Elaine Feinstein

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Elaine Feinstein
Elaine Feinstein reading at Shaar International Poetry Festival in Tel Aviv, October 2010. Photo credit Kaido Vainomaa.JPG
BornElaine Cooklin Edit this on Wikidata
24 October 1930 Edit this on Wikidata (age 91)
Bootle Edit this on Wikidata
Alma mater

Elaine Feinstein (born Elaine Cooklin; 24 October 1930 – 23 September 2019)[1][2] was an English poet, novelist, short-story writer, playwright, biographer and translator. She joined the Council of the Royal Society of Literature in 2007.

Early life[edit]

Born in Bootle, Lancashire, England, Feinstein grew up in Leicester.[3] Her father had left school at 12 and had little time for books, but he was a great storyteller. He ran a small factory making wooden furniture through the 1930s. She wrote, "An inner certainty of being loved and valued went a long way to create my own sense of resilience in later years spent in a world that felt altogether alien. I never altogether lost my childhood sense of being fortunate."[4]

Feinstein was sent to Wyggeston Grammar School for Girls by her mother, "a school as good as Leicester could provide". She wrote poems from the age of 8, which were published in the school magazine. At the end of the war Feinstein's sense of childhood security was shattered by the revelations of the Nazi extermination camps. She noted, "In that year I became Jewish for the first time."[4] A recent critic commented: "Alive to her family origins in the Russian-Jewish diaspora, she developed a close affinity with the Russian poets of this and the last century."[5]

Feinstein excelled at school work from then on. After Newnham College, Cambridge, she read for the bar, worked at Hockerill Training College, and then as a university lecturer at the University of Essex (1967–1970), appointed by Donald Davie.[5]

Literary career[edit]

Feinstein married and had three sons with her husband, Arnold Feinstein. As she resumed writing she "came to life again", keeping journals, enjoying the process of reading and writing poetry, composing pieces to help her make sense of experience.[6] She commented that she wanted "plain propositions, lines that came singing out of poems with a perfection of phrasing like lines of music."[6] She was inspired by the poetry of Marina Tsvetayeva to translate some of her poetry. These poems were published by Oxford University Press and Penguin Books in 1971. She received three translation awards from the Arts Council.[6]

After 1980, when she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, she became a full-time writer. In 1990, she received a Cholmondeley Award for Poetry and an Honorary D.Litt. from the University of Leicester.[2] She visited Russia occasionally to research her books and visit friends, who included Yevgeny Yevtushenko.[3] Her writings included 14 novels, many radio plays, television dramas, and five biographies, including A Captive Lion: the Life of Marina Tsvetaeva (1987) and Pushkin (1998). Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet (2001) was shortlisted for the biennial Marsh Biography Prize.[7] Her biography of Anna Akhmatova, Anna of all the Russias, appeared in 2005 and was translated into twelve European languages, including Russian.[8]

Her first novel, The Circle (1970), written under Tsvetayeva's influence,[6] is "a study of a marriage, mostly through the wife's mind."[9] Several novels concern her Jewish roots: The Survivors (1982), spans the generations before and after the Holocaust, while The Border (1984) tells of an old woman in Sydney and her "painful, mysterious... escape from Vienna with her husband in 1939".[9]

Feinstein's poetry was influenced by Black Mountain poets, and by Objectivists. Charles Olson sent her his "famous letter defining breath 'prosody'".[5] Feinstein travelled extensively, to read her work at festivals abroad, and as Writer in Residence for the British Council, first in Singapore, and then in Tromsø, Norway. She was a Rockefeller Foundation Fellow at Bellagio in 1998; her poems were widely anthologised. Her Collected Poems and Translations (2002) was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation, and she was appointed to the Council of the Royal Society of Literature in 2007. She served as a judge for the Gregory Awards, the Independent Foreign Fiction Award, the Costa Poetry Prize and the Rossica Award for Literature translated from Russian, and in 1995 was chairman of the judges for the T. S. Eliot Prize.[3] Feinstein participated in the 22nd Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in November 2010 and continued to give readings in various countries.[10]

Recently asked in an interview with Alma Books what three books she would save if her house were on fire, she replied, "I'd take my iPad."[1]


Elaine Feinstein died of cancer in London on 23 September 2019, aged 88. She was survived by her three sons and six grandchildren.[1]



  • In a Green Eye (London: Goliard Press, 1966)
  • The Magic Apple Tree (London: Hutchinson, 1971)
  • At the Edge (Northamptonshire: Sceptre Press, 1972)
  • The Celebrants and Other Poems (Hutchinson, 1973)
  • Some Unease and Angels: Selected Poems (University Center, MI: Green River Press, 1977; Hutchinson, 1981)
  • The Feast of Eurydice (London: Faber & Faber/Next Editions, 1980)
  • Badlands (Hutchinson, 1987)
  • City Music (Hutchinson, 1990)
  • Selected Poems (Carcanet Press, 1994)
  • Daylight (Carcanet Press, 1997)
  • Gold (Carcanet Press, 2000)
  • Collected Poems and Translations (Carcanet Press, 2002)
  • Talking to the Dead (Carcanet Press, 2007)
  • Cities (Carcanet Press, 2010)
  • The Clinic, Memory: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet Press, 2017)


  • The Circle (London: Hutchinson, 1970)
  • The Amberstone Exit (Hutchinson, 1972). Translated into Hebrew (Keter 1984)
  • The Glass Alembic (Hutchinson, 1973; New York: Dutton, 1974 as The Crystal Garden)
  • Children of the Rose (Hutchinson, 1974). Translated into Hebrew, 1987
  • The Ecstasy of Dr Miriam Garner (Hutchinson, 1976)
  • The Shadow Master (Hutchinson, 1978; New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979)
  • The Survivors (Hutchinson, 1982)
  • The Border (Hutchinson, 1985)
  • Mother's Girl (Hutchinson, 1988)
  • All You Need (Hutchinson, 1991)
  • Loving Brecht (Hutchinson, 1992)
  • Dreamers (London: Macmillan, 1994)
  • Lady Chatterley's Confession (Macmillan, 1995)
  • Dark Inheritance (London, Women's Press, 2001)
  • The Russian Jerusalem (Carcanet Press, 2008)

Short story collections[edit]

  • Matters of Chance (London: Covent Garden Press, 1972)
  • The Silent Areas (Hutchinson, 1980)

Teleplays and radio plays[edit]

  • 1975: Breath
  • 1980: Echoes
  • 1981: A Late Spring
  • 1982: Lunch
  • 1984: A Captive Lion
  • 1985: Marina Tsvetayeva: A Life
  • 1985: A Brave Face
  • 1986: A Day Off
  • 1987: If I Ever Get on My Feet Again
  • 1990: The Man in Her Life
  • 1993: Foreign Girls, a trilogy
  • 1994: A Winter Meeting
  • 1996: Lawrence's Women in Love (four-part adaptation)
  • 1996: Adaptation of novel, Lady Chatterley's Confession Book at Bedtime


  • Bessie Smith: Lives of Modern Women Series, Penguin/Viking
  • A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva, Hutchinson, 1987
  • Lawrence's Women, HarperCollins, London, 1993; Lawrence and The Women New York, 1993
  • Pushkin, Weidenfeld & Nicolson/Ecco, U.S, 1998
  • Ted Hughes: The Life of a Poet, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001
  • Anna of all the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005; Knopf, 2006
  • Portraits (Carcanet Press, 2015)


  • It Goes With The Territory: Memoirs of a Poet, Alma Books, 2013


As editor[edit]

  • After Pushkin, Folio Society/Carcanet Press, 1999

In anthologies[edit]

  • Contributor to A New Divan: A Lyrical Dialogue Between East and West, Gingko Library 2019. ISBN 9781909942288

Prizes and awards[edit]

  • 1970: Arts Council Grant/Award for Translation
  • 1971: Betty Miller Prize
  • 1979: Arts Council Grant/Award for Translation
  • 1981: Arts Council Grant/Award for Translation
  • 1981: Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
  • 1990: Cholmondeley Award
  • 1990: Shortlisted for 1990 Los Angeles Times Fiction Prize
  • 1992: Society of Authors Travel Award
  • 2004: Arts Council Award


  1. ^ a b c Neil Genzliger, "Elaine Feinstein, Poet, Novelist and Biographer, Dies at 88", New York Times, 4 October 2019. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Elaine Feinstein". British Council Literature. British Council. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Elaine Feinstein page, Carcanet Press.
  4. ^ a b Couzyn (1985), p. 114.
  5. ^ a b c Michael Schmidt: Lives of the Poets, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007, p. 856.
  6. ^ a b c d Couzyn (1985), p. 115.
  7. ^ Interview with Elaine Feinstein in The Times.
  8. ^ Feinstein biography.
  9. ^ a b Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy: The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Women Writers from the Middle Ages to the Present (Batsford: London, 1990), p. 361.
  10. ^ A podcast of her interview with Robert Seatter is available at The Poetry Trust.

Further reading[edit]

  • Jeni Couzyn, Contemporary Women Poets, Bloodaxe, 1985
  • Donald Davie, Under Briggflatts: History of Poetry in Britain 1960–80, Carcanet Press, 1989
  • Phyllis Lassner, Anglo-Jewish Women Writing the Holocaust: Displaced Witnesses, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  • Peter Lawson, Anglo-Jewish Poetry from Isaac Rosenberg to Elaine Feinstein, Vallentine Mitchell & Co.
  • Michael Schmidt, Lives of the Poets, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2007

External links[edit]