Moura Budberg

This blog focuses on women and promotes female solidarity. To better understand our role as women today, it helps to better understand our past.

In a patriarchal society, history is written by men. Thus the way women are remembered and interpreted is generally tainted with male subjectivity. That’s why, for the past few years, I’ve tried to focus on books about women and/or written by them as I’ve been reading books written by men all my life. In middle school, the only required reading written by a female author was “The Diary of Anne Frank”.  As for high school, I don’t remember any female authors at all. On my own I read “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights”. Maybe because I went to American schools, not even Jane Austin or Virginia Woolf were on the reading list. It wasn’t until, several years ago, I read “The Great Cosmic Mother” that I realized how much my image of myself as a woman had been manipulated by the patriarchal society I was living in.

moura budberg book cover b

Moura Budberg was addicted to intensity and intrigue and was willing to do whatever it took to survive. Even live as a spy. A Russian Mata Hari, Moura (1893-1974) was born an aristocrat. Her wealthy family had connections with the Tzar, Nicholas II, and socialized with the elite. Moura had a British nanny so she grew up speaking English. But she also spoke, aside from Russian, German, French, and Italian. The knowledge of these languages would prove important in the realm of political intrigue as well as provide Moura with an opportunity to earn a living as a translator.

At the age of 18, Moura married an Estonian aristocrat who had a diplomatic post in Berlin. And for a few years, Moura had a privileged and magical lifestyle. Then, in 1914, everything changed. Tzar Nicholas and his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm were now at war on opposing sides. Plus there were uprisings in Russian that would lead to the Bolshevik killing of the Tzar and his family.

The world Moura had grown up in no longer existed. Boundaries were blurred—nobody knew whose side anyone was on anymore. There was nothing stable save for chaos.

Survival, says Darwin, is based on the ability to adapt. So for the next 60 years, Moura transformed herself into a chameleon changing herself in anyway necessary for survival.

As a young woman, Moura was tall, slender, with Slavic cheekbones and feline eyes. Not only was she physically attractive, she had an incredible wit and an ability to hold people’s attention. Moura was a mesmerizer. And she learned how to mesmerize for survival.

It was around this time that she fell in love with Robert Lockhart, a British agent. Although they would eventually go separate ways because of circumstances, it was a love that dominated her heart until her death. But even in love, Moura had numerous lovers and  numerous reason for having them.

Once the Bolsheviks gained power, survival became increasingly difficult. At one point Moura found herself homeless but had the fortune of being taken into the household of Maxim Gorky, Russian writer, founder of social-realist literature, and a political activist. Moura became Gorky’s secretary, translator, mistress, and head of his household. During the 1920s, Gorky’s political views had him exiled so the household moved to Sorrento. When Moura realized that the fascists were following her around, she demanded a meeting with Mussolini. Il Duce explained that the fact that an aristocrat such as herself was living with a socialist made him very suspicious of her. People change, she responded, just like you have. She pointed out that Mussolini himself had been a socialist working for a left-wing newspaper until he invented fascism. Amused by her response, Mussolini said he would mellow out on her surveillance. Nevertheless, Moura was ready to leave Italy and began organizing a move to England.

Via Gorky, Moura met H. G. Wells who fell in love with her. Moura was almost 30 years younger than Wells and came into his life long after he’d become famous for his science fiction novels such as ”The Time Machine”, “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The War of the Worlds”. But despite his vast imagination, Wells was unable to imagine who the real Moura was. She refused to become his wife but, for about 20 years, she and Wells were lovers and companions.

After Wells’ death, Moura needed additional income. She became a matriarchal hostess always giving parties in her modest Kensington apartment. Her little salon gave her the chance to keep up her contacts as well as make new ones. Moura continued working as a translator but also began working with Sir Alexander Korda, a filmmaker with a dubious reputation. Now with access to the film environment, Moura took on other film related jobs such as that of a researcher, technical advisor, and film script writer. Her friend Peter Ustinov even gave her a small acting role in his comedy “Romanoff and Juliet”.

Moura’s final years were mild-mannered and sad. When, because of poor health she understood she would soon die, Moura left London to stay with her son living in Italy. Here she died a short time afterwards at the age of 82.

Moura’s presence was a bit too baroque for my tastes. However, I do admire her commitment to life and her determination to do whatever necessary to survive. She was courageous and not a quitter. Of course, Moura made some unfortunate compromises which is easy for me to say sitting here at our dining room table surrounded by plants and yellow walls that reflect the sunlight—I have never been without a home or a meal. Or surrounded by Bolsheviks ready to put me in prison. So context redefines compromise. Just as context defines basically everything. Which brings me to the following consideration:

Women need to change the context in which they evaluate themselves. Pity that we live in a patriarchal culture that expects people to adapt instead of changing the context.

Bibliography :A VERY DANGEROUS WOMAN  by Deborah McDonald & Jeremy Dronfield


Related: Empathy and Ecofeminism + THE COLLECTED SHORT STORIES OF MAXIM GORKY on + H. G. WELLS, ANOTHER KIND OF LIFE on + TWICE BORN IN RUSSIA (by Natalia Petrova aka Moura) on + Agent Moura YOUTUBE + My Secret Agent Auntie        + THE LADIES FROM ST. PETERSBURG

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