My St. Petersburg Essay - Critical Context

Martha Edith von Almedingen

Critical Context

My St. Petersburg is far from a conventional autobiography. The glimpses that a reader gets of Almedingen’s life are not chronological and are not intended to show her personality or to trace her growth in skill or understanding. No other human character is developed, although many brief miniportraits are so vivid that the book seems alive with a variety of people.

Nevertheless, My St. Petersburg is not a mere travelogue or history; everything that Almedingen tells about the city is strained through the memories of how she discovered it, who told her, or what incident she associates with it. The book is also not the idealization of a longed-for home by an exile, although she was never able to return after her escape in 1923 and is frankly nostalgic for the grace and variety of the city she loved. The sharp perceptions of an unusual child combine with the skill of an adult author to produce a double picture—that of a way of life already dead fifty years when the book was written and that of the city of impressive buildings, rivers, canals, and parks called “the Venice of the North,” much of which has out-lasted world war, revolution, and almost unbelievable political change.

Young adults who have the opportunity to travel will find the book a valuable companion to bring life and another level of understanding to their view of what many have called Russia’s loveliest city. Others will be moved by the love and enthusiasm for the city evoked by the memories of a perceptive young person.