Lydia Mortill – files from RGALI archive

Remember the story of Lydia Mortill?

RGALI FILE - ф. 677 оп. 1 ед. хр. 4085 Личное дело Клягиной Лидии Александровны.
RGALI FILE – ф. 677 оп. 1 ед. хр. 4085 Личное дело Клягиной Лидии Александровны.

Two weeks after publishing the first article about her I have contacted the RGALI (Russian State Archive of Literature and Art) and obtained a copy of her file.  There is not much information –  just 2 pages, but many clues.

The first page is the cover “Дело” (i.e. the Personal file).

Second page is the 1910 request to accept Lydia as a student at Imperial Stroganovsky Central Art College.  Apparently she submitted the birth record with this application.  The birth record did not survive but we have the correct birth date – 10 November 1890.

This is contrary to Lydia’s age mentioned throughout the book “The lost mother” by Anne Summers. The main known official record about Lydia at the time of writing the book was her marriage certificate to Hardy.  She listed herself as 23-year-old spinster on 18 January 1916, meaning she shredded 3 years from her real age. She was 26 years old when she married 21-year-old Dudley Hardy.

The second document attached to this application is the record of Lydia finishing 7th and 8th classes of the female gymnasium of Pototskoy.

She is also accepted as an amateur and not as a full-time student (“student” is crossed out in an application).

An additional handwritten page is the most important.  It states her birth date and her father’s name, Secretary of Gubernia, Aleksandr Alekseevich Klyagin.

My next step is to check the information from the archive. I start with the female gymnasium.

Female gymnasium of Varvara Vasilyevna Pototskaya

The building where the Female College of Pototskoy rented the space
The building at Malaya Dmitrovka 23 where the Female College of Pototskoy rented the space

I enter the college name into Google and straight away find the location of the gymnasium in the centre of Moscow. At first, the gymnasium was located at Strastnoy Boulevard, 5, and by 1909 moved into Malaya Dmitrovka, 23, the building which was famous for many reasons.

The teachers at gymnasium were Nikolay Vladimirovich Chekhov, Pyotr Semyonovich Kogan (Russian historian of literature, literary critic and translator) and others.  I remembered the discussion Anne Summers had on page 252 of the book:  “She could not possibly have known the Russian playwright Chekhov”.  Of course, not.  It was her teacher Nikolay Vladimirovich Chekhov- possibly Anton Chekhov’s relative.

The gymnasium was once attended by Nadezhda Krandievskaya (a sculptor, whose life was used by Alexei Tolstoy to create the character of Dasha in “The Road to Calvary”), Elena Dyakonova (future muse of Salvador Dali – Gala), Natalia Konchalovskaya and younger sister of Marina Tsvetaeva, Asya.  Asya left interesting memories of the school: [1]

“The girls were expected to study not for marks of progress made but for the sake of knowledge learned.  There were no exams from grade to grade and no marks.  However, the final exams at school took place in the presence of representatives of Educational board, who did not like the order and customs of the gymnasium.  Those were different from other types of government schools.   The gymnasium specialised in foreign languages -French was taught from the first class, German – the third, English – the fifth. Varvara Vasilyevna Pototskaya herself knew the languages perfectly. “

This explains how Lydia managed to communicate while living in Paris and to marry an Australian soldier.  It is obvious that Lydia did not learn professional dancing at the gymnasium, but she has received a liberal for its time education.

Imperial Theatre

The archival funds of Imperial Theatre (Moscow office) are also located at RGALI and Lydia’s name did not come up in search.  Therefore, it is safely to assume that her dancing education happened outside of Russia, probably in Paris.  At this stage she would be able to take amateur lessons only.

Dancing in Australia

Lydia’s dancing experiences in Australia also support the fact that she was not a professional ballerina but an operatic dancer.  [Operatic dance is type of a dance, where dancers perform mixture of classical ballet, free movement and mainly folk-style dancing during opera productions.]

31 August 1918 article in the Mail (Adelaide) states that “Madame Lydia Kliaguina, who received her training in Russia, and subsequently in Paris, is forming classes for the teaching of Operatic Dancing….Madame Kliaguina has herself taken part in French Opera ballets in Paris. “

In August 1918 “Madame Kliaguina received an ovation for her picturesque Spanish dance “La Joyeuse Espagne”, in which the sound of castanets blended bewitchingly with the music of the orchestra” (the Chronicle, 24 August 1918).

In September 1918 Lydia is taking part in a concert to raise the money for Red Cross.  She is mentioned as operatic dancer in most newspapers. She danced the “Valsette” of Borovsky- “a fritting, dipping butterfly kind of a presentation”.

Exactly one year later in 1919 her dancing school was a success.  Lydia herself organised a concert in aid of the Kensington and Norwood Soldiers’ Memorial, where her students performed few dances.

Today it does not matter whether Lydia was an operatic dancer or a ballerina.  Using the words from “The lost mother”:

“She was Russian” – for sure,

“she was glamorous  and exotic” – no doubt,

“she was highly educated and fluent in several languages” –the archives prove it.

“Was the whole story a charade she invented?” asks Anne Summers in her book. I do not think so.  There were definitely some colourful additions but the main story was there all along.


RGALI FILE – ф. 677 оп. 1 ед. хр. 4085 -Личное дело Клягиной Лидии Александровны.


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