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The six literary wives in the book, Anna Dostoevsky, Sophia Tolstoy, Véra Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn were muses, intellectual companions, and indispensable aids to Russia’s most celebrated writers. Popoff draws from the women’s autobiographical writings and other key Russian sources to reveal the women’s contributions to world li The six literary wives in the book, Anna Dostoevsky, Sophia Tolstoy, Véra Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn were muses, intellectual companions, and indispensable aids to Russia’s most celebrated writers. Popoff draws from the women’s autobiographical writings and other key Russian sources to reveal the women’s contributions to world literature and to tell about a collaborative tradition they established.


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The six literary wives in the book, Anna Dostoevsky, Sophia Tolstoy, Véra Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn were muses, intellectual companions, and indispensable aids to Russia’s most celebrated writers. Popoff draws from the women’s autobiographical writings and other key Russian sources to reveal the women’s contributions to world li The six literary wives in the book, Anna Dostoevsky, Sophia Tolstoy, Véra Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn were muses, intellectual companions, and indispensable aids to Russia’s most celebrated writers. Popoff draws from the women’s autobiographical writings and other key Russian sources to reveal the women’s contributions to world literature and to tell about a collaborative tradition they established.

30 review for The Wives: The Women Behind Russia's Literary Giants

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tatiana

    Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mandelstam, Nabokov, Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn. I wouldn't want to be married to any of these men and be in any of their wives' shoes. This slavish devotion to their (admittedly talented) husbands and their writing is not something I am capable of or interested in. The award for being the most terrible husband definitely goes to Leo Tolstoy. What a self-righteous, insufferable domestic tyrant! Did he by any chance invent the phrase "barefoot and pregnant," because that's what he Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mandelstam, Nabokov, Bulgakov, Solzhenitsyn. I wouldn't want to be married to any of these men and be in any of their wives' shoes. This slavish devotion to their (admittedly talented) husbands and their writing is not something I am capable of or interested in. The award for being the most terrible husband definitely goes to Leo Tolstoy. What a self-righteous, insufferable domestic tyrant! Did he by any chance invent the phrase "barefoot and pregnant," because that's what he wanted his wife to be (16 pregnancies!). This book sheds light on just how much these men's legacies depended on the tireless work of their devoted wives. And this is also a short chronology of literary censorship in both Tsarist and Soviet Russia. Short and accessible.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    The book is about six wonderful Russian literary giants - Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Mandelstam, Nabokov, Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn - and their respective wives. Here are the wives listed in the same order: Anna, Sophia, Nadezhda, Véra, Elena and Natalia. Mistresses and earlier wives are covered briefly. The central focus of this book is to show the great importance the women played in the lives of the authors, in helping their husbands achieve what they did. The wives acted as stenographers, transla The book is about six wonderful Russian literary giants - Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Mandelstam, Nabokov, Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn - and their respective wives. Here are the wives listed in the same order: Anna, Sophia, Nadezhda, Véra, Elena and Natalia. Mistresses and earlier wives are covered briefly. The central focus of this book is to show the great importance the women played in the lives of the authors, in helping their husbands achieve what they did. The wives acted as stenographers, translators, editors, publishers, researchers, typists....but most of all they gave emotional support and love! In fact they didn’t just inspire but even wrote some of the lines. They clearly deserve the praise given by the author, but there is no criticism. This had me wondering at times. The book is thorough and detailed. It assumes to some extent that you are aware of the authors and what they have written before reading this book. It can be hard to follow otherwise. There is a lot of information here. I have read other books solely on one of the person's named. For example, Vera by Stacy Schiff is good. It alone is a book of 480 pages. What I am trying to point out is that there is a lot of information crammed into this one book. It covers a lot, but does not give you a complete biography of the authors or their wives. There is little about childhood experiences. The focus is more about how the wives helped their husbands and how devoted they were to them. Six strong love relationships are described. I don't recommend this book as an audiobook. For two reasons. When the book covers so much so quickly it is hard to absorb new information. I had a harder time with those authors I knew less about - for me the section on Osip Mandelstam was difficult. I had questions that I felt were only scantily answered. Secondly, the narrator Susan Finch reads quickly. Too quickly. Some names she had difficulty pronouncing. I was not pleased. Good book, but very dense. Not the best choice to read as an audiobook. My rating, as usual, is based on the written lines.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Claudia

    One thing is certain: had not for these women, the novels which made these Russian writers giants wouldn’t have existed now. I am stunned by their dedication, self-sacrifice and love. Thing I cannot say about them, which were self-absorbed, egomaniacs and from my point of view, totally wacko in some cases. But maybe this is the case with all the geniuses. They all struggled to defeat the regime and bring forward the novels. Some were published after the authors’ death, only because the survivor w One thing is certain: had not for these women, the novels which made these Russian writers giants wouldn’t have existed now. I am stunned by their dedication, self-sacrifice and love. Thing I cannot say about them, which were self-absorbed, egomaniacs and from my point of view, totally wacko in some cases. But maybe this is the case with all the geniuses. They all struggled to defeat the regime and bring forward the novels. Some were published after the authors’ death, only because the survivor wife dedicated her entire life to this purpose. They were translators, publishers, editors, businesswomen beside being wives and mothers. It is also a brief history, mostly of the 20th century, beginning with Lenin, during Stalin’s dictatorship - one of the worst in the world - and ending with Putin. Just from collectivization under Stalin, more than 10 million people died of famine. Not to mention those deported, for absurd reasons. As for the author: Alexandra Popoff did an enormous amount of research – 64% of the e-book represents the story. The rest consists in end notes (762 of them) and bibliography. It may not be the best written book but most certainly is one of the most fascinating.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lavinia

    Mrs. Popoff doens't excel at writing and English not being her first language makes it understandable. Not all Russians living in North America are Nabokov! OK, that was mean, forgive me. However she still manages to tell the six wives' stories in such a manner that you get a glimpse of who they were and what their roles were in the respective marriages. Mrs. Popoff doens't excel at writing and English not being her first language makes it understandable. Not all Russians living in North America are Nabokov! OK, that was mean, forgive me. However she still manages to tell the six wives' stories in such a manner that you get a glimpse of who they were and what their roles were in the respective marriages.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kerry

    A fascinating, well-written account of the incredible women behind some of the most famous Russian writers. This is a book about devotion, about true partnership between two people, and about self-sacrifice. Certainly, these "literary giants" would have been nowhere without their dedicated wives, and this book gives credit where due. These "artists" would have moaned themselves into oblivion if not for the cheerleading, secretarial work, business acumen, and passion of their spouses. Oh, they mi A fascinating, well-written account of the incredible women behind some of the most famous Russian writers. This is a book about devotion, about true partnership between two people, and about self-sacrifice. Certainly, these "literary giants" would have been nowhere without their dedicated wives, and this book gives credit where due. These "artists" would have moaned themselves into oblivion if not for the cheerleading, secretarial work, business acumen, and passion of their spouses. Oh, they might have fumbled through on their own, somehow, but they would not have achieved so much, nor been remembered so well, nor been so honored upon their deaths. On one hand, this book was touching in many ways. We could all be so lucky to find our perfect match: the writers featured in this book (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Mandelstam, Bulgakov, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn) had not only themselves to nurture their art but two people, each woman giving up her own pursuits to encourage and support the work of her husband, no matter if it left her destitute, her children bereft, or her family in danger. Each of these women performed rare acts of love and sacrifice again and again, even after surviving decades after their husband's death. On the other hand, the book reveals, through the wives' perspectives, the nature of some of Russia's most-revered writers. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were, fundamentally, jerks to their wives. Nabokov, though a jerk to the rest of the world, seemed to value his Vera--a pleasant surprise. This book is extremely readable for a history book and isn't bogged down with unnecessary quotations. It also lovingly presents the lives of six wives in a format that praises the behind-the-scenes work of women that might otherwise go unrecognized.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurel Hicks

    The amazing lives and work of Sophia Tolstoy, Véra Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezdha Mandelstam, Anna Dostevsky, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn. These remarkable women worked behind the scenes and sometimes in the forefront to make possible the publications of some of the greatest works of Russian literature under extremely difficult circumstances. There is much to learn here.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Viviane Cordeiro

    Alexandra Popoff criou uma obra de plena magnitude para qualquer apaixonado por literatura russa. Lembro-me de ter lido algumas matérias nas quais era mencionado o papel espetacular realizado pelas esposas dos grandes autores russos da história. Neste livro, Alexandra reconstrói os mitos e histórias ao redor das esposas de sonoros nomes da literatura russa como Tolstoi, Dostoiévski e Bulgakóv com precisão e inteligência. O papel das esposas ia desde editora, passando por vezes a tradutoras e até Alexandra Popoff criou uma obra de plena magnitude para qualquer apaixonado por literatura russa. Lembro-me de ter lido algumas matérias nas quais era mencionado o papel espetacular realizado pelas esposas dos grandes autores russos da história. Neste livro, Alexandra reconstrói os mitos e histórias ao redor das esposas de sonoros nomes da literatura russa como Tolstoi, Dostoiévski e Bulgakóv com precisão e inteligência. O papel das esposas ia desde editora, passando por vezes a tradutoras e até mesmo como primeira=leitora de qualquer que fosse a obra em questão. Caso a esposa não concordasse com o que foi escrito, raramente o autor seguia adiante. Elas não eram meras companheiras do lar, mas sim parceiras de trabalho e inspiração de muitos. Foi interessante conhecer as circunstâncias nas quais algumas das obras russas mais importantes, como 'O Mestre e a Margarida', 'Os Irmãos Karamazov' e tantas outras foram criadas. Um livro obrigatório para qualquer amante de literatura russa.

  8. 5 out of 5

    l.

    "I have served a genius for almost forty years. Hundreds of times I have felt my intellectual energy stir within me and all sorts of desires - a longing for education, a love of music and the arts... And time and again I have crushed and smothered these longings... Everyone asks, "But why should a worthless woman like you need an intellectual or artistic life?" To this question I can only reply: "I don't know, but eternally suppressing it to serve a genius is a great misfortune." - Sophia Tolsto "I have served a genius for almost forty years. Hundreds of times I have felt my intellectual energy stir within me and all sorts of desires - a longing for education, a love of music and the arts... And time and again I have crushed and smothered these longings... Everyone asks, "But why should a worthless woman like you need an intellectual or artistic life?" To this question I can only reply: "I don't know, but eternally suppressing it to serve a genius is a great misfortune." - Sophia Tolstoy Tolstoy is unfairly unrecognised in the pantheon of great male writers who were also incredibly insufferable and awful asses. This book was really pretty unremarkable - I knew most of it apart from the stuff on Solzhenitsyn (because frankly, I don't care for him or his work) - but if it draws attention to the douchebaggery of Tolstoy, and the absolute dependence of all these 'great men' on these remarkable women, I'm all for it. (nb: Tolstoy is my favourite novelist)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    About 30 years about I read Sonya which struck me quite forcefully at the time. Before reading this biography of Leo Tolstoy's wife, I had no idea of the work that went into creating a novel. I had never thought about the people besides the listed author who bring a story to life. The Wives is all about that. Each chapter features the wife of a prominent Russian author focusing on her contribution to his work. I bogged down a bit during the chapter on Sonya Tolstoy as it seemed superficial. Well About 30 years about I read Sonya which struck me quite forcefully at the time. Before reading this biography of Leo Tolstoy's wife, I had no idea of the work that went into creating a novel. I had never thought about the people besides the listed author who bring a story to life. The Wives is all about that. Each chapter features the wife of a prominent Russian author focusing on her contribution to his work. I bogged down a bit during the chapter on Sonya Tolstoy as it seemed superficial. Well, duh. Covering the life of a person in a chapter rather than a book is going to seem superficial. Overall though, Alexandra Popoff gives the reader a good introduction to each wife and an interesting overview of Russian writers.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    I had already read many biographies on Tolstoy but this introduced me to other author’s personal lives. The thing all of these women had in common was that today they would have been considered equals to their spouses. They were all probably more responsible for their husband’s success that the authors. They were the ones that aggressively plodded ahead to make sure their spouses’ works were published, sometimes publishing themselves. They thought of themselves, rightfully, as a team; even thou I had already read many biographies on Tolstoy but this introduced me to other author’s personal lives. The thing all of these women had in common was that today they would have been considered equals to their spouses. They were all probably more responsible for their husband’s success that the authors. They were the ones that aggressively plodded ahead to make sure their spouses’ works were published, sometimes publishing themselves. They thought of themselves, rightfully, as a team; even though their names only go down in history as “spouse of”.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Yasmin

    If you're one of those people like me not in the know before you take this out of the library or purchase this book it is more about 20th century writers, there is Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Familiarise yourself with these writers before you read about their wives, it helps to put things into context. I, myself have not read as much as I should have nor at all with two or three of these writers. But this book won't delve into these women as much as you expect it would. You don't get a look into any If you're one of those people like me not in the know before you take this out of the library or purchase this book it is more about 20th century writers, there is Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Familiarise yourself with these writers before you read about their wives, it helps to put things into context. I, myself have not read as much as I should have nor at all with two or three of these writers. But this book won't delve into these women as much as you expect it would. You don't get a look into any of their frustrations, if they had any, any real anger or fear, with the exception of Sophia Tolstoy. In many ways the wives of the 20th century were all similarly stoic and determined and if they had met (more or at all) would have been as sisters. They were all convinced at their roles in life, to be the helpmate to their writer husbands and all went forth with a kind of almost super human relish. For Natalya Solzhenitsyn it was not a sacrifice that she put leading her own life on hold, no was it more a 'duty'? Writers devote themselves to their craft, it is in their very blood and the very core of their beings. Such is the partner that can manage to follow suit into the fire or the garden path of life, with thorns and all. Sometimes I had the feeling that four out of the six wives were strangely identical to each other I couldn't help but feel irritated that there was not more known about their true selves. Which while most had best to cover up, five out of the six had not written their own biography, their own separate feelings or thoughts from their husbands, I did feel there had to be the slightest slipping of the mask of "writer's wife". Some had written diaries but even that must have been guarded against the individual woman. Perhaps I have missed the greatest impact. After all growing up I heard nothing but negatives against Lenin, Stalin, the Revolutions and Communism. In every movie genre of that to James Bond the bad guys were Russians, all spies and all bent on world domination. Many books were written and published about the horrors of post-Tsar reign. Stalin was vilified and the powers that came after him. Thanks to television and wars since and even the internet there may be a form of desensitisation, we are fully aware of tyrants and their reign of terror and whom the oppressed are. In this 21st century can we no longer be shocked? This applies to myself. All the books read and movies seen of oppressors and oppressed, all stories written from first hand experience and second hand knowledge nothing comes as a surprise. Even reading about the poverty, sadness, sickness and death of these men and what was put upon the women and their children (if they lived) we can nod to ourselves about the few demons in power that put them in this living nightmare. Can fear paralyse the majority that they will do the terrible bidding of a few? This is the torturous question that plagues humanity (those that think) in history. How was it that so many peoples hands were tied while so little number of people committed atrocities? The book doesn't directly ask this. But you can't help wonder why these writers suffered so because of one man, Stalin? We have asked this about Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during the Second World War. Do you blame the person who carries out the action, the messenger and the person that dictates it all in the same judgement or not? There may be no right or wrong answers, however, the answer lies in why these men and women died and were sent into exile without others standing up and adding their voices. Fear has a lot to do with why they didn't, but why did they let fear over come their senses. This book does seek to draw the wives out behind the shadows of their "giant" husbands and into the lime light, however, may still remain behind.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    "Understanding that writing was worth the shared sacrifice was typically Russian" (p. 181). This is author Alexandra Popoff's comment on Vera Nabokov's father's understanding of her choice of a husband, a man with poor financial prospects. Popoff, through the biographies of 6 wives of Russia's great writers shows how the sentiment played out. Each of of these wives was essential to her husband's work. Each took dictation, copied or typed, edited, translated and Sofia Tolstoy and Anna Dostoyevsk "Understanding that writing was worth the shared sacrifice was typically Russian" (p. 181). This is author Alexandra Popoff's comment on Vera Nabokov's father's understanding of her choice of a husband, a man with poor financial prospects. Popoff, through the biographies of 6 wives of Russia's great writers shows how the sentiment played out. Each of of these wives was essential to her husband's work. Each took dictation, copied or typed, edited, translated and Sofia Tolstoy and Anna Dostoyevsky published as well. In each case, the wives bore a heavy burden so their husband's could achieve. For the first 3 profiles: Anna Dostoyevsky, Sophia Tolstoy and Nadezdha Mandelstam, you get a good feel for who they were. Each, while working extraordinarily hard for their husbands, suffered emotional abuse. Anna saw all her goods and savings lost to gambling; Sophia put up with shunning, embarrassment and being disinherited of the work she helped to create and Nadezdha being stifled with pacifier and other humiliations. In the end, Anna and Nadezdha receive the love and affection they deserved; Sophia never did. The last 3 profiles: Vera Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov and Natalya Solzhenitsyn are presented in a more reportorial style, so while you learn the facts of their lives you don't get to know them. In a free culture there can be a mystique in the "starving artist" couple; but in Stalin's Russia, starving is literal, and there is no mystique to living in fear. Nadezdha Mandelstam's experience under Stalin makes the life of her more famous counterpart, Natalya Solzhenitsyn seem like a walk in the park. Fortunately, Nadezdha lived to see the work, for which she sacrificed so much, published and was able to have material comfort in her later years. Natalya's comments about Sophia Tolstoy, are a good ending for the book. Natalya's values are those that gave these men the social support for asking so much of the women and made the women see their work and the difficult lives they were leading as their duty to their husband, to art, and to their country. There is nothing to show how much the women were involved in the creative process, but I suspect that they were much more involved than their descriptions as stenographers, typists, copyists, researchers, etc. suggest. I chose this book because of the author's excellent Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography. Popoff says she was attracted to this topic because her parents were a writing couple at the height of the Stalin purges.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    This collection of short biographies of the wives of some of Russia's greatest writers and how they dedicated themselves to their husband's work is fascinating, not least because this sacrifice of themselves to their husbands genius is not something I can identify with. All of the writers, with the possible exception of Bulgakov, come off as terribly narcisstic and selfish, taking the utter devotion of their wives as no more than their due. In each case, the writers owed a great debt to their wiv This collection of short biographies of the wives of some of Russia's greatest writers and how they dedicated themselves to their husband's work is fascinating, not least because this sacrifice of themselves to their husbands genius is not something I can identify with. All of the writers, with the possible exception of Bulgakov, come off as terribly narcisstic and selfish, taking the utter devotion of their wives as no more than their due. In each case, the writers owed a great debt to their wives for taking down the dictated works of the husband, typing manuscripts, editing, researching, keeping distractions away from the great writer, organizing, and even publishing the works. In the Soviet era, the dedication of Nadezhada Mandelstam,Elena ,and Natalya Solzhenitsyn were even more important; without their strenuous efforts to preserve and hide and finally, smuggle out of the country their husband's manuscripts, those works would have been lost to the world. Nadezhda Mandelstam memorized most of Osip's poems, to avoid having to write them down and risk discovery. Each woman's story had remarkable similarities in that each had talent of her own, yet abandoned her own career to work for her husband's. In each case, from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn, the husbands were geniuses, and the contributions of all of them to Russian (and world) literature are incalculable. The intensity of the work and its all-consuming nature is well-described here, and the wives get the credit they so deserve. There are some nitpicks about Popoff's writing -- I suspect she is not a native speaker of English, so I don't really mind--but she has done her research, including meeting and interviewing Natalya Solzhenitsyn, and the stories are mind-blowing. I read Nadezhda Mandelstam's 2-volume memoirs years ago, so I knew the suffering she went through, but to read about all of them together brought a number of surprises. I recommend this to anyone intereseted in the creative process, in literature, and in Russina literature.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Gillespie

    In her fascinating book The Wives: The Women Behind Russia’s Literary Giants, Alexandra Popoff profiles the wives of incredible Russian writers like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, and Solzhenitsyn. As a student of Russian literature and being familiar with the works of the authors, I enjoyed this book tremendously for the insights I gained into how they worked and the roles their wives played in composing their masterpieces. The political situation in Russia under the czars and then the Communists In her fascinating book The Wives: The Women Behind Russia’s Literary Giants, Alexandra Popoff profiles the wives of incredible Russian writers like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov, and Solzhenitsyn. As a student of Russian literature and being familiar with the works of the authors, I enjoyed this book tremendously for the insights I gained into how they worked and the roles their wives played in composing their masterpieces. The political situation in Russia under the czars and then the Communists made literature an important form of social criticism, so it was really interesting to learn about how these women, many of whom would otherwise have been voiceless in their society, found a voice through their help and influence on their husbands’ work. Unlike many Western writers’ wives, the Russian literary tradition called for literary wives who “actively helped produce literature. These women became so much a part of it that they commonly used the word ‘we’ to describe the progress of their husbands’ work.” {Read my full review here}

  15. 4 out of 5

    Katharine

    I could not put this book down. The extent to which the authors, and even more their wives, lived the books that were created is extraordinary. Well written, gripping and fascinating.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joy

    This is a very good book to read by anyone that believes they actually have “freedoms” in this world. Anything and everything can and does change at the drop of a hat. Where at one time words were seen as “threats” to a governments rein ... now the world is so inundated with information that words no longer mean anything at all. At one time there was nothing anyone could say and now there is nothing anyone can’t. This book offers a rather clear view into the worldly “truth” that there is no such This is a very good book to read by anyone that believes they actually have “freedoms” in this world. Anything and everything can and does change at the drop of a hat. Where at one time words were seen as “threats” to a governments rein ... now the world is so inundated with information that words no longer mean anything at all. At one time there was nothing anyone could say and now there is nothing anyone can’t. This book offers a rather clear view into the worldly “truth” that there is no such thing as freedom. It is just another word and only has the importance of the one proclaiming it. It also shares the tender moments and sacrifices of love.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lujain Hijazi

    Love it

  18. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Putnam

    The most interesting section was on Anna Dostoevsky, though I'm sure there are better, more complete sources elsewhere, just as you could consult Nadezhda Mandelstam herself if you chose. This is a handy quick reference. The thesis of the book is that being a Russian novelist's wife is a career in itself and that in general Russian literary wives have played a far greater role than in other cases. This may well be true, but it would be hard to prove without an exhaustive multi-country review. In The most interesting section was on Anna Dostoevsky, though I'm sure there are better, more complete sources elsewhere, just as you could consult Nadezhda Mandelstam herself if you chose. This is a handy quick reference. The thesis of the book is that being a Russian novelist's wife is a career in itself and that in general Russian literary wives have played a far greater role than in other cases. This may well be true, but it would be hard to prove without an exhaustive multi-country review. In any case, the women surveyed here are shown to have been co-writers and muses, and to have made significant and substantive creative contributions to the works of their husbands.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    A collection of brief biographys of six Russian women who made great contributions to literature through supporting their husbands writing careers. Some are well-known authors such as Tolstoy and Dostevsky while others are lesser known authors and poets. Sophia Tolstoy, Vera Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezdha Mandelstam, Anna Dostevsky, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn all assisted in a variety of ways including being stenographers, typists, editors, researchers, translators and even publishers. These br A collection of brief biographys of six Russian women who made great contributions to literature through supporting their husbands writing careers. Some are well-known authors such as Tolstoy and Dostevsky while others are lesser known authors and poets. Sophia Tolstoy, Vera Nabokov, Elena Bulgakov, Nadezdha Mandelstam, Anna Dostevsky, and Natalya Solzhenitsyn all assisted in a variety of ways including being stenographers, typists, editors, researchers, translators and even publishers. These brave ladies also faced adversity in financial circumstances and often under a restrictive government many of them battled censorship and even risked their lives to preserve her husbands writings, documents and important papers for the future. This seems to be a unique trait among Russian women to so completely throw themselves into their husbands work. Often these ladies were the writers' intellectual match and often made invaluable contributions and suggestions during the creative process as well as serving as an example of women's thoughts and feelings. At Dostevsky's request Anna kept a daily journal of her activities, thoughts and feelings and he read these to gain a better understanding of a female perspective. They established a tradition all their own, unmatched in the West. Sometimes they were celebrated for their contributions during their lifetime and sometimes they were ridiculed and popularly believed to be holding their husband back. Here are the stories of the writing of some of the world's greatest literature through the wives' eyes.

  20. 5 out of 5

    James

    A theoretically interesting read - about the women behind the scenes of Russian literature, it is however, damaged by the writing style of the author. Uneven and in places reading more like a college term paper than a biography. These women are certainly interesting and in some cases, equally as gifted as their husbands. These are not complete biographies of these amazing women - that would be a feat to compete in one volume, rather they are biographical sketches. Some of the subjects seem to gr A theoretically interesting read - about the women behind the scenes of Russian literature, it is however, damaged by the writing style of the author. Uneven and in places reading more like a college term paper than a biography. These women are certainly interesting and in some cases, equally as gifted as their husbands. These are not complete biographies of these amazing women - that would be a feat to compete in one volume, rather they are biographical sketches. Some of the subjects seem to grab the author better than others, the chapters on Sophia Tolstoya and Elena Bulgakova are great examples of this. If you know little or nothing about these amazing, women, this book, warts and all, is worth a read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Erin Rouleau

    I found this book fascinating for a few reasons. The solidarity between stories was pretty amazing even though the women suffered through different fates. They each were so similarly loyal and dedicated to their husbands works. I found it fascinating that in this day and age, most women I know, myself included, would not have made it through day one with these men. The backdrop to all of their lives was one of uncertainty whether it be through political regimes or financial strains or religious I found this book fascinating for a few reasons. The solidarity between stories was pretty amazing even though the women suffered through different fates. They each were so similarly loyal and dedicated to their husbands works. I found it fascinating that in this day and age, most women I know, myself included, would not have made it through day one with these men. The backdrop to all of their lives was one of uncertainty whether it be through political regimes or financial strains or religious change. Fear ruled. Reading this made me feel ever so spoiled by living in this day and age. It has also increased my gratitude. I didn't know to what extent I should be grateful. That said, the strength and perseverance of these women is something I would love to emulate.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    I'd like to read a book about the husbands of literary giants. This book is unbelievably depressing for two reasons: 1) the conditions they lived under (financial and political hardships, etc.) and 2) the women mostly were treated (including often by themselves) as doormats. Very valuable doormats, but doormats nonetheless. Was this really necessary for the works to be written or was this just the excuse the husbands gave themselves and others? And that is why I'd like to read about the husbands I'd like to read a book about the husbands of literary giants. This book is unbelievably depressing for two reasons: 1) the conditions they lived under (financial and political hardships, etc.) and 2) the women mostly were treated (including often by themselves) as doormats. Very valuable doormats, but doormats nonetheless. Was this really necessary for the works to be written or was this just the excuse the husbands gave themselves and others? And that is why I'd like to read about the husbands of literary giants. Emily Dickinson's? Jane Austen's?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Katrina Sark

    p.x – A writer’s wife was a profession itself. Literary wives in Russia traditionally performed a variety of tasks as stenographers, editors, typists, researchers, translators, and publishers. Russian writers married women with good literary taste who were profoundly absorbed with their art and felt comfortable in secondary roles. Living under restrictive regimes, the women battled censorship and preserved the writers’ illicit archives, often putting themselves at risk. They established a tradit p.x – A writer’s wife was a profession itself. Literary wives in Russia traditionally performed a variety of tasks as stenographers, editors, typists, researchers, translators, and publishers. Russian writers married women with good literary taste who were profoundly absorbed with their art and felt comfortable in secondary roles. Living under restrictive regimes, the women battled censorship and preserved the writers’ illicit archives, often putting themselves at risk. They established a tradition of their own, unmatched in the West.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    This was a book that had the potential to be great but ended up just being okay. The subject matter--the spouses behind Russia's great writers--is fascinating, but the author managed to take an interesting subject and make it a bit too academic and dry to keep my interest. I read a ton of non-fiction, and there's interesting non-fiction and dry non-fiction. This, unfortunately, fell closer to the latter camp. This was a book that had the potential to be great but ended up just being okay. The subject matter--the spouses behind Russia's great writers--is fascinating, but the author managed to take an interesting subject and make it a bit too academic and dry to keep my interest. I read a ton of non-fiction, and there's interesting non-fiction and dry non-fiction. This, unfortunately, fell closer to the latter camp.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I really enjoyed this book, but it definitely left me wanting more. It is a really solid overview of the lives of the women profiled, but it is a fairly short book, so there isn't a ton of detail. I would recommend it to both fans of Russian literature and fans of biographies, but be warned that it will leave you searching for comprehensive biographies of the women! I really enjoyed this book, but it definitely left me wanting more. It is a really solid overview of the lives of the women profiled, but it is a fairly short book, so there isn't a ton of detail. I would recommend it to both fans of Russian literature and fans of biographies, but be warned that it will leave you searching for comprehensive biographies of the women!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Wonderful book, I could not put it down. It was wonderful to read about the wives of authors that I love. They sacrificed so much for their husbands' literary careers. In all cases, if it wasn't for their wives' total involvement, their works may never have been published. Wonderful book, I could not put it down. It was wonderful to read about the wives of authors that I love. They sacrificed so much for their husbands' literary careers. In all cases, if it wasn't for their wives' total involvement, their works may never have been published.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    As seen in Publishers Weekly. As seen in Publishers Weekly.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jbondandrews

    It was a somewhat interesting book although it did seem that the wives of the Russian writers did not really have lives of their own and as in the case of Sophia Tolstoy not really appreciated by their husbands.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Millie

    The story of these women is well-told and well-documented.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I only read the first two sections--Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.

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