Hidden women of history: Hop Lin Jong, a Chinese immigrant in the early days of White Australia



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The family of Hop Lin Jong (who is pictured on the far left) at the wedding of her daughter, Ruby (third from right) in 1924. Ruby was murdered by her husband the following year.

Antonia Finnane, University of Melbourne

In a new series, we look at under acknowledged women through the ages.

There are “hidden women” in history who deserve to be known for the same reasons as we know about “great men”. The film Hidden Figures showed us a few of them: African-American women who did the mathematics for the first US space program.

And then there are the rest of us: ordinary people who at first glance look more like products than producers of their times. Hop Lin Jong was one of these, or should I say one of us: a turn-of-the-century immigrant whose arrival in Western Australia in 1901 was remarkable only because she was Chinese. Her life might have passed in obscurity if her daughter Ruby had not been murdered in 1925.

Hop Lin Jong was born in Guangzhou according to immigration records, but arrived in Australia on the S.S. Australind, which plied the Singapore-Fremantle route. Singapore was a hub for human trafficking from China, a multi-million dollar business that linked villages in South China to the world. Hop Lin Jong may have been a victim of this trade.




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The year of her birth is uncertain: 1884 in the family genealogy, 1886 in her residential documents. When she disembarked in Fremantle she was somewhere between 15 and 17 years of age. Her surname was Jong or Jung. In Australia she was known as Lin or Lucy, or more formally as Mrs Lee Wood, for on arrival she was wed to James Lee Wood, butcher, merchant and a prominent member of the local Chinese community. The instability of names resulting from poor English rendering is typical for this generation of Chinese migrants.

Lin arrived at the very dawn of the White Australia era, when restrictions directed mainly at preventing Chinese immigration had just been brought into force across the country. How she crossed this colour line is unknown, except that minors were treated differently from adults. Her youth may have been a factor.

Life in early 20th-century Perth

Lin’s wedding photo, published on the Chinese-Australian Historical Images site, shows a well-dressed young woman in a ruffled blouse and tailored skirt. Ruffles must have been all the rage then. A second family photo shows her older daughters, May and Ruby, aged around two and three, dressed identically in ruffled dresses and little boots. She had five children in all, born between 1902 and 1910.

At that time there were few Chinese women in Perth. Census figures for 1901 show 18 women of Chinese nationality in the whole of Western Australia. But the European wives of Chinese men and their children added to the size of the local community. Lin undoubtedly knew Elizabeth Gipp, the wife of Charlie Ah You, and mother of the Gipp boys of Anzac fame. (George, Leslie, and Richard Gipp all served in the First World War.) These women must have supported each other during confinements: this was before the age of hospital births.




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The Chinese community of Perth was centered in James St, Northbridge. The Chung Wah (Chinese) Society, established in 1909, had its premises in James St, and Lee Wood’s butcher shop occupied the ground floor of the same building. In 1914, the Lee Woods bought a house in Tiverton St, not far away. Family social and economic life appeared to have operated between the two poles of Tiverton and James Streets. There was a primary school in James St that was attended by the Gipp children. It is possible that the Lee Wood children, too, went there.

Lin Lee Wood, 1948.
National Archives of Australia

Lin was a seamstress, and took in sewing. She may have passed her skills onto Ruby, who became a dressmaker. She also worked when needed in the butcher shop. The marriage, however, was not happy. By the 1920s, she and Lee Wood were living apart, she in Tiverton St and he at the shop. Yet as an economic and social unit, the family remained intact. There were family photos, and family notices in the local newspaper. Both parents were involved in the marriages of the children: May’s to local merchant Timothy Chiew in 1922, and Ruby’s to recent immigrant Leong Yen in 1924.

Death of a daughter

Ordinary life with its ordinary problems changed forever in the middle of 1925. On the morning of 13 July that year, a Monday, Lin was working in the shop when Ruby called in to leave the house key with her. That night, when her daughter failed to return home, Lin knew immediately that something must have happened. On the Thursday she went to the police. On the next Thursday again, Ruby’s body was pulled from the harbour in Fremantle.

Coverage of Ruby Yen’s murder in the Sunday Times Magazine in 1941.
National Library of Australia

There followed a coronial inquest, the arrest of Leong Yen for the murder of his young wife, and a trial presided over by Chief Justice Robert McMillan. The case meant an unusual degree of public exposure for a Chinese-Australian family. Newspaper reporting was detailed, giving close to verbatim accounts of the evidence. Perth was glued to the events. During the trial, the public gallery was packed, with women making up a large percentage of onlookers.

From the court records we learn that a local Chinese pharmacist, George Way, had served as matchmaker for Ruby’s marriage; that Leong and Ruby had lived with Lin after their wedding in 1924; and that at one stage Lin had thrown him out of the house. We know from the forensic report that the marriage had not been consummated, and from Leong’s evidence that the couple did not share the same bedroom. Perhaps due to these facts, the all-male jury felt sorry for Leong and while finding him guilty of manslaughter, recommended leniency. The judge obliged, with a sentence of two years hard labour. On expiry of the sentence, Leong was deported.

In later decades, the press periodically revisited the case in salacious and sometimes imagined detail (“as the taxi rattled towards Fremantle, thunder rumbled and rain lanced down in swirling flurries”). Quite recently, The West Australian carried a report on the “chilling coincidences” between the current “body-in-a-suitcase trial” centred on the death of Annabel Chen and the trial of Leong Yen more than 90 years ago.




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After Ruby

Between the obscurity of life as a Chinese working-class woman in a small Australian city and the glare of publicity surrounding her daughter’s death, Lin is just dimly visible to history. At only five foot high, she was smaller than any of her Australian children. The West Australian reported on her appearance in court, describing “a slight, frail woman, in deep mourning and weeping quietly.” But she was stalwart. According to her grandson Bill Chiew, she “used to work like hell.”

She was barely if at all literate, finding it difficult to sign her immigration papers. Her spoken English, however, was quite good, according to immigration records. In middle age she spent much time minding her grandchildren. Her English may have benefited from time with these second-generation Australians, who could hardly speak Chinese at all; and she may have taken comfort from them.

From the public record we can see that she was swept along in the course of Australian history. With the outbreak of World War II, her youngest son, William (“Boy”), joined the army. In the post-war years, the family enjoyed upward mobility. Granddaughter Irene graduated from university in 1952. And by the time Lin died in 1970, the White Australia Policy had effectively been dismantled. Citizenship had become possible for someone like her.

The last photo of her in the public record is attached to her application for renewal of residential status in 1948. It shows a woman in the ordinary dress of the post-war era, a button-through frock, her hair parted in the middle and done up at the sides. Her birthplace is given as Canton and her nationality as Chinese. By then she had lived in Perth for nearly 50 years. Not surprisingly, she looks Australian and Chinese at the same time.The Conversation

Antonia Finnane, Professor of Chinese History, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Frederick the Great and the Rise of Prussia



Today in History: January 15



Why archaeology is so much more than just digging



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The Port Arthur historic site is beautiful today – but its isolation would have been overwhelming for former convict inhabitants.
Port Arthur Historic Site , Author provided

Richard Tuffin, University of New England and Martin GIbbs, University of New England

It’s our experience that most people think archaeology mainly means digging in the dirt.

Admit to strangers that you are of the archaeological persuasion, and the follow-up question is invariably “what’s the best thing you’ve found?”.

Start to tell them about a fantastic ink and watercolour plan you unearthed in library archives, or an old work site you stumbled upon in thick eucalypt bush, and their eyes glaze over.

People invariably want to hear about skeletons, pots and bits of shiny metal. It’s this type of stuff that you will often see in the media, giving the misleading impression that archaeological process is only about excavation.

While the trowel and spade are an important inclusion in the archaeological toolkit, our core disciplinary definition – that of using humanity’s material remains to understand our history – means that we utilise many ways of engaging with this past.




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A hole in the ground

Of course, there’s nothing like a tidy hole in the ground to get people’s attention. Yet what often gets lost in the spotlight’s glow is that excavation is the last resort; it’s the end result of exhaustive research, planning and design.

In the research environment, excavations are triggered by having no, or only a low level of, other streams of evidence.

This similarly applies in mitigating the impacts of development, where the threat of an historical site’s partial or complete removal adds an element of evidence recovery.

Should the excavation be ill-thought out, or divorced from proper research goals, the results – and therefore the net benefit of the whole exercise – are lessened, if not completely lost.

This is particularly so for historical archaeologists, where the availability of documentary archives, oral testimony and the remaining landscape itself can reveal so much – before trowels meet dirt.




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Lots of work before digging

For the historical archaeologist, a huge amount of work must take place before an excavation can even be planned, with invasive investigations sometimes not even considered.

In our particular field, the historical archaeology of Australia’s convict system (1788-1868), there is a vast amount of documentary evidence that requires interrogation before any archaeological process can begin.

Convicts at work turning the Australian bush into a tamed cultivated field (Thomas Lempriere ‘Philips Island from the N.W. extremity to the overseer’s hut, Macquarie Harbour’ circa 1828.)
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmania Archive and Heritage Office, Author provided

As an example, in the Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, 35 metres of shelf space is taken up just by the official correspondence records for the period 1824-36.

Correspondence, reports, tables, diaries, newspapers, maps, plans, illustrations and photographs contain a wealth of information about the convict past. These can be used to query how people interacted with each other and the places, spaces and things that were created and modified as a result.

The experience of convict labour

We are currently over a year into a research project (called Landscapes of Production and Punishment) that uses evidence of the built and natural landscape to understand the experience of convict labour on the Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania (1830-77).

At its peak, nearly 4,000 convicts and free people lived on the penal peninsula. Their day-to-day activities left traces in today’s landscape that we locate and analyse using historical research, remote sensing and archaeological field survey.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging, a form of 3D mapping) has been used to great effect, mapping large areas in high detail, which have then been surveyed to find the sites of convict labour. These include quarries, sawpits, charcoal-burning stands, brick pits, tramways, roads and paths, cultivated fields and boundaries.

LiDAR image of the immediate area around the Port Arthur penal station, showing the.
range of activities carried out in the landscape

Landscapes of Production and Punishment, 2017-19, Author provided




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What Australia’s convict past reveals about women, men, marriage and work


No soil was disturbed

Without turning a sod, we have recreated historic landscapes that have long lain dormant.

These have then been brought to life through the records of the system, which were historically used to account for the convicts and their labour. These include records about the lives of convicts whilst under sentence, as well as statistics on the products and processes of their labour.

This raw data shows us the outputs of industrial operations carried out by the convicts, like brick making, sandstone quarrying, lime burning and timber-getting, as well as the manufactories that produced leather, timber and metalwork goods by the thousand.

The records also locate convict and free settlers back into time and space, reconnecting them to the places and products of their labour.

As the project develops, excavation may be one of the archaeological methods used to retrieve our evidence – but only once we have exhausted all other avenues of enquiry.

Controlled destruction

As archaeologists, we have a responsibility to ensure that the controlled process of destruction that is an archaeological investigation has the greatest possible research return.

Without this due process, our work becomes unhinged from research frameworks. The excavations devolve into expensive and directionless treasure hunts from which little research value can be extracted.

The archaeologist’s profession – be it as an academic or working in the commercial and government sector – is more than excavation. It encompasses a diverse range of skills and techniques which can be deployed to aid in our central task of understanding the lives of those who came before.




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The authors would like to thank Caroline Homer (Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office) and David Roe, Jody Steele and Sylvana Szydzik (Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority).The Conversation

Richard Tuffin, Research Fellow, University of New England and Martin GIbbs, Professor of Australian Archaeology, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Today in History: January 14



250 years after Captain Cook’s arrival, we still can’t be sure how many Māori lived in Aotearoa at the time



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Captain James Cook sailed the Endeavour off New Zealand’s east coast in 1769.
from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Simon Chapple, Victoria University of Wellington

Two hundred and fifty years ago this year, James Cook’s ship the Endeavour arrived off the eastern coast of New Zealand. The following circumnavigation marked the beginning of ongoing European contact with the indigenous population, and eventually mass British immigration from 1840.

One important question historians are trying to answer is how many Māori lived in Aotearoa at the time of Cook’s arrival. This question goes to the heart of the negative impacts of European contact on the size and health of the 19th-century Māori population, which subsequently bottomed out in the 1890s at just over 40,000 people.

The conventional wisdom is that there were about 100,000 Māori alive in 1769, living on 268,000 square kilometres of temperate Aotearoa. This is a much lower population density (0.37 people per square kilometre) than densities achieved on tropical and much smaller Pacific Islands.

Examples of order-of-magnitude higher density Pacific populations in the contact-era include:

In conjunction with later 19th-century census figures, the conventional wisdom implies that European contact and colonisation following Cook’s arrival was much less devastating for the indigenous population of Aotearoa than for many other Pacific islands.

Three approaches have been used to support the estimate of 100,000 Māori. Unfortunately, none bears any serious weight.




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The Cook population estimate

The 100,000-strong estimate of the contact-era Māori population is often attributed to Cook. However, it never received his seal of approval, and it was not made in 1769.

It was published in a 1778 book written by Johann Forster, the naturalist on Cook’s second expedition of 1772-1775. Forster’s estimate is a guess, innocent of method. He suggests 100,000 Māori as a round figure at the lower end of likelihood. His direct observation of Māori was brief, in the lightly populated South Island, far from major northern Māori population centres.

Later visitors had greater direct knowledge of the populous coastal northern parts of New Zealand. They also made population estimates. Some were guesses like Forster’s. Others were based on a rough method. Their estimates range from 130,000 (by early British trader Joel Polack) to over 500,000 Māori (by French explorer Dumont D’Urville), both referring to the 1820s. The wide range further emphasises the lack of information in Forster’s guess.

A map of the east coast on New Zealand’s North Island, drawn by Captain James Cook.
from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Working backwards from the 1858 census

A second method takes the figure from the first New Zealand-wide Māori population census of 1858, of about 60,000 people. It works this number backwards over 89 years to 1769, making assumptions about the rate of annual population decline between 1769 and 1858.

There is a good quantitative estimate for the rate of decline back from 1858 to 1844, taken from a Waikato longitudinal census. But there is nothing solid for the period before 1844.

To overcome the absence of numbers, an apparently better documented and very low average annual rate of decline of the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands of 0.4% between 1791 and 1835 has been applied to New Zealand. However, the estimated rate is calculated from wrong numbers for both the 1791 and 1835 Moriori populations. In fact, there is no contemporary 1791 estimate of the Moriori population from which to calculate a meaningful rate of quantitative decline to 1835.

The qualitative conclusion of low population decline is based on two propositions. The first is that prior to the 1850s, imported European diseases were localised to a few coastal areas. The second is that the impact of warfare on populations over the first half of the 19th century was minimal. What is the evidence for these propositions? The answer is not much in either case.

Historical evidence suggests that there were indeed widespread epidemics in New Zealand prior to the 1850s. For example, there is evidence of a great epidemic around 1808, possibly some form of enteric fever or influenza, which killed many people across the North Island and the top of the South Island. Other high-mortality diseases known to be present in New Zealand pre-1840 and readily transmittable internally include syphilis and tuberculosis.

The estimates of how many Māori died directly and indirectly on account of warfare over the 1769 to 1840 period lack a coherent method. They are weak on definitions of what they count. They cover varying or indeterminate periods. Where they can be made roughly comparable, the numbers arrived at are wildly different, with estimates of deaths ranging from 300 to 2000 people on average annually. In other words, the impact of warfare on population decline could have been quite small or quite large. We simply don’t know.

Overall, Hawaiian archaeologist Patrick Kirch’s conclusion on the validity of this method for estimating other contact-era Pacific populations is also applicable to New Zealand. It is a largely circular exercise in assuming what needs to be proven.

Waka paddles, as described in Joseph Banks’ journal in 1769. From New Zealand drawings made in the countries visited by Captain Cook in his First Voyage.
from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Predicting population from settlement

The third method used to estimate 100,000 Māori predicts the population forward from first arrival in New Zealand. Prediction requires a minimum of three parameters. These are the arrival date of Māori in New Zealand, the size of the founding population and the prehistoric population growth rate to 1769.

The current consensus is that voyagers from Eastern Polynesia arrived in New Zealand between 1230 and 1280 AD and then became known as Māori. However, even a 50-year difference in arrival dates can make large differences to an end population prediction.

Geneticists have estimated the plausible size of the Māori female founding population as between 50 to 230 women. The high population estimate which would result from using these numbers is therefore nearly five times the size of the low estimate. Such a broad range is meaningless.

The third big unknown of the prediction method is the growth rate. Minimalists have employed low rates, based on prehistoric Eurasian populations, where humans had lived for tens of thousands of years. This perspective of low Māori prehistoric growth rates is problematic. Humans did not live in New Zealand prior to Māori. The population density faced by newly arriving people was zero.

Also, New Zealand’s flora and fauna had evolved without people. Once people arrived, they would have found more niches of exploitable nutrients than in regions where plants and animals had long co-evolved with people as apex predators. Such circumstances allowed for a potentially rapid Māori population expansion.

Indeed, historically recorded population growth rates for Pacific islands with small founding populations could be exceptionally high. For example, on tiny, resource-constrained Pitcairn Island, population growth averaged an astounding 3% annually over 66 years between 1790 and 1856.

Arguments for rapid prehistoric population growth run up against other problems. Skeletal evidence seems to show that prehistoric Māori female fertility rates were too low; and mortality, indicated by a low average adult age at death, was too high to generate rapid population growth.

This low-fertility finding has always been puzzling, given high Māori fertility rates in the latter 19th century. Equally, archaeological findings of a low average adult age at death have been difficult to reconcile with numbers of elderly Māori observed in accounts of early explorers.

However, recent literature on using skeletal remains to estimate either female fertility or adult age at death is sceptical that this evidence can determine either variable in a manner approaching acceptable reliability. So high growth paths cannot be ruled out.

Because of resulting uncertainties in the three key parameters and the 500-year-plus forecast horizon, the plausible population range around 100,000 Māori in 1769 is so broad as to make any prediction estimate meaningless. Virtually any contact-era population can be illustrated by someone with a modicum of numerical nous.

Density analogies

In the 2017 New Zealand Journal of History, New Zealand archaeologist Atholl Anderson argues that medieval population density on the large (about 103,000 square kilometres, slightly smaller than the North Island), isolated and sub-arctic island of Iceland is a much better analogy for likely contact-era Māori density than those of smaller tropical Pacific islands.

He uses Icelandic population density from the year 1800, over 900 years into the settlement sequence. If Icelandic population numbers closest to 500 years into the settlement sequence were used, they would provide a more direct temporal analogy for 500 years of Māori settlement in 1769.

Iceland was settled circa 870 AD. The best estimates of the pre-industrial Icelandic population closest to 500 years post-settlement are from 1311. They are based on farm numbers counted for tax purposes. This method gives 72,000 to 95,000 Icelanders. So, in its medieval period, sub-arctic Iceland achieved population densities of 0.70 to 0.92 people per square km. Applying these densities to contact-era temperate New Zealand gives a Māori population of between 190,000 to 250,000 people when Cook arrived.

In terms of a New Zealand-related density analogy, there is good 1835 population data from the temperate Chatham Islands (about 970 square kilometres in area), giving a Moriori population density exceeding two people per square kilometre. It was measured after decades of likely population decline from contact with European sealers and whalers, as well as after at least one serious epidemic. Applying this density figure to the North Island alone, which the Chatham Islands climatically best resembles, gives 230,000 people when Cook arrived.

Using analogies from Iceland and the Chatham Islands suggests that post-Cook European contact may have been more devastating for Māori than conventional wisdom acknowledges. There may have been 200,000 or more Māori in 1769, falling to about 40,000 in the 1890s. Additionally, a figure of 200,000 or more Māori implies that much post-contact population decline occurred prior to mass British immigration.

As elsewhere in the Americas and the Pacific, perhaps European germs, not mass immigration, were the primary driver of indigenous population decline. But 250 years on from Cook, more work and different methods are needed to answer this question.The Conversation

Simon Chapple, Director, Institute for Governance and Policy Studies, Victoria University of Wellington

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Lydia Chukovskaya, editor, writer, heroic friend



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A plaque on a house in St Petersburg that says: ‘Here the writer Lydia Korneievna Chukovskaya wrote Sophia Petrovna, a story about the Great Terror 1936-1938’.
Wikimedia Commons

Judith Armstrong, University of Melbourne

In a new series, we look at under acknowledged women through the ages.

The Russian poet Anna Akhmatova is too tragic and striking a figure ever to be forgotten. A famous portrait depicts her in a midnight blue dress and brilliant yellow shawl beside an objectivist arrangement of lighter blue hydrangeas. Nose aquiline and eyes contemplative under the signature black fringe, she is utterly transfixing. Yet much of our knowledge of Akhmatova is due to the self-effacing journals of a less remembered woman, Lydia Chukovskaya, who brought her friendship, food and unfailing support.

Lydia was a literary editor and a significant poet, novella-writer and memoirist, born in 1907. Her father was Kornei Chukovsky, a prolific and highly regarded writer of much-loved children’s books – a kind of Russian Dr Seuss.

Lydia Chukovskaya.
Wikipedia

In cultured St Petersburg, young Lydia developed a passion for literature, but soon after the outbreak of the 1917 Revolution she was briefly exiled to the city of Saratov because one of her friends had used her father’s typewriter to produce an anti-Bolshevik pamphlet.

Permitted to return to newly-named Leningrad, she got a job editing children’s books in the state publishing house, began to write stories, and married a brilliant young physicist, Matvei (Mitya) Bronstein.

Their marriage took place shortly before the outbreak of the Great Terror of 1936-38, one of the most brutal periods in the history of the Soviet Union. Both Mitya Bronstein and Akhmatova’s son Lev were arrested. By the time Chukovskaya was informed that Mitya had been sentenced to ten years in a labour camp, he had in fact been executed. Lev was held in a Leningrad prison for 17 months.

Mitya Bronstein.
Wikimedia Commons

The frantic wife and devastated mother met each other while desperately seeking information about their loved ones. Lydia fled briefly to Kiev, but soon returned to their looted flat in St Petersburg to remake a home with her baby daughter Lyusha. Mitya’s room was occupied by a government surveillant.

Lydia kept a diary, but she now omitted from it everything that was “really important”, including her friendship with Akhmatova, whose intransigence invited arrest at any moment. She knew that to write down their conversations endangered both their lives; yet not to record them, she felt, would be “criminal”. She compromised by waiting until much later to fill in names.

Akhmatova was in the process of writing a long poem, her now-famous Requiem. An extended elegy for all who suffered under the Terror, it was obviously far too dangerous to commit to paper.




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When visiting Lydia she would whisper parts of it for Lydia to retain, but in her own bugged apartment she would gesture at the ceiling and say in a loud voice, “Will you have some tea?” while passing over a handwritten page.

Lydia would memorise the poems on it and give it back. “How early autumn has come this year,” Anna would then muse, striking a match and burning the paper over the ashtray.

A 1922 portrait of Anna Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
Wikimedia Commons

‘Hands, match, ashtray’

Lydia wrote of this act of rebellion: “It was a ritual: hands, match, ashtray – a beautiful and mournful ritual”. She would then use her nightly walk home to recall what she had memorised, oblivious to her route. “Poems guided me instead of the moon,” she wrote. “The world was absent”.

Leningrad was yet to experience the extreme shortages of the Siege (1941–1944), but food was far from plentiful. Lydia brought sugar, eggs or rissoles to the impractical Anna, but also lilacs, “so it would seem more like a present”.

During those years she described herself as feeling “less and less alive”, reviving only when she was with Anna,

a certainty amidst all those wavering uncertainties… her words, deeds, head, shoulders and hand-movements possessed of [the] perfection which, in this world, usually belongs only to great works of art.

But writing also sustained Lydia’s own spirit. In 1938 she’d been allowed a stint in a writers’ colony where she completed a novella, Sofia Petrovna – naturally unpublishable given that it described the realities of living under the Terror. Sofia is a typist whose son Kolya, a promising engineering student, is arrested.

Sofia embarks on the existence so familiar to Chukovskaya and Akhmatova: frozen hours standing in queues, the lack of news, the attempt to sneak food into the prison. Falling foul of the authorities. When a letter from Kolya finally arrives, Sofia is so terrified of compromising him she forces herself to burn the precious scrap.

After 1956, the year of Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin, Sofia Petrovna was circulated in samizdat (manuscript form), and even, during the thaw of the early 60s, came close to publication, but was ultimately rejected for “ideological distortions”. It finally appeared 25 years later, thanks to Gorbachev’s glasnost.




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Grit and grief

Chukovskaya’s “acceptable” work included an Introduction to the Ukrainian anthropologist Maclouho-Maclay’s account of life in New Guinea, but her second book, Going Under, published in Paris in 1972, describes how in 1949 Akhmatova and the satirical writer, Mikhail Zoshchenko, were thrown out of the Writers’ Union. She also wrote letters of support regarding Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and the physicist Andrei Sakharov, harassed by the KGB but later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, her best-known work remains the two volumes recording the almost daily conversations with Akhmatova, an overwhelmingly impressive mix of grit and grief as the two women confronted threats, cold, privation and starvation.

The journals first appeared in Paris in 1976 and 1980, alongside several volumes of autobiographical poetry, On This Side of Death, which express the profound sense of loss that afflicted both her and her country. In 1976 Chukovskaya received the first ever PEN Freedom Prize for the journals, and in 1990, the first Sakharov Prize for her life’s work.

Akhmatova died in 1966; from then on Lydia lived in Moscow, moving between a central flat and her father’s dacha in Peredelkino, the writers’ colony outside the city. She died in 1996, not altogether forgotten, but her memory outdazzled, as she would have deemed appropriate, by that of her more splendid friend.

Quotations from Lydia Chukovskaya, The Akhmatova Journals, Vol. 1, 1938-41, Harvill 1994, tr. Milena Michalski and Sylva Rubashova.The Conversation

Judith Armstrong, Honorary Fellow of the School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Today in History: January 13



Today in History: January 12



The History of Bulgaria



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