contemporary Russian literature that for political reasons could not be published in the Soviet Union. By far the most famous of these works was Boris Pasternak's great novel, Dr. Zhivago, which appeared in 1958 in a joint translation by Harari and Max Hayward. She was also co-translator with Hayward of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The First Circle, and published important works by other dissident Soviet authors, including Ilya Ehrenburg, Konstantin Paustovsky, Andrei Sinyavsky, and Yevgeni Yevtushenko. In effect, because of her intellectual advocacy and understanding of commercial publishing, she provided expression for a Russian literature shackled by censorship. Although she specialized in contemporary Soviet literature, Harari sometimes championed earlier Soviet works, like Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and on occasion discovered a non-Slavic masterpiece, like Giuseppe de Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo (The Leopard).

A chain-smoker, Manya Harari paid little attention to her health, but all who met or worked with her commented on her gentle manner and soft voice. Her pallid, exquisitely drawn features were so intense that the rest of her body, slender in the extreme, hardly seemed to exist. Working in an attic room in her London home in Catherine Place, she could be seen poised between telephone and typewriter, as authors, authors' agents and advocates jostled for her attention. Oblivious of her material surroundings, Harari enjoyed long, demanding hours, rarely regarding her editorial and translating responsibilities as a chore. Because she bored easily and enjoyed travel, she went to Palestine in 1948 to report the birth pangs of the State of Israel. In 1955, with the onset of a cautious intellectual thaw in the Soviet Union as a result of the death of Stalin and a growing weariness over the perils and costs of the Cold War in both East and West, Harari made her first trip back to Russia since her childhood. Moved when she visited sites in Moscow, Leningrad, and Redkino, she returned to the Soviet Union in the spring of 1956, and for a third and final time in the winter of 1961.

In 1968, Manya Harari discovered that she was terminally ill and had only months to live. At the same time, her husband became seriously ill. She kept the knowledge of her incurable condition to herself, thus sparing him additional burden. Ralph Harari died in London on May 26, 1969. Manya dealt with her grief by continuing to write her autobiography (published in 1972), and by finding solace and serenity in her ever-deepening Roman Catholic faith. On September 24, 1969, she died in London, mourned by her son Michael and countless friends in the worlds of publishing, literature and art. In Glenny's assessment of her achievements, Manya Harari earned a place in world history as "the dauntless custodian of so much of the greatest Russian writing of our time—an exiled literature, driven out of its homeland, the country of her birth."


Glenny, Michael. "Frail Patron of Russian Literature," in The Times [London]. November 23, 1972, p. 16.

Harari, Manya. Memoirs 1906–1969. London: Harvill Press, 1972.

Levin, Bernard. "Beyond Books Stands Life," in The Times [London]. June 21, 1994.

Oxbury, Harold. Great Britons: Twentieth-Century Lives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Rolo, P.J.V., "Harari, Manya," in E.T. Williams and C.S. Nicholls, eds., The Dictionary of National Biography: 1961–1970. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981, pp. 487–488.

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

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Harari, Manya (1905–1969)

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