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Nina Berberova papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 182

Scope and Contents

The Nina Berberova Papers consist of the correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, personal papers, and memorabilia in Berberova's possession at the time of her death in 1993, as well as material she had previously given to the library. The collection spans the entirety of her life from 1913, with the bulk of the material concentrated in 1950-1993, the years Berberova lived in the United States. The papers are chiefly in Russian, English, French, and German. The majority of her early papers (1922-1950) are part of the Boris I. Nicolaevsky Collection located in the Hoover Institution of War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.

The Papers are organized into ten series: Correspondence, Writings, Subject Files, Personal Papers, Photographs, Memorabilia and Personal Effects, Audio/Video Tapes, Vladislav Khodasevich Papers, Materials Removed from Books, and Printed Materials.

Series I, Correspondence , is arranged in alphabetical files by correspondent. Berberova kept copies of her outgoing letters fairly systematically from about 1950, thus in many cases both sides of the correspondence have been preserved. In general, individuals writing on behalf of an organization have been filed under the name of the organization. For example, Hubert Nyssen, director of the Actes Sud publishing house and Berberova's close friend, is filed under Actes Sud (Publishers), along with other representatives of the company.

The correspondence consists of personal letters from famous Russian emigre writers and artists: Georgii Adamovich, Ivan Bunin, Zinaida Gippius, Roman Gul', Georgii Ivanov, Aleksandr Kuprin, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Aleksei Remizov, Gleb Struve, Marina TSvetaeva, and Boris and Vera Zaitsev. In addition, there are 67 letters and 9 cards from Khodasevich to Berberova, written during the 1920s and 1930s.

As a teacher in various American universities, Berberova conducted a voluminous correspondence with scholars of Russian literature, such as David Bethea, Clarence Brown, Andrew Field, Lazar' Fleishman, Gerald Janecek, Simon Karlinsky, Robert Maguire, John Malmstad, Omry Ronen and Richard Sylvester. She also befriended and corresponded with many of her students and countless other individuals, educational institutions, publishers and translators. Most letters from Berberova's students are filed at the end of the series under "Graduate Students." Letters from those students who later became prominent in the field of Russian literature, and with whom Berberova continued to correspond, have been filed in the alphabetical sequence.

Series II, Writings , consists of 13 subseries, which reflect her many areas of creative endeavor. The files include typescripts, holographs, research notes or publication material for most of Berberova's major books and shorter writings. The last subseries is a section of "Writings by Others About Berberova's Life and Works." Material from her years in the United States predominates.

The first subseries, Books, contains working files for Berberova's published books, plus manuscripts of two works, one on the Russian emigres in Paris, the other on Soviet historians, which were not published in her lifetime. Her autobiography, Kursiv moi, and her biography of Moura Budberg, entitled Zheleznaia zhenshchina, in particular, are extensively documented in this archive. These files include typescript drafts of the Russian version of the autobiography and uncorrected proofs of the English edition, The Italics Are Mine. For the Budberg biography, there is a complete typescript of the work and extensive research notes. Research notes on index cards for two books, Liudi i lozhi and Zheleznaia zhenshchina are filed under Note Cards in the Oversize section.

Although the manuscripts of her four novels written in the 1920s and 1930s are not present, three are represented in the Novels subseries by a folder containing reviews of them.

The early typescripts of Berberova's highly popular cycle of short stories known as Biiankurskie prazdniki are included in the third subseries, Stories. Unfortunately, the collection does not contain manuscripts of most of Berberova's other stories published before 1950; their whereabouts have not been determined, if they survive at all. Materials for the majority of the later stories, however, including reviews and publication material concerning post-1985 translations, are present.

The next subseries, Poetry, includes the holograph of a poem Berberova wrote in childhood, and the entire issue of the journal containing her first published poem. Berberova's three plays are documented in the fifth subseries, Plays. There is a holograph of Madame, a typescript of Little Girl, and a typescript of the unfinished work, TSyrk.

Berberova's shorter non-fictional writings are represented in the sixth through ninth sections. Articles and Book Reviews include typescripts as well as research notes and clippings. The section Prefaces and Notes to Books is comprised of typescripts and printed versions of Berberova's editorial work. Her activities as a translator are documented in Translations, which contains holographs, typescripts and offprints of her translations from 1922 onward.

The Lectures and Course Plans document Berberova's career as an instructor of Russian literature. Two early lectures on Russian emigres (1923) and Tchaikovsky (1938) also can be found in the Lectures subseries.

Reviews of Berberova's writings and general articles about her life are contained in the final subseries under Writings.

Series III, Subject Files , includes holograph notes, photocopies and clippings pertaining to people and topics that were of particular interest to Berberova. The material is organized into two subseries: Individuals and Organizations and Topical.

Series IV, Personal Papers , includes Berberova's diaries from 1960 through 1993, papers concerning Khodasevich and other documents of a personal nature. Of particular interest in the Dedications and Inscriptions in the third subseries are an inscription from 1916 by Nikolai Gumilev and offprints with Khodasevich's inscriptions to Berberova.

Portraits and photographs of Berberova spanning the entirety of her life are found in Series V, Photographs . There are family portraits from the 1910s and 1920s, as well as photographs of Berberova at age 12 and age 24. A rich collection of snapshots shows Berberova together with a number of contemporaries and friends, including Khodasevich. In addition, there are photographs of third parties such as Vladimir Mayakovksy and François Mitterrand.

Series VI, Memorabilia and Personal Effects , contains personal effects of Khodasevich, including his cigarette case and a lock of his hair, and academic hoods for the honorary degrees Berberova received. The recordings in Series VII, Audio and Video Tapes include tapes of radio and television interviews of Berberova. There is also a cassette tape of Berberova reading selections from her own poetry.

Series VIII, The Vladislav Khodasevich Papers , consists of a portion of Khodasevich's correspondence from the years 1923-39, and some of his writings, including articles, poetry and notes, preserved by Berberova.

Series IX, Materials Removed from Books , contains notes, clippings, and ephemera that were separated from the printed component of the Nina Berberova Papers when the books were cataloged in 1998. The description of each item includes the bibliographic information concerning the book from which it was removed.

Series X, Printed Materials , contains articles, issues of journals, and books. Some of the materials were annotated by Berberova.

Series XI, Microfilm Strips , contains cut microfilm of papers relating to Lili Brik, Osip Brik, Vladmimir Mayakovsky, and others. Location of original materials is unspecified. Positive contact prints have been made to assist researchers in examining the material. No further processing of this material is planned, per curatorial decision.


  • 1891 - 1993
  • Majority of material found within 1950 - 1993


Language of Materials

Chiefly in Russian, English, French and German.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 56 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Restricted Fragile Papers Restricted fragile material in boxes 63-64. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Nina Berberova Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Nina Berberova, 1962-1990, and of her estate, 1994.

Associated Materials

In addition to the archive, many of Berberova's books are preserved in the Beinecke library, many of them inscribed to her, such as Akhmatova's Anno Domini MCMXXI and Merezhkovsky's TSarstvo antikhrista. A number have been annotated by Berberova as well.


43.83 Linear Feet ((77 boxes) + 1 broadside folder)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Nina Berberova Papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, personal papers, memorabilia, and printed materials. The correspondence consists of personal letters from such famous Russian emigre writers and artists as Georgii Adamovich, Ivan Bunin, Zinaida Gippius, Roman Gul', Georgii Ivanov,Aleksandr Kuprin, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Vladimir Nabokov, Aleksei Remizov, Gleb Struve, Marina TSvetaeva, Boris and Vera Zaitsev. There are 67 letters and 9 cards from Vladislav Khodasevich to Berberova, written during the 1920s and 1930s. There is also a voluminous correspondence with scholars of Russian literature.The writings consist of holographs, typescripts, and research notes or publication material for most of Berberova's major books and shorter writings. Material from her years in the United States (1950-1993) predominates. Her autobiography, Kursiv Moi, and her biography of Moura Budberg, Zheleznaia Zhenshchina, are extensively documented. Also present in the collection are Berberova's diaries from 1960 through 1993, family photographs from the 1910s and 1920s as well as snapshots of Berberova with a number of contemporaries and friends, personal effects belonging to Khodasevich, tapes of radio and television interviews, and an audio tape of Berberova reading selections of her own poetry. The Vladislav Khodasevich Papers consists of a portion of Khodasevich's correspondence and writings preserved by Berberova. There are some notes, clippings, and ephemera that were separated from the printed componenet of the papers, as well as some annotated printed materials.


Nina Nikolaevna Berberova was born on August 8, 1901 (July 26, 1901, old style) in St. Petersburg, Russia, the only daughter of Nikolai Ivanovich Berberov, a civil servant in the Ministry of Finance, and Natalia Ivanovna Berberova, née Karaulova. The story of Berberova's life as a Russian emigre writer in Berlin, Paris and the United States is detailed up to approximately 1957 in her autobiography, Kursiv moi, first published in English as The Italics Are Mine by Harcourt, Brace & World in 1969.

Berberova became involved with the literary and artistic circles of St. Petersburg after she joined Nikolai Gumilev's "Poets' Guild" in 1921. She made her literary debut in February 1922 with the publication of a poem in the journal Ushkuiniki (The River Pirates), a small collection issued to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Serapion Brothers, a literary coterie of about ten aspiring young writers.

The persecution of intellectuals accelerated after the Revolution, and in June 1922, Berberova emigrated from Russia with the poet Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939). The couple moved to Berlin, then the literary capital of the Russian exile community. For the next three years, Berberova and Khodasevich lived in forty-two different rooms in various cities around Europe, including one summer in Belfast, before settling in Paris in 1925. She left Khodasevich in 1932, but they remained close friends until his death in 1939.

Many of the salient events and relationships of Berberova's life coincide with her stay in France, where she lived for twenty-five years. The Paris years were difficult but productive. To make ends meet, Berberova worked at a number of odd jobs. From 1925 to 1940, she was on the staff of the daily emigre newspaper, Poslednie novosti (The Latest News), in which she published the popular cycle of short stories known collectively as Biiankurskie prazdniki (The Billancourt Holidays). In 1938, Berberova moved to Longchêne, a village outside Paris, with her second husband, the artist Nikolai Makeev. They parted on unfriendly terms nine years later. In 1947, she moved back to Paris where she helped to establish the weekly newspaper Russkaia mysl', which is still published today.

In 1950, with the realization that World War II had taken its toll on the Russian exile world in Paris, Berberova decided to emigrate to the United States. For the next eight years she lived in New York City, held odd jobs by day and studied English at night. She also wrote an occasional poem or book review, edited books for the Chekhov Publishing House in New York, and served on the editorial board of the Russian literary journal Mosty (Bridges). Difficulties in obtaining a visa prompted Berberova to marry musician George Kochevitsky in 1954, so that she could remain in the US. The couple officially divorced in 1983.

In the United States, Berberova embarked on her academic career. In 1958 she was hired to teach Russian at Yale University. She continued to write while she was teaching, publishing several "povesti," various critical articles and some poetry. She left Yale in 1963 for Princeton University, where she taught until her retirement in 1971. For Berberova "retirement" meant being a visiting lecturer at Cornell, Columbia, Bryn Mawr and the University of Pennsylvania, teaching during the summer in the Russian School at Middlebury College, and writing. During these years she was awarded honorary degrees from Glasboro State College (1980), Middlebury College (1983), and Yale University (1992). Friends and colleagues at Yale University commemorated her 90th birthday with a dinner in the Beinecke Library in 1991.

Berberova is a published writer in many genres: short stories, novels, plays, biographies, poetry, translations, reportage. She herself was the first to admit that her most successful fictional genre was the long short story, or "povest'" in Russian. Six of her best stories were published separately between 1934 and 1941 in the Parisian journal Sovremennye zapiski. In 1949 they were published in a collection entitled, Oblegchenie uchasti (The Easing of Fate). The backdrop for much of Berberova's fiction is the everyday life of the down and out Russian emigres, struggling to adapt to their new life outside Russia. Contemporary critics noted influences of the language and style of Gogol, Dostoevsky and Zoshchenko in these stories. Berberova published the first biography of Tchaikovsky in 1936, which caused a sensation with its open reference to the musician's homosexuality. Warner Brothers and Sovkino produced a film about Tchaikovsky in 1968 based on this book. Her autobiography, Kursiv moi is widely regarded as her greatest literary achievement and most notable contribution to Russian literature, largely for its information on whom she knew--virtually all of the writers and artists on the Russian intellectual scene. In 1982, she published Zheleznaia zhenshchina (The Iron Woman), a biography of Moura Budberg, mistress of Maxim Gorky and H.G. Wells. Her last book, Liudi i lozhi: russkie masony xx stoletiia was published in 1986. Berberova continued to conduct extensive research and write in her advancing years.

Nevertheless, Berberova remained relatively unknown as a writer in the West until she was in her eighties. In 1985, Hubert Nyssen, director of the French publishing house Actes Sud, obtained international rights to all of Berberova's writings. Her works were issued in French translation and they became bestsellers in France. As a result, Actes Sud began to translate and publish her works in at least twenty-two languages. After spending most of her career in relative obscurity, Berberova became a celebrity. As a measure of this, she was invited by the Union of Writers in 1989 to visit her homeland, which she did after a sixty-seven year absence.

In 1991 Berberova moved from Princeton, New Jersey to Philadelphia. She lived there until she died September 27, 1993 from complications from a fall.

Guide to the Nina Berberova Papers
Under Revision
by Beinecke Staff
June 1996
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2022-03-11: Within box 16, the container labels for folders 452-457 appear to have been created while the contents were out of alphabetical order (e.g. Pounder was sorted incorrectly before Pollard). Rather than create new labels to keep the numbering in tact (especially since one of these folders had already been digitized with its label), the collection guide has been updated to reflect the original labelling (e.g. folder 455, Pollard, now appears before folder 454, Pounder, so that the materials are sorted correctly by name rather than container number).

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