Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Edith M. Almedingen (1898-1971)

Née Marta Aleksandrovna Almedingen
Aka E.M. Almedingen, Martha Edith Almedingen, Martha Edith von Almedingen
Teacher, Author, Poet
Born July 21, 1898, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Died March 5, 1971, London ?, England

Edith M. Almedingen may have been the most high-born of Russian contributors to Weird Tales, but like the others, she left the country of her birth soon after war and unrest set in. She was born Marta Aleksandrovna Almedingen on July 21, 1898, in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the nation's capital and a city of future revolutions. "My earliest predilection was for history," she remembered, but there were litterateurs on both sides of her family. On her mother's side, she was related to the British poets Robert Southey (1774-1843) and--more distantly--Edmund Spenser (ca. 1552-1599). Her father's family included her great-aunt Catherine Almedingen (1829-1893), a writer of children's books and subject of Edith Almedingen's own children's book, Katya (1966).

Marta Almedingen's father, Alexander Almedingen (?-1912), was a scientist and scion of a military family that wandered across Europe before settling in Russia. Her mother's family was far more prominent, for Olga-Sarah Sergeevna Poltoratzky (1857-1919) was a woman of noble birth and daughter of Russian literary scholar, bibliophile, humanitarian, and author Serge Poltoratzky. Serge Poltoratsky (1803-1884), who wrote the Dictionary of Russian Authors and whose personal library is now part of the Russian State Library, married twice. His second wife, young Helen (or Ellen) Sarah Southee, was an English woman who reared her children in her native Kent. Only later did Olga Poltoratzky return to the country of her father's birth.

In late nineteenth-century Russia, Olga met and married Alexander Almedingen, with whom she had several children. Then, in 1900, when Marta was only a toddler, Almedingen abandoned his family. Perhaps as compensation, the future writer claimed parentage from the city of her birth, beginning her autobiography four decades later with these words:
The story of a life may begin on a nursery floor or in an April wood, with a slab of chocolate or a broken, beloved toy. It may start with a fantasy woven round a face, a song, or even a picture on the earliest remembered wall. This record must needs begin with a city, whose child I was.
St. Petersburg . . . .
From her home on Vassily Island, young Marta explored the city and the world as she knew it. In 1941, she told her story in Tomorrow Will Come, an affecting and fascinating book which offers a picture of her family and of an old Europe that perished among the horrors of the twentieth century. Though poor, Edith entered the Xénia Institute for Noble Young Ladies, housed in the immense and magnificent Nicholas Palace in Saint Petersburg (renamed Petrograd in 1914). When revolution came, the Bolsheviks seized the palace and--dubbing it the Palace of Labour--handed it over to the trade unions, who proceeded to wreck part of its interior. By then, Marta had moved on to Petrograd University, where she studied from 1916 to 1920.

After completing her studies, Marta Almedingen lectured in English medieval history and literature at Petrograd University, becoming a member of the faculty in 1922. That same year--in September--with the Bolsheviks on the verge of victory in the Russian civil war, she was granted permission to leave her country and she emigrated to England. Arriving in 1923, she set about a career as a teacher and writer. Reversing her academic subjects, Edith lectured English students on Russian history and literature. In 1951, Edith Almedingen was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Edith met with equal success as a writer, eventually accounting for over four dozen volumes of fiction, folk tales, fairy tales, memoirs, biography, and history. Her first break came in 1941 when Atlantic Monthly awarded her its nonfiction prize and $5,000 for her autobiography, Tomorrow Will Come. On the other end of the scale, Weird Tales printed just one of her stories, "An Examination in Diplomacy" (August 1929), for which she probably received a hundred dollars or so.

Although she fondly remembered the land of her birth, Edith Almedingen was happy to live in England:
[T]here is no end to the joys, and the five years (1917-1922) spent in Russia in an atmosphere of midnight house-searches, machine-gun snipers, beetroot doled out as a bread ration and all the rest of it, have certainly taught me to appreciate all I have found in my mother's country.
Edith Almedingen died on March 5, 1971, fifty-four years to the month after the last czar of Russia abdicated.

Edith M. Almedingen's Story in Weird Tales
"An Examination in Diplomacy" (Aug. 1929)

Further Reading
If you can find Tomorrow Will Come in its full version, I think it would prove well worth reading. Edith Almedingen's many other books are readily available as reprints or second-hand. Also, there's a nice profile of her in the Third Book of Junior Authors.

The Russian-English author Edith M. Almedingen, aka E.M. Almedingen (1898-1971). Photograph from the Third Book of Junior Authors.
Nicholas Palace in Saint Petersburg in a painting from 1861. The palace was later home of the Xénia Institute for Noble Young Ladies, attended by E.M. Almedingen when she was still known by her childhood name, Marta.
E.M. Almedingen wrote several dozen books. I'll offer an image of just one for now. Look for a book list sometime in the future.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley 

2 comments:

  1. Wikipedia has the following list of works, probably not complete. My great aunt knew her.

    Young Catherine (1937)
    The Lion of the North (1938)
    She Married Pushkin (1939)
    Tomorrow Will Come (1941)
    Frossia (1943)
    Fair Haven (1956)
    Little Stairway (1960)
    Catherine the Great: a portrait (1963)
    An Unbroken Unity (1964)
    The Unnamed Stream and Other Poems (1965)
    The Treasure of Siegfried (1965)
    Little Katia (1966)
    Young Mark (1967)
    Charlemagne: a study (1968)
    Retreat from Moscow (1968)
    Candle at Dusk (1969)
    My St. Petersburg: A Reminiscence of Childhood (1970)

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  2. Dear Mr. Ford,

    I promised a book list but never got around to it. Thank you for your contribution. I hope that your great aunt recorded something of her association with or memories of Edith Almedingen.

    TH

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