Kirill Finkelshteyn
In a wrong body. The secret life of Nicolai de Raylan.
Moscow: IDRIS publisher.  2021; 416 p. 16+


     The prologue is written in strict accordance with the articles published in the US newspapers of December 1906, full of conjectures, assumptions and journalistic fantasies [1]. In this chapter the author tried to follow the true facts, separating the seeds of truth from the chaff of myths and false judgments of greedy for sensation reporters. Step by step, as a result of many years of searching, we restored Nicolai de Raylan life path, the path of unusual person who was able to overcome the curse of his birth sex.  His fate has much in common with the fate of the cavalry maiden Nadezhda Durova [2], who also transitioned into a man. Just like Durova, Raylan came from a noble family, in her youth ran away from her parental shelter, transitioned into a man, became a hussar, and left behind diary entries resembling something out of captivating adventure novel.  

     Interest in Durova's memoirs [3], where she tells how she took part in the Napoleonic War of 1812 under the guise of a cornet Alexandrov, has not faded for almost two hundred years, as exemplified by books, a play, an opera and films that reflect the adventures of a cavalry maiden. And although Raylan did not participate in the bloody battles as Durova, one could hope that the story of her/his life will arouse great interest among modern readers.

     The main sources of information about the life of Nicholai de Raylan in America were newspaper publications of 1906-1908 and the Chicago Circuit and Probate courts records, which heard the case of Raylan's divorce with his first wife and the case of his inheritance. Without much hope for success the author of this book sent a request to the archives of these courts asking them to find the cases of de Raylan. To his great surprise, a month after a brief correspondence, a large package arrived.  It contained about 150 copies of Rylan’s divorce proceedings papers (1903)[4], and copies of his inheritance case papers (1907-1908)[5] with detailed witness’s, lawyer’s and judge’s statements, and with financial and legal documents.

     One of these inheritance case documents immediately attracted author's attention. It was a translation into English of the power of attorney in the name of the Chicago consul Baron Albert Schlippenbach from Nicolai de Rylan mother, notarized in Odessa on 13/26 October 1907.

                                            “POWER OF ATTORNEY.

    Know all men by these present, that I, Serafima Petrovna Terletzki widow of a collegiate assessor, being the heiress at law and next kin of Anna Mamertovna Terletzki, who called herself Nicolai Constantinovich Rylan, deceased, do hereby make, constitute and appoint the Imperial Russian Consul of Chicago my valid and lawful attorney for all acts or things whatever, proper or necessary for the purpose of collecting damages and Insurance and benefits arising by reason of the death of the said Anna Mamertovna Terletzki, (alias Nicolai Constantinovich Rylan), deceased, however caused, and to probate the estate of said deceased, hereby my said attorney full power to represent me in all courts and for all purpose <…>.


    In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal.

(Signed)  Serafima Petrovna Terletzki, widow of a Collegiate Assessor.

   On the thirteenth/twenty sixth day of October in the year one thousand nine hundred and seven this power of attorney was executed before me, Sigmund Samoilovich Gurovich, Notary Public of Odessa, in my office by Serafima Petrovna Terletzki, who resides in Odessa, at 11 Sofievskayia street, who is personally known to me <…>.

                                            Consulate of the United States

                                            Odessa, Russia, October 13/26th 1907.






   Thus, it became known that, the daughter of a collegiate assessor, Anna Mamertovna Terletzki, was hiding under the name of Nicolai de Raylan, Anna's mother name was Serafima Petrovna, and her father name was Mamert. A search for information about Mamert, Serafima Petrovna and Anna Terletzki in the Russian archives did not lead to a positive result. Therefore, for a long time, the evidences of the fate of Anna-Nikolai in Russia could only be judged by information from two notebooks with diary entries and letters found in Phoenix after Raylan's death.

    The notebooks were sent to the Russian consulate in Chicago, and then handed over to the legal representative of the public administrator's office of the Cook county of Chicago, who was assigned to handle the Rylan estate. This official was the young Chicago lawyer Mikhail Feinberg (1886-1957), a native of the city Vilna, which now is the capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. He enthusiastically investigated an unusual case: traveled to Phoenix to prove the gender of De Rylan and refute the claim of the widow to his property, carefully studied Nicholai' handwritten heritage (letters and diary entries), translated and published it in English, in the Chicago Tribune. Later this article was reprinted with minor variations by many American newspapers [6].  

    In the press, this document is called a diary, but the definition of diary entries, notes or memoirs are more accurate, since they were written after the author arrived in America. The diary entries cover several years of Raylan's life from his high school studies in Russia (1888) to his first steps on American soil (1892). They give a worthy author of detective novels a story of transition into a man and circumstances of flight from Russia. Unfortunately, the brevity of the newspaper article and the probable inaccuracies of the translation from Russian do not give a clear picture of the events and experiences of their author.

    The diary entries cover several years of Raylan's life from 1888 to 1892, from his high school studies in Russia to his first steps on American soil. They give a worthy author of detective novels a story of transition into a man and circumstances of escape from Russia. Unfortunately, the brevity of the newspaper article and the probable inaccuracies of the translation from Russian do not give a clear picture of the events and experiences of their author.

It is noticeable that this is not the original text, written by Feinberg, but the presentation of a Chicago journalist, whom                Feinberg apparently gave an extensive interview. In addition, the reader, at least a little aware of the realities of life in

Russia at the end of the 19th century, from the first pages of the diary entries should realize that they are a bizarre mixture of fiction and reality. Despite these shortcomings, Raylan's diary entries for a long time remained the only document by which it was possible to imagine the life of Anna-Nicolai in her/his homeland.

     Only when the book about Raylan was almost written, it turned out[7] that in 1917 the professor of University of Odessa, V.N. Obraztsov[8], published an extensive article in the Russian magazine «Historical Bulletin»[9]; in which, according to Raylan mother’s interview, it was told in details about the life of her daughter Anna Terletzki (later de Raylan) from birth to flight to America.

    Anna’s mother Serafima Petrovna herself appealed to Professor Obraztsov to publish the story of her daughter, shared memories and some documents like correspondence with the investigating judge in Russia and the Chicago consul Schlippenbach. One of the reasons that prompted Serafima Terletzki to make the history of her family public was the article “A Little Historical Secret” by her distant relative N. Vitashevski[10], published in 1915 also in the Historical Bulletin[11]. In it, the author, based on rumors and gossip told to him by his sister and aunt, tells about a mysterious child - a boy of unknown origin, raised in the family of Terletzki under the guise of a girl.

    Serafima Petrovna considered these speculations offensive to herself, her relatives and the memory of her beloved, now deceased daughter, and decided to contribute to the disclosure of the mystery she experienced in her mother’s heart.

The following story of Anna Terletzki's life from birth to flight from Russia is based on the information given in the articles by Vitashevski and Obraztsov, and Raylan's diary entries. Each of these sources cannot claim to be the ultimate truth. Raylan's notes intertwined real events and the author's fantasies, which he sometimes seemed to take for reality; Vitashevski used unverified rumors, and in the most complete and reliable story of Serafima Petrovna, one can find inconsistencies and omissions. The author hopes that comparing these texts, in which the same events are presented in different ways, will help to recreate the true picture of the protagonist’s life.

[1] A list of sources for the prologue is given at the end of the book.

[2] Nadezhda Durova (1783-1866), was a biological woman who, while disguised as a man, became a decorated soldier in the Russian cavalry during the Napoleonic wars. She was the first known female officer in the Russian military. See

[3] The Cavalry Maiden Journals of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars. Indiana University Press. 1988.

[4] Eugenia Raylan vs. Nicolai Raylan. De Raylan Divorce File G-240095, 1903. Circuit Court of Cook County, Cook County Clerk of Court Archives.

[5] Estate of Nicolai Raylan, Probate File, P2-8482, 1907–1909.  Cook County Clerk of Court Archives.

[6] «Diary Discloses De Raylan Plot», Chicago Daily Tribune, June 26, 1907: 7; «The de Raylan mystery in process of unraveling», Arizona republican, June 29, 1907: 5. All subsequent quotations from Rylan's diary entries are given from these sources.

[7] Lorenzo Benadusi, Paolo L. Bernardini, Elisa Bianco. Homosexuality in Italian literature, society, and culture, 1789–1919. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.

[8] Obraztsov V.N.  Explanation of the "Little Historical Mystery". Historical bulletin, V. CXLIX, July-August 1917. pp. 165-197.

 [9] Professor Obraztsov Vladimir Nikolayevich (1873-1926) graduated from medical faculty of Kazan’s University. From 1904 he worked at the Department of Nervous and Mental Diseases of the Novorossiysk University. He is an author of more than 30 scientific works devoted to diagnosis, clinic and treatment of nervous and mental diseases, Chairman of the Odessa Society of Neuropathologists and Psychiatrists.

[10]Vitashevski Nicolai Alexeevich (1857-1918) was a writer, memoirist, revolutionary figure, actor and ethnographer.

[11] N. Vitashevski. Little Historical Mystery. Historical bulletin, V. CXLII, 1915. pp. 485-494.