OBITUARY:Esther Salaman

Knowing no English, but armed with a recommendation to Sir Ernest Rutherford from Albert Einstein, Esther Polianowski arrived in Cambridge in 1925.

Though she was only 25, she had already had an adventurous life in three very different countries. At 19 she had left Russia to escape from civil war and persecution of Jewish people, and joined a group of pioneer settlers in Palestine. Returning to the Russian border two years later, she succeeded in first locating and then bringing out her widowed mother and four siblings to Palestine. She later leftfor Berlin, where she gained admission to the Physics Faculty of the university. Einstein, one of her professors there, advised her to leave Germany after graduating and go to Cambridge.

She was helped to take up a research studentship at the Cavendish Laboratory by a Jewish philanthropist, Redcliffe Salaman FRS. Through him she met his son Myer, who was to be her husband for 68 years. When they married she gave up her studentship, not wishing to make a career in sciences but to devote herself to literature.

She was fluent in Russian and spoke Hebrew and German well, but she had now committed herself to life in England. That she actually succeeded in writing and publishing her first novel, Two Silver Roubles (1932) in English within six years might seem incredible to anyone who did not know her husband. Myer Salaman was a scientist, but also a cultured man with great literary skill and with an uncanny insight into his wife's thoughts and feelings. Even Esther's second novel, The Fertile Plain (1956), though written much later, owed a great deal to their literary collaboration. Another source of encouragement was the poet Frances Cornford. She was a close friend, and published a collection of Poems from the Russian with Esther Salaman in 1943.

The Fertile Plain is a fascinating reminiscence of Esther's childhood in a Ukrainian Jewish timber-merchant's family, and it set her off on an extensive study of the way in which other writers tap their earliest memories and recreate them in fiction and autobiography. Her knowledge of 19th-century Russian and English literature was profound, and she now also immersed herself for many years in the works of Proust.

It was characteristic of her independent cast of mind that she always preferred to draw on the original writings of her chosen subjects rather than those of critics and academics. Two very individual books resulted. A Collection of Moments (1970) deals specifically with involuntary memories - her own, and those of other writers who wrote about their early childhood. The Great Confession (1973) explores in greater depth the use of memory by four of these: Aksakov, De Quincey, Tolstoy and Proust.

Though she was no doubt saddened by the fact that none of her books was a popular success, she never regretted abandoning physics and becoming a writer. It was to her an absolute necessity.

Dolf Polak

Esther Polianowski, writer: born Zhitomir, Ukraine 6 January 1900; married 1926 Myer Salaman (died 1994; one son, three daughters); died London 9 November 1995.

ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments