Thomas P. Whitney, Solzhenitsyn Translator, Dies at 90
The New York Times
Thomas P. Whitney, a former diplomat and writer on Russian affairs who was best known for translating the work of the dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn into English, died on Dec. 2 in Manhattan. He was 90.
Mr. Whitney’s family confirmed the death. A longtime resident of Washington, Conn., he had lived in Manhattan in recent years.
Mr. Whitney translated two of Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s major books: “The First Circle” (Harper & Row, 1968), a novel of life in Stalin’s prison camps; and “The Gulag Archipelago,” a 660-page historical exposé of the Soviet terror system, published by Harper & Row in 1974. Both works, like nearly everything else Mr. Solzhenitsyn wrote in those years, had been banned in the Soviet Union and were smuggled out for translation.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, could not accept it until 1974, when he was forcibly deported to the West. His Nobel address, also smuggled out, was published in book form by Harper & Row in 1972, in Mr. Whitney’s translation. (A competing translation, by F. D. Reeve, was issued the same year by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)
Mr. Whitney also wrote a memoir, “Russia in My Life” (Reynal, 1962), which chronicled the nine years he spent there at the end of the Stalin regime. In recent years he donated significant collections of Russian art and manuscripts to his alma mater, Amherst College, and established a Russian studies center there.
Thomas Porter Whitney was born on Jan. 26, 1917, in Toledo, Ohio. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Amherst in 1937 and a master’s in Russian history from Columbia in 1940. During World War II, he was an analyst in Washington with the Office of Strategic Services, a forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.
From 1944 to 1947, Mr. Whitney was an attaché and chief of the economic section in the United States embassy in Moscow. In 1947, he joined The Associated Press as a correspondent there, later becoming the Moscow bureau chief.
During this period, Mr. Whitney, whose first marriage, to Tryphena Gray, had ended in divorce, married Yulya Zapolskaya, a Russian composer and singer of popular songs. She was allowed to return with him to the United States only in 1953, after Stalin’s death, when she was finally granted an exit visa. From 1953 to 1959, Mr. Whitney worked in New York as a foreign editor for The Associated Press.
Ms. Zapolskaya, who was known in her married life as Julia Whitney, died in 1965. Mr. Whitney’s later marriages, to Judith Forrestel and Marguerite Carusone, ended in divorce.
Mr. Whitney is survived by two children from his marriage to Ms. Gray, John Whitney of Great Falls, Va., and Louise Christofferson of Eugene, Ore.; a daughter from his marriage to Ms. Forrestel, Julie Whitney of Roxbury, Conn.; a sister, Mary McKenny of Toledo; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
In 1991, Mr. Whitney endowed the Amherst Center for Russian Culture, to which he donated his vast library of Russian books, periodicals and other printed matter. (His collection includes manuscripts and correspondence by some of the most eminent literary figures to emerge from the Soviet Union, among them Ilya Ehrenburg, Vladimir Nabokov and Marina Tsvetayeva.) In 2001, he gave the college more than 400 pieces of late-19th- and 20th-century Russian art, including works by Alexander Rodchenko, Natalia Goncharova, Léon Bakst and Marc Chagall.
Mr. Whitney’s other translations include volumes of Russian folk tales and the novel “Forever Flowing,” by Vasily Grossman (Harper & Row, 1972). In the late 1960s and afterward, he bred thoroughbred horses and ran a small string of independent bookstores in Connecticut.
During the years Mr. Whitney was translating Mr. Solzhenitsyn, the two were never able to meet. They finally had the opportunity during the 18 years Mr. Solzhenitsyn lived in Vermont before he returned to Russia in 1994. On one occasion, Mr. Whitney took Mr. Solzhenitsyn to Saratoga Racetrack.
“He likes to be a very private person, and he was afraid he might be recognized,” Mr. Whitney told Thoroughbred Times in 1991.
Fortunately, Mr. Whitney added, “The only person who recognized him was a Skidmore professor.”