Given her role in late-nineteenth century Russian society, Rashel Mironovna Khin might be cast as Eastern Europe’s “salon Jewess.” Like her counterparts in the West—Rahel Varnhagen, Dorothea Mendelssohn Schlegel and others of eighteenth-century Berlin—Khin presided over a coterie of women and men, Jews and gentiles, gathered together for a social and intellectual event. As a wealthy, educated and cultivated Jewish woman, Khin created in her home an ambiance that lent itself to social mingling of a type unprecedented in Imperial Russia. She regularly entertained famous philosophers and jurists, prominent artists and literary giants, among them none other than Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883), the famous author of Fathers and Sons, who acted as mentor to his hostess. With his encouragement, Khin became a published short story writer and playwright, whose works were performed at Moscow’s celebrated Malyi Theater.
Rashel Khin was born on March 9, 1861 to Rebekka Emanuilovna and Miron Markovich (d. 1897), an affluent member of the Jewish merchant class. A move to Moscow from Gorki in the Mogilev province (present-day Belorussia) in the late 1860s enabled the Khins to enroll their daughter in the girls’ third gymnasium (1877–1880). Upon her graduation, imbued with the Romantic ideal to “go to the people,” Khin headed to St. Petersburg with a plan to enroll at the “Women’s Medical Courses” in order to prepare for a career in midwifery. Khin attended the courses only briefly, since they were shut down by order of the Minister of War a year after she arrived. Khin then took up study of the humanities at the Collège de France and the Sorbonne in Paris. She completed a three-year course in history and literature, all the while engaging in a mentor-disciple relationship with Ivan Turgenev.
By the 1880s, when the two met, Khin was entering the literary arena. Though Turgenev did not live to witness her professional prosperity (d. 1883), the list of her literary achievements is impressive. Writing in Russian, she contributed a dozen short stories and novellas in the realist style to popular journals for a general Russian audience and to publications addressed to Jewish readers. She also translated into Russian the works of such notables as George Sand (1804–1876) and Émile Zola (1840–1902) (and even met the latter in person). Her work was regularly reviewed in the Russian press and the Russian-Jewish press. Two collections of her short stories appeared in print and two of her five plays appeared on the Moscow stage. While most of her writing is peopled with the gentile middle- and upper-middle class, she paid particular attention to the interior world of women in general and made occasional forays into the Jewish world as well.
Throughout her life Khin maintained a complicated relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people. To her mind, two distinct sorts of Jews existed in Imperial Russia: the aristocrat and the plebian. The former were educated at the finest gymnasia and universities of Russia or Europe, schooled in the manners of the West, easily blended with the intellectual and cultural elite of their countries and resided, so far as Russia was concerned, within its interior. Those of the latter were ignorant of the civilizing ways and ideas of modernity, vulgar in dress and behavior, a conspicuous embarrassment to their refined brothers and sisters, and resided in the Pale of Settlement. From childhood, Khin was immersed in Russian culture and society, but as an adult she began to take an avid interest in things Jewish as mounting restrictions and then full-blown violence against Jews goaded her to action. At some point during the 1880s, Khin converted to Christianity in order to escape from her brief, and apparently unbearable, marriage to Solomon Feldshtein, a lawyer who refused to grant her a divorce. Since Jewish law generally prohibits a woman from initiating a divorce and Russian law regards a marriage between a Jew and a Christian as dissolved, her apostasy might be viewed as an end in itself. That is, she converted to seek neither professional advancement nor spiritual sustenance.
Nevertheless, Khin’s primary social group remained the philosophers, literary figures and, most notably, jurists of the Russian intelligentsia. She gained access to the latter primarily through her husbands, both of whom were attorneys. Little is known of her first marriage, which took place in 1881, was dissolved within 5 years and produced one son, Mikhail. Khin then married Osip Borisovich Goldovski, with whom she had no children. Like his wife, Goldovski was an apostate who converted for practical reasons. In order to marry Khin, who was now a Catholic, he could not maintain his status as Jew. So he became a Protestant. Yet Goldovski refused to use his new status to advance his legal career from apprentice to full member of the bar. He did, however, become involved politically as a founding member of the Constitutional Democrats (Kadets).
Whatever Khin’s political leanings, she fled Russia for France shortly after the Revolution of 1905. But she could not stay away from her homeland and returned in 1914, pledging involvement in the political experiment then sweeping through Russia. Upon her return, she was caught up in the daily struggle for survival. Her writing became circumscribed to miscellaneous correspondence and the daily diary she kept until 1917. In the eleven-year gap from her final diary entry to her death on December 28, 1928, we never hear from Khin again, nor do we have any details regarding her place of death and burial.
SELECTED WORKS BY RASHEL MIRONOVNA KHIN
All the works were written in Russian. (Other bylines: R.F____ shtein)
Silhouettes. Moscow: 1894, 3rd edition St. Petersburg: 1902; Downhill: Short Stories. Moscow: 1900.
Desire to Die. Prizyv. Moscow: 1897; Budding Sprouts. Moscow: 1905; Under the Protection of Penates. Moscow: 1907; Inheritors. 1911 (?); Drifting Ice. Moscow: 1917.
Short Stories and Articles (arranged chronologically)
“Silhouettes.” Russkaia mysl’ (1886): 8–9; “From Side to Side.” Drug zhenshchin (1883): 2–3, 4–6; “The Fate of a Russian Girl.” Drug zhenshchin 2 (1883); “A few words about Turgenev.” Drug zhenshchin 2 (1884); “The Misfit.” Voskhod (1886); “Makarka.” Voskhod 4 (1889); “On an Old Theme.” Severnyi vestnik 1 (1890); “Natasha Krinitskaia.” Russkoe obozrienie 6 (1891); “Antoinette” (from French of L. Halevi). Russkie vedomosti 146 (1891); “In Defense of Jews” (from the French of Émile Zola) and “Russia” (from the French of Georg Brandes). Pomoshch’ evreiam. St. Petersburg: 1891; “Makarka.” With Nikolai Ivanovich Naumov’s “V glukhom’ mestechke.” Moscow: 1895; “She Made Her Place.” Vestnik Evropy (1896); “Depths.” Russkie vedomosti 356 (1896); “Dreamer.” Sbornik v pol’zu nachal’nykh evreiskikh shkol. St. Petersburg: 1896; “Elka.” Russkie vedomosti 295 (1898); “Solitude.” Vestnik Evropy (1899); “Chapters from unpublished notes.” Moscow: 1901; “Hamlet” (from the French of George Sand). Sbornik na pomoshch’ uchashchimsia zhenshchinam. Moscow: 1901; “Phenomenon.” Mir bozhii (1903); “Memory book of A.I. Urosov.” Kniaz’ Aleksandr Ivanovich Urusov. Vols. 2 and 3. Moscow: 1907; “The Final Years of N. I. Storozhenko.” Pamiati N.I. Storozhenko. Moscow: 1909; “French Writers in the Franco-Prussian War.” Golos minuvshego 11 (1914); “Memories of an Old Friend.” Pamiati A.F. Koni. Leningrad–Moscow: 1929.
Balin, Carole. “Insider-Outsider among the Russian Cultural Elite: Rashel Mironovna Khin (1861–1928).” In To Reveal Our Hearts: Jewish Women Writers in Tsarist Russia. New York: 2000, 84–123.
Among her papers are a voluminous diary and memoir. Her papers are at RGALI (Russian State Archive of Literature and Art), Moscow, fond 128, opis 1 and 2.
Khin’s letters to Turgenev appear in Pis’ma Turgenevu (1909): 207–210. His short letters to her are found among her archival holdings: RGALI, f. 128, op. 1, d. 107 (Apr. 17–Aug. 19, 1881).
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Balin, Carole B.. "Rashel Mironovna Khin." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 22, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/khin-rashel-mironovna>.