Romola de Pulszky

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Romola de Pulszky

Romola de Pulszky (or Romola Pulszky), (married name Nijinsky; 20 February 1891 – 8 June 1978), was a Hungarian aristocrat, the daughter of a politician and an actress. Her father had to go into exile when she was a child, and committed suicide in Australia. As a young woman she became interested in dance and specifically Vaslav Nijinsky, the noted premier danseur of the Ballets Russes. They married in Buenos Aires in 1913 while the company was on tour. They had two daughters, before he was institutionalized for the remaining 30 years of his life for schizophrenia.

In 1934 Romola de Pulszky published her first biography of Nijinsky, covering his early life and dance career. She discovered his diary, written before he went into an asylum, which she published in a "bowdlerized" version in 1936.[1] She published a biography of her husband's later years in 1952, two years after his death in London.


Romola de Pulszky was born in Hungary as the second daughter of Emilia Márkus, the most renowned Hungarian actress of her time, and Károly (Charles) Pulszky (1853-1899), a Hungarian politician, member of Parliament and director of the Hungarian National Gallery of Art. His family came from Poland and were of French Huguenot descent, but had converted to Catholicism.[2] Her older sister Tereza was called Tessa. Their father went into exile because of a political scandal associated with art purchases for the gallery, first to London and then to Australia. Romola was eight years old when he committed suicide at the age of 45 in Brisbane, Australia.[3] She was deeply disturbed by the loss and resented her mother's remarriage a few years later.[4]

Romola struggled with studies and direction, trying to work at acting but failed. She became engaged to a Hungarian baron at the age of 21, but called it off in 1912 after having seen the Ballets Russes.[5] She decided to shift her focus to the theatrical world of ballet. She was particularly astounded by and attracted to the dancing of Vaslav Nijinsky, as were all of his audiences.

She fixed on wanting to dance for the Ballets Russes and become close to Nijinsky.[5][page needed] For months she traveled on tour to South America with the Ballets Russes and gained approval from the group's director, Sergei Diaghilev, to take ballet lessons from their ballet master Enrico Cecchetti. Not realizing that he was in an intimate relationship with Diaghilev (who was seventeen years older than Nijinsky), she found it difficult to talk to Nijinsky alone, who was protected by a minder. She eventually got close to them while on a ship headed for South America. Diaghilev had decided against touring with the company and remained in Europe. Days before their arrival to Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nijinsky proposed to Romola and they married in port on 10 September 1913, shortly after they arrived.[6]

Their marriage had severe effects on Nijinsky's career. Romola became pregnant right away, and Nijinsky missed performances due to his own symptoms of couvade syndrome. This gave Diaghilev legal grounds to fire him, which he did via a telegram. He generally did not keep any married dancers in the company.

Romola gave birth to Kyra Nijinsky in Vienna, Austria on 18 June 1914, ten days before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. With the outbreak of war, the newlywed couple and their infant daughter were classified as enemy aliens because of Nijinsky's Russian nationality; they were put on house arrest at the home of Romola's mother, Emilia Markus Pulszky. After two years as war prisoners in Hungary, they gained permission to leave for New York with the aid of Diaghilev and international political leaders. They embarked on a tour of North America, followed by a tour to South America.[7]

During Nijinsky's final three-year engagements with the Ballets Russes, he had struggled to help manage the tours, which caused him a great deal of stress. The family settled in St Moritz, Switzerland until the end of the Great War. Two months after the armistice at the end of World War I, Nijinsky began to exhibit signs of a severe psychosis. He was committed to a series of Swiss mental institutions, and was confined for most of his remaining 30 years. He was treated at Burghölzli and the Bellevue Sanatorium in Kreuzlingen. He was originally diagnosed as schizophrenic by Eugen Bleuler in 1919. He was treated by a number of psychiatrists with minimal results. In 1920, while he was still undergoing treatment, Romola Nijinsky gave birth to their second daughter, Tamara. After Nijinsky became an invalid and institutionalized, Romola shifted from bisexuality and had only lesbian affairs for the rest of her life.[8]

In 1934 she published what would be her first biography of her husband, Nijinsky by Romola Nijinsky.[5] She discovered the diary her husband wrote over a period of six weeks in 1919 before being committed to an asylum in Switzerland. "Nijinsky had long been unreachably psychotic when his wife, Romola, discovered the manuscript in an old trunk, then sanitized and published it to feed the legend of which she had become both guardian and beneficiary."[1] She published a "bowdlerized" version in 1936.[1]

In 1936, she heard about a new treatment for schizophrenia and contacted the founder, Manfred Sakel, to have her husband treated. In 1938, Nijinsky began to receive regular insulin shock therapy (IST) over the course of a year, until the beginning of World War II.[5] Romola spent most of World War II in Budapest with Nijinsky, whose illness was purported to be in partial remission from the IST.[9] Out of concern for her husband's safety after the German invasion of Budapest, Romola took her husband to Sopron, where they stayed until the end of the war.

Kyra Nijinsky became a dancer, specializing in a couple of roles her father had done as well as a new dance by Antony Tudor. In 1936 she married Igor Markevitch, with whom she had a son named for her father.[10] They divorced and Markevitch raised their son. Like her younger sister Tamara, she later emigrated to the United States, settling in the San Francisco area.[10]

Romola sent her younger daughter Tamara Nijinsky to live with her mother in Budapest for some time. She was too young to have seen her father dance, but became executive director of the Vaslav and Romola Nijinsky Foundation (named after her parents), to preserve and promote her father's art, including paintings and drawings he did late in life. She emigrated to the US and settled in Phoenix, Arizona.[11]

Nijinsky died on 8 April 1950 in London, England. In 1952 Romola published her second biography of Nijinsky, called The Last Years of Nijinsky. Romola Nijinsky died in Paris on 9 September 1978.[5]

In 1995, an unexpurgated English edition was published of The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky, edited by Joan Acocella, a professional writer about dance, and in a new translation by Kyril FitzLyon. The New York Times review said that this edition showed that his original diary was severely "bowdlerized" by his wife in the versions she published in 1936 and later.[1] His diary reflected the decline of his household into chaos before he was committed to an asylum.[1] He elevated feeling and action in his writing. A New York Times review said, "How ironic that in erasing the real ugliness of his insanity, the old version silenced not only Nijinsky's true voice but the magnificently gifted body from which it came. And how fortunate we are to have them both restored." [1] This version inspired new artistic works - three plays in 1998 alone. (see below)


  • Nijinsky by Romola Nijinsky (1934), introduction by Paul Claudel, ghostwritten by Lincoln Kirstein[12]
  • Nijinsky's Diary (1936), edited Romola Nijinsky
  • The Last Years of Nijinsky (1952)

Cultural depictions[edit]

In plays[edit]

  • Nijinsky: God's Mad Clown (1986) by Glenn J. Blumstein.[13]
  • David Pownall's Death of a Faun (1998) used the death of impresario Sergei Diaghilev as a catalyst to rouse Nijinsky out of a Swiss sanatorium "to pay tribute".[14] Nicholas Johnson, a Royal Ballet dancer, portrayed the schizophrenic Nijinsky.[14]
  • Dancer Leonard Crofoot wrote Nijinsky Speaks (1998) as a monologue spanning the dancer's career, with quotes from Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky (1995); he played the role of Nijinsky and did his own brief episodes of dancing.[15]
  • Norman Allen's Nijinsky's Last Dance (1998) featured a solo actor, Jeremy Davidson, to portray the dancer, who tells his story by monologue in an asylum.[16]
  • Romola & Nijinsky (Deux Mariages) (2003) by Lynne Alvarez was first produced by Primary Stages (Casey Childs, Executive Producer; Andrew Leynse, Artistic Director; Robert La Fosse, choreographer).[14]

In film[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ, "Dancing With Madness: Review of 'The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky'", New York Times, 28 February 1999, accessed 1 December 2014
  2. ^ Ostwald, Peter (1991) Nijinsky/ A Leap into Madness', 'p.80
  3. ^ Thomas W. Shapcott, "A Canticle for Károly Pulszky", from Selected Poems, 1956-1988, Australian Poetry Library
  4. ^ Ostwald (1991), "Nijinsky, A Leap", pp. 81-82
  5. ^ a b c d e Ostwald, Peter (1991) Nijinsky/ A Leap into Madness,'
  6. ^ Buckle, Richard (1971), "Nijinsky"
  7. ^ Nijinsky, Romola (1934), Nijinsky by Romola Nijinsky
  8. ^ Ostwald (1991), Nijinsky A Leap, p. 87
  9. ^ Nijinsky, Romola (1952), The Last Years of Nijinsky
  10. ^ a b Jack Anderson, "Kyra Nijinsky, 84; Danced in Father's Shadow", New York Times, 15 November 1998, accessed 1 December 2014
  11. ^ Zan Dubin, "Memories of a Troubled Father", Los Angeles Times, 3 November 1994
  12. ^ Alastair Macaulay, "A Paragon of the Arts, as Both Man and Titan", New York Times, 4 May 2007, Quote: "...his collaboration with Vaslav Nijinsky’s monstrously irritating and dishonest wife, Romola, in ghostwriting her biography of her husband...", accessed 1 December 2014
  13. ^ Glenn Blumstein (1988). Nijinsky, God's mad clown. S. French. ISBN 0-573-61924-7. 
  14. ^ a b c Romola & Nijinsky (Deux Mariages), Curtain Up (The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings), accessed 1 December 2014
  15. ^ David Lipfert, Review: 'Nijinsky Speaks'", Curtain Up, 4 September 1998
  16. ^ Les Gutman, "'Nijinsky's Last Dance'", Curtain Up, 17 November 1998, accessed 1 December 2014
  17. ^ Andrew L. Urban, "COX, PAUL: NIJINSKY", Urban Cinefile, 25 April 2002 accessed 1 December 2014

External links[edit]