Member's Choice: Teffi: A Life of Letters and of Laughter
with Edythe Haber
Nadezhda Teffi (née Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, 1872-1952) was a remarkable writer and one of Russia’s most celebrated authors in the years preceding the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. At the time she came to be admired by an impressive range of people from Tsar Nicholas II to Lenin. After the revolution she, together with approximately one million of her compatriots, fled Russia to form what has been called Russia Abroad, with its capitals originally in Paris and Berlin, but with outposts as faras Shanghai and Buenos Aires. Living out her days in the lively émigré community in Paris, she continued writing—and enjoying comparable fame—until her death in 1952. Haber’s book Teffi: A Life of Letters and of Laughter affords a panoramic view of the cultural world of early twentieth century Russia, from the debauchery of the Silver Age to the terror and euphoria of revolution, and of interwar Russian emigration.
In recent years, Teffi has been gaining ever greater recognition in the West, particularly with her memoir of the Russian Civil War, Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea (with Haber’s introduction), the recipient of the 2017 “Special Award for Best Book in Translation” from London’s Pushkin House. Edythe Haber’s biography, the first in any language, has been judged by the reviewer in the Guardian “a masterpiece of sober and diligent scholarship,” and brings Teffi and her times fully to life.
Edythe Haber, a member of the Boston Athenaeum since 2002, is Professor Emerita of Russian at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Center Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard, where she coordinates the Humanities Studies Group. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan, where she majored in English but also—caught up in the Cold War atmosphere—gained proficiency in Russian. She did graduate work in Russian literature and in 1971 received her Ph.D from the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Harvard. Haber’s dissertation focused on Teffi, but her research and writing took another direction after the appearance of Mikhail Bulgakov’s great novel, The Master and Margarita, almost thirty years after the writer’s death in 1940. Haber published several seminal articles on the novel and the book Mikhail Bulgakov: The Early Years (Harvard University Press, 1998). She then returned to Teffi, judging the time was auspicious, given the immense growth of the field of women’s literature, as well as the enthusiasm in Russia for previously forbidden émigré writers after the fall of the Soviet Union. Haber conducted extensive archival and library research, both in the United States and abroad, for Teffi: A Life of Letters and of Laughter.