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Heroic Russian Emigre

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The tendency of post-1917 Western fiction to portray Russian emigres in a sympathetic light in contrast to "evil" Soviet Russians

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
JustTroper on Aug 3rd 2017 at 3:10:06 PM
Last Edited By:
JustTroper on Jan 9th 2018 at 3:26:42 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

After 1917, when the October revolution happened, Russia ceased being the part of the Western world order and started being actively opposed to it, and the Soviet Russians gradually became the stock villains of western fiction. However, the other kind of Russians, those who were not supportive of Bolsheviks and who immigrated into Western countries to avoid prosecution, tended to be portrayed sympathetically in contrast. Some of these characters would simply be trying to find their place in the Western world, while others would attempt to restore Russia to its pre-1917 position (in Cold War era fiction, they would frequently join forces with NATO). In earlier works, most of such characters belonged to nobility because nobility was the initial main target of the Soviets; later works also feature ordinary Russian citizens who escaped the Soviet state.

There were several reasons for this trope: first, many Westerners were genuinely sympathetic with the Russian emigres, since while people in the West were only told about the horrors of Bolshevism, these people experienced it themselves. Second, it was sometimes used for political correctness purposes, to make it clear that the author was opposing the Soviet ideology and not trying to offend the Russian nation. Finally, some Westerners also believed that these people could be useful in taking down the Soviet state and reintegrating Russia into the West.

See also Chummy Commies, when the Communists themselves are not the bad guys, and Russia Is Western, when the whole country rejoins the Western world. Contrast Renegade Russian.



  • Erich Maria Remarque was fond of this trope: many of his novels feature noble Russian immigrants who are usually friends of the protagonist. Notable examples include Boris Morozov from Arch of Triumph, Count Orlov from Three Comrades, and Boris Volkov from Heaven Has No Favorites.
  • Agatha Christie also frequently depicted such characters. This includes Vera Rossakoff, Hercule Poirot's only acknowledged love interest, and Princess Natalia Dragomiroff from Murder on the Orient Express who is portrayed in a generally good light and was acquitted by Poirot in spite of taking part in the titular murder.

Western Animation

  • In Anastasia, the titular protagonist who had to escape the execution of the Romanov family is portrayed very sympathetically. The main antagonist is Grigory Rasputin who used his dark magic to cause the October Revolution.

Feedback: 6 replies

Aug 4th 2017 at 12:59:42 AM

I believe this trope can be made more general, perhaps as Noble Refugee. After all, nobles fled all over Europe during and after the French revolution (from France) and the Napoleonic wars (from Germany). For a more recent example, the Cuban expatriates in Florida can be thought of as this.

I'm not convinced about the accuracy of the second paragraph. It is also written from an anti-bolshevik perspective. (Not that the Oktober revolution, the Bolsheviks and the Russian civil war was nice, but you paint a decidedly rosy picture of Tsarist Russia.)

See also Noble Fugitive.

Aug 4th 2017 at 12:44:13 AM

The word "noble" has a double meaning in English, both "aristocrat" and "behaving with honor", which are not always the same thing. Since this YKKTW seems to be mainly about aristocrats fleeing from lower classes' revolutions, I'd further suggest naming it Refugee Aristocrat for clarity, and because this wording highlights the inherent contradiction in (and thus, tropability of) the concept.

Aug 4th 2017 at 7:31:19 AM

Another example appears in the Labors of Hercule Poirot, where a reclusive former ballet dancer reveals to Poirot that her grandfather was a truck driver in Leningrad and not an aristocratic refugee as she'd told everyone. Vera Rossakov is also likely not a real aristocrat, as Hastings/the narration mentions that her backstory changes every time she's asked, something Poirot never comments on.

Aug 4th 2017 at 12:38:11 PM

In fact, Refugee Aristocrat may constitute a separate trope, but what I meant there is a "good" Russian character who is on the West's side and who is the opposite of the Soviet villains from Western fiction. I rewrote the lead and changed the name to make it clearer.

Sep 22nd 2017 at 10:29:14 AM

@Koveras: yes, but not all such characters ACTIVELY oppose the Soviet state; some simply try to escape it and start a new life in Western countries.