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Elaine Feinstein obituary

Elaine Feinstein, who has died aged 88, was a novelist, dramatist, biographer and, most of all, a poet whose own work often attracted less attention than her groundbreaking translations of Russian poetry, in particular the work of Marina Tsvetaeva.

Born in 1930, Feinstein grew up in Leicester where she began writing poems from an early age. At the end of the Second World War she was very affected by news of the death camps. “In this year I became Jewish for the first time,” she said.

Although best known as a poet, Feinstein’s work also included 14 novels, radio plays, television dramas and biographies of literary figures, including Russian poets Marina Tsvetaeva, Anna Akhmatova and Alexander Pushkin. Feinstein was very much inspired by her Russian-Jewish heritage – she had four Russian grandparents.

Feinstein was given a major grant from the Arts Council to write her most recent novel, The Russian Jerusalem, a phantasmagoric mix of prose and poetry (Carcanet, 2008). She served on the Council of the Royal Society of Literature, of which she was a Fellow, as a judge for most of the current literary prizes, and as Chair of the Judges for the T S Eliot Award. 

I’m not a polemic writer, not a campaigner. I don’t want to teach anything. What matters to me is to record and express how it feels to be alive to make words that will stand for all time.
Elaine Feinstein speaking to The Jewish Chronicle in 1994