Author Topic: Tania, Memories of A Lost World  (Read 2686 times)

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Offline AGRBear

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Tania, Memories of A Lost World
« on: June 07, 2005, 03:35:20 PM »
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TANIA, MEMORIES OF A LOST WORLD by Tania Alexander p. 1:

"In the spring of 1918, six months after the Bolshevik October Revolution, my brother and I, aged five and three, were taken for safety from our Petrograd home to join our father who was already on his estate, Yendel, some fifty miles east of Reval (now Tallinn) in the Russian province of Estonia."

"...On the morning of April 28th, 1919, my father had gone to see to things on the estate..."

"At one o'clock he had not yet returned and my brother Paul, cousin Kira, Mariussa and I set out to meet him. We walked... As we turned the second corner we saw in front of [us] the body of a man lying across the path. Mariussa screamed and tried to raise the body, but it was too late. She then hurriedly ushered us away, but we had already seen the man was our father and that he was dead...."

p. 2

"My mext memory is of a white sheets over our large dinning table on the summer veranda, and my father lying there with only his waxlike face showing, surrounded by a mountain of flowers, sheets and candles. An apparetly endless stream of aunts and relative came and wept, a constant flow of villagers and people from the estate arrived with bunches of lowers....."

"It was never clearely established who had fired th shots which killed by father."

Her father was Ioann ["John" or "Djon"] von Beckendorff, a Baltic nobleman.

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Offline Joanna

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Re: Tania, Memories of A Lost World
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2008, 10:23:13 PM »
Obituary of Tania Alexander, The Guardian, December 14, 2004. I have read her memoir and of her mother Moura Budberg, and it is interesting to find out what happened to the Benckendorff estate in Estonia:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2004/dec/14/guardianobituaries.artsobituaries

Tania AlexanderA Russian noble, she became an adviser to directors looking for historical accuracy, including Ken Loach and Jonathan Miller
Sophie Baker The Guardian, Tuesday December 14 2004
Article history
In 1972 the world of Tania Alexander, who has died aged 89, was turned around by a fortuitous introduction. Ken Loach was then adapting Anton Chekhov's short story A Misfortune for television. Tania, a child of the imperial Russian nobility, was asked to supply small domestic details to give his drama authenticity. Thirty years on, Loach still remembers her and her aura; it was that of a fine Russian lady, and one grieving a past.
Tania also developed a friendship with one of the actors involved, Peter Eyre. He introduced her to the theatre director Jonathan Miller, who happened to be directing The Three Sisters. Miller also consulted her on Eugene Onegin, La Traviata, The Marriage Of Figaro and Arabella. "I needed the reassurance that I was getting 'Russian' right," he recalled. "She also brought to the rehearsal room an air of conviviality, graciousness and elegance - it was like having an aristocratic imprint on a product."

When Ian Holm was lured back to the stage to play Astrov to Nigel Hawthorne's Uncle Vanya after his legendary Iceman Cometh breakdown, Tania lent her diplomatic weight. The two leads, schooled in the Royal Shakespeare Company tradition, were at first resistant to Nancy Meckler's interpretation. They did not want to spend precious rehearsal time pretending to write by candlelight. Tania's intervention and sympathy with both the director's needs and the actors' frustrations saved a memorable production at the Hampstead Theatre from collapsing before the first preview.

Tania lived almost her entire life in Britain, but never relinquished that sense of Russian-ness. Born in St Petersburg, at three years old Tania Benckendorff was taken, with her brother, by her father to his family's ancestral home in the Baltic state of Estonia to distance themselves from the effects of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

Her Ukrainian mother Moura Zakrevsky told her children that she had to stay behind to care for their sickly grandmother. The following year, Tania, her brother and their young cousins discovered Tania's father, Ioann Benckendorff in the woods, shot dead while walking. He was probably murdered by a peasant for his loyalty to the tsar.

Despite this trauma and her mother's absence, Tania professed to having spent an idyllic childhood at Kallijarv, a small lakeside dower house, surrounded by eccentric yet loving relations and an Irish woman who had been nanny to her own mother.

Throughout Tania's childhood, Estonia, with a fragile hold on independence, was trapped between Germany and revolutionary Russia. But despite financial and other instabilities, the young Benckendorffs experienced a life rich in creative experience. Although they received no formal early education, they were taught to read and write fluently in Russian, German and English - but they only ever learned to speak in Estonian. They could name the trees in the forests, the wild flowers in the hedgerows and identify the birdsong of at least 15 species. Tania also learned to play the piano. Food was scarce, but they never went hungry.

It was not until Tania was sent away to school, later staying with her mother in a small flat in St Petersburg - which was by then Leningrad - that she experienced the deprivations prevalent in her native land. She was to chronicle those times in A Little Of All These: An Estonian Childhood (1987), a sensitively observed autobiography and a fascinating insight into the lives of a people caught in the crossfire of revolutionary fervour.

Tania's parents were from the nobility, yet they were neither self-serving nor neglectful of those less fortunate. Her mother had married Benckendorff when she was 18. That excuse of staying behind to "care for an elderly parent" was a cover for Moura to pursue a passion for a British vice-consul stationed in Russia. Rejected, Moura became the mistress of the writer Maxim Gorky and, after the death of Benck endorff, married an Estonian baron, Nicolai Budberg, a formality to enable her to gain citizenship of the new Baltic state.

Such manipulation was not uncommon if one wanted to survive in those times. However, Moura's attachment to Gorky was genuine, and as a young girl Tania recalled spending a happy summer with them both in Italy.

HG Wells was Moura's next conquest, and she came to live in London to be near him, relying on her knowledge of Russian and aristocratic connections to give her respectability, and persuading Tania to join her from central Europe in 1935.

While always professing affection, even admiration, for her wayward mother, it was obvious that Tania would go by a very different route. She arrived in London almost penniless, rapidly qualified as a shorthand typist - using the machine gifted to her by Wells - and with her linguistic skills was engaged by Secker and Warburg as an editorial assistant and negotiator of foreign rights.

In 1940, Tania married Bernard Alexander, an international lawyer, with whom she had three children. After the war she joined him in Geneva and New York, where he worked for the United Nations. I had first met Tania when I was production photographer on Miller's Eugene Onegin. When my son was born, I expressed doubts about parenting. She said to me, "the most precious gift you can give your children is time", wise words which she had obviously put into practice herself. She devoted herself to family life, creating beautiful homes in Oxfordshire and Montpelier Square in London. Then, when her children had grown up, came the fortuitous introduction.

In later years, Tania eagerly grabbed any opportunity to involve herself in translating Russian drama. This included The Seagull directed by Charles Sturridge, Gorky's Vassa Zheleznova at the Greenwich Theatre and August (1996) a film version of Chekov's Uncle Vanya set in north Wales, on which Anthony Hopkins cut his directorial teeth.

Some 10 years ago the Estonian government, eager to lure overseas investment, offered Tania a lease to Kallijarv, that childhood home. Although not wealthy, she insisted she would only accept if the deeds were put in her name. This was the place where her father was shot. Knowing that her children and their families were unlikely to settle there, she wanted to decide herself to whom to pass it on. It will now go to a local lady who runs a riding school for the disabled. This is a fitting memorial to a woman whose warmth, compassion and friendship were enjoyed by so many.

Her husband predeceased her in 1990. She is survived by two daughters and one son.

Tania Alexander (Tatiana von Benckendorff) writer, theatrical adviser, born January 15 1915; died December 5 2004

Joanna