Soviet Literature - 20th Century

20th Century

With the victory of Russia's Revolution, Mayakovsky worked on interpreting the facts of the new reality. Mayakovsky works such as "Ode to the Revolution" and "Left March" (both 1918) brought innovations to poetry. In "Left March", Mayakovsky calls for a struggle against the enemies of the Russian Revolution. The poem "150,000,000" discusses the leading played by the masses in the revolution. In the poem "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" (1924), Mayakovsky looks at the life and work at the leader of Russia's revolution and depicts them against a broad historical background. In the poem "It's Good", Mayakovsky writes about socialist society being the "springtime of humanity". Mayakovsky was instrumental in producing a new type of poetry in which politics played a major part.

In the 1930s Socialist realism became the predominant trend in Russia. Its leading figure was Maxim Gorky, who laid the foundations of this style with his works The Mother and his play The Enemies (both 1906). His autobiographical trilogy describes his journey from the poor of society to the development of his political consciousness. His novel The Artamanov Business (1925) and his play Egor Bulyshov (1932) depict the decay and inevitable downfall of Russia's ruling classes. Gorky defined socialist realism as the "realism of people who are rebuilding the world," and points out that it looks at the past "from the heights of the future's goals". Gorky considered the main task of writers to help in the development of the new man in socialist society. Gorky's version of a heroic revolutionary is Pavel Vlasov from the novel "Mother", who displays selflessness and compassion for the working poor, as well as discipline and dedication. Gorky's works were significant for the development of literature in Russia and became influential in many parts of the world.

Nikolay Ostrovsky's novel How the Steel Was Tempered has been among the most successful works of Russian literature, with tens of millions of copies printed in many languages around the world. In China, various versions of the book have sold more than 10 million copies. In Russia, more than 35 million copies of the book are in circulation. The book is a fictionalized autobiography of Ostrovsky's life, who had a difficult working-class childhood and became a Komsomol member in July 1919 and went to the front as a volunteer. The novel's protagonist, Pavel Korchagin, represented the "young hero" of Russian literature: he is dedicated to his political causes, which help him to overcome his tragedies. The novel has served as an inspiration to youths around the world and played a mobilizing role in Russia's Great Patriotic War.

Alexander Fadeyev achieved noteworthy success in Russia, with tens of millions of copies of his books in circulation in Russia and around the world. Many of Fadeyev's works have been staged and filmed and translated into many languages in Russia and around the world. Fadeyev served as a secretary of the Soviet Writers' Union and was the general secretary of the union's administrative board from 1946 to 1954. He was awarded two Orders of Lenin and various medals. His novel The Rout deals with the partisan struggle in Russia's Far East during the Russian Revolution and Civil War. Fadeyev described the theme of this novel as one of a revolution significantly transforming the masses. The novel's protagonist Levinson is a Bolshevik revolutionary who has a high level of political consciousness. The novel The Young Guard, which received the State Prize of the USSR in 1946, focuses on an underground Komsomol group in Krasnodon, Ukraine and their struggle against the fascist occupation.

The first years of the Soviet regime were marked by the proliferation of avant-garde literature groups. One of the most important was the Oberiu movement that included Nikolay Zabolotsky, Alexander Vvedensky, Konstantin Vaginov and the most famous Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. Other famous authors experimenting with language were novelists Andrei Platonov and Yuri Olesha and short story writers Isaak Babel and Mikhail Zoshchenko.

Writers like those of Serapion Brothers group, who insisted on the right of an author to write independently of political ideology, were forced by authorities to reject their views and accept Socialist realism principles. Some 1930s writers, such as Mikhail Bulgakov, author of The Master and Margarita, and Nobel-prize winning Boris Pasternak with his novel Doctor Zhivago continued the classical tradition of Russian literature with little or no hope of being published. Their major works would not be published until the Khrushchev Thaw and Pasternak was forced to refuse his Nobel prize.

Meanwhile, émigré writers, such as poets Vyacheslav Ivanov, Georgy Ivanov and Vladislav Khodasevich; novelists such as Gaito Gazdanov, Mark Aldanov and Vladimir Nabokov and short story Nobel Prize winning writer Ivan Bunin, continued to write in exile.

The Khrushchev Thaw brought some fresh wind to the literature. Poetry became a mass cultural phenomenon: Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky, Robert Rozhdestvensky and Bella Akhmadulina read their poems in stadiums and attracted huge crowds.

Some writers dared to oppose Soviet ideology, like short story writer Varlam Shalamov and Nobel Prize winning novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote about life in the gulag camps, or Vasily Grossman, with his description of World War II events countering the Soviet official historiography. They were dubbed "dissidents" and could not publish their major works until the 1960s.

But the thaw did not last long. In the 1970s, some of the most prominent authors were not only banned from publishing, but were also prosecuted for their Anti-Soviet sentiments or parasitism. Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the country. Others, such as Nobel prize winning poet Joseph Brodsky, novelists Vasily Aksyonov, Eduard Limonov and Sasha Sokolov, and short story writer Sergei Dovlatov, had to emigrate to the US, while Venedikt Yerofeyev and Oleg Grigoriev "emigrated" to alcoholism. Their books were not published officially until perestroika, although fans continued to reprint them manually in a manner called "samizdat" (self-publishing).

  • Aleksey Tolstoy

  • Boris Pasternak

  • Mikhail Bulgakov

  • Marina Tsvetaeva

  • Isaak Babel

  • Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov

  • Mikhail Sholokhov

  • Daniil Kharms

  • Alexander Belayev

  • Joseph Brodsky

Read more about this topic:  Soviet Literature

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