Ptaschkina, Nelly (1903–1920)

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Ptaschkina, Nelly (1903–1920)

Russian diarist. Born in Russia in 1903; died at age 17 in Chamonix, France, on July 2, 1920; never married; no children.

What we know about the short and tumultuous life of Nelly Ptaschkina survives in a series of notebooks she kept religiously from the age of ten, several of which were preserved and published by her mother following her untimely death in 1920. Like Anne Frank , Ptaschkina wrote amid turmoil and uncertainty. Her adolescence coincided with the Russian Revolution of 1917, during which time her family fled from Moscow to Kiev, then on to Paris, surviving harassment by the Bolsheviks and threats of shooting and pillaging by both the Red and White armies. "The situation is really terrible!," she recorded on January 25, 1918. "The decisive days for Russia are at hand, 'to be or not to be.' My vision is too restricted to be able to picture the whole situation clearly…. I am mentally short-sighted because, after all, I am but a child…. All the same, at odd moments, I clearly realize the full horror of the position in which our country is placed."

Although Ptaschkina frequently wrote about her future with pessimism, she remained full of youthful determination, as is seen in her entry of March 5. "I shall not surrender to this inner voice which faint-heartedly whispers to me that our life is inextricably tied up with the epoch, and moreover united in such a way that it can never be adjusted; that therefore everything is at an end and that nothing will come out of it…. I shall not brood over the fact that news is worse again, and that in consequence our position is all the more deplorable. In four or five years all must settle down—and I will leave it at that."

The diaries overflow with Ptaschkina's plans for the future, which include an advanced education and a career in social and community work. But she cannot part with the romantic idea of falling in love. "Can it be that this beautiful thing to which I feel drawn so unresistingly will not be accessible to me," she ponders, "and that only the grey workaday world will be mine? Oh, I am afraid of this, terribly afraid." In a slightly later entry, Ptaschkina, still only 15, entertains the idea that she might have both career and family. "In my dreams, however strange it may sound, I dream at the same time of children and of an independent life, which should be both comfortable and beautiful." In the same entry, she asserts herself as a blossoming feminist. "Yes, woman must have all the rights, and in time she can earn them fully. At present we have still many women who are satisfied with their empty lives, but if we raise the standard, and improve the social conditions of life, which are connected with her, woman will also rise. Even now there are many among them who would be capable of leading a conscious existence successfully. Give them that possibility."

Ptaschkina's notation of October 20, 1918, chilling presages her own death. "[T] oday, stepping close to the brink of a precipice, although not so deep as I should have wished, the thought came into my mind that some day I should die thus, crashing headlong into the chasm." On July 2, 1920, just five days after she had passed her Baccalauréat examination at the Sorbonne, Ptaschkina was hiking in Chamonix, at the foot of Mount Blanc, when she misstepped and fell from a tremendous height into the waters of the Cascade du Dard. Her body was recovered many miles downstream.


Moffat, Mary Jane, and Charlotte Painter, eds. Revelations: Diaries of Women. NY: Random House, 1975.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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