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George Ivask papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 93

Scope and Contents

The George Ivask Papers consist of two boxes of correspondence, articles, poetry, photographs, and miscellaneous papers.

The Correspondence (Box 1) contains about 525 incoming letters written by thirty-one correspondent between 1928 and 1963. They are arranged alphabetically by author and then chronologically. Most letters are in Russian, with only a handful in English or German. The third party correspondence, folder 36, contains four letters from Marina TSvetaeva to Anatolii Shteiger, transcribed by Cyril Ielita-Wilczkowski. Ivask published fourteen (numbered I-XIV) other TSvetaeva letters in volumes 5, 7, and 8 of Opyty (Experiments). The letters present in the Beinecke collection, numbered XV-XVI and XVIII-XIX and dated 3-9 September 1936, did not appear, because Opyty ceased publication. Folder 37 contains a letter from Vladimir Vasil'evich Veidle to the editor of the Novoe russkoe slovo concerning misleading information in the review of the seventh volume of Opyty. Folder 38 contains a letter to Karl Karlovich Gershel'man by an unidentified author.

Incoming correspondence begins with nine folders of miscellaneous correspondence. Nikolai Berdiaev, for example, reflects on religion. Petr Mikhailovich Bitsilli, who reviewed Ivask's Severnyi bereg (Northern Shore), discusses philosophical, religious, and literary topics. Lidiia Chervinskaia cannot make up her mind about which poems Ivask should publish in his anthology. The letters of IUrii Gal' contain poems and describe feelings of personal mortality. Ivask always sympathized with those who suffered, were ignored, or had been rejected by certain émigré circles. In the case of Gal', whom he knew from Estonia since 1943, he not only printed seven poems in the anthology Na zapade, but also published (in Opyty 1955: 87-103) excerpts from five letters (December 3, 1944-January 12, 1945), which are found in this collection. The collection also contains one letter by George Vladimirovich Golokhvastov, one by Ol'ga Nikolaevna Mozhaiskaia, and two by Vera Roslavleva, who writes about her sons and the difficulties which the Gershel'man family endures. Alla Sergeevna Golovina, sister of Anatolii Shteiger, discusses Ivask's anthology, Opyty (Experiments), and literary matters. Nikolai Tatishchev informs Ivask about his publications.

The bulk of the letters in the collection, written by prominent Russian émigré literary figures, mostly concern the preparation and publication of the anthology Na zapade and of Opyty.

Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, whom Ivask asked to contribute to his anthology, was old and sick, with changing moods and changing decisions about what and how it should be published. Finally, he sent to Ivask eight poems with the warning that if they were unacceptable, he, "prostite" (pardon me), will not even answer. Bunin died the next year. The seventy-eight letters of Karl Karlovich Gershel'man (called "Kalia") portray the sad subsistence of an emigrant family, his efforts to get ahead hampered by poor health (asthma) and stays in hospitals. He writes: "IA Bogu sdelal vse chto mog', teper' pust' Bog so mnoi sdelaet chto emu ugodno" (I did for God everything I could, now let God to do with me what he wants). The end came soon, from a ruptured appendix. The letters of his wife Elizaveta B. are filled with problems and the sad awareness that nobody shows interest in the creative writings of her deceased husband. Ivask published four of his poems in his anthology Na zapade in 1953.

The next correspondent, Cyril Ielita-Wilczkowski, transcribed and edited the Marina TSvetaeva's letters to Shteiger which Ivask published in Opyty. He likes Ivask's poems and talks about them hyperbolically. He dislikes the poems of Adamovich and Terapiano, and uses such strong expressions as "merzost'" (abomination). His last letter is dated March 30, 1959, one year before his death.

The collection also includes sixteen letters from the poet of the "old" generation, Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov, and nineteen letters of his wife Irina Vladimirovna Odoevtseva, herself a poet. While Ivanov and Odoevtseva sent the poems to Ivask for publication, Ivask on the other hand, by sending his poems to them, was looking only for their opinion. Sick and weary, Ivanov comments: "Bezposhchadno unichtozhaiu priblizitel'no 2/3 togo chto sochiniaiu" (I am unmercifully destroying around two thirds of what I am writing). In her letters, Odoevtseva complains that nobody helped her while her husband was dying or after his death.

There are thirty-five letters by Mikhail L'vovich Kantor, written between 1954 and 1960; the collaboration in Opyty is mentioned. Michael Karpovich, represented by fourteen letters, arranged Ivask's first teaching position at Harvard and was on his doctoral thesis defense committee. The letters of Sergei Konstantinovich Makovskii concern his life, work, and literary activity. They contain constant complaints about his health: in his last letter to Ivask, he says that he does all his writing in bed. The next year he died. Six letters (1938-61) of Viktor Andreevich Mamchenko (as Ivask calls him, "a simple sailor") also complain about problems and poor health. Thinking that he is near the end, he remarks that dying is also "a creative work." Ivask published six of his poems in the anthology.

Ivask also corresponded with Vladimir Nabokov, but his wife Vera Evseevna answered many letters in English. She explains: "He has come to the conclusion that he must sacrifice correspondence to literary work." The correspondence terminates with the failure of Opyty. Another writer who complained about his health and financial situation was IUrii Odarchenko, a poet who sometimes "decorated" letters with drawings. Ivask, who liked his poems, published eight in his anthology and asked for more for Opyty. Also included in the collection are ten letters from Nikolai Otsup, an editor of Chisla (Numbers). He contributed eight poems to Ivask's anthology. He writes about his Dnevnik v stikhakh (Diary in Verses), published in 1950 and later reviewed by Ivask, and about his literary activity in general. Shortly before his death, in his last letter, he mentions his new book Tri tsaria [1958] (Three Kings).

Only ten letters of Boris IUlianovich Poplavskii are found in the collection. Four typed manuscript fragments from his novel Apollon Bezobrazov are also present. Ten of his poems appeared in the anthology. In his Pokhvala rossiikoi poezii (published in Novyi zhurnal 162, March 1986: 122), Ivask writes about Poplavskii: "Poplavskii proletel nad russkim Parizhem meteorom i kakoi to ognennyi sled ot nego ostalsia - ne tol'ko v stikhakh, no v 'tvorimoi legende' o nem, a takzhe v romane 'Apollon Bezobrazov'". (Like a meteor Poplavskii shot over Russian Paris, and some fiery trace remained after him--not only in verses, but in the legend which formed around him, and also in the novel "Apollon Bezobrazov.")

Poplavskii himself, in one of his letters, writes a strange remark: "Vse vremia borius' s kakimto strakhom." (At all times, I am fighting some kind of fear.) Poplavskii died in Paris on October 9, 1985, not by suicide, as Ivask suspected, but by homicide.

The collection includes thirty-five letters by Aleksei Remizov. Five of those also appear as typed transcripts, with explanatory notes by Roger Hagglund, written in 1962. Remizov writes about literary activities. In the early fifties, he was going blind. He writes about it to Ivask: "Deviatyi god zhivu v zatvore, na liudi ne vykhozhu: plokho vizhu . . . mne 74 goda." (For the ninth year I live in seclusion, without going out amidst people: I don't see well . . . I am 74 years old.) His handwriting worsens. His last letter is dated March 10, 1957.

Anatolii Shteiger is represented by fifteen letters, which include poems. Shteiger constantly travelled, first for pleasure, later on from hospital to hospital. Although not a politician, Shteiger nevertheless follows events and makes comments, especially upon the "barbarians" of Moscow and Berlin. He also discusses literary topics and writes about his everyday life. Shteiger died from tuberculosis in 1944.

The letters from Fedor Avgustovich Stepun cover the years 1955-58. Several letters not only contain Ivask's commentaries written in pencil, but also his immediate reactions to Stepun's writings. The two folders of Vladimir Vasil'evich Veidle contain thirty-eight letters. The correspondence started in 1953, when Veidle was living in Munich as director of programming at Radio Free Europe. It lasted almost to the end of Veidle's service. He describes his life, travels, writings, and works of others. He complains about the lack of time and his "boring" job, and always promises to write "something." He goes to Bruges, to the College of Europe, and travels again. He plans to go to the United States. The letters from Boris Konstantinovich Zaitsev are also concerned with writings. Zaitsev offers to Ivask three fragments of his translation of Dante, and also promises to write something. The last thirteen letters are from Vladimir Zlobin. He was the secretary of Z. N. Gippius, and, after her death in 1945, the executor of her will (and of her husband, D. S. Merezhkovskii). Zlobin's letters speak for themselves and for other authors, who are in the similar situation. They half-open the curtain to the backstage of the publishing world and the experiences of authors and editors--their frustration, hope, anxiety in not receiving payments, and their patience. Zlobin praises Ivask for knowing how to read poems and for understanding their creators. Commenting on Ivask's book TSarskaia osen' (Royal autumn) he says he likes it, but he does not always understand the poems until the end. Ivask published six of Zlobin's poems in the anthology.

The second box contains Writings (folders 39-73), Photographs (folders 74-78), and Miscellaneous Papers (folder 79).

The Writings are divided into Articles (folders 39-58) and Poetry (folders 59-73), all written in Russian. The seventeen articles are written by seven authors. The poetry section contains seventy-nine poems by fourteen well-known Russian émigré poets and writers.

Folders 74-78 contain six photographs: one of Marina TSvetaeva, one of her nine-year-old son Georgii Efron (who was born on February 1, 1925 in Czechoslovakia, returned with his mother to the Soviet Union, and was killed, shortly after being drafted into the Soviet army in July 1944 near the village Druika, now in Byelorussian SSR); one of Nikolai Pavlovich Gronskii, killed in an accident; two pictures of Aleksei Mikhailovich Remizov, alone and with friends; and one of Anatolii Sergeevich Shteiger.

The Miscellaneous Papers (folder 79) contain I. A. Bunin's autograph dedication to Ivask, written on a ripped off front flyleaf from his book Izbrannye stikhi (Selected Poems); two leaves of schedules of Russian language classes at Harvard University, including Ivask's, prepared by M. H. Karpovich, probably for 1952-53; some excerpts from reviews of Bunin's Izbrannye stikhi (Selected poems) prepared by Izdatel'stvo "Sovremennyia zapiski"; a literary necrology of Aleksei Mikhailovich Remizov, and some samples of his writings; two pages from a summary of the works of Prince P. A. Wiazemski written by himself and attested by S. Makowski; five clippings; and one envelope.


  • 1913 - 1963
  • Majority of material found within 1940 - 1960


Language of Materials

Most of the letters and manuscripts are in Russian, with only a handful in English or German.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The George Ivask 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 George Ivask, 1964.


1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers document George Ivask's work as a literary editor, and in particular, his publication of émigré poetry in Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi (an anthology) and Opyty (a literary journal). The letters of Russian émigré poets and writers document their life in the United States and the papers also contain their literary manuscripts. Photographs consists of pictures of Ivask's friends and colleagues.

GEORGE IVASK (1907-1986)

The name Ivask is Estonian. So were George Ivask's ancestors. His great-grandfather was a miller, his grandfather, who married a German, an agronomist. Ivask's father Paul, born in 1881, left Estonia, settled in Moscow, and completely assimilated. He married Evgeniia Frolov, the daughter of a jeweller who belonged to a distinguished family of merchants. Her mother's maiden name was Zhivago.

George Ivask called himself an intellectual poet. He was also a keen literary critic and the author of countless articles, essays, stories and tales, reviews, and diaries whose literary works remain partly unpublished. He was a historian of Russian literature, a distinguished professor, and an able scholar with interests in the history, architecture, and culture of many countries, especially of Italy, Portugal, and Mexico. He travelled widely.

Ivask, a man of spiritual nobility and reverence, was born in Moscow on November 12, 1907, according to our documents. The Library of Congress and the Directory of American Scholars give, however, the date of 1910. He attended high school (gymnaziia) in Moscow, but in November of 1920, when he was thirteen, his family left Russia and returned to Estonia, then an independent republic. There the young Ivask completed his high school studies. Considering himself Russian, he did not associate with the Estonians. Only much later, as an emigrant, did he come closer to some of his countrymen, like the poet Aleksis Rannit. In his Poslednie slovo (Last word), published posthumously in excerpts in Novoe russkoe slovo of March 2, 1986, he reminisces: IA navsegda ostalsia bez russkogo prostranstva pod nogami, no moei pochvoi stal russkii iazyk i moia dusha sdelana iz russkogo iazyka, russkoi kultury i russkogo Pravoslaviia. (I was forever left without Russian space under my feet, but the Russian language became my sure ground and my soul which was formed by the Russian language, culture, and [Russian] orthodoxy).

George Ivask stayed in Estonia for approximately twenty years. In 1932 he graduated from the University of Tartu with the degree in law. At that time he met Igor' Vladimirovich Chinnov, a poet from Riga. They formed a lifelong friendship.

Ivask began to write poems and to publish critical essays and articles. His first collection of poems, Severnyi bereg (Northern shore), was published in Warsaw in 1938. Near the end of the Second World War, Ivask and Chinnov retreated westward following the German army. In the fall of 1949, George Ivask, together with his wife Tamara Georgievna, emigrated to America. He taught in eight different institutions of higher education over the next twenty-seven years.

In the years of 1950-54, Ivask was a lecturer in Russian language at Harvard University. About the same time, he decided to compile an anthology of the émigré poetry. In order to carry out this plan, he sought contributions from friends, acquaintances, and poets. The bulk of the correspondence in the Ivask's papers concerns this effort. The book was published in 1953, under the title Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi poezii (In the West; an anthology of the Russian émigré poetry). In that same year, his second collection of poems, TSarskaia osen' (Royal autumn), was published in Paris by Rifma, a firm headed by Sergei Konstantinovich Makovskii, himself a poet and critic, and a contributor to Ivask's anthology. In 1955, Ivask and his wife became naturalized citizens of the United States. In that same year, Ivask received his Ph.D. from Harvard University. For two years he had worked on his voluminous dissertation in Russian: "Kniaz' P. A. Viazemskii--literaturnyi kritik" (Prince P. A. Viazemskii--literary critic). About the same time, Ivask became the editor of the Russian literary magazine Opyty (Experiments), which was published in New York by M. E. TSetlina, founded in 1953. Ivask had another opportunity to turn to Russian literary figures for contributions. But the magazine was in financial trouble, and after five years of existence it folded.

After graduating from Harvard, Ivask accepted the position of assistant professor of Russian literature and language at the University of Kansas. He stayed in Lawrence until 1960, when he became associate professor of Russian literature at the University of Washington. In the same year, Ivask went to Europe. Such trips became his passion and he missed no opportunity to learn about other cultures and people, exploring their past and present. Italy and Portugal especially interested him, and later on Mexico. After some time, he visited Mount Athos, when he was working on Leont'ev, describing this trip in a letter to Roman Gul'.

Ivask remained at the University of Washington for eight years. In 1967 his third collection of poems, Khvala (Praising), was published by Kamkin in Washington, D. C. At sixty Ivask was flourishing as a poet and also reaching the height of his career. During his stay in Seattle, he made more trips to Europe.

During the summer of 1965, Ivask taught at Indiana University in Bloomington, at the National Defense Education Act Russian Language Institute. For one year he also taught at Vanderbilt University.

In 1969, Ivask was appointed full professor in the department of Slavics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a position he held until his retirement in 1977.

In 1970, Ivask again travelled extensively in Europe. In the same year, more of his poems were published, this time by Mosty in New York, under the title of Zolushka (Cinderella). The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library has a copy of this book with forty handwritten explanatory notes by the author and structural and biographical comments. Three years later, Ivask and H. W. Tjalsma edited another anthology under the title Antologiia petersburgskoi poezii epokhi akmeizma. Acmeist and others; an anthology published in Munich by Fink. The next year his monograph Konstantin Leont'ev: zhizn' i tvorchestvo (Konstantin Leont'ev: [his] life and work) was published in Bern by H. Lang.

In 1974 Ivask taught for one semester at the University of Freiburg, Germany. By 1977, his Igraiushchii chelovek (Playing Man) was circulating in the Soviet Union under the title Homo Ludens, published by Samizdat in typewritten form. The next year, his collected works (1933-1978) of almost 500 pages also appeared in Samizdat, a fact he was especially proud of. For this reason, his unexpected trip to the Soviet Union (Moscow and Leningrad) with a group of excursionists from France had special meaning for him. He left a diary of about twenty pages describing this trip.

In the year of Ivask's death, two more of his books appeared: a second edition of Zavoevanie Meksiki (Conquered by Mexico), a collection of poems dated 1959-79, which was first published in 1984; and IA--meshchanin (I--a petty bourgeois). Both books were issued by the New England Publishing Company in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The first shows not only how deeply he was attracted and captured by Mexico, but also his extensive knowledge of the history, culture, and people of the country. The second, attractively printed on green paper, appeared shortly before his death. The poems are dated between 1970 and 1984. One of them, from 11-12 December 1979, is dedicated to Emily Dickinson, whose work Ivask avidly read. Another, dated October 17, 1978 and dedicated to the Pope John Paul II, appears also in its Polish translation and was first printed in Paris, in the Polish journal Kultura. On October 1, 1980, Ivask was presented to the Pope in an audience in St. Peter's Square. On that occasion, Ivask bestowed on the Pope his poem Privetstvie pravoslavnogo (Salute from the [Russian] Orthodox).

Ivask wrote hundreds of articles, essays of literary criticism, lectures, addresses, and reviews. He also contributed to numerous publications including Nov' (Soil), Chisla (Numbers), Mech (Sword), Mir (World), Sovremennye zapiski (Contemporary annals), IAkor' (Anchor), Novyi grad (New city), Novyi zhurnal (New review), Kovcheg (Ark), Put' (Road), Vozrozhdenie (Renaissance), Opyty (Experiments), Grani (Borders), and Mosty (Bridges).

Ivask also edited books, or provided them with introductions and notes. Examples are K. N. Leont'ev's Egipetskii golub (Egyptian Dove), published in New York in 1969; Against the Current, selected works of the same author; V. V. Rozanov's Izbrannoe (Selections), New York, Izdatel'stvo im. Chekhova, edited in 1956; and Temnyi lik (Dark Countenance) of 1975, a reprint of the 1911 edition.

Pokhvala rossiiskoi poezii (Praise of Russian poetry) is Ivask's survey of Russian poets and their work. It appeared at intervals in the Novyi zhurnal between 1983 and 1986.

Shortly before his death, Ivask was working on a historical fantasy-novel Esli by (If it were). He also wanted to reissue his Igraiushchii chelovek (Playing man), which appeared in Vestnik R.Kh.S.D.

Ivask's wife died on August 24, 1981, and Ivask passed away on February 13, 1986, in Amherst, Massachusetts. The funeral took place on a cold day, February 16, at the old campus cemetery of the University of Massachusetts.

In an obituary published in Novyi zhurnal, V. Perelishin writes: "Byl on chelovekom, kotorogo mnogoletnee izgnanie nauchilo byt' vezde 'kak doma' - i vezde ostavat'sia samim soboi, to est' russkim i pravoslavnym." (He was a man whose many years of exile taught him to feel everywhere at home--and to remain everywhere himself, that is Russian and Orthodox). Sources used: Valerii Blinov, "Pamiati IU. P. Ivaska," Novyi zhurnal, 163 (June, 1986): 289-92. Dmitrii Bobyshev, "Slovo ob Ivaske," Novyi zhurnal, 163 (June, 1986): 282-88. Igor' Chinnov, "Pamiati Ivaska," Novoe russkoe slovo, (March 2, 1986). Ludmila A. Foster, Bibliografiia russkoi zarubezhnoi literatury, 1918-1968 (Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1970). Z. N. (Zinaida Nikolaevna) Gippius, Intellect and Ideas in Action . . . comp. [by] Temira Pachmus (München: W. Fink, 1972). George Ivask, "Poslednee slovo," Novoe russkoe slovo, (March 2, 1986). George Ivask, "Pokhvala rossiiskoi poezii," Novyi zhurnal, 161-62 (December 1985, March 1986): 103-127, 104-44. Arkadii Nebol'sin, "IUrii Pavlovich Ivask (1907-1986)," Novoe russkoe slovo (March 2, 1986). Valerii Pereleshin, "IUrii Ivask," Novyi zhurnal, 163 (June 1986): 292-95.

Processing Information

Slavic names, titles, and quotations in their original languages have been transliterated in accordance with Library of Congress guidelines.

Guide to the George Ivask Papers
Under Revision
by Halyna Lobay
July 1987
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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