Reissner's Hamburg at the Barricades

Appendix: A Most Absurd Death

by Viktor Shklovsky

It's very hard to write this. The past tense is so unsuitable for the dead woman. How can you write about a person when their accounting period has not closed. A most absurd death. There was Gorky in frock-coat and crew-cut. Sly, all-knowing Sukhanov. A quite young Mayakovsky. Today there aren't such young people.

Then there was Larissa Reissner.

With blond plaits. A northern face. Shyness and self-assurance.

She wrote reviews for Letopis and a verse-drama which was as it had to be at the age of nineteen, of world-wide significance, Atlantis, I think.

We were then moving into the world as into a new flat.

Larissa Mikhailovna adored skating. She liked people to see her at the rink. And then she was working on the very amateur student magazines Rudin, I think it was, and Bohem.

As a writer, Reissner matured slowly, like a northerner.

Then the revolution. Like wind in a sail.

Larissa was among those who took the St. Peter and Paul Fortress. Not a difficult assault. But the fortress had to be approached. To have the faith that the gates would open.

The first meeting of Novaya Zhizn. Reissner was saying something or other. Steklov was horrified and kept asking people near him: 'Is she a marxist?' And at that time Larissa Mikhailovna was already taking part, I believe, in the Russian spelling reform.

Then she was not a thinker, she was twenty-two. She was talented and dared to live. People think they are eating a lot of life when they're only sampling it.

Reissner was greedy for life. And in life she filled her sail ever wider.

She tacked her course close to the wind.

She could describe the Winter Palace very well. She could see its comic side. She was with the Bolsheviks when to us they seemed a sect. Blok had said bitterly: the majority of humanity are 'Right S.R.s'.

I remember Larissa Mikhailovna at the Loskutnaya Hotel. She was then Raskolnikov's wife. The fleet was lying almost in the Moscow River.

It was almost embarrassingly crowded.

I was in the enemy camp. When I had re-considered things and come back Larissa greeted me as the finest comrade. With her benign northern bearing that was somehow good.

Then she went off to the Volga with the flotilla.

She eagerly packed up her life together as if strapping it all up to go off to another planet.

Raskolnikov's torpedo-boats slipped across the sandbanks and traced a red line along the Volga.

There on the campaigns Larissa Reissner found her literary style.

It was not a woman's style of writing. It was not the journalist's habitual irony.

Irony's a cheap way of being clever.

Larissa Mikhailovna held dear what she saw and took life in earnest. A little ponderously and overloadedly. But life itself was then as overloaded as a railway wagon.

Reissner grew slowly and didn't grow old. She didn't fully perfect her touch. The best things she wrote were done just recently. The fine descriptions of Ullsteins and the Junkers plants. Germany she understood very well.

Here was a true reporter who did not see with editorial eyes.

The culture of a pupil of the Acmeists and Symbolists had given Larissa Reissner the knack of seeing things.

In Russian journalism hers is the style that has most left behind the style of the book.

That was because she was one of the most cultured.

That is how lavishly this journalist was created.

Larissa Mikhailovna had only just begun to write. She did not believe in herself, she kept re-educating herself.

Her best article is about Baron Steingel. (The Decembrists is, I think, only now being published.)

She had just taught herself not to describe or name her theme but to unfold it.

And that is the strange face in a familiar room at the Press House.

She was seen there so many times !

A living piece of Russian journalism seems to have been ripped away with the teeth.

Friends will never forget Larissa Reissner.