‘“American Alice” in the Russo-Japanese War’

Professor Richard Freeborn was Chair of Russian Literature at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 must be regarded by most of us as an event of little consequence more than a century later. The single most memorable incident was probably Admiral Togo’s remarkable naval victory in a matter of a day or so over the Russian Baltic fleet that had sailed round the world to the Straits of Tsushima. The war on land, by contrast, lasted many months and was fought with outstanding ferocity and savagery. It concluded with successive Russian defeats and forced or unforced retreats until eventually Mukden (Shenyang), the Manchurian capital, and its rail connection to the north, came under attack. The resultant battle, fought for the most part in a snowstorm, lasted two weeks and ended with a Russian retreat northwards to northern Manchuria and Harbin.

In March 1905 the Battle of Mukden was the final Japanese victory on land. Ironically it led to an American triumph. Richard Freeborn’s novel American Alice, set against the final stages of the war, is about a young Anglo-American woman, Alice May, of mixed-race heritage who accompanies two orphaned teenagers to Mukden. Alice is put to work in the Mission’s small hospital where she nurses and befriends many Russian wounded, falls in love with a Russian doctor and finally achieves the heroic distinction of ensuring, during the Russian retreat, that ‘her’ wounded are placed on the last train out of Mukden. A graphic reconstruction of the circumstances of the time, filmic in its brilliant depiction of events, it is basically the story of a love affair in which the heroine becomes celebrated as a woman who won a war.

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