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Correspondence of Olga Novikova

Call Number: MS 30


Collection of correspondence written to Olga Novikova, a 19th century cosmopolitan Pan-Slavic lobbyist, from influential English and European members of her salon.


  • Creation: 1862-1910, undated


Language of Materials

English, French, some Russian and German

Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Olga Novikova, 1840-1925

Olga Aleksieevna Kirieeva, who used the initials OK, was born in 1840 into the Russian upper-class. She had two brothers, Alexander (1833-1910) and Nicholas (who died in 1876). She was brought up in court circles with a variety of foreign governnesses, and in 1860 she married Ivan Novikov, taking the feminine form of his name, Novikova. Novikov was nominally following a military career (and became a general), but was interested in educational administration, and became Curator of St. Petersburg University.

In spring 1861 the couple had a child, Alexander (Sasha). In 1862 Novikova entered court and salon society in St. Petersburg, where she was a confidante of Lord Napier, the British Ambassador, and a disciple of Count Keyserling, the Estonian scholar. She was in her youth greatly interested in theology and science, but in mid-1862 her brother Alexander was sent to Poland, which was in a state of rebellion. She seems at this time to have developed an interest in international politics, and conceived the need for a Russian spokesman in England, and an English spokesman in Russia.

During the Anglo-Russian crises between 1876 and 1904 Novikova (also spelled Novikoff by her correspondents) was an unofficial lobbyist in England for Russia and for the Pan-Slavic cause; she also took great interest in the "Old Catholic" movement. She published books and newspaper articles on these and allied subjects, largely in English. She was a cosmopolitan Russian, spending part of her year in Russia, part at Continental spas and capitals, and part in England, where she established a political-literary-scientific-theological-diplomatic-social salon from 1873-1904. Her coterie included influential Europeans and Englishmen.

In 1886 OK began a correspondence with Max Nordau, a young many-sided social critic who was to become the Grand Old Man of Zionism; in 1888 they began a sporadic affair. In 1890, Novikova's husband died. By 1915, OK seems to have settled permanently in London with “one of her nieces.” She continued writing and died in England in 1925.


6.5 Linear Feet (11 document cases containing 1,683 letters and related items)

Scope and Contents

Many letters in the collection are brief social notes, but many also reflect the broad range of the correspondents' intellectual and personal interests; most are remarkably frank. Although an atmosphere of courtly love pervades the correspondence, Novikoff is in general treated as an intellectual equal.

The bulk of the correspondence was written by William Ewart Gladstone, Francis Napier, A. W. Kinglake, James Anthony Froude, Alexander Keyserling, Frederick Beust, Emile Laveleye, and Max Nordau. Other correspondents include Dufferin, Villiers, Clarendon, Andrassy, Stanhope, Tyndall, Freeman, Vlangali, Paulina Irby, Campbell-Bannerman, Lyall, Charlemont, Bulwer [Dalling], Whittingham, Lever, Stratford, Norden, Spottiswoode, Stead, Trevelyan, Sir William Smith, King, Hill, Mrs. Bell, and Lady Taylor. The authorship of items in the Villiers section is questionable. Only 18 items in the collection were written by Novikova, or OK, herself.

Subjects covered include the political arena: British (national, local, and external); Russian; Austrian; Balkan; German; and French politics. Topics include both political theory and political gossip, as well as international relations, theology and political theology (the Old Catholics; the position of Jewish people). Other topics include philosophy: philosophy of science, of education, and of religion; as well as natural history, medicine, publishing, theatre, and the life of the international intellectual community.

The collection provides a glimpse of daily life in Great Britain from 1867-1896, of the Russian court in the early 1860s, of Estonia in 1868-1887, Belgrium in the mid-1870s-1880s, Paris in 1886-1906, and India in 1866-1872. Correspondents provide gossip about frequenters of European courts, capitals, spas, resorts, embassies, as well as personal reflections.

Forms include 1598 handwritten letters (many unsigned; a few by amanuenses, some fragmentary, some on printed forms, about half accompanied by envelopes: most envelopes have postmark mutilated by removal of stamp); 43 pieces of other original material, including poems, belles-lettres, memoranda, prescription, stray envelopes, invitations, calling-cards; 3 pieces of printed material (L:184, L:199, N:147.); 3 photographs (2 of OK [Af]; 1 of Kinglake [J:484].); 18 article clippings with some annotations (Zb), as well as corresponding photocopies (Za).


Section A contains material by and photographs of Novikova; Sections B-R each contain a group of letters to OK by a single correspondent; Section S contains one-letter correspondents; Section T contains letters neither from nor to OK; and Section Z contains clippings.

Each Section is arranged roughly chronologically (except for Sections A, B, and Z).

Physical Location

MS 30

Other Finding Aids

An alphabetical index of correspondents located in the collection is available at

Detailed contents lists for the entire collection are available at,, and

Appendices from the original collection calendar, including a chronological index, a listing of Novikova's addresses, and Farley's partial description of the Kinglake correspondence, is available at

For further biographical information and background on certain of Novikova's correspondents (Gladstone, Napier, Kinglake, Froude, Keyserling, Beust, Laveleye, Nordau, Dufferin, Villiers, Clarendon, Stanhope, Tyndall, Paulina Irby, Campbell-Bannerman, and Lyall), see

Custodial History

A group of approximately 1,650 (?) items were bought from the bookseller Wreden in 1954 (invoiced as 1,490 pieces); he believes he bought them from the bookseller Francis Edwards. This group was roughly sorted by correspondent: the present series are based on that rough sort. Many items are marked in red or blue crayon-pencil, apparently by OK or Stead in preparation for the biography. Broken runs of numbers inscribed in various hands imply that some series previously contained more items. Section L came separately from Wreden in 1955.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bulk of collection: purchase, William P. Wreden, 1954, 1955.

Item Ae:1 was bought from Carnegie Book Shop in 1964; Ae:2 was gift of Rice Institute from their Frank H. Hall collection (bought from Myers and Co) in 1955; Ae:3 and Af:1 are of unknown source, but apparently together; Ae:4 and S:2 bought from Myers and Co., in 1955; Af:2 bought from the bookseller I.K. Fletcher 184:53 in 1958. One letter from Gladstone to "Mme. Novikoff" (otherwise unidentified) was offered by Myers and Co. to KU August 19, 1955 and purchased August 29, 1955.

Photocopies of the 18 clippings were added by KU on May 7, 1984 as Za.

Related Materials

W.T. Stead, Novikova's friend and editor, published a biography of her in 1909 (The MP for Russia). He had her help, and access to many (but not all) of these letters (presumably then still in her hands); he also had access to letters not represented here. He included a number of extracts and full texts, sometimes grossly inaccurate, but the majority of the letters located at Spencer Research Library remain unpublished.

Guide to the Novikova Collection
Correspondence of Olga Novikova
Finding aid prepared by alh, May 8,1984. Finding aid encoded by skt, 2005. Finding aid revised by mwh, 2019.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Correspondence of Olga Novikova, MS 30, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States