The first set of corrections of the Feltrinelli Russian Zhivago: a serendipitous discovery

SAM_3629 p. 263

Corrections by Vera Popova to p. 263 of Feltrinelli’s first edition of the Russian Zhivago.

As mentioned in the previous post, the presentation of my book took place in Milan on November 20, 2013. Just before the event began I was approached by a very nice lady who had brought with her a first Feltrinelli edition of the Russian Zhivago (published in May 1959). She showed it to me and I was immediately intrigued by the numerous corrections to the Russian that were penciled throughout the text. I suspected that the corrections might be important to the editorial history of the Zhivago. As there was no time to talk we agreed to meet on the following day. When I went to visit Ms. Schiaffino (that is her name) in her apartment in the center of Milan, she told me how she came to own the book. It was given as a present to her husband by Danilo Montaldi who had worked as French translator at the Feltrinelli publishing house. She did not know how Montaldi had come to own the book. I decided to take pictures of all the pages containing corrections, approximately 250 pages out of 566. Once I examined the corrections it was evident that they were not as extensive as the set of corrections that Mme de Proyart had sent to Feltrinelli in July 1959 and which I describe at length in my book. But I did notice that there were a couple of comments in French and after a few months I decided to send some of the pictures to Mme de Proyart to see whether she had any inkling of who might have been responsible for such an extended set of corrections. My original conjecture was that this was the work of a Russian reader inside the Feltrinelli publishing house and that this set of corrections was the one that convinced Feltrinelli that a second edition of the Russian text was necessary. It turns out that I was closer to the truth than I suspected. Mme de Proyart wrote me back confirming that she and Vera Popova made the pencil corrections in the copy of the book in the late Spring 1959. These corrections were at the basis of the later, more extensive, set of corrections that she handed to Feltrinelli in July 1959. I was able to also confirm the intervention of Vera Popova in several remarks in the book which read “d’après V.P.” The picture above shows a long missing piece of the text at the beginning of Chapter VIII in the handwriting of Vera Popova.

I add Mme de Proyart’s explanations concerning the two handwritings present in the text and her further comments about Vera Aleksandrovna Popova:

“Les corrections dans une écriture plutôt ronde sont les miennes avec un “d” écrit “à la grecque” et pas  comme un “g”. L’écriture plus pointue  comme au-dessus du chapitre “Priezd” p. 263, sont celle de ma vieille amie russe , une moscovite de vieille souche “marchande”, (fabricants de “feutre”)  et “mécène” Vera Alexandrovna Popova. Elle pratiquait la “vieille foi” d’une manière à la fois très stricte et pleine de gaîeté. Elle était sculptrice. Son père lui avait acheté un appartement de peintre à Paris et elle avait donc un toit quand elle a décidé de  s’exiler en 1923. Elle était allée voir Tchekhov avec ses parents à Melkhovo tandis que l’amie qu’elle avait qu’elle avait fait venir chez elle et avec laquelle elle allait partager son existence  avait terminé à la fois le conservatoire (chant) et la faculté des lettres. On ne pouvait pas faire plus proche du milieu “Jivago”. En France Vera gagna longtemps sa vie en travaillant pour Djaguilev et les ballets de Monte-Carlo. Elle avait pour amies N Gontcharova et Exter. Elle a vendu ses mémoires à l’université de Columbia. C’est avec elles que j’ai appris le russe et surtout la Russie. Je ne pouvais pas trouver personne plus compétente pour corriger le texte fautif. Cela a été épique car je venais de faire une très mauvaise chute de ski avec  ’apophyse d’une vertèbre casée et je devais faire de longues séances allongée sur le plancher et je ne pouvais pas toujours écrire les corrections . C’était alors Vera Aleksandrovna qui les écrivait” (email message to Paolo Mancosu dated February 12, 2014)

In May 2014 I visited the Bakhmeteff archives at Columbia University to consult Popova’s memoirs. Unfortunately, the story of her family stops at the 1920s and the manuscript does not contain anything related to the work she did with Mme de Proyart in correcting the text.

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