Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Nadezhda Mandelstam, the wife of one of the most accomplished Russian poets of the twentieth century, Osip Mandelstam, spent most of her married life sharing the good and the bad experiences of her husband’s life. When he finally succumbed to the reign of terror in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and perished in a concentration camp on December 27, 1938, she took it upon herself to preserve for posterity her husband’s poetic works; without her gallant efforts, most of Osip Mandelstam’s work would have been lost forever, since he was prevented from publishing during the last decade of his life. Her efforts are all the more remarkable since she herself was always in mortal danger, in addition to having to struggle for basic life necessities in the years after her husband’s death.

The two volumes of her memoirs cover the nineteen years that the Mandelstams spent together, from their first meeting on May Day, 1919, to their last moments together on May Day, 1938; they also include the aftermath of Osip’s death. The eighty-three titled chapters of Hope Against Hope concentrate on Mandelstam’s first arrest in 1934, final incarceration in 1938, and eventual death later that year. Hope Abandoned, almost twice as large but condensed in forty-two chapters, builds on that foundation, complementing the earlier narratives but also providing lucid comments on poetic, political, and religious subjects, as well as perceptive analyses of some of Osip Mandelstam’s poems and those of their closest friend, Anna Akhmatova. The reader cannot avoid the conclusion that the author has used the second volume as her final reckoning with her time, in order to say everything left unsaid in Hope Against Hope. Both volumes contain appendices, with biographical notes on...

(The entire section is 732 words.)