Russian Literature During the Soviet Period Part 2

Russian Literature During the Soviet Period Part 2

Socialist realism

In the Soviet Union in the 1930s the theory of ‘socialist realism’ was established; the literature of the first five-year plan spreads, which exalts the construction of large factories or hydroelectric plants, then that of the collectivization of the countryside and the birth of the ‘new’ man. Writers visit construction sites and villages to be able to represent the country’s transformations ‘realistically’. Many pay their more or less sincere tribute to these issues. Kaverin, Il´fe Petrov, Kataev, Leonov, A. Fadeev and many others continue to write successfully. The historical novel, a genre widely practiced in the 1920s, takes on a new dimension, more suited to the times, with Pëtr I (“Peter I”, 1929-45) by A. Tolstoy. B. Pasternak, who had already made his debut some time ago with experiences related to futurism, established himself as a leading lyric poet and original prose writer. The situation of Bulgakov and A. Platonov (pseudonym of A. Klimentov) is much more difficult, as they struggle or fail to make their works known. Bulgakov continues to write plays that are not performed and novels that are not published, including his masterpiece, Master i Margarita (“The Master and Margarita”). Platonov believes in scientific achievements, in progress, in communism; his work is a continuous search for happiness, a precise verification of the realized utopia. A selection of his works was published in the USSR in 1966; fundamental works such as Chevengur and Kotlovan ( “The excavation”), written in the late 1920s, appeared in Russia only in the late 1980. ● From this period dates the troubled story of oberiuti (from Oberiu, shortening Ob ‘ Edinenie real ‘ nogo iskusstva “Union of Royal Art”), a group born in 1927 as the last offshoot of the avant-garde, which has given writers of the stature of D. Charms (pseudonym of D. Juvačev), A. Vvedenskij, K. Vaginov (pseudonym of K. Vagingeim) and N. Zabolockij. ● The decade ends with tragic repressions involving an impressive number of writers, including those who had enthusiastically participated in the revolution and the civil war.

The second postwar period

According to Itypetravel, the events of the Second World War manage to recreate a strong union between intellectuals and power. Writers like Achmatova, long condemned to silence, take up again and become important points of reference for their people. The themes of war occupy almost the entire literature and find a participatory and unconventional representation in K. Simonov, A. Tvardovskij and V. Nekrasov. The hopes of the immediate postwar period are destined to fade very soon: to the expectation of a democratization of life and culture, A. Ždanov responds by attacking the magazine Zvezda (“The star”) which has published writings by Zoščenko and Achmatova. For a few years he plunges back into an oppressive climate. In 1952 the magazine Novyj mir (“New world”), directed by Tvardovskij, publishes Rajonnye budni (“Daily life of a region”) by V. Ovečkin, which tells very frankly the real life of a kolkhoz with its difficulties, its misery, its disorganization. In 1954 the novel by Erenburg Ottepel  ´ (“The Thaw “) appeared in Znamja («The flag»), which will give the name to the period of relative liberalization following the death of Stalin (1953). It is a lively season, full of hope. A prose is born which aims to analyze the real life and feelings of peasants. V. Dudincev’s novel Ne chlebom edinym (“Not of bread alone”, 1956) becomes an emblematic work, despite its modest literary value. The almanacs Literaturnaja Moskva (“Literary Moscow”, 1956) and Tarusskie stranicy (“Pages of Tarusa”, 1961), which collect texts almost unknown to the Soviet public, rise to literary events. Writers who disappeared in the years of terror are rehabilitated; works by Bunin, Oleša, Platonov are reprinted; young poets such as E. Vinokurov, E. Evtušenko, Russia Roždestvenskij, A. Voznesenskij, B. Achmadulina assert themselves; less young poets revive momentum, from Aseev to A. Prokof´ev, P. Antokol´skij, B. Sluckij, L. Martynov. B. Okudžava, V. Vysockij and A. Galič (pseudonym of A. Ginzburg) accompany their verses on the guitar, followed by a passionate young audience. The popularity of brothers A. and B. Strugackij, authors of original science fiction novels, begins to spread. ● A first stiffening can be seen with the ban on publishing Doktor Živago by Pasternak which, having appeared in Italy, earned the author the Nobel Prize (1958) and harsh criticism at home. However, Odin den  ´ Ivana Denisoviča («A day by Ivan Denisovič», 1962) by A. Solzhenitsyn, the first work set in a concentration camp, comes out on Novyj mir. They are published posthumously Teatral ‘ nyj roman (“Theatrical Novel”, 1965) and Master i Margarita (1967) Bulgakov.

Dissidents and official literature

The liberalization process was interrupted in 1966 with the arrest of J. Daniel and A. Sinjavskij, accused of having published some works abroad. In the 1970s there was a rift between official literature and samizdat (clandestine publishing), the number of Russian works published abroad increased, a new wave of emigration or expulsions rose. Well-known writers settle abroad (V. Aksënov; I. Brodskij; Nekrasov; Solženicyn; G. Vladimov; V. Vojnovič), as well as the critic Sinjavskij and the philosopher A. Zinov´ev who in exile will become original writers, the first daring experimenter, the second ferocious satirical. In 1979 the Metropol almanac comes out in samizdat´, prepared by Aksënov, A. Bitov, Venedikt Erofeev, F. Iskander, E. Popov, immediately reprinted in America, while in France Sinjavskij publishes the magazine Sintaksis. ● In the official literature peasant prose continues to occupy an important place in the works of V. Shukšin, V. Rasputin, F. Abramov, V. Belov; the description of the hard life of the villages, of frustrated characters, of the difficulties of the passage from the countryside to the city is accompanied by a re-evaluation of traditional peasant morality and submission to its rules, which often flows into the vast river of neo-Slavophilism. J. Trifonov and V. Tendrjakov dedicate their works to ethical problems; with new themes and new stylistic procedures, A. Kim, V. Makanin, V. Orlov assert themselves, Bitov. ● With the end of the decade, alongside the strictly official literature of J. Bondarev, A. Čakovskij, P. Proskurin, works by more critical writers, attentive to social and existential problems, such as Kartina («Il quadro», 1980) appear. by D. Granin (pseudonym of D. German), Posle buri (“After the storm”, 1982-86) by S. Zalygin and Al  ´ tist Danilov (“The viola player Danilov”, 1980) by Orlov. ● The real turning point, however, is 1985, the year of M. Gorbačëv’s rise to power. Within a few months the literary situation changed completely: works hitherto unpublished in Russia were published, by writers such as Bulgakov, Mandel´štam, Pasternak, Platonov, V. Šalamov, Solženicyn, J. Dombrovskij; written by Belov, Dudincev, J. Nagibin, A. Pristavkin, A. Rybakov (pseudonym of A. Aronov) come out of the drawers; new editions of authors from the beginning of the century or even the 19th century appear, not reprinted for decades: religious thinkers such as N. Berdjaev, L. Šestov (pseudonym of L. Schwarzmann) and P. Florensky, writers such as Gumilëv and L Dobyčin. The literature of the first emigration is recovered, publishing works by Bunin, Chodasevič, Cvetaeva, G. Ivanov, Nabokov, Remizov, Šmelëv, Zajcev, Zamyatin. The last survivors of that generation, Berberova and I. Odoevceva, manage to return to Russia for a short time, whose works are reprinted. Among the writers of the second emigration (the one who left the Russia in the wake of the German troops) the lyric I. Elagin (pseudonym of I. Matveev) emerges.

The other literature

The season of passionate reading, however, is very short. Solzhenitsyn, first hailed as a prophet, later became a boring preacher for most. A new generation of writers is making its way, in controversy with the canon of the recent past but also with the nineteenth-century tradition of the ideological, moralistic, parenetic novel. Many, rookies in the 1970s, later made their position explicit. One of them, Viktor Erofeev (perhaps the first to be introduced in large doses the erotic element in contemporary Russian prose Russkaya krasavica, 1990; trans. En Silk Stockings, 1991) defines them as ‘the flowers of evil’, but they are generally known as ‘other literature’: ‘other’ than Soviet and dissent literature. They do not contest, they do not denounce, they do not defend any ideal; desecrate the role of the writer, appreciate the toughness of Šalamov and S. Dovlatov (who emigrated and died in New York in 1989); they are convinced that evil has long since triumphed in the world; they introduce taboo themes into literature such as eroticism, homosexuality, up to anthropophagy; they exhibit cynicism, sometimes tinged with Satanism. Their writing is varied in style and quality; some do not disdain the means of surrealism. In addition to E. Popov, V. Popov, V. P´ecuch, Venedikt Erofeev, E. Limonov (pseudonym of E. Savenko), writers such as T. Tolstaja (Na zolotom kril  ´ ce sideli, 1987; trad. it. Under the golden portico, 1989; the stories of the collection The most beloved, 1994) and L. Petruševskaja for the use of the grotesque and for the doubts about the goodness of human nature that transpire behind their benevolence for the derelict.

Russian Literature During the Soviet Period 2