On its face, the long life of Ivy Litvinov (1889-1977), the little-known wife of a famous man, combined decided improbability with curious irrelevance. So unlikely was what happened to her, and so resolutely minor a figure did she remain, that one can only admire John Carswell, her new and loving English biographer,[1] for attempting to make everything sensible and significant. Why he has essayed the task at all is perhaps a subject for Mr. Carswell’s own biographer; our concern here must be with the heroine herself.

She was born Ivy Low, the part-Jewish daughter of a second-rate intellectual jack-of-all-trades who had the good fortune (for his reputation in the eyes of the world and for the esteem of his daughter) to die young. She had, not surprisingly, an unhappy and confined Victorian childhood, which she nevertheless managed to ride into a youthful...

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