Marina Tsvetaeva

The Double Beat of Heaven and Hell

Marina Tsvetaeva

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 15 b&w photographs Published: October 1994

Author: Lily Feiler

Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, General Interest > Biography, Letters, Memoirs, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

"No more passionate voice ever sounded in Russian poetry of the 20th century," Joseph Brodsky writes of Marina Tsvetaeva. And yet Western readers are only now starting to discover what Tsvetaeva’s Russian audience has already recognized, "that she was one of the major poetic voices of the century" (Tomas Venclova, The New Republic).
Born to a family of Russian intelligentsia in 1892 and coming of age in the crucible of revolution and war, Tsvetaeva has been seen as a victim of her politicized time, her life and her work marked by exile, neglect, and persecution. This book is the first to show us the poet as she discovered her life through art, shaped as much by inner demons as by the political forces and harsh realities of her day. With remarkable psychological and literary subtlety, Lily Feiler traces these demons through the tragic drama of Tsvetaeva’s life and poetry. Hers is a story full of contradictions, resisting social and literary conventions but enmeshed in the politics and poetry of her time. Feiler depicts the poet in her complex relation to her contemporaries—Pasternak, Rilke, Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, and Akhmatova. She shows us a woman embodying the values of nineteenth-century romanticism, yet radical in her poetry, supremely independent in her art, but desperate for appreciation and love, simultaneously mother and child in her complicated sexual relationships with men and women.
From prerevolutionary Russia to Red Moscow, from pre-World War II Berlin, Prague, and Paris to the Soviet Union under Stalin, Feiler follows the tortuous drama of Tsvetaeva’s life and work to its last tragic act, exposing at each turn the passions that molded some of this century’s most powerful poetry.


“[Feiler] synthesizes Tsvetaeva’s life and works into a compelling narrative. . . [and] sheds new light on who Tsvetaeva the woman really was, as best as she can be recreated. From this volume the layperson will gain a deep understanding of one of the most frustrating and fascinating women that lived in this century and grasp the works of one of its most important writers.” — Luc Beaudoin , Canadian Slavonic Papers

"Thoroughly enjoyable to read, Feiler’s psychoanalytical approach serves the biographer well, arguing throughout that Tsvetaeva never left behind the conflicts stirred up in childhood." — Olga M. Cooke , Russian Review

"Feiler’s book is the most complete biography so far written. The poet’s life is recorded and interpreted in a new way, meaningful and coherent. Marina Tsvetaeva’s very dramatic life is told in splendid detail." — Simon Karlinsky, author of Marina Tsvetaeva: The Woman, Her World, and Her Poetry

"The life and poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva, Russia’s greatest modern poet, were marked by passion, commitment and craft. The terrifying egotism that fueled her poetry and mythologized her life from childhood to suicide has never been so convincingly set out as in Lily Feiler’s psychobiography." — Barbara Heldt, author of Terrible Perfection: Women and Russian Literature

"This well-researched, thoughtful, and fair biography of Marina Tsvetaeva especially illuminates that intimate connection between passionate artist and self-destructive woman that, in very different circumstances, also characterized the genius of Sylvia Plath. Against the background of the Russian Revolution, the privations and hardships endured by this uniquely gifted but psychologically damaged Romantic are viewed with a sympathy untouched by sentimentality. I cannot imagine a better introduction to Tsvetaeva’s conflicted life and work." — Anne Stevenson, author of Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lily Feiler is an independent scholar and translator living in New York. Her translation of Victor Shklovsky’s Mayakovsky and His Circle was nominated for the 1972 National Book Award for Translation.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments xi

Permissions xiii

A Note on Translations, Transliteration, and Punctuation xv

Introduction 1

1. Family and Childhood: Formative forces 7

2. Growing Up: Reality and Fantasy: God/Devil: the central conflict 22

3. Adolescence, Mother's Death: Schools Broad / Escape into imagination 30

4. Dawning Sexuality: Ellis and Nilender / First poetry collection 43

5. Illusions: Marriage to Sergey Efron / Birth of daughter, Ariadna / Alya Disenchantment / Father's death 56

6. Lesbian Passion: Sofiya Parnok / The wound that would not heal 66

7. In the Shadow of the Revolution: Flirtation with Mandelshtam / Love affairs and dread Birth of second daughter, Irina / Revolution and separation 78

8. Life Under Communism: Poverty, excitement, and creativity / Involvement with actors and theater / Closeness with Alya 86

9. Passion and Despair: Sonechka: fantasy of pure love / Irina's death 95

10. Years of Frenzy and Growth: Volkonsky, Vysheslavtsev, Lann / The Tsar-Maiden and "On a Red Steed" 104

11. New Poetic Voice and Departure: A young Bolshevik, literary friends / Departure 116

12. Russian Berlin: Vishnyak, new infatuation / Old friends: Ehrenburg and Bely Reunion with husband / Correspondence with Pasternak 124

13. Prague, Creative Peak / Creative crest - "The Swain" / Letters to Pasternak and Bakhrakh 133

14. Great Love, Great Pain: Konstantin Rodzevich / "Poem of the Mountain" and "Poem of the End" / Marriage crisis 144

15. Resignation and Birth of Son: Grinding poverty, women friends / Birth of son Georgy (Mur) Move to Paris 152

16. Paris, Success and New Problems: "The Ratcatcher" / Limited Success / Eurasians - new friends, criticism 160

17. The Correspondence with Rilke and Pasternak: Search for the Beyond / Conflict with Pasternak / Economic hardships 168

18. Spiraling Down: Rilke's death / Hostility in literary circles / Efron's turn toward Soviets 180

19. Growing Isolation: Phaedra / After Russia published Defense of Mayakovsky / Nikolay Gronsky 187

20. Hitting Bottom: Poetic crisis, growing isolation / End of Pasternak's marriage / Depression 196

21. Alienation and Self-Analysis: Salomea and "Letter to an Amazon" 203

22. Indigence and Autobiographical Prose: Ivask correspondence / Efron applies for a Soviet passport / Family conflicts 210

23. Further Withdrawal: Pasternak's Visit / Steiger - new hopes for love dashed 223

24. A Fateful Year, 1937: Pushkin essays - a look into herself / Alya's leaving for Russia / The Efron case 231

25. Return to the Soviet Union: Atmosphere of Stalinist terror / Arrest of Alya and Sergey Golytsino Writers' House / Frustrated attempts to publish; translations 242

26. War, Evacuation, Suicide 254

Afterword 265

Notes 269

Bibliography 291

Index 295
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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1482-0
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