Kochina: Biography of Kovalevskaya Preface

In 1981 Pelageia Yakovlevna Kochina published a biography of Sofia Kovalevskaya in Russian.

Kochina writes in the Preface:-

The famous Russian woman mathematician Sof'ya Vasil'evna Kovalevskaya is so significant, multifaceted and interesting that the great Norwegian author Henrik Ibsen said that to write Kovalevskaya's biography is to create a poem about her. I have not set myself such a goal here. My task is a more modest one: to present in compact form the basic facts of the numerous available materials on the life of our compatriot. The first to collect the extensive correspondence of Kovalevskaya and the people close to her - her husband Vladimir Onufrievich and his brother Aleksandr Onufrievich - was S Ya Shtraikh. He wrote books of a biographical nature: S V Kovalevskaya, Sestry Korvin-Krukovskie, and Sem'ya Kovalevskikh, and prepared for publication the book S V Kovalevskaya Vospominaniya, pis'ma. They give rich factual material for a biography of Kovalevskaya.

After the Second World War the Academy of Sciences of the USSR obtained photocopies of Kovalevskaya's correspondence which were placed at my disposal by the Academy President S I Vavilov. I have gradually published individual parts of this correspondence, shedding light on the years of Kovalevskaya's scientific work. This includes letters to her from Russian scholars and a number of prominent foreign scholars. The letters of C Hermite and K Weierstrass have been published separately. I am currently working on an edition of Kovalevskaya's correspondence with G Mittag-Leffler, which is the most extensive in the archives. After the letters were analysed and edited, I used them in my three brief sketches of the life and activity of Kovalevskaya and in commemorative papers. L A Vorontsova used all of these sources to write a literary biography of Kovalevskaya.

In this book I wanted to bring together the most significant and interesting of all the materials known to me. I have given considerable attention to the discussion of mathematical questions.

Kovalevskaya's biographies have given a detailed picture of her personal life. Despite this, there are those who think of her as a 'bluestocking'. No, she was no bluestocking, but a woman striving intensely for happiness. She experienced all the joys and sorrows which can fall to the lot of a woman, and her life was guided by a lofty striving to open up a wide road for the many-sided activity of women. She played this role with honour, gaining fame as a mathematician and popularity by her literary productions. I cannot devote much space in this book to her personal experiences, but I cannot avoid mentioning them completely, since both the life and activity of this first woman professor of the past century are of interest to all her devotees.

I have made ample use here of materials from the Mittag-Leffler archives. In Appendix 6, I list all letters from this archive that still await publication.

JOC/EFR March 2006

The URL of this page is: