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Tritton, Lydia Ellen (1899–1946)

by Judith Armstrong

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Lydia Ellen Tritton (1899-1946), journalist and public speaker, was born on 19 September 1899 in East Brisbane, fourth of six children of Frederick William Tritton, a furniture warehouseman from Jersey, Channel Islands, who became a wealthy retailer, and his English-born wife Eliza Ellen, née Worrall. Educated at the Brisbane High School for Girls (Somerville House from 1920), Lydia insisted on the faux French name of 'Nellé', preferring to be 'hated [rather] than ignored'. After leaving school, she made several public appearances as an elocutionist, and published privately an anthology of verse, Poems (c.1920). She moved to Sydney in the early 1920s and worked as a journalist.

In 1925 Miss Tritton sailed for London. She toured the Continent and gained a reputation as an authority on international affairs. In Italy she read the Journal (Paris, 1887) of Marie Bashkirtseff, a nineteenth-century Russian émigré who had lived in France. It inspired her to meet and mix with expatriate Russians. At the register office, Kensington, London, on 11 December 1928 she married Nicholas Alexander Nadejine, a 43-year-old professional singer and former officer in the White Russian Army. They were childless. While visiting Brisbane, Nadejine gave a recital; Nell (as she by then styled her Christian name) took private lessons in Russian from Nina Maximoff (later Christesen), who was to found the department of Russian language and literature at the University of Melbourne. Back in London, Nadejine unsuccessfully tried to join the Covent Garden opera company. Thereafter he reputedly deceived his wife with 'some crazy elderly Englishwomen who were rich and idle'. Nicholas and Nell were divorced in 1936.

In the early 1930s, possibly in Paris, Mrs Nadejine had met the exiled Alexander Kerensky and begun working as his secretary. Kerensky, a lawyer, had been a member of the Russian duma, minister for war, and prime minister of Russia for three months from July 1917. After the October revolution he lived in Paris, but spent some time in the United States of America raising money for the anti-Bolshevik cause. Nell fell in love with him. Kerensky did not at first reciprocate her affections. In March-June 1939 she visited Brisbane, where she lectured to various organizations on international politics and continued her Russian lessons, with M. I. Maximoff, Nina's father. Kerensky enticed her to come to the United States by suggesting they might soon be married. His divorce from his wife Olga became absolute on 29 June. Alexander and Nell were married at Martins Creek, Pennsylvania, on 20 August that year. The justice of the peace in whose home the ceremony took place, reported that 'a man wearing a monocle and carrying a cane arrived accompanied by a pretty blonde'.

M. and Mme Kerensky left New York at the end of September 1939 and took up residence in Paris. The self-exiled Russian author Nina Berberova, whom they visited frequently, described Nell as 'beautiful, calm, and intelligent', with 'shoulders and a bosom like Anna Karenina'. On 11 June 1940, shortly before the fall of France, the couple left Paris by motorcar. After a harrowing trip, they reached the Spanish border eighteen days later. Kerensky, as a Russian refugee, was not permitted to cross. They both turned back, and drove to St Jean-de-Luz whence they made their way to England in a British naval vessel. Travelling in a trans-Atlantic liner, they arrived in New York on 12 August 1940 and received a triumphal welcome from the New York Times. They lived in a small, rented apartment on Park Avenue until 1942 when they acquired a large wooden farmhouse near the New York-Connecticut border. Kerensky's lecture tours provided their main source of income. Their life, when they were together, was idyllic, with numerous visitors and games of croquet.

During her husband's absences, Mrs Kerensky sometimes thought of returning to Australia to undertake war-work. They moved to a smaller house closer to New York city and in October 1945 travelled to Brisbane. In February 1946, while staying with her parents at Clayfield, Nell suffered a stroke. Survived by her husband, she died of chronic nephritis on 10 April that year and was cremated with Anglican rites. On his return to Paris in 1949, Kerensky read to Berberova his 'History of the Illness and Death of Nell'.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Berberova, The Italics are Mine (NY, 1969)
  • R. Abraham, Alexander Kerensky (NY, 1987)
  • J. Armstrong, The Christesen Romance (Melb, 1996)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 23 Aug 1939, 11 Apr 1946.

Citation details

Judith Armstrong, 'Tritton, Lydia Ellen (1899–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tritton-lydia-ellen-11879/text21269, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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