Ruf' Zernova: Elizabet Arden and the Campaign against Rootless Cosmopolitans

Natalie Smith, University of Texas

Naturally an enduring question for Soviet-Jewish emigres of the Third-Wave has been what is Jewishness? What does it mean to be Jewish? This paper examines questions of Jewish identity as raised in Ruf' Zernova's novella Elizabet Arden. This particular novella reveals its author's often contradictory orientation toward Jewish identity as experienced by Soviet Jews. Whether the setting is the political centers of Leningrad or Jerusalem, or whether the action leads us to spaces peripheral within the Soviet Union—the Baltic or further away to the Gulag—alienation is a key to understanding this orientation. Within Elizabet Arden, alienation takes many forms, including estrangement from mainstream, non-Jewish society, from various Jewish communities, and from oneself.

Zernova's novella Elizabet Arden is a thinly-disguised memoir of post-W.W.II Leningrad and boasts only rudiments of a plot. The organizing motif is instead the unnamed heroine's visits to a beautician, whom she names Elizabeth Arden in honor of her fine, imported cosmetics. Between visits to the beauty shop in the Evropeiskaja Hotel, the heroine recounts in the first person the many Soviet Jewish responses to anti-Semitism. In this politically charged history, Zernova chooses "Elizabeth Arden

The novella ends with the heroine's liberation after Stalin's death, thus Zernova ends her story with hope for the future. In its testimony about Soviet anti-Semitism, the novella stands against Stalin's regime as a demand that Zernova's humanity—that all Jews' humanity—be recognized. As I will show, the personal tale of the heroine's descent into the bowels of the gulag system and resurrection by the 1954 amnesty parallels Zernova's hopes for a Jewish revival in Israel.