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Thursday, 10 January 2013

Rayna Prohme

Rayna Prohme had a major impact on the people she met in her short life. While at university she met Dorothy Day. The women became close friends and Day later recorded in her autobiography, The Long Loneliness (1952): "On many occasions I had noticed a young girl, slight and bony, deliciously awkward and yet un self-conscious, alive and eager in her study. She had bright red curly hair. It was loose enough about her face to form an aureole, a flaming aureole, with sun and brightness in it. Her eyes were large, reddish brown and warm, with interest and laughter in them... I saw her first on my way to the university in September. She was the only person I remember on a train filled with students. She was like a flame with her red hair and vivid face. She had a clear, happy look, the look of a person who loved life.... I can see Rayna lying on her side in a dull green dress, her cheek cupped in her hand, her eyes on the book she was reading, her mouth half open in her intent interest."

In 1926 Rayna met the journalist, Vincent Sheean. A mutual friend had described her as a "red-headed gal... who spit fire, mad as a hatter, a complete Bolshevik." Sheean was immediately taken by her: "She was slight, not very tall, with short red-gold hair and a frivolous turned-up nose. Her eyes could actually change colour with the changes of light, or even with changes of mood. Her voice, fresh, cool and very American, sounded as if it had secret rivulets of laughter running underneath it all the time, ready to come to the surface without warning... I had never heard anybody laugh as she did - it was the gayest, most unself-conscious sound in the world. You might have thought that it did not come from a person at all, but from some impulse of gaiety in the air."

Rayna and Sheean went to Moscow together. Rayna wanted to study at the Lenin Institute "to be trained as a revolutionary instrument". Sheean was against the idea arguing that Marxism was "a false cloud". According to Sally J. Taylor, the author of Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty (1990): "They took rooms together, arguing late into the night about her decision. But she found the debates tiring, and often had trouble getting out of bed the following morning."

While on a visit to the apartment of Dorothy Thompson, another journalist based in the Soviet Union, Rayna fainted. She soon became extremely ill and Sheean's friend, Walter Duranty, arranged for her to be seen by a local doctor. Rayna told Sheean: "The doctor thinks I am losing my mind and that is the worst thing of all. He won't say so, but that is what he thinks. I can tell by the way he holds matches in front of my eyes and tests my responses. He doesn't think I can focus on anything."

Vincent Sheean recalled in his autobiography, Personal History (1933): "She had spoken vaguely of the fear before, and all I could do was say that I did not believe it was well founded. But on the next day she felt certain that this was the case, and it kept her silent and almost afraid to speak, even to me. I sat beside her hour after hour in the dark, silent room, and blackness pressed down and in upon us." Sheean said that two or three times she raised her voice to say: "Don't tell anybody". Rayna Prohme died of encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain, on Monday, 21st November 1927.