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Out of the Shadows: An Exhibition at the University Library


An exhibition of previously unknown autographs of some of the leading writers of Russian post-1917 emigration curated by Vera Tsareva-Brauner opened in the University Library on 5 November 2018.

Entitled ‘Out of the Shadows’, this exhibition came about as a result of an almost serendipitous discovery made in 2016 in that very library: first editions of works by Ivan Bunin, the first Russian winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Alexey Tolstoy, who was later to become known as ‘the Red Count’, author of the seminal work The Road to Calvary and Nadezhda Teffi, an acclaimed writer and memoirist. Due to a number of cataloguing errors dating back to the 1930s – early 1960s, none of these books have ever been seen or attributed before. The story behind this fortunate discovery and attempts to trace the provenance of books is worthy of a detective story.

But perhaps the most interesting layer was uncovered as a result of identifying the recipients of these books, which eventually led to a significant corpus of previously unpublished letters to Ivan and Vera Bunins which are now held in The Russian Archives in Leeds (RAL). This opened a fertile field of research that so far has uncovered some previously unknown facts not only about Ivan Bunin and some other leading figures of Russian emigration in pre-war France, but also about Anton Chekhov and his ‘Cherry Orchard’, the horrors of 1917 Revolution and Civil war and many other subjects. All this is in the letters, which would never have been researched, if it wasn’t for this chance discovery of living history, hand-written, poignant and authentic.

Releasing new archive material (over 350 letters) into circulation is always important, but the fact that it was made possible by three lines, handwritten by Bunin, makes it quite special.

Thanks to Mel Bach and other colleagues at the UL, the exhibition is now available online at, and it’s gratifying to get some positive responses from the Institute of World Literature and Solzhenitsyn Centre of Russian Émigré Studies in Moscow.

The stories of people behind the autographs as well as the corpus of letters from RAL will be published in the book, which is scheduled for publication in 2020.

Vera Tsareva-Brauner will also talk about this work at the 2019 BASEES Conference. There will also be a lecture at the UL scheduled for late April 2019.

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