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  • Literary Life

    Posted on October 27th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments
    Iurii Annenkov: Portrait of the Poet Boris Pasternak (1921)

    Iurii Annenkov: Portrait of the Poet Boris Pasternak (1921)

    Boris Pasternak was a poet in 1956 after the Thaw of 1954 that created some trouble due to his literary work. The Thaw, written by Il’ia Ehrenburg, was the first example of poets and novelists experimenting with their literary content, although it was timid and short lived.

    From 1956-1957, Soviet writers began to test the limits of expression, beginning with Khrushchev’s Secret Speech. “On February 24, 1956 before assembled delegates to the Communist Party’s Twentieth Congress as well as observers from foreign Communist parties, Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech denouncing Stalin for his transgressions. The speech was “secret” in the sense that it was read in a closed session without discussion and was neither published as part of the congress’ proceedings nor reported in the Soviet press.” Although, the speech was held in private, several copies were given to certain secretaries and other officials, which the U.S. State Department was able to get their hands on and then released it. 

    Nikita Khrushchev

    Nikita Khrushchev

    After the release of the speech, two reports were written in response to it. One of the reports was by Aleksei Surkov, a conservative secretary of the Writers Union, who “delivered a predictable speech on the ideological tradition of socialist realism.” The other report by Mikhail Sholokhov, “stunned and delighted delegates by ridiculing Surkov and the pretensions of all literary administrators in sometimes salty language.” This was the start to a new era of Soviet literary expression.

    Boris Pasternak was one of those authors to test the limits of the Soviet literature when he submitted his secret novel, Doctor Zhivago, to Novyi mirThe literary magazine rejected his novel saying: “The thing that alarmed us in your novel is something that neither the editors nor the author could change by partial deletions or corrections: We are concerned here with the very spirit of the novel, with its pathos and with the author’s view of life as that view really is or, in any case, as it is formed in the mind of the reader. We feel it is our direct duty to speak to you about this as people to whose views you may or may not attach importance, but whose collective opinion you have no grounds for considering prejudiced and which, therefore, is at least worth hearing out.” (Novy mir Letter

    Pasternak did not think that this would be the case after many of the other literary works that were published around this time. He sent his work to an Italian publisher and had success there, with English and French translations following soon after. He did not receive the same type of praise from the Motherland, but instead faced severe backlash in both his professional and personal life. He won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1958, but refused to even go and accept his award. Pasternak remained an outcast until his death two years later in 1960.

    The case of Boris Pasternak and several other authors from around his time period were the last of their kind to be stomped out by the Stalinist regime.


    3 responses to “Literary Life” RSS icon

    • It’s a shame that censorship and government limitations on cultural progress still existed after the death of Stalin, when the country was on a supposed path of reform.

    • This is a nice post about literature during the thaw. The fact that literature speaking out against the government was somewhat tolerated. This shows that the government was weakening. However, Anna does make an excellent point in her comment that literature like Doctor Zhivago was still being censored in a supposedly free country. On a side note, the movie version of Doctor Zhivago is awesome and everyone should watch it!

    • I agree that the classic movie with Omar Sharif should be on everyone’s Top Ten list! Citing Pasternak’s rejection letter from Novyi Mir is brilliant! I’d love for us to talk about this in class. It’s such an important milestone in Soviet cultural politics, and it’s an amazing document. If they had really wanted to repress the novel, they would have done so with a short note – but this detailed critique of the novel as not being sufficiently Soviet actually gave people some sense of what is about – and probably made them want to read it. It’s a powerful novel, regardless of the politics.

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