Teffi, N.A. (1872–1952)
Teffi, N.A. (1872–1952)
Immensely popular Russian writer, best known for her comic short stories and feuilletons, who continued to enjoy a large readership even after emigrating from Russia in 1919. Name variations: Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Teffi; Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaia or Lokhvitskaya; Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Buchinskaia, Buchinskaya, or Buczynska; (pseudonym) Teffi. Pronunciation: Na-DYEZH-da Alek-SAN-drov-na LOKH-vit-ska-ya TEF-fi. Born Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaia in St. Petersburg, Russia, on May 9, 1872; died in Paris, France, on October 6, 1952; daughter of Aleksandr Lokhvitskii (a prominent St. Petersburg lawyer); mother's name unknown; sister of the poet Mirra Lokhvitskaia (1869–1905) and writers Varvara Lokhvitskaia and Elena Lokhvitskaia; married Vladislav Buchinskii, around 1890; children: daughter Valeriia (b. 1892); daughter Elena; son Jan.
Gave birth to first of three children (1892); left husband Buchinskii (around 1900) and began a writing career in St. Petersburg; published her first poem (1901); served on the editorial staff of the journal The New Life (1905); published her first two books (1910); emigrated from Russia (1919); settled in Paris (1920).
Seven Fires (St. Petersburg, 1910); The Salt of the Earth (St. Petersburg, 1910); Passion Flower (Berlin, 1923); Shamram: Poems of the East (Berlin, 1923).
Humorous Tales (2 vols., St. Petersburg, 1910–12); And So It Became (St. Petersburg, 1912); Smoke Without Fire (St. Petersburg, 1914); Carousel (St. Petersburg, 1914); Nothing of the Sort (St. Petersburg, 1915); The Lifeless Beast (St. Petersburg, 1916); Evenings (St. Petersburg, 1918); Black Iris (Stockholm, 1921); The East and Other Stories (Shanghai, 1921); Treasures of the Earth (Berlin, 1921); The Quiet Backwater (Paris, 1921); So We Lived (Stockholm, 1922); Trot (Berlin, 1923); Nocturnal Day (Prague, 1924); A Slight of the Hand (Moscow-Leningrad, 1926); The Small City (Paris, 1927); Parisian Stories (Moscow-Leningrad, 1927); Tango of Death (Moscow-Leningrad, 1927); A Book—June (Belgrade, 1931); Reminiscences (Paris, 1931); An Adventure Novel (Paris, 1932); The Witch (Berlin, 1936); About Tenderness (Paris, 1938); Zigzag (Paris, 1939); All About Love (Paris, n.d.); Earthly Rainbow (New York, 1952); Prophet of the Past (Moscow, 1967); Stories (Moscow, 1971); Nostalgia (Leningrad, 1989); Humorous Tales (Moscow, 1990).
Eight Miniatures (St. Petersburg, 1913); Miniatures and Monologues (St. Petersburg, 1915); Plays (Paris, 1934).
Lokhvitskaia, Mirra (1869–1905)
Russian poet and dramatist. Name variations: Mariia; the Russian Sappho . Born Mariia Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaia in 1869; died from tuberculosis in 1905; daughter of Aleksandr Lokhvitskii, a prominent St. Petersburg lawyer; older sister of N.A. Teffi (1872–1952), the writer; sister of writers Varvara Lokhvitskaia and Elena Lokhvitskaia ; married in 1892; children: five.
Between 1896 and 1904, Mirra Lokhvitskaia published five volumes of verse. Though married in 1892 and the mother of five, the charming and beautiful poet had a scandalous affair with Konstantin Bal'mont from 1896 to 1898 which in essence added to her popularity, as did her appearances at poetry readings. Lokhvitskaia's poetry "extended the terms that women poets could use in speaking of love to include overt sensuality [and] self-absorption," notes Claire Buck . Two of her books of poetry were awarded the coveted Pushkin prize, the first in 1896, the second posthumously in 1905. The poet also wrote three plays, On the Road to the East, Immortal Love, and In nomine Domini. "It is important to emphasize," notes Buck, "that in the early 20th century she was the standard against which other women poets were measured."
Buck, Claire, ed. Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.
Nadezhda Teffi was perhaps one of the most popular women writers in Russia at the turn of the century and in exile during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. She began writing poetry in the Symbolist vein, following in the footsteps of her famous older sister Mirra Lokhvitskaia (1869–1905), and gradually expanded her repertoire to include short stories, feuilletons, plays, essays, memoirs, and a novel. Though her verse was perceived by critics as a pale imitation of fin-de-siécle poetry, her witty and laconic prose, which took the difficulties of daily life as its subject, was praised by Russian critics and readers alike. In fact, Teffi was so popular in Russia prior to the revolution that her name was used to sell perfume and candy. Unlike many Russian writers, Teffi did not see her creative impulses wane upon leaving Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. Her ability to find humor in even the most trying circumstances of life in exile appealed to Russian readers who had also emigrated. Through her writings, Teffi became an unofficial spokesperson for the Russian émigré community. And, in this regard, she occupied a position in the émigré circles analogous to that of the Soviet humorist Mikhail Zoshchenko, who employed irony and wit to articulate the concerns of the "little man" in Soviet Russia in the 1920s and 1930s.
Teffi was born Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaia into a half-Russian, half-French family in St. Petersburg on May 9, 1872. Her father belonged to an old Russian gentry family which had a long-standing relationship to the arts. Teffi's great-grandfather, Kondratii Lokhvitskii (1774–1830), was a Freemason during the reign of Alexander I and a writer of mystical poetry. Her father Aleksandr Lokhvitskii (1830–1884) was a prominent St. Petersburg lawyer and professor, who produced numerous books and articles on jurisprudence and served as editor of The Judicial Times. In addition to forging a prominent law career, Teffi's father became highly renowned for his oratory and repartee, and his witty sayings were frequently repeated throughout Russia. Teffi's mother (name unknown) was of French origin and also had creative inclinations. According to Teffi, her mother "loved poetry and was well acquainted with Russian and especially European classics."
In spite of the creativity on both the paternal and maternal sides, Teffi insists that the upbringing of her and her four siblings was rather traditional. "My childhood was spent in a large prosperous family. We were raised in the old manner, all in the very same way. [My parents] did not cope well with individuality and did not expect anything in particular from us." Nevertheless, the Lokhvitskiis managed to produce talented children. In fact, all four of the Lokhvitskiis' daughters distinguished themselves as creative writers. Teffi's eldest sister Mirra Lokhvitskaia established her reputation as a poet of note. Known as the "Russian Sappho ," because of her gender (rather than her sexual orientation), Mirra Lokhvitskaia received the prestigious Pushkin prize for her poetry twice, including once posthumously. Teffi's two younger sisters, Varvara and Elena Lokhvitskaia , also wrote. While they never achieved the fame of either Mirra or Nadezhda, they produced several sketches, which were published under the pen name "Miurgit," as well as plays which were performed at various theaters in St. Petersburg including the famous Petersburg comic theater, The Crooked Mirror. Teffi's elder brother Nikolai was the only child who did not forge a literary path for himself. He, instead, chose a military career. He became a general in the Russian army and commanded a regiment in France during World War I.
Teffi attended a gymnasium or secondary school in St. Petersburg and read widely in the Russian classics. As a child, she was enthralled with the works of Aleksandr Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy and even made a pilgrimage to Tolstoy's estate in Khamovniki, intending to request that Tolstoy not "kill off" Prince Bolkonsky in War and Peace. Gradually, Teffi's literary interests shifted from the 19th-century classics to the "new literature" of Russian Modernism known as Russian Symbolism. While still in secondary school, Teffi, together with her three sisters, began to write. Believing that it would create competitiveness if all of the sisters began publishing simultaneously, the Lokhvitskiis agreed that the younger sisters should enable the eldest sister Mirra to make her literary debut first. According to Teffi's younger sister, Elena, "Nadezhda would enter second and then I. And we agreed that we would not disrupt Mirra and only when she became famous and finally died would we have the right to publish our works. In the meantime we would write and preserve our works, at least … for prosperity." And, in keeping with this, Teffi did not fully launch her literary career until 1904, a little less than a year before the death of her sister Mirra.
Around 1890, Nadezhda Teffi married Vladislav Buchinskii, a Polish aristocrat and graduate of St. Petersburg University in law. Buchinskii became a judge in Tikhvin, where he and Teffi settled. In 1892, Teffi gave birth to a daughter, Valeriia , and around this same time, her husband abandoned his law career and moved the family to his estate in Mogilev. After the birth of a second daughter, Elena , and a son, Jan, Teffi left Buchinskii and began her career as a writer in St. Petersburg. Teffi published her first work, a poem, in 1901 under her maiden name Nadezhda Lokhvitskaia. She continued writing poetry but eventually expanded her literary enterprises to other genres including humorous plays, short stories, and feuilletons. By 1904, she was a regular contributor to the paper Stock Market News for which she wrote witty short sketches and stories that she began signing with the pseudonym "Teffi."
Teffi gave various etymologies for her pen name. In an interview early on in her literary career, she agreed with a journalist who proposed that the pseudonym "Teffi" had been derived from "Taffy," the name of the female character in a Rudyard Kipling story. Later, however, Teffi explained that she had, in fact, styled her pseudonym on the name of a silly friend of the family by the name of Steffi on the premise that fools are always lucky. Reluctant to offend her literary namesake, Teffi kept the true origin of her pen name concealed. Her decision to employ a pen name is interesting in and of itself. The surname "Teffi" not only has a foreign ring in Russian, but it is not gender-marked. In adopting this unmarked foreign-sounding surname, Teffi becomes part of a tradition of women writers in Russian Modernism who chose to employ exotic-sounding, gender-neutral or even masculine pen names to conceal their identity. Other writers include Poliksena Solov'eva , who employed the gender-neutral pseudonym Allegro, and Zinaida Gippius , who used the playful masculine pseudonyms Anton Krainii (Anthony "The Extreme") and Tovarishch German (Comrade Herman) for her literary criticism.
In the years surrounding the 1905 Revolution, Teffi not only continued to write humorous short stories under her famous pen name, but she also took advantage of the loosening of censorship and began writing political satire. She even tried her hand at publishing, serving on the editorial board of the liberal journal The New Life along with other members of the literary avant-garde, including Maxim Gorky, Zinaida Gippius, Zinaida Vengerova , and Nikolai Minsky. Teffi continued to serve on the journal's editorial staff until November 1905 when Lenin took control of the journal and decided to turn it into a Bolshevik party organ. Thereafter, Teffi's most important literary relationship was with the satirical journal The Satyricon (later known as The New Satyricon), which was opened in 1908 and featured other comic writers such as Arkady Averchenko. Unlike most of the other contributors of The Satyricon, Teffi did not base her humorous sketches on exaggerated characteristics or circumstances, but rather on daily occurrences that at first glance might seem serious. In addition to being a regular contributor to The Satyricon, Teffi played an important role in the Petersburg comic theater, The Crooked Mirror, which was founded in 1908. Teffi's comedy Love Across the Ages was featured at the theater's opening night on December 6, 1908, along with a collective production, The Days of Our Lives, and V. Azov's Authors.
The year 1910 saw the release of Teffi's first two books with the publishing company Shipovnik (Dogrose), a turning point for her writing career. Her first, Seven Fires, consisted of 39 poems and one play on an oriental theme. The collection was written in a serious tone, much in the style of Russian Modernism. The reviews were mixed. The Symbolist poet and critic Valerii Briusov wrote:
All poets from Heine to Blok … possess images, epithets, and devices which were copied by Miss Teffi and placed not without artifice into stanzas and new poems. Teffi calls her seven stones "Seven Fires": sapphire, amethyst, alexandrite, ruby, emerald, diamond, and topaz. But Miss Teffi's necklace is crafted from fake stones.
If Teffi's early attempts at poetry were denounced as "fake stones," her prose represented little gems. Her first volume of prose, Humorous Stories, published in 1910 was received with "immense success," wrote one biographer, "because the hearts of readers from eight to eighty [could] respond to them." Indeed, with the publication of her initial collection of humorous stories, Teffi seemed to have found her creative niche.
Solov'eva, Poliksena (1867–1924)
Russian writer. Name variations: Poliksena Soloveva or Solovieva; (pseudonym) Allegro. Born Poliksena Sergeevna Solov'eva in 1867; died in 1924; daughter of the president of Moscow University; sister of philosopher and theologian Vladimir Solov'ev or Soloviev (1853–1900); studied art and voice; lived with N.I. Manaseina (a children's writer).
Poliksena Solov'eva published her first poems in 1885. Ten years later, after moving to St. Petersburg and meeting Zinaida Gippius , she published Hoarfrost under the pseudonym Allegro; the book won the Pushkin prize in 1908. With her companion N.I. Manaseina , a children's writer, Solov'eva published a highly respected children's magazine from 1906 to 1913.
From 1911 and 1918, Teffi published six more major collections of comic stories which were well received by critics and readers alike. She also continued to publish in The Satyricon and became a regular contributor to the Moscow paper, The Russian Word. This period marked the height of "Teffimania" in Russia. According to the Russian émigré writer Mark Aldanov, "Hardly any of the other writers in Russia have ever had as enormous a circle of readers as Teffi." He noted that although she published in the liberal press, "both Russias" read her and Tsar Nicholas II was one of her most devoted readers.
In the years directly preceding the revolution, however, Teffi abandoned the humorous tone that readers responded to so well. She not only began to write melancholic poetry, but she even adopted a more somber style in her short stories. In 1916, she published a volume of "serious" stories entitled The Lifeless Beast which were later reprinted in exile under the new title The Quiet Backwater. In the introduction to this collection, Teffi includes a warning to those readers expecting to find the old, witty Teffi: "In this collection there is much that is not humorous. I include this warning so that those of you seeking laughter and finding instead tears—the pearl of my soul—do not turn around and tear me to pieces."
I was born in St. Petersburg in the springtime and, as everyone knows, our Petersburg spring is extremely changeable. Now the sun is shining. Now it is raining. Therefore, like the pediment of a Greek theater, I also have two faces, one laughing and one weeping.
While Teffi, like many members of the Russian intelligentsia, was sympathetic toward the February Revolution, she did not support the Bolshevik Revolution. She left Russia in 1919, spending a short time in Kiev and Constantinople and eventually settling permanently in Paris. Teffi began her literary career anew as an émigré by publishing two of her poems in the February 1920 edition of the first Russian émigré journal, Russia of the Future. While many Russian writers found it difficult to continue producing works in exile, Teffi flourished as a writer. As the émigré writer Vladislav Khodasevich wrote in 1932, "Only Teffi and I continue to work. All of the other [Russian writers] republish old little things."
From 1920 to 1940, Teffi prepared 19 volumes of short stories (some of which were reprints) as well as two collections of poetry, a novel, memoirs, and a collection of plays. Two of her full-length plays, A Moment of Fate and Nothing of the Sort, were produced in Paris in 1937 and 1939 respectively. In addition, she wrote regularly for the Parisian émigré paper The Latest News as well as for its conservative competitor La Renaissance. Though Teffi's works did not appear in Russia after the 1920s, she enjoyed a large readership in émigré circles throughout Europe and Asia. Collections of her short stories appeared in such places as Shanghai, Stockholm, Berlin, Prague, Belgrade, and New York as well as Paris.
Besides acquiring a substantial publishing record, Teffi occupied an important place in Russian cultural life in exile. She was one of the first members of the Russian émigré community to establish an active literary salon in Paris. Known for her generosity as well as her wit, she was frequently visited by Russian writers in need of support. In addition to running an influential salon, she also played a key role in organizing various foundations for Russian writers and artists. She helped to launch the Shaliapin Foundation which created the Herzen Library in Nice. She was also named a member of the "Real Russian Club" which regularly planned literary and artistic evenings. In addition, she was an active participant in the so-called Russian-French discussions which brought together French and Russian artists and writers for the free exchange of ideas. She was also named assistant director of the Organization of Russian Theatrical and Film Artists at the association's first meeting.
Teffi continued to be a productive member of the Russian literary and artistic community in the '30s and '40s, despite failing health. Because of her illness, she was unable to leave Paris before the German occupation and was forced to spend the war years there. Rumors circulated that Teffi had died in Paris during the war. She, however, survived the conflict and continued to work despite illness and poverty. Witnessing the demise of her contemporaries, Teffi was able to maintain a sense of humor. "All of my contemporaries are dying," she wrote, "but for some reason I keep on living. It is as if I am sitting in a dentist's waiting room. He calls the patients, clearly mixing up the order, but I feel awkward saying so, and sit, tired and spiteful." Teffi's turn finally came on October 6, 1952.
Though one of the most popular writers in turn-of-the-century Russia and in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s, Teffi was all but forgotten in Russia until the 1990s. While she continued to be published in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, she, along with many other émigré writers, was not published under Stalin's regime. Two small volumes of her stories were published in Moscow in 1967 and 1971, after the period of relaxation of censorship known as "The Thaw," and then she was promptly forgotten. Since the advent of Glasnost there has been a renewed interest in Teffi in Russia. In 1989, her memoirs were published in Leningrad, and in 1990 her first volume of prose, Humorous Stories, was published again in Moscow.
Haber, Edythe C. "Nadezhda Teffi," in Russian Literature Triquarterly. Vol. 9, 1974, pp. 454–472.
——. "Predislovie" (Foreword) in Gorodok: Novye rasskazy. NY: Russica, 1982, pp. i–xiv.
——. "Teffi as a Miniaturist: An Examination of 'Ke fer?' and 'Slepaja'," in Mnemozina: Studia Litteraria Russica in Honorem Vsevolod Setchkarev. Joachim T. Baer and Norman W. Ingham, eds. Munich: Fink, 1974, pp. 163–170.
——. "Teffi's Adventure Novel," in Studies in Russian Literature in Honor of Vsevelod Setchkarev. J. Connolly and S. Ketchian, eds. Columbus, OH: Slavica, 1986, pp. 140–152.
Mamonova, Tat'iana. "Teffi: Light Humor," in Russian Women's Studies: Essays on Sexism in Soviet Culture. NY: Pergamon, 1989, pp. 106–111.
Neatrour, Elizabeth. "'Zhizn' smeetsia i plachet …' O sud'be i tvorchestve Teffi" ("'Life Laughs and Cries …' On the Fate and Work of Teffi"), in Nostal'giia: Rasskazy; Vospominaniia. N. Teffi. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1989, pp. 3–18.
Nikolaev, D.D. "Zhemchuzhina russkogo iumora" (The Pearl of Russian Humor), in Iumoristicheskye rasskazy. N. Teffi. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1990, pp. 3–18.
Pachmuss, Temira. A Russian Cultural Revival: A Critical Anthology of Émigré Literature Before 1939. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1981, pp. 106–108.
——. Women Writers in Russian Modernism: An Anthology. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1978, pp. 261–267.
Jenifer Presto , Assistant Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California