from Jeff Fleischer of Forward Reviews:
"Sofia Panina’s life was full of interesting intersections. A countess born into wealth, she became a popular political figure, only to run afoul of the Bolshevik government. Adele Lindenmeyr’s biography of Sofia Panina, Citizen Countess, focuses on how Panina was often torn between competing forces.
In her childhood, Panina’s grandmother made an effort to separate Panina and her inherited fortune from her politically active mother, educating her at a top boarding school. Her education and connections led her to open the Ligovsky People’s House, the hub for various charity efforts on behalf of the working class, from promoting education to fighting prostitution.
That work brought Panina into political circles. As socialist and liberal groups held meetings and rallies at the People’s House, she earned the nickname “The Red Countess” for her opposition to the tsar. After the February Revolution toppled the monarchy and aristocracy, Panina was a logical candidate for political office. Appointed to the center-left Kadet Party’s central committee, she soon became the first woman in history—Russian or otherwise—to serve as a cabinet minister.
But Panina’s high profile and efforts to keep the provisional government going made her a target of the Bolshevik coup. The most gripping parts of the book cover Panina’s arrest and trial, in which the countess’s own accounts and dialogue from the courtroom illustrate the precariousness of her position. Even those sympathetic to her were willing to treat her as collateral damage for the revolution. Still, her reputation meant that she received minor punishment and was able to flee abroad.
Along with copious research, Lindenmeyr makes good use of Panina’s writings in exile to help tell her important story. Citizen Countess is a valuable biography about a woman who embodied the divides of revolutionary Russia."
New Books Network Podcast
Author Adele Lindenmeyr is interviewed about her work on "Citizen Countess" and answers questions about the life and times of Countess Sofia Panina.
Heiress, Political Prisoner, Reformer, Refugee:
Villanova Dean’s New Book Chronicles Russian Countess's Extraordinary Life
VILLANOVA, Pa. – She was born into a wealthy aristocratic family and dubbed “Russia’s Jane Addams” for her passion for improving the lives of urban workers. She became the first woman in world history to hold a cabinet position, and the first political prisoner to face the Bolsheviks’ terrifying revolutionary tribunal. Countess Sofia Panina was one of the most remarkable women of the generation that made the Russian Revolution, and now her life story has finally been fully told.
In Citizen Countess: Sofia Panina and the Fate of Revolutionary Russia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2019), the first-ever biography of Panina, Adele Lindenmeyr, PhD, Dean of Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, brings her subject vividly to life. Readers today will connect with the story of a woman who was challenged to constantly reinvent herself, from her early years as one of Russia’s most eligible heiresses to her final decades devoted to humanitarian projects in Europe and the US assisting refugees whose lives—like her own—had been upended by war and revolution.
“Sofia Panina is one of most important women of the twentieth century that you’ve never heard of,” says Dr. Lindenmeyr. “Her life documents the successful struggle of so many women in the modern era to emancipate themselves from restrictive class and gender norms.”
Based on Dr. Lindenmeyr’s 20 years of detailed research in numerous archival collections, Citizen Countess establishes Sofia Panina as an astute eyewitness to and passionate participant in the historical events that shaped her life. Her experiences shed light on the evolution of the European nobility, women’s emancipation and political influence of the time, and the fate of Russian liberalism as an alternative to violent revolution.
“A compelling read!” notes reviewer Laura Engelstein, PhD, Henry S. McNeil Professor Emerita of Russian History at Yale University. “Feminist aristocrat, social-minded philanthropist, female cabinet minister, ‘class enemy,’ rootless émigré, US citizen, Sofia Panina’s story, embodying revolutionary Russia’s liberal dreams, abounds in contradictions. Its twists and turns and her own dramatic fate are vividly brought to life in Lindenmeyr’s brilliant feat of scholarly detective work.”
An expert in Russian history, Dr. Lindenmeyr is the author of Poverty is not a Vice: Charity, Society and the State in Imperial Russia (Princeton University Press, 1996) and coeditor of Russia’s Home Front in War and Revolution, 1914–1922 (Slavica Publications, 2018). She has presented her research at several international conferences, including the annual Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, (ASEES), the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute Seminar on the 1917 Russian Revolution and the University of Notre Dame Workshop on the Russian Revolution of 1917. She received her PhD in History from Princeton University.
Citizen Countess will be the subject of a book discussion and roundtable on Sunday, November 24 at 10 a.m. at the 2019 ASEEES Convention in San Francisco. Dr. Lindenmeyr will offer a reading of Citizen Countess on Wednesday, February 5, 2020 at 4:30 p.m. at Falvey Memorial Library on Villanova’s campus. It is free and open to the public.
For more information on the book, please visit www.sofiapanina.com.
About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenging and changing world. With more than 40 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.