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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

Alexandra Smith: Galya Diment, A Russian Jew of Bloomsbury: The Life and Times of Samuel Koteliansky

from Reviews


This book is the fi rst biography of Samuel Solomonovich Koteliansky (1880–1955), a prominent translator of Ukrainian Jewish origin, who was closely involved with many important British cultural figures in the 1910s–1940s, including Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, H. G. Wells, Mark Gertler and Dilys Powell. Although Koteliansky’s collaborations with several Bloomsbury writers and critics have been discussed before, the present study sheds new light on Koteliansky’s personality and his personal relationships with many artists and writers in London. Diment points out that ‘[h]is English friends would invariably call him a “rabbi” or “an Old Testament prophet”’, and ‘[f]or a secular Jew, Koteliansky was indeed interestingly rabbinical in the way he conducted his life in England’ (9). She defines him as bookish and authoritative, especially because he spent most of his life worshipping books written by Russian canonical writers, including Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov.

Undoubtedly, Koteliansky’s friendship and professional interaction with British writers and critics had a signifi cant impact on their reception of Russian realist and modernist writers. His correspondence with Mansfi eld and Lawrence also provides a fascinating insight into the dialogue between the two cultural traditions. Although Koteliansky appears to have been in love with Mansfield and his feelings were not reciprocated, their friendship proved to be very special. Clearly, Mansfield saw him as a soulmate since she admitted to him that he was one of her kind of people. Diment does not explore their feelings of displacement in the context of postcolonial writing and gender studies, but it might not be far-fetched to suggest that Mansfield’s own identity as a New Zealander and a female writer shared many common features with a provincial Jewish translator and critic from the south of Russia.