Catherine Brown

‘The Young Russian’: D.H. Lawrence, London’s Russians, and the First World War

August 2018


The following is the pre-edited text of an article in The Journal of D.H. Lawrence Studies Volume 5, Number 2 (December 2019) in a special edition on Lawrence’s relationship to London, which I guest edited with JDHLS editor Sue Reid (pp. 102-123). This edition contained expanded versions of the most London-orientated of the papers which were given at the 14th International D.H. Lawrence Conference, ‘London Calling: Lawrence & the Metropolis’, of which I was Executive Director, and which took place at New College of the Humanities, London, July 2017. An overview of the edition may be found here, and my introduction may be found here.




Soon after the character nicknamed “the Pussum” has sprinkled some drops of brandy in the face of her ex-lover Halliday, “another man”, with “a very small, quick, Eton voice”, springs to Halliday’s defence, and proceeds to play a minor and largely forgettable role in that and the subsequent Bohemian scenes of D.H. Lawrence’s 1919 novel Women in Love (WL 69).

However, a Russian should not be ignored when he exists in a novel written during, and saturated by, a war in which Russia was one of the UK’s most important allies (until, from 3 March 1918, it was that no longer).[1] Even before the War, Russia had been coming into cultural vogue with the aid of the French translations in which Anglophones read much of its nineteenth-century literature.[2] Wyndham Lewis, when he returned to London in the same year that Lawrence first arrived in it (1908), after six years’ travel on the Continent, made a Bohemian splash by dressing as a Russian. He recalled that: “I was for some years spiritually a Russian – a character in some Russian novel. As such I made my bow in London – to the deeply astonished Ford Madox Hueffer”.[3] During the War itself, allied sympathies combined with the emergent English modernist aesthetic, a new interest in depth psychology, and the simultaneous arrival into English of Golden and Silver Age Russian literature, to generate a “Craze” for all things Russian: ballet, Soul, clothes, naturalism in drama, impressionism in the short story, mysticism Orthodox and unorthodox, and individuals.


Konstantin Nabokov (uncle of the future writer Vladimir) was appointed counselor at the Russian Embassy in London in 1914, and noticed how “Sympathy with Russia was manifested in every direction, in all classes of society. A long series of books appeared … Anglo-Russian Societies were founded all over the country … In several Universities chairs of the Russian language were established.”[4] The School of Slavonic and East European Studies was founded in Bloomsbury in same year that Lawrence completed The Rainbow(1915), which was the year before he started Women in Love. Galya Diment, biographer of Lawrence’s close friend Samuel Solomonovich Koteliansky (1880-1955), argues that “Kot” fell on his feet by arriving in England in 1911. This was the year in which the Ballet Russe arrived in London, and the year before Constance Garnett first started translating Dostoevsky (and met Lawrence). It was therefore the very take-off moment for the Russian Craze, in which “Kot” and Mark Gertler were welcomed in salons such as Lady Ottoline Morrell’s as representatives of the newly fashionable Russia, rather than as respectively Ukrainian and Polish Jews who would not have been allowed anywhere near the Imperial ballet in Russia itself.[5] Lawrence found himself being fostered and celebrated by the London literary scene at the very same time as was Russianness itself.

Readers are the more justified in paying attention to the Russianness of Women in Love’s minor character since the narrator refers to him as “the Russian” fourteen times, as opposed to four and three respectively for “Maxim” and “Libidnikov” – names which evoke, rather than assert, his nationality (WL 69-80, 382-4). Yet this sober and urbane character, with “a very small, quick, Eton voice”, is anything but typically Russian, in the way that Koteliansky, with his Slavicisms, bearlike aspect, and glass-smashing to punctuate his speech of love to Lawrence in Café Royal in December 1923, was perceived to be (WL 69).[6] In what is, especially in its Bohemian scenes, something of a roman à clef, Libidnikov refuses to be unlocked by any one person, and seems at first glance to be a conflation of two of Lawrence’s acquaintances.

One is Maxim Maximovich Litvinov (1876-1951), whom Lawrence met through the Hampstead set of the Lows and Eders at some point after June 1914;[7] the other is the English soldier poet Robert Nichols (1893-1944), whom Lawrence visited during the latter’s convalescence from shell shock in November 1915. The character has in common with Nichols his close friendship with Philip Heseltine (Libidnikov repeatedly defends and assists Halliday, a character closely based on Heseltine, WL 536 n. 60:30), his English public school background, slimness, suave aspect, and youth.[8] Meir Henoch Wallach-Finkelstein, revolutionary alias Maxim Litvinov (meaning “of Lithuania”) gave an approximation of his pseudonym and nationality to the character, but had turned an aged-looking forty when the first Women in Love was started in 1916, was portly rather than resembling “a water-plant” when naked, and would have had the accent of a Russo-Polish Jew, having arrived to live in England when he was already thirty-two (WL 79).[9] Much the same was true of Kot; a Jew from what is now Ukraine, and four years younger than Litvinov, he arrived in London when he was thirty. Moreover Litvinov had a “deep-seated disdain for cosmopolitan intellectuals”, which would have made the Café Royal (original of The Pompadour) unlikely as one of his haunts.[10]

The kindof Russian who attended Eton before the war, and was “young” during it, would have been an aristocrat such as Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov (1887-1967), who founded Oxford University’s Russian Society around 1912. The only upper-class Russian male whom Lawrence might have met by the time of creating Libidnikov was the artist Boris Anrep (1883-1969), who like Lawrence attended Ottoline Morrell’s salon.[11] However, he was recalled home to fight in 1914 (Lawrence first visited the Bedford Square salon on around 13thAugust, by which time Russia had already been at war for a fortnight), and there is no record of Lawrence having met him after his return to London in 1917, by which time the character of Libidnikov had taken the form that he would retain through to publication.

The question arises as to why Lawrence’s “young Russian” is such a strange hybrid. The answers are, I would suggest, as several and mutually-contradictory as are the origins of this character themselves. First, however, it is worth observing why this character is Russian at all. He is the only member of the Pompadour set who is clearly not English, and it is therefore a Russian who carries the sole burden of making this fictional Bohemia – which meets in a hotel located close to the highly international districts of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury – ethnically cosmopolitan.[12] It is, in fact, likely that Lawrence knew in London more Russians than people of any other non-British nationality.[13] It is possible that he shared a widespread sense of Russians as more foreign, and the circles in which they moved as therefore more cosmopolitan, than any other European nationality – coming as they did from what was perceived to be Europe’s most inaccessible, mysterious and exotic country.

The most overwhelmingly cosmopolitan of Lawrence’s pre-War experiences was of a dinner hosted at Levanto by the Russian novelist Aleksandr Valentinovich Amfiteatrov (1862-1923). Lawrence wrote on 14 March 1914: “It was a rum show: twenty six people at lunch, a babble of German English Russian French Italian … an adopted son of Maxim Gorky … no, it was too much – You have no idea how one feels English and stable and solid in comparison” (2L 155). In Mr Noon, which also describes Lawrence’s pre-War experiences on the Continent, it is Russia that comes first to the protagonist’s mind during his “unEnglishing” in the valley of the Isar: “He felt he could walk without stopping on to the far north-eastern magic of Russia … There seemed to run gleams and shadows from the vast spaces of Russia … He saw the white road, which seemed to him to lead to Russia. And he became unEnglished” (MN107).

Yet the particular Russian who guarantees the ethnic diversity of the Pompadour crowd is himself highly Englished. If, as Virginia Nicholson argues, the kind of pre-War English who believed that England “was fast becoming an intolerable place to live” turned “for their artistic and personal salvation to Russia”, then the suavely-Anglicised Etonian Libidnikov is not the kind of Russian they had in mind.[14] It might, therefore, be the case that part of Lawrence’s motivation in creating Libidnikov was a cutting of Russians down to size – a way of ridiculing the fetishisation of all Russians as “the purveyors of sincerity to the over-institutionalised European”, in the context of a Russian Craze which irritated him.[15] Libidnikov is, on the novel’s own terms, and along with the other denizens of the Pompadour, “of no account”.[16] He is the civilized face of Bohemia in his sober management of drunk friends and taxis, but his Bohemian nakedness is “somehow humiliating” (WL 77), and his attractiveness slips when he abruptly describes Hasan, Halliday’s elegant Hindu servant, as “very dirty” (WL 73), and later incites Halliday to parody Birkin’s letter (WL 382-3). He is left behind by the narrative, as though in punishment, when Gudrun carries Birkin’s letter out of the Pompadour.

Lawrence has in addition given this Russian an absurd name, by conflating Litvinov with der Libido, which entered English in translation of Freud in 1909. Lawrence, having moved beyond his early excitement at Freud, vigorously disputed him with the Eders and Lows, and was ready to pastiche the term.[17] In addition, Freud was well-received in Russia; one of his most famous patients, the Wolf Man, was Russian. One of the most famous Russians at the time that Lawrence started writing Women in Love in April 1916 was notorious for his libido: Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, whom Yusupov and associates murdered in December 1916. As far as Libidnikov’s nominal model Litvinov himself was concerned, the swelling of his surname was a joke at his expense. On 22 February 1916 (two months before Lawrence started Women in Love), he married Lawrence’s friend and sometime admirer Ivy Low (through whose hands the typescript of this novel was to pass before reading Ottoline Morrell later that year).[18] Bloomsbury and Hampstead were amused at the marriage of the placid, portly, impoverished exile with the fifteen-years-younger extrovert Ivy (1889-1977). At last, the confirmed bachelor was giving an indication that he had a libido. The name Libidnikov is equally inappropriate to the character, who merely acts as a graceful pander between Gerald and the Pussum. Lawrence himself was amused at the marriage. In February 1916 he wrote to Catherine Carswell of Ivy: “I must write to her. At any rate, it is well for her to be married, then she can be unmarried when she likes again” (2L 532). Five months later he wrote to Thomas Dunlop (the British Consul in Spezia at the time that the Lawrences lived there and first met Ivy in May 1914), “For my part, I can only tell you that our dear Ivy has married a poor Russian revolutionary of forty – quite nice-looking, I believe, but of no account. She – Ivy – is already not toocontented with her new lot. Heaven knows how it will end” (2L629). The joke is the more pointed since, the differences between Litvinov and the character notwithstanding, there were similarities. Litvinov had an ability to understand and assimilate to the West, and to speak persuasively to it, that Kot did not. When dressed, like Gerald and Libidnikov, Litvinov looked “comme il faut” (WL 80).

Neither Russian culture nor the Russian Craze itself are satirised in the novel – or the latter only mildly, through the pedantic discussion of a Turgenev translation which takes place at Breadalby (and even then, Turgenev, who was widely perceived as a Westernised writer, was a peripheral figure in the philo-Slavic craze) (WL 86-7).[19] Even the representation of the Ballet Russe (whose veneration at Ottoline’s house Gertler once parodied, to Kot’s delight) is positive, Lawrence having organised similar events himself at Garsington in late 1915.[20] Nobody in the Bohemian scenes of Women in Lovecelebrates Libidnikov by virtue of his nationality; such attention as is paid to his nationality is, as has been noted, that of the narrator himself. Nonetheless, the Russia Craze is subtly and negatively undermined; the fact that the novel’s sole Russian is not indicated to be any kind of artist subverts the connection that existed in the Russophile mind between Russia and the idea of culture. Given that Libidnikov is upper-class, and has professional manners, it is as likely that he is employed at the Russian Embassy to the Court of St James as that he is a poet or painter such as Boris Anrep; his sense of taste is exhibited only in his explanation of the Fetish as a representation of childbirth (WL74), and his amusement at Birkin’s epistolary style (WL 382-4).

Of course, Lawrence had met numerous artistic Russians: Amfitheatrov (the novelist mentioned above), the supposed adopted son of Maxim Gorky, Zinovii Alekseevich Peshkov (who showed his short stories to Lawrence in 1914), and Vera Volkovsky (who wrote short stories and visited the Lawrences at Lerici in 1914).[21] He may also have known the Ballet Russe dancer Lydia Lopokova, who first visited London in 1911. Koteliansky translated literature after a fashion, occasionally in collaboration with Lawrence himself. However, he also knew several Russians who were notartistic, and were in London as political or ethnic exiles rather than as purveyors of culture. Fanny Markovna Stepniak (1855-1945), the widow of the terrorist Sergei Stepniak, was introduced to Lawrence by Kot (a fellow Jew from the Pale of Settlement) in April 1917 (3L116).[22] Litvinov, although described on his marriage certificate as a “literary translator”, had few artistic inclinations, and worked principally as a Bolshevik organiser.[23] Through the Lows and Eders Lawrence probably knew several of Litvinov’s fellow revolutionaries: Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky (born Jan Lyakhovetsky, 1884-1975), who lived in London 1912-17; the more aristocratic Georgy Vasilievich Chicherin (1872-1936), who lived in London 1914-18; the upper-class feminist Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai (née Domontovicha, 1872-1952), who visited London on and off until 1914; and the anarchist Prince Piotr Alexeevich Kropotkin (1842-1921), who lived in England 1886-1917, and was friends with Ford Madox Hueffer and Constance Garnett.[24] Several of these adopted pseudonyms, partly in order to hide Jewishness and partly in order to escape official detection; the modulation of Litvinov to Libidnikov gives the former a further pseudonym.

Lawrence’s first interest in Russia was in its literature, as he attested as early as 1907.[25] His interest and admiration for it waned precisely at the time that the Russian Craze took off; by June 1914 he was distinguishing his artistry from that of the Russians (2L182-83), and in November 1916 he criticized the worshipping of foreign writers including Russians (3L41). However, his interest in Russia as a political entity in the present rose to replace his admiration for its most famous writers; his interests in Russia’s future, and its literary past, follow similar bell curves, but the latter preceded the former by about eight years (the former peaking around 1909).[26] In part because Lawrence was socially attuned to the country’s political present, his feelings about Russia were not shaken by the revolutions of 1917 as were those of the followers of the Russian Craze who had revered the “Russian soul” as infinitely long-suffering.[27] The potential conflict between the political life and the artistic life became apparent to Ivy Litvinova, who found that marriage to a revolutionary required her to relinquish her literary aspirations.[28]

This is not, of course, to suggest that Russian culture and politics were unconnected. Although the two authors on whom the Russian Craze most focused (Dostoevsky, and the Tolstoy of his mid period) were conservatives, other Golden Age Russian writers and literary critics were liberal or radical, and the very stringency of Tsarist censorship led to political debate being conducted in a veiled form through the production and discussion of literature. Kropotkin was also a literary critic; Stepniak had collaborated with Constance Garnett on the introductions to the literary translations which he had encouraged her to undertake; Gorky, of whom Lawrence claimed to have read much by March 1913, and Kot’s translations of whose Reminiscences of Leonid Andreyevhe was in 1923 to correct, was a political writer. Ford Madox Hueffer’s literary periodical The English Review (1908-37) revealed the editor’s left-wing bias, and his friendship with exiles including Kropotkin and Stepniak. The Eder salon brought non-artistic revolutionaries together with socialist-inclined artists such as H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw; Maisky, though not literary himself, was particularly drawn to the company of writers.[29] Nonetheless, Lawrence was developing a sense that Russia’s future would entail it breaking connection with European culture. In his September 1919 Foreword to Shestov’s All Things Are Possiblehe described Russia’s nineteenth-century literature as resembling “the inflammation and irritation” produced by innoculation by “European culture … Russia will certainly inherit the future … Meanwhile she goes through the last stages of reaction against us, kicking away from the old womb of Europe” (IR 5-6). Lawrence’s acquaintance with non-artistic Russians such as Litvinov may, then, have assisted with the creation of his “young Russian”; it also determines the nature of this article as more historical-political than literary-critical.

However, it was mentioned above that Libidnikov more resembles an employee of the Russian Embassy than he does the revolutionary “of no account” for whom Lawrence knew Litvinov. It is therefore possible that part of the motivation for Lawrence’s representation of Libidnikov was his desire to critique Russia’s ruling class. This would not be inconsistent with his critique of the excesses of the Russian Craze, and wholly consistent with the sympathies of all the Russians whom Lawrence knew best. London had become the main base for Russian revolutionaries abroad (greater than Paris, Berlin, Zürich and Geneva), largely because the British government was particularly tolerant of them. Britain had been hostile to Russia throughout the nineteenth century (culminating in the Crimean War of 1854-6), largely because of perceived imperial rivalry and partly because of liberal distaste for its autocracy, and was therefore generous in its welcome of its refugees. In Joseph Conrad’s 1907 fictionalisation of Russian revolutionaries in London, The Secret Agent, a Russian Embassy official instructs the protagonist to plant a bomb as an agent provocateur, out of frustration at the British government’s laxity in its toleration of Russian anarchists. As Carswell notes, “Under King Edward VII the Russian refugee, especially if he were Jewish, found a place not unlike that offered by the Victorians to the Italian in flight … The opponents of the Tsar, however extreme their views and however violent their methods, commanded widespread tolerance and sympathy.”[30] Lenin preferred London to Paris, and as a result “Three of the first four substantive conferences of his party were held there … In London Marx had lived and died; and London held the British Museum”, where Lenin started studying in 1902. Indeed, the Museum was the revolutionaries’ “forum, their university, almost their temple”, and it was there that Lenin first met Litvinov.[31]

When Litvinov arrived in London in 1908, “the Russian revolutionary colony in London numbered perhaps three or four hundred.”[32] Their social centre was the Herzen Club (named after the Russian populist philosopher Alexander Herzen, who had lived in London 1852-64) which was on Charlotte Street; it happened that this was only a few doors away from David Eder’s consulting rooms. It may therefore have been on Charlotte Street that Litvinov got to know Eder.[33] Its members covered a range of political views, from Kropotkin’s anarchism to Litvinov’s Bolshevism, but they assisted one another. When Litvinov was deported from France to England in 1908, he carried a letter of introduction from Maxim Gorky to Charles Hagberg Wright, librarian of the London Library, through whom he obtained a post at the publishers Williams and Norgate.[34] When Kot was sent by his mother to England in 1911 in order to avoid an anticipated spike in pogroms after the murder of a Christian boy near Kiev, he soon made friends with Fanny Stepniak. Litvinov, Maisky and Chicherin moved to be close to each other first in Golders Green and then in Hampstead.

Lawrence had long taken an interest in socialism, initially from Willie and Sally Hopkins (friends from Eastwood), and he was a founder member of the Society for the Study of Social Reform at University College Nottingham.[35] He was also opposed to the class, on all sides, that was promulgating the War. It is fitting that he should have been in company with Kot when, having just met on a walking holiday in the Lake District, they heard on 5 August 1914 that war had been declared.[36] Like Lawrence, Russian exiles in England had their own concerns about conscription; in 1914 Litvinov was exempted from military service, but Yusupov was recalled. Kot was meantime prevented from leaving England, just as was Lawrence himself. In October 1915, Gertler split from his patron Eddie Marsh, Winston Churchill’s private secretary, over the latter’s support for the War.[37] The Russians’ fear of the draft increased when, in May 1916, an amendment to the Draft Act permitted friendly aliens to volunteer, with an increasing implied threat of consequences if they did not. Lawrence wrote to Kot in July: “How queer, if they send you to Russia!” (L2 622) Clearly, Lawrence’s character Libidnikov had neither volunteered nor been conscripted. It is, therefore, likely that Lawrence’s opposition to the War gained an extra dimension, and still further internationalism (in addition to his conjugal sympathy to Germany), through his friendship with Russian exiles. Lawrence was not the only one harrassed by the police during the period: “Spurred on by the Russian ambassador, the Home Office began to harass Russian revolutionary organizations. In October 1915 the police closed the Liverpool branch of Chicherin’s Prisoners and Exiles Relief Committee and in December they raided its London headquarters. Chicherin was jailed briefly while the police unsuccessfully sought to build a case against him; this was his first, but not last, opportunity to sample the British government’s ‘hospitality.’”[38]

It is to the credit of Lawrence’s perceptiveness that through his contact with Russian exiles, he sensed that profound change might be possible in Russia. This suggests a further speculation – somewhat contrary to the preceding speculation that Libidnikov is a negative representation of Russia’s ruling class – that he is so strongly associated with youth (he is six times called “the young Russian”; other men in the Pompadour are described as young, but not more than twice at most) because of Lawrence’s association of that country with youth and therefore the future (WL 69-76; FWL 67). This idea had in fact been a commonplace in Russia from the time of Chaadaev onwards, and was widely accepted in the West.[39] But in Lawrence’s case there were particular reasons for this perception.

This was the hope that Women in Lovemight flourish in translation in Russia, after The Rainbowhad been suppressed and he had failed to find a publisher for its sequel. He wrote repeatedly to Kot about his suggestion of doing this between August 1915 and February 1917.[40] He then stopped doing this, and started praising Russia more directly – both for the same reason: the February Revolution (8 March on the Western calendar). Insofar as Women in Loveis set in the indeterminate wartime present, and was written in its two major forms between February 1916 and September 1919, it carries an aristocratic Libidnikov through to the point when he can no longer return to Russia.

Meanwhile, in the real London, Litvinov, Chicherin, Maisky, Kot, and Lawrence rejoiced. Litvinov rushed down to Charlotte Street to help the large numbers of Russian exiles who were descending on London from the Continent in order to take the quickest route home via Scandinavia (he and Chicherin sought and obtained, from Konstantin Nabokov, funds for this, since many of them arrived penniless – and incidentally demanded that the tsar’s portrait be taken off the Embassy wall; this was not done).[41]

When Kot subsequently became anxious about the developments, it was Lawrence who sought to reassure him. On 1 April 1917 he wrote: “Your elation over Russia, has it come back, or do you feel still despondent? … Don’t hurry about Russia. I always believe in giving things time.” (3L 108-9) Lawrence’s enthusiasm for Russia grew further after, on 6April 1917, the entry of the United States into the War shook his belief in the latter country (although he continued working on Studies in Classic American Literature from January of that year through to completion in 1919). Lawrence was willing to contribute to Новая жизнь (Novaia Zhizn, New Life), which Litvinov had edited in 1905 during its briefly legal incarnation, and on which Koteliansky was now assisting Gorky by asking English writers for statements of support.[42] Although Kot received a cautious response from George Bernard Shaw, he got positive responses from, amongst others, the father of his Russian language pupil, who was shortly to meet and praise Lenin – HG Wells.[43] In May Lawrence told Kot: “I shall be only too glad to contribute anything I can”. In the same letter, he wrote:


I feel that our chiefest hope for the future is Russia. When I think of the young new country there, I love it inordinately. It is the place of hope. We must go, sooner or a little later. … We will go to Russia. Send me a Berlitz grammar book, I will begin to learn the language – religiously … Nuova speranza – la Russia. – Please send me a grammar book(3L121).[44]


Lawrence took steps to get a visa for Russia, but was persuaded to postpone because of the turbulent conditions; he was also unlikely to have been granted a visa, as was hinted to him by an employee of the foreign office.[45] Kot was in the meantime perturbed, and Lawrence tried to console him:


Russia is bound to run wrong at the first, but she will pull out all right. – As for me, I sincerely hope she will conclude a separate peace. Anything to end the war. – But tell me what news there really is from Petrograd. – In the meantime, I keep my belief in Russia intact, until such time as I am forced to relinquish it: for it is the only country where I can plant my hopes. America is a stink-pot in my nostrils, after having been the land of the future for me” (3L 124).


By July 1917 Russia was for Lawrence “the positive pole of the world’s spiritual energy, and America the negative pole.” In his introduction, that summer, to his and Kot’s translation of Lev Shestov, he wrote: “Russia will certainly inherit the future”, even though Lenin was “a bullying saint leading a revolution which does not cleanse” (RDP 200). He again wrote to comfort Kot on 18 September 1917:


As for Russia, it must go through as it is going. Nothing but a real smelting down is any good for her: no matter how horrible it seems. You, who are an ultra-conscious Jew, can’t bear the chaos. But chaos is necessary for Russia. Russia will be all right – righter, in the end, than these old stiff senile nations of the West. I don’t think chaos is any good for England. England is too old. She’ll either have to be wise, and recover her decency – or we may as well all join Eder in Jerusalem (3L 284).


These effusions were however cut off by the 25October, or 7 November, Revolution, which occurred three weeks after Lawrence’s expulsion from Cornwall, meaning that he was back in London and in contact with Kot by the time that it happened. Kot was still more concerned at this event; there was now civil war in his home territory, involving a nationalist army which was anti-Semitic, meaning that Jews were in more danger than before.[46] What seems to have made Lawrence more hopeful again was the armistice concluded on 5December 1917 between Soviet Russia and the Central Powers. Less than a month later, on 3 January 1918, Lenin made Maxim Litvinov Ambassador the first Soviet ambassador to the Court of Saint James. He was not of course recognised, despite his asking Nabokov to vacate the Russian Embassy. But nor could he be ignored or altogether suppressed; he was the sole channel for the British to the new government, and was used as such. He established his embassy in his own house, with Ivy as his secretary.[47] Lawrence almost offered to help, writing on 16February 1918 to Catherine Carswell: “If you see Ivy, tell her from me I’m so glad Litvinov has got this office: I hope she’ll become a full-blooded ambassadress, I do. It pleases me immensely. I sit here and say bravo. I almost feel like asking Litvinov if I can’t help – but I don’t suppose I’m of much use at this point.” (3L210) He also had cause to congratulate one of Litvinov’s colleaugues; in the same month, Chicherin replaced Trotsky as Soviet foreign minister (People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs), and he held this post until the year Lawrence died.[48]

After Chicherin had negotiated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, life got considerably harder for Russian expatriates, who were now conscripted to the British army under the Anglo-Russian Convention of Military Service; Kot was again at risk (having on 28 August 1917 been granted temporary exemption), and the fictional Libidnikov, being “young”, might have been at higher risk still. However, Kot avoided conscription, and was able to take Lawrence to an Armistice party on 12 November 1918.[49] It was appropriate that Lawrence ended the War as he had begun it, in the company of a Russian who opposed it as strongly as he did himself. Yet it took another two years before the novel containing Maxim Libidnikov was finally published by a Ukrainian Jew who translated literature from the Russian – not in fact Kot, but Thomas Seltzer in the United States.[50]

On 25October 1918 Lenin recalled our “poor Russian revolutionary” Litvinov back to Russia. There, living happily with Ivy, he worked his way up in the foreign ministry, and in the year Lawrence died took over from his former London colleague Chicherin as the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.[51] He held this post until 1939, when Stalin sacked him for his opposition to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and his failed advocacy of a policy of encirclement of Germany. Remarkably, he survived the Terror, and between 1941 and 1943 was Soviet Ambassador to the United States, thus uniting in his job those two countries which Lawrence had felt to be on a “verge”.[52] During this soujourn, in November 1943 Ivy looked up the Lawrence archive at Stanford University, and was amused to see the references to herself in his letters. She published a reminiscence in Harper’s Bazaar, entitled “A Visit to DH Lawrence”. Litvinov was abruptly recalled to Moscow in 1943, but he and his Jewish wife survived Stalin’s late anti-Semitism; he died in his bed in 1951, whilst Ivy continued to teach English in Russia until she retired to England in 1972, at the height of Lawrence-mania, as England had been at the height of Russia-mania when she first got to know him.

In the meantime Maisky had been Soviet Ambassador in London between 1932 and 1943. He fostered sympathy for the Soviet Union in the UK through his knowledge of the English and liking for their culture.[53] On 17 January 1941 he invited his old friend Wells to lunch at the Embassy, and Wells told him about Ivy Low’s family. He recorded in his diary: “Rather romantically, Walter [Ivy’s father] married the daughter of an Englishman and an Afghan woman. So there is Jewish, English and Afghan blood mixed in Ivy’s veints (knowing this, I am no longer surprised by her temperament and character!) … What a good theme for a contemporary Rougon-Macquart chronicle!”[54] Like Litvinov, he opposed the Nazi-Soviet Pact, but also survived this opposition; in 1943 he was appointed deputy Commissar of Foreign Affairs to Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, and was involved in the conferences at Yalta and Potsdam. Both he and Litvinov had advocated ideas which, had they been accepted by both Stalin and Churchill, might significantly have shortened, if not averted, the Second World War.

For his part Lawrence, although he wrote many strongly negative things about Bolshevism after 1918, never lost interest in either socialism (as evidenced by the characters of Struthers in Kangeroo [1923], Bynner in The Plumed Serpent [1926], and Parkin in the first draft of Lady Chatterley’s Lover [1926]), or Russia. He thought of going there in 1922 and 1925 (when The Rainbowbecame Радуга[Raduga] in translation), and tried again to learn Russian in 1926. His ideal of Russia lasted as long as that of Rananim, which had also started partly because of Kot.[55] Both ended around 1926, by which point cultural policy was already moving towards the imposition of socialist realism; Women in Love would have to wait until 2007 to become Влюбленные женщины (Vliublionnye zhenshchiny).

It is notable that through all of Lawrence’s rewriting (he made his final revisions to the novel in 15 September 1919) he altered none of the references to Russia or Russians. Perhaps the complex feelings which he felt towards different aspects of the country, and its worship, were present when he first created Libidnikov. As a result, he was such a contradictory creation that he was able to remain static – like the strange world of Women in Love itself – whilst his home country was turned upside down. The ambivalence of the character, with the name (almost) of Litvinov, but the appearance and manner of a diplomat, accommodated that exile’s transmogrification from penniless revolutionary to one of the most important diplomats in the United Kingdom. During the period of the novel’s development, Russia had changed its official face in Britain from that of Konstantin Nabokov to that of the Lithuanian Jew Litvinov. He is as ignorable in the novel as was Litvinov as a denizon of literary London – but, as was the case with Litvinov, it is worth paying him attention.


[1]On 3 March 1918 the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, establishing peace between Russia and the Central Powers, was signed.

[2] Dorothy Brewster,East-West Passage: A Study in Literary Relationships(London:

George Allen & Unwin, 1954), 46.

[3]Wyndham Lewis, Rude Assignment: A Narrative of my Career Up-to-date (London: Hutchinson, 1950), 161. According to Ford Madox Ford, “He seemed to be Russian. … He wore an immense steeple-crowned hat. Long black locks fell from it. His coat was one of those Russian looking coats that have no revers. He also had an ample black cape of the type that villains in transpontine melodrama throw over their shoulders when they say ‘Ha-ha!’ He said not a word. I exclaimed: ‘I don’t want any Tzar’s diaries. I don’t want any Russian revelations.’” Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday(New York: Liveright, 1932), 390.

[4]Galya Diment, A Russian Jew of Bloomsbury: The Life and Times of Samuel Koteliansky(Montreal and London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2011), 4.

[5]Ibid., 6. Galya Diment argues that Kot was irritated at the Bloomsbury tendency to conflate him with higher class Russians, such as the Ballet Russe dancer Lydia Lopokova, “just because they all had come from Russia”.

[6]David Ellis, D.H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930 (Cambridge: CUP, 1998), 149.

[7]The Lows and Eders were connected not just by a professional interest in Freud but the sisterhood of the wives; both were aunts to Ivy Low, who introduced the Lawrences to their company around June 1914. The critic Catherine Jackson, later Carswell, also belonged to this group.

[8]Nichols attended Winchester; Heseltine and Libidnikov attended Eton.

[9]Just as the narrator of Women in Love calls Libidnikov “the Russian”, Ivy Low called Litvinov (with scant reference to his ethnicity) “the Slav”. John Carswell, The Exile: A Life of Ivy Litvinov(London: Faber and Faber, 1983), 78.

[10]Gabriel Gorodetsky, ed., The Maisky Diaries,trans. Tatiana Sorokina and Oliver Ready (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2015), xxxv.

[11]Diment, 57.

[12]When T.S. Eliot first became acquainted with Bloomsbury in 1914, he noted that one heard “English, American, French, Flemish, Russian, Spanish, Japanese” voices there. The Letters of T.S. Eliot,Vol 1, 1898-1922 (London: Faber, 1988), 55. One other minor character at the Pompadour is described by the Pussum as “a Jew, really” (WL71). The novel’s CUP editors, David Farmer, John Worthen and Lindeth Vasey, note that he is “probably DHL’s recreation of Dikran Kouyoumdjian (1895-1956), born in Bulgaria of Armenian parents, friend of Heseltine; later the successful writer ‘Michael Arlen.’” (WL538). However, the character is “pale” (WL 70), he speaks idiomatic English, and no indication is given of foreign nationality.

[13]Here and throughout this article “Russian” is taken in the broad sense of российский (rossiiskii, of Russian nationality, including Pale of Settlement Jews from what are now independent countries), rather than русский (russkii, ethnically Russian).

[14]Virginia Nicholson, Among the Bohemians: Experiments in Living 1900-1939(New York: William Morrow, 2002), 227.

[15]Philip Head,‘The Transfiguration of “Russian” Lewis’, Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies 3: 93-122, 97. Lawrence was irritated particularly by the fashionable veneration of Dostoevsky, in which his friend John Middleton Murry was prominent; see the current author’s ‘Lawrence, Dostoevsky, and the Last Temptation by Christ’, Journal of DH Lawrence Studies, Volume 5, Number 1, 2018, XX-XX.

[16]Lawrence’s description of Litvinov in a letter to Thomas Dunlop of July 1916 (2L 629).

[17]Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D. H. Lawrence: Triumph to Exile 1912-1922(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), 133.

[18]Ibid., 349.

[19] See Brewster, 219, and Gilbert Phelps, The Russian Novel in English Fiction

(London: Hutchinson & Co., 1956), 57.

[20]Diment, 57.

[21]Carswell, 73; 2L 155, 168.

[22]In 1878 Sergei Mikhailovich Stepniak-Kravchinsky had assassinated a Russian general, General N.V. Mezentsev (Alexander II’s Chief of Police). Diment, 39.

[23]Litvinov broke from jail in Russia in 1902, after which Lenin made him distribution manager of the revolutionary paper Искра (Iskra). He attended numerous Russian Socialist Congresses, at the fifth of which, in London in May 1907, he met Stalin, and became a gun-runner to revolutionaries in Russia. Hugh D. Phillips, Between the Revolution and the West: A Political Biography of Maxim Litvinov (Boulder, San Francisco, Oxford: Westview Press, 1992), 14. Ivy tried to guide him in his reading of English literature, but he apparently rejected the works of Lawrence with horror (Carswell, 82). Maisky’s editor Gorodetsky describes him as of “no intellectual pretensions” (Gorodetsky 2015, xxxiv).

[24]Head, 93.

[25]In 1907 he told Jessie Chambers that Anna Karenina was “the greatest novel in the world”. Jessie Chambers [E.T.], D.H. Lawrence: A Personal Record(Cambridge: CUP, 1980: 114). In December 1908 he praised Russian writers to May Holbrook (1L96), and in May 1909 praised “Anna Karénina” to Blache Jennings (1L127).

[26]Lawrence retained an interest in contemporary Russian philosophers, Lev Isaakovich Shestov (1866-1938) and Vasily Vasilievich Rozanov (1856-1919). He helped Kot to translate the former in 1919, and reviewed the latter in 1927. He also helped Kot to translate a story by the contemporary writer Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin (1870-1953) in 1921.

[27]Catherine Brown, ‘The Russian Soul Englished’, Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Fall 2012), 132-149, 138. It should be added that most followers of the Russian Craze were liberals who opposed the Tsarist autocracy, even if some of them also admired Russian peasants for their submissiveness, such as they were demonstrating in their conduct of the War.

[28]Ivy was, however, able to resume her writing career when she visited England 1960-61 (and called on Martin Secker), and then when she retired permanently from Russia to Hove in 1972 (Carswell, 175, 194).

[29]Carswell, 75. Gorodetsky notes that: “Maisky was particularly drawn to the British literary circle, regardless of their political ‘deviations’… Maisky’s close friendship with Shaw survived the entire period of his ambassadorship, despite Shaw’s growing criticism of Stalin.” Gabriel Gorodetsky, ed., The Complete Maisky Diaries, trans. Tatiana Sorokina and Oliver Ready (New Haven: Yale UP, 2017), 3 vols, Vol 1, 403.

[30]Ibid., 45.

[31]Ibid., 46, 52.

[32]Ibid., 61.

[33]Ibid., 57, 59.

[34]Ibid., 55.

[35]John Worthen, D.H. Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider (London: Counterpoint, 2005), 48.

[36]Diment, 52.

[37]Diment, 82.

[38]Richard K. Debo, ‘The Making of a Bolshevik: Georgii Chicherin in England 1914-1918’, Slavic Review, Vol. 25, No. 4 (December 1966), 651-662.

Stable URL: Accessed: 27-07-2018 22:52 UTC

[39]Pyotr Yakovlevich Chaadaev (1794-1856)wrote eight ‘Philosophical Letters’ in French between 1826-1831, arguing that Russia was young and had a long way to go before it could catch up with Western countries. Melchior de Vogüé, in his highly influential 1886 work Le roman russe, called Russia “still in the savage nudity of its youth”. The Russian Novel, trans. H.A. Sawyer (London: Chapman and Hall, 1913), 331. Chas Byford asserted that“No race has had a more tragic past, and no race seems destined to a more brilliant future”, The Soul of Russia(London: Kingsgate Press, 1914), 14. Marjorie Colt Lethbridge and Alan Bourchier argued that

“for long enough Russia has been the pupil of Western Europe. She has outgrown that phase”, The Soul of the Russian(London: Bodley Head, 1916), 79. Jane Harrison, in her influential if phoney Russia and the Russian Verb: A Contribution to the Psychology of the Russian Peopledescribed Russia as “young among nations”(Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons, 1915), 11.

[40]See 23 August 1915 (2L 382), 18 December 1916 (3L 54), 19 January 1917 (3L 78), and 9 February 1917 (3L 90). However, he also complained to Kot on 3 July 1917: “How can I write for any Russian audience! – the contact is not established” (3L 136).

[41]Zinovy Sheinis, Maxim Litvinov, 89-90; John Holroyd-Doveton, Maxim Litvinov: A Biography, 15.

[42]Diment, 94.

[43]Thereafter Wells praised Lenin in the articles collected in Russia in the Shadows (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1921).

[44]The words rendered in italics are in Lawrence’s manuscript underlined, each word separately. Koteliansky Papers 1916-1946, British Library, MS 48966-48975, 9 vols. Over 300 letters of Lawrence to Kot – more than those extant to any other person – are to be found in the first three of these volumes.

[45]Diment, 96.


[47]There is some dispute about the location. John Holroyd-Doveton locates it at 11 Bigwood Avenue, Golders Green, in his book Maxim Litvinov: A Biography(n.p.: New Generation Publishing, 2015), 31. Carswell locates it at 50 Hillield Road, between West Hampstead and Cricklewood (87).

[48]Carswell, 62.

[49]Kinkead-Weekes, 481. Coincidentally at this party, which was given by Montague Shearman at the Adelphi Hotel, Lawrence’s acquaintance John Maynard Keynes met Lydia Lopokova for the second time; they stayed in contact, and were married in 1925. Lydia Lopokhova, ed Milo Keynes (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983), 9.

[50]Diment, 159.

[51]Carswell, 152.

[52]“Two bodies of modern literature seem to me to have come to a real verge: the Russian and the American”; they contain “a quick. From which the future may develop” (SCAL, 389-90).

[53]“It is doubtful whether Maisky was privy to the recruitment in Cambridge at that time of Philby, Burgess, Blunt and Maclean as Soviet spies, though he was well aware of – and exploited- the great sympathy felt towards the Soviet Union in certain student circles” (Gorodetsky 2017, Vol 1, 413).

[54]Gorodetsky 2017, Vol 3, 994.

[55]Lawrence first mentioned the idea in a letter to Kot of 3 January 1915, having apparently learned the Hebrew word “Ranani” in the context of a musical arrangement of Psalm 33 that was in Kot’s possession. Lawrence dropped the idea in a letter of 4 January 1926 (5L 366).



All quotations from the letters and works of D. H. Lawrence refer to the Cambridge Edition:

2L                 The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Volume II: June 1913–October 1916. Ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.

3L                 The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Volume III: October 1916–June 1921. Ed. James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

IR                  Introductions and Reviews. Ed. N. H. Reeve and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.

MN               Mr Noon. Ed. Lindeth Vasey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984.

RDP              Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine and Other Essays. Ed. Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

WL                Women in Love. Ed. David Farmer, Lindeth Vasey and John Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987.


More from: Articles

Catherine Brown