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D. S. Mirsky

A Russian-English Life, 1890-1939

G. S. Smith

Publication Date - September 2000

ISBN: 9780198160069

424 pages

Retail Price to Students: $380.00

"Even those who have read and admired Mirsky can hardly be acquainted with the tragic story of his life, which has now been thoroughly explored for the first time in G. S. Smith's biography."--New York Review of Books


This is the first biography in any language of "Comrade Prince" D. S. Mirsky, who uniquely participated in three distinctive episodes of modern European culture. In late imperial St. Petersburg he was a poet, a student of Oriental languages and ancient history, and also a Guards officer. After fighting in World War I and the Russian Civil War, Mirsky emigrated, taught at London University, and became a literary critic and historian, writing prolifically in English, and also in Russian as a leading member of the Eurasian movement centered in Paris. His closest literary relationships were with Marina Tsvetaeva and Aleksei Remizov, and later with Maksim Gorky. In 1926-7 he published A History of Russian Literature, written in English, which remains the standard introduction to the subject. While in London he lived in Bloomsbury and knew the Woolfs; he also knew T. S. Eliot, and was the first Russian critic to write about him. Mirsky became a Communist in 1931 and returned to Stalin's Moscow the following year, becoming a prominent Soviet critic, and in particular championing Boris Pasternak. In 1937 he was arrested, and died in the Gulag. This biography draws on much unpublished material, including Mirsky's NKVD files.


  • The first biography of an extraordinary figure in 20th-century Russian and English literary life, with connections with Russian emigrés such as Maksim Gorky and Marina Tsvetaeva, with Boris Pasternak, and with the Bloomsbury circle and the British intellectual left
  • Mirsky was a prolific writer in Russian and English, and author of a History of Russian Literature which is still the standard introduction to the subject
  • His life spans pre-Revolutionary Russia, the First War and Russian Civil war, in which he fought, emigré life in London in the twenties, and Stalinist Russia in the thirties: he returned home as a communist, only to be arrested and die in prison
  • Draws on much unpublished material, including Mirsky's NKVD files


"Even those who have read and admired Mirsky can hardly be acquainted with the tragic story of his life, which has now been thoroughly explored for the first time in G. S. Smith's biography.... Smith gives a fascinating and detailed account of the Moscow years, during which Mirsky managed to keep afloat with the help of a few surviving friends."--New York Review of Books

"[Mirskii's] is a colorful life indeed, and the British scholar G. S. Smith tells the sad story well.... Smith pays careful and discriminating attention to Mirskii's writing, noting the prescience of his judgment on contemporary writers including Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and T. S. Eliot, and gives us what will surely be the definitive life of poor Prince (comrade) Mirskii."--The Russian Reivew

"A work of impeccable, solid scholarship completed over 30 years, this study gathers most of what has come to light about Mirsky and is the first major Western effort to make sense out of it.... A must for all academic collections."--Choice

"Smith's long-awaited biography of Prince Dmitri Petrovich Svyatopolk-Mirsky is not only the first study of a seminal Russian literary critic and Eurasianist, it also provides a magisterial panorama of intellectual life among the Russian emigres, their English hosts, and the literary intelligentsia in Stalin's Moscow in the 1930s.... Smith's volume provides a profound and provocative portrait of one of the remarkable Russian victims of the twentieth century."--Studies in East European Thought

Table of Contents

    I: In Russia, 18901920
    1. Two Names
    2. Two Callings
    3. Two Armies
    II: Out of Russia, 19211932
    4. Writing English
    5. Writing Russian
    6. Writing Politics
    III: Back in Russia, 19321939
    7. The Rising Line
    8. The Falling Line
    9. End of the Line