Mandelstam, Nadezhda (1899–1980)

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Mandelstam, Nadezhda (1899–1980)

Russian memoirist . Name variations: Nadezhda Mandelshtam or Mandel'shtam; Nadezhda Yakovlevna; Nadezhda Yakolevna Mandelstam; Nadezheda. Born Nadezhda Khazina on October 31, 1899, in Saratov, Russia; died on December 29, 1980, in Moscow, USSR; daughter of Yakov Khazin (a physician) and a physician mother (name unknown); married Osip Mandelstam (b. 1891, the poet), in 1921, 1922, or 1924 (died in a Siberian labor camp in 1938).

Was responsible for the preservation of husband Osip Mandelstam's poetry; wrote the memoirs Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned , chronicling the years of terror following Joseph Stalin's rise to power in the 1920s.

Nadezhda Mandelstam was born Nadezhda Khazina on October 31, 1899, in Saratov, Russia, and enjoyed a privileged childhood as the daughter of well-educated Jewish parents, both of whom were physicians. She learned several languages, including German, French, and English, from a series of governesses, and traveled Western Europe with her parents. When she was older, she attended school in Kiev and studied art there under the cubist-futurist painter Alexandra Exter .

The story of Nadezhda Mandelstam's life is intimately bound up with that of her husband Osip Mandelstam, one of 20th-century Russia's greatest poets. Osip was associated with an intellectual group of writers called the Acmeists whose writings were radical, allusive, and hostile to the new Communist government that had come into power after the overthrow of the tsar and the revolution in 1917. Among his peers and close friends were Anna Akhmatova , Boris Pasternak, and Nikolai Gumilyov. Nadezhda met him in Kiev in 1919, and, after a separation while he traveled to the Crimea, they married "informally," keeping their wedding a secret. (Sources report the date of the marriage variously as 1921, 1922, or 1924.) In June 1921, they migrated to the Caucasus as refugees.

Their married life began roughly at the same time as the establishment, in 1922, of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under V.I. Lenin and, after his death two years later, under Joseph Stalin. The Mandelstams' opposition to Stalin's government became the focus of their life's work and their ultimate undoing. Initially, it merely made employment almost impossible to find for Osip, and in the late 1920s Nadezhda Mandelstam worked as a translator of English novels. Osip's poetry of the 1920s and early 1930s established him as one of Russia's foremost poets of the 20th century, but it also made him an enemy of the state. At a private party late in 1933, he recited a poem to a group of friends which criticized Stalin, the "Kremlin mountaineer," as a murderer and peasant slayer; although the poem had not been written down, an informant in the group passed along news of the treasonous words to authorities, and Osip was arrested on May 30, 1934. A two-week interrogation resulted in his exile to the Urals and then to Voronezh, Russia—a rather fortunate sentence considering that it was only through the intervention of Nikolai Bukharin, a friend and member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, that he escaped execution.

Nadezhda followed Osip into the harsh life of exile. The Mandelstams were forbidden to work or to publish and had to rely upon the generosity of those friends brave enough to associate with them for food, clothing, and lodging. Although a period of deprivation and fear for the couple, this was also one of the most creative times for the poet, who produced the "Voronezh Notebooks" while in exile.

In May 1937, they were allowed to return to Moscow, but lived as "convicted persons," continually under surveillance by the government. Stalin's bloody purges, the "Great Terror," had begun. Writers who did not write in the service of the state faced arrest and execution, but Osip resisted pressure to reject his outspoken political views. Fearing her husband would again face arrest, Nadezhda began to memorize his poetry and entrusted copies of his writings to close friends to smuggle out of the country. With the assistance of what has been called her "Homeric memory," Nadezhda was responsible for the preservation of his poems (including variants) at a time when the Communist government destroyed any evidence of ideas that ran contrary to those of the state.

Her worst fears were realized when, on May 1, 1938, Osip was again arrested and sent for five years' punishment to a Siberian labor camp. Although she was not allowed to accompany him, she worked a night job in a nearby factory so she could stand all day in line at the prison to deliver packets of food for him. Some months later, one of her food packets was returned marked "addressee dead." Nadezhda was never officially notified by the authorities of Osip's death; it was confirmed, in 1940, by a certificate issued by the Moscow Register Office to his brother Alexander. December 23, 1938, was listed as the official date of death. Relegated to the far provinces, Nadezhda Mandelstam worked as a teacher in Kalinin until 1941, when she and her mother were allowed to move to Tashkent. She taught English at the University of Central Asia (1943–46) and at the Teachers' Training College in Ulyanovsh (1946–53). Until 1955, she was assigned a teaching position in Chita, eastern Siberia. In 1956, while head of the English department at the Chuvash Teachers' Training College in Cheboksary, she earned the degree kandidat nauk (equivalent to a Ph.D.) in English philology.

Mandelstam's devotion to her husband and his poetry did not end. She worked vigorously for the rehabilitation of Osip's reputation after Stalin's death in 1953. In 1960, she returned to Moscow, obtained a small apartment and was granted a widow's pension from the Writers' Union. She succeeded in getting some of his poems published in Soviet journals during the 1960s. Although the Soviet authorities were reluctant to popularize Russia's dissident son, his work was heralded abroad; a two-volume collection of his poetry was published in the United States. In 1973, his poetry was finally published in the Soviet Union, although he was not fully cleared of the charges which had led to his death.

Nadezhda Mandelstam earned her significant literary reputation with two memoirs, Vospominaniya (translated as Hope Against Hope) and Vtoraya kniga (translated as Hope Abandoned), both completed in 1970. (Nadezhda translates into English as "hope.") Smuggled out of the Soviet Union, the first volume was published in Russian and English in the United States in 1970, and the second was published in English in 1974. Ostensibly concerning her life with Osip, about which a great amount of detail is included, the books chronicle an entire generation of Russian literary figures who were silenced and destroyed by the Communist regime, as well as what Mandelstam described as "my battle with the forces of destruction, with everything that conspired to sweep me away, together with the poor scraps of paper I managed to keep." Her eyewitness accounts provide a rare glimpse of the decades of terror following the rise of Communism, and critics hailed the memoirs for a masterful portrayal of the writers of the period. Many also faulted Hope Abandoned for its relentless criticism of the Russian intelligentsia, a group which she blamed for allowing Stalin's excesses to occur, while admiring it for the portrayals of the author's friends and personal life. Hope Against Hope was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988.

In her later years, Mandelstam's small apartment in Moscow attracted foreign visitors and young Russians familiar with her husband's work, making her humble dwelling a literary salon in which she continued to champion his poetry. She was described as a small person, "steel-hard" and "vinegary," who was happy to compare all poets unfavorably to her husband, save for T.S. Eliot. Nadezhda Mandelstam died of a heart ailment on December 29, 1980, in Moscow. A line in Hope Against Hope may serve as an encapsulation of her life, and her struggles: "Silence is the real crime against humanity."


Contemporary Authors. Vol. 110 and Vol. 102. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.

London Observer. May 23, 1971.

Magill, Frank N. Cyclopedia of World Authors. 3rd rev. ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1997.

New York Review of Books. February 7, 1974.

The New York Times. March 18, 1970, January 15, 1974, December 30, 1980.

Publishers Weekly. January 30, 1981.

suggested reading:

Holmgren, Beth. Women's Works in Stalin's Time: On Lidiia Chukovskaia & Nadezhda Mandelstam. Indiana University Press, 1993.

Mandelstam, Nadezhda. Hope Abandoned. Translated by Max Hayward. Atheneum, 1974.

——. Hope Against Hope. Translated by Max Hayward. Atheneum, 1970.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Mandelstam, Nadezhda (1899–1980)

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