Harvard Slavic mourns the passing of our valued colleague Galina Alexandrovna Shabelsky. Galina Alexandrovna was a longtime member of the Slavic Department who taught rigorous advanced courses in Russian language and literature at Harvard for nearly twenty years, training many undergraduates and graduate students, including a current member of the department’s senior faculty. Passionate about theater, Galina Alexandrovna designed and directed ambitious student productions in Russian, among them Gogol’s “Inspector General” and Evgeny Shvarts’s “The Dragon,” which were performed for an appreciative Harvard audience. Her former students will remember her generous willingness to provide extra help outside of class, as well as invitations to her home in Brookline to enjoy home-cooked Russian feasts. In the Soviet Union prior to her emigration to the U.S., Galina Alexandrovna was an accomplished Russian philologist with significant scholarly achievements, and although her career prospects were affected by emigration, she nevertheless found new and creative ways to put her professional training to uses that contributed in meaningful ways to the field of Russian literary studies.
Galina Alexandrovna in the 1950s
Galina Alexandrovna Shabelsky was born in Leningrad in 1930. She was proud of her family heritage, which included Russian aristocracy on her father’s side, especially her two aunts who were ballerinas, one with the Ballets Russes. Galina Alexandrovna received her doctorate in Russian Philology from the Herzen Pedagogical Institute in then-Leningrad, submitting her dissertation on the writer Mikhail Prishvin in 1957. (Subsequently, she wanted very much to work on and publish Prishvin’s diaries, but they were not available to her at the time.) Galina Alexandrovna was a student of D. E. Maksimov with whom she later worked as a collaborator.
In the early 1960s, Galina Alexandrovna was part of a scholarly team producing the 8-vol. collected works of Aleksandr Blok (1960-63, Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literature). Her contributions were part of Volumes 5 and 6, featuring prose works, for which she prepared the texts and commentary. From 1967-78, Galina Alexandrovna served as Associate Professor at the University of Leningrad, Department of Russian Language and Literature, and worked as an editor for the Leningrad branch of the State Publishing House of Belles-Lettres, as well as for Leningrad Television Studios.
Galina Alexandrovna and her husband Leonard Shvartsman
Galina Alexandrovna married Leonard Shvartsman, a physicist and a teacher from Odessa, in the early 1970s. (He died in 2001.) Galina Alexandrovna and her husband came to the U.S. in 1979, part of “third wave” of emigration from Russia. Initially, she worked as an instructor at Middlebury Summer School (1979) and later at the Boston Language Institute (1982-85). She was then an Adjunct Associate Professor at Boston University (1984-87). Galina Alexandrovna became an active part of the Russian literary community in the Boston area, and her acquaintances there included the scholars A. V. and G. E. Tamarchenko. In the mid-1990s, Galina Alexandrovna and her husband bought a small house in Dennis on Cape Cod, where they loved to entertain friends.
Galina Alexandrovna with Iakov Gordin (senior editor of the journal Zvezda) and his wife Natalia Rakhmanova, a translator. Behind them is her longtime friend, the poet Alexander Kushner.
Galina Alexandrovna particularly valued connecting people she knew with one another. She and her husband had numerous visitors from Russia in the 1990s, after the break-up of the Soviet Union made travel to the U.S. more feasible.
Galina Alexandrovna became part of the Harvard Slavic Department in 1986 as a Russian language and literature preceptor, and continued in this role into the early 2000s. Her courses included Intermediate and Advanced Intermediate Russian, as well as Advanced Composition, Advanced Russian: Topics in Russian Culture, and Advanced Russian: Readings in Russian Literature. Galina Alexandrovna also taught in the Harvard Division of Continuing Education at the Extension School in the 2000s. After retirement, Galina Alexandrovna took on private students, primarily young people, and often for free, sometimes working with a particular student for several years on end.
We will remember her kindness and generosity, and her dedication to a life’s mission of studying and teaching Russian literature, language, and culture.
Galina Alexandrovna with some familiar faces from the Slavic Department.