Helen Francesca Rappaport

Presentation address by Professor Matthew Treherne


A graduate of Russian Studies at the University of Leeds, Helen Rappaport chose not to follow the suggestion of a career in the Foreign Office, opting instead to enter the acting profession, and going on to work in film, television and commercials until the late 1980s, when she turned to writing history. 

Her study of Russian at Leeds shaped this new, dazzling career.  She has translated and interpreted Chekhov’s plays, working with figures such as Tom Stoppard.  But she stands out as an extremely successful author of historical works based on high quality historical research, much of which was conducted here, at the Leeds Russian Archive.  Her works include the portrait of the last Tsar’s daughters, Four Sisters, a bestseller both in the UK and in the USA. 

Her twelfth book is Caught in the Revolution:  Petrograd 1917, a major work published on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution.  One reviewer described it as ‘superbly narrated’, a ‘gripping, vivid, deeply researched chronicle’.  And it is this quality – Helen’s ability to combine rigorous, deep research with a storyteller’s flair – which we celebrate today and which enables her to inspire so many.  We feel that inspiration at Leeds:  her book lends its title to our exhibition on the Russian Revolution currently in the Brotherton Library’s Treasures Gallery.  Indeed, the Russian Archive in the Brotherton has been enriched over the years by Helen:  she has used her contacts to secure a number of important deposits.

Helen has made regular appearances on national radio including Woman’s Hour and Start the Week and as an expert on historical documentaries on BBC and commercial channels.  Her appearances at literary festivals attract large, appreciative audiences. 

Helen’s advice to aspiring writers should resonate with us all on a graduation day:  ‘you have to read and read and read and soak up life experiences and an understanding of the world […]. And you must never ever cease to be curious about everything.’  Helen both exemplifies that ceaseless curiosity, and inspires it in us.

Vice-Chancellor, it is a very great pleasure to present to you for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Helen Francesca Rappaport.