Hope Abandoned Critical Context - Essay

Nadezhda Mandelstam

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Both Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned are important literary documents in the long tradition of Russian memoir literature; they are even more significant because of the relative paucity of works about this period, the result of strict Soviet censorship. What separates Nadezhda Mandelstam’s volumes from other memoir literature is her frankness about the way her husband and many other writers and artists were mistreated (according to reliable estimates, close to one thousand writers were exterminated during Stalin’s reign of terror). Her own literary acumen makes these works valuable from an aesthetic point of view as well—especially Hope Abandoned, with its discussion of matters of literary theory and history.

When Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned were published in the West, they were received with great acclaim; thereafter, until her death in 1980, Nadezhda Mandelstam held court to a steady stream of visiting scholars from abroad. In particular she had the satisfaction of seeing her husband’s work—much of which, without her efforts, might have been lost altogether—achieve international recognition. While little of Mandelstam’s poetry has been officially available to Soviet readers, extensive editions of his works, in Russian, have been issued in the West, beginning in the 1950’s. The publication of Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned provided scholars with invaluable material and greatly increased general awareness of Mandelstam’s stature as a poet; subsequently, many translations of his poetry and prose have appeared in English.