Dashkova Centre

A Very Private Affair – a Soviet Dissident’s “English Wife”

“A Very Private Affair…” is a memoir of Speranza Howard (1903 – 95) who was born and brought up in pre-revolutionary Russia and escaped with her family, in 1920, to London. But it is also a story of the Russian writer Boris Pilniak, who visited Britain just once, but who claimed to have lost his heart for ever to a half- English girl he met in 1923 – Pam’s aunt.

The identity of his “ English Wife “ was unknown until, in the Russian memorabilia Pam Wardell had stored in her loft, she found two bundles of love - letters written by Boris to Speranza, from 1923 and 1929. Thus began her researches into their long affair, which had remained a secret for the whole of her aunt’s life.

Pam Wardell tells two stories in parallel: one about the secret life of her enigmatic intellectual Aunt, Speranza Howard (1903 – 1995); the other about her personal journey to uncover the impact of the Russian Revolution on her family’s history. “It began with the Russian love letters I found among my aunt’s papers after her death in 1995. I only realized their full impact when I showed them to the translator Michael Falchikov. It took wings after a visit to Russia in 2004 to meet the researcher Dagmar Kassek, who spent years collecting the letters of Boris Pilniak for publication by Moscow University Press in 2011. And slowly it grew into a manuscript, the bones of a book.” Through a unique collaboration with the graphic designer Janey Boyd (Mamook Graphics), Pam has produced a stunningly illustrated account of one twentieth century woman’s love for the Soviet dissident writer, Boris Pilniak.

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Russian photographs and documents

A Very Private Affair – a Soviet Dissident’s “English Wife”

“A Very Private Affair…” is a memoir of Speranza Howard (1903 – 95) who was born and brought up in pre-revolutionary Russia and escaped with her family, in 1920, to London. But it is also a story of the Russian writer Boris Pilniak, who visited Britain just once, but who claimed to have lost his heart for ever to a half- English girl he met in 1923.

The Princess Dashkova Russian Centre
14 Buccleuch Place
Edinburgh
EH8 9LN