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Reading russia, vol. 3

 | 
Damiano Rebecchini
, 
Raffaella Vassena

Part III. After the Bolshevik Revolution

Is There a Class in This Text? Reading in the Age of Stalin

Thomas Lahusen

Texte intégral

  • 1 My many thanks to Yurou Zhong for her detailed reading of the draft of the paper and valuable comm (...)

The last two days I have read in the newspapers about conversations with milkmaids. I have read so much of it that during the night I have been dreaming of cows. /Laughter/
– Speech of com. Dem’ian Bednyi. Izvestiia, 15.2.19361

  • 2 S. Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, MA, (...)

1By inverting the title of Stanley Fish’s famous book, Is There a Text in this Class: The Authority of Interpretive Communities in the title of the present contribution,2 my goal was to signal a number of problems and difficulties that any research on reading in the age of Stalin encounters. What is “class” in the ‘classless’ society of Stalin’s Soviet Union? What are its “interpretative communities”? What tools of investigation can we use when we are confronted with the absence of any bona fide surveys?

  • 3 E. Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader: Social and Aesthetic Contexts of the Reception of Sov (...)
  • 4 D. Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past (Cambridge, MA, 2013)

2I will begin by discussing several approaches that have dealt with one or more of these questions. After presenting some of the basic concepts used by Evgeny Dobrenko in his “classic” The Making of the State Reader: Social and Aesthetic Contexts of the Reception of Soviet Literature,3 such as the “ideal reader” or the “death of dialogue” between author and reader in the Soviet “situation of reading,” I will present some of the limitations of the state’s “reading guidance,” attested by my own findings about the readers of a Stalin Prize novel of the late 1940s. Denis Kozlov’s The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past4 will serve me not only to outline some of the important changes that reading after Stalin entailed but also to question some of the assumptions that are contained in the notion of reader “defiance” and “confrontation.”

3A recent interview of a Russian woman who started reading in the late 1920s and the manifestations of reading found in a series of diaries of the 1930s will serve as empirical material that, I hope, sheds some light on the difficult question of what was reading in the age of Stalin. I will also compare some of my findings to those of Oleg Lekmanov, who also used diaries for his analysis, and whose contribution is included in the present volume (Lekmanov, “The ‘Other’ Readers of the 1920s”).

* * *

  • 5 Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader, viii.
  • 6 Ibid., viii-ix.
  • 7 Ibid., 282-83.

4One of the important contributions to the question of Soviet readership overall is Evgeny Dobrenko’s The Making of the State Reader. From the very start Dobrenko underlines the limits of his approach: his work “does not in the least aspire to be any sort of history of reading in Soviet times.” What the author is after, is the “shaping of the reader of Soviet artistic literature.” This literature is part and parcel of the formation of the “institution of literature,” the design of which, in the Soviet context, was “to perform (and did perform) substantive political and ideological functions in the authorities’ overall system of activities aimed at ‘remaking,’ ‘reforging,’ and ultimately creating a new man.”5 Dobrenko recognizes that the Soviet “State-hierarchy system” was also a “mosaic” with its specific “cultural strata” and various modes of consumption, performing a host of functions (escapist, socializing, compensatory, emotional, etc.), but his focus is the “situation of reading”6 ultimately determined by the state whose “horizon of expectations” and “guidance” practically lead to the “death of dialogue” between author and reader. Out of this new situation of reading emerges the “ideal reader” who “is a product of the joint creative work of the authorities and the masses.”7

  • 8 Ibid., 284.
  • 9 Ibid., 285.
  • 10 Ibid., 287. Dobrenko capitalizes “socialist realism.”
  • 11 Ibid.

5Two questions come immediately to mind: what are “the masses” and what are “the authorities”? Dobrenko gives some interesting sources about the former: the provided statistics on readers’ preferences and check-out counts refer to Moscow young workers and students of the trade schools and factory training schools in the 1940s as well as rural and regional readers. In the Moscow case, the “authorities” that initiated the surveys were a subsection of the Directorate of Cultural Enlightenment. In Vologda and other regions, it was the “library itself.” The explicit goal of the Moscow surveys was “to test the effectiveness of the propaganda of the best works of Soviet literature” and that of the rural survey, “to help the reader.”8 The results provided by Dobrenko of what was read by whom are not very surprising, and could even be qualified as somehow “tautological”: the lists of books and their rankings “reflected not simply supply but also readers’ demands as moulded by the school curriculum.” What we see here, is “the apotheosis of the ‘guidance of reading’.”9 Some additional statistics provided by Dobrenko go a bit further: for example, the high rate of circulation in Irkutsk of “not only books that have received the Stalin Prize” but also “local Socialist Realist literary productions.”10 Concerning the “Socialist Realist idyll,” Dobrenko reminds us that “one should not err to the opposite direction,” claiming that nobody read Socialist Realist literature. The statistics should be sufficient to prove that opinion wrong.11

  • 12 T. Lahusen, How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin’s Russia (Ith (...)
  • 13 Ibid., 161.

6At the risk of being accused of self-plagiarism, I will refer to my own work on Vasilii Azhaev’s novel Far from Moscow (Daleko ot Moskvy).12 It largely confirms Dobrenko’s findings. Azhaev received thousands of letters by readers, a good number of which were kept in his personal archive. Some of the first letters were sent to Novyi mir (New World), the ‘thick’ journal that published the novel in 1948. Others were sent to various newspapers after Azhaev was awarded the Stalin Prize, first class, in 1949, or to his own address. Many of these letters were written as a result of “readers’ conferences,” of which the author kept a self-typed list, with hand-written additions up to 1953. These readers’ conferences took place all over the Soviet Union, in libraries, reading rooms, factories, construction sites, collective and state farms, hospitals, railway and army units, middle schools, pedagogical institutes, universities, etc. Reports of these conferences were published in newspapers and journals, among them in an article that appeared in the July 1949 issue of Novyi mir. According to its author, N. Kovalev, “party organizer of the Central Committee of the VKP(b) in the Stalin automobile factory,” the readers’ conferences “represent the last link of a long chain of tremendous work, provided by the party organizations and the party committee of the factory in the propaganda of ideas contained in the works of literature.”13 The sentence clearly expresses the “horizon of expectation” defined by Dobrenko. Most of the letters to the author are indeed ‘guided’ to the point that they repeat the same clichés, slogans, and stereotypical encouragements to the author to correct and perfect his art.

  • 14 Ibid., 151-154.

7At times, however, ‘life’ intrudes on these letters: for example, readers who recognize themselves and other ‘heroes’ in Azhaev’s novel during a conference organized in February 1949 at the Dzerzhinskii Club of the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of the Interior.14 The stenographic transcript of the conference contains not only what has been said, but also the author’s answer to the collective who had “taught [him] how to live”: the officials of the Camp of the Lower Amur, where Azhaev worked as a ‘free laborer’ after having been released from the Corrective Labor Camp of the Baikal-Amur Main Line of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs. But the transcript also includes what “should not have been mentioned”: the writer edited the typed transcript by hand, with corrections, inked-out ellipses, etc.

  • 15 Ibid., 164.
  • 16 Ibid., 166.
  • 17 Ibid., 176.
  • 18 Ibid., 170.

8Azhaev participated in many readers’ conferences devoted to his novel. In those he could not attend, he participated by some kind of proxy, sending an impressive amount of answers. Some of the letters contained in his archive reveal much more than “state guidance.” One reader criticises the author for “technical” inaccuracies, another for “historical” mistakes, and several others for aesthetic failures. “Azhaev is good every time he writes about the production process. But when he treats such problems as love and the personal feelings of the heroes, he falls to the level of very low-quality belles lettres.”15 Another reader blames the writer for only showing the leaders of the construction instead of depicting the builders themselves.16 Another asks him why he encrypted the place names of his novel: “Adun, Rubezhansk, Novinsk … A great writer called Sakhalin simply: Sakhalin. Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island. Why classify it as a secret, what for?”17 For a reader from Tomsk, the narrator of Far from Moscow is a true Scheherazade: “What happened here is what happened in A Thousand and Nights, where the tale was interrupted at the most interesting moment and one had to wait for the next night.”18 The print run of Far from Moscow in the Sovetskii pisatel’ edition of 1959 was 150,000 copies. As shows the following letter, dated 7 November 1949, this was not enough:

  • 19 Ibid., 22.

You know that people liked Far from Moscow; but what you don’t know is that this book was read to shreds in the workers’ settlements of the Donbass (there was only one book, and everybody wanted to read it at the same time). Whole pages were copied from it, by people from various professions….19

  • 20 Ibid., 172.

9Some letters, finally, asked for another type of guidance, which certainly did not correspond to the state’s “horizon of expectation,” like this letter of a former prisoner who obviously—like the collective who taught Azhaev “how to live”—decoded the novel’s “real” locations (Komsomolsk-on-Amur—Sakhalin Island) and sought the author’s financial help so that he could leave the Far East with his children.20

  • 21 For an outline of this phenomenon, see T. Lahusen, “Cement (Fedor Gladkov, 1925),” in F. Moretti ( (...)
  • 22 V. Azhaev, “Daleko ot Moskvy, roman.” Dal’nii vostok, 1-2 (1946), 3-77; 4 (1947), 3-60; 5 (1947), (...)

10As I have shown in my book, Azhaev was an assiduous reader of himself. Conform to the already long tradition of “rewriting” Soviet literature,21 the author of Far from Moscow enjoyed the personal “guidance” of Konstantin Simonov, chief editor of Novyi mir, when he was revising his novel for the Stalin Prize edition. A first version of it had been published in the journal Dal’nii vostok (The Far East) between 1946 and 1948.22 But here too, the results of following this guidance are far from “tautological.” Simonov’s editorial report contains a thirteen-point list of what the author should rewrite, eliminate, or add. Targeted are, among other things, the “love stories” that are part of the novel’s plot. To quote just one of the changes proposed by Simonov is the suggestion of the editor to make one of the (slightly) negative female characters “ugly.” Azhaev answered: “I don’t like much the idea of introducing ugly women.” Interesting are the writer’s overall responses, very much in tune of his former, pre-Gulag, specialty: rationalization. In the margin of Simonov’s list the author wrote “pluses” and “minuses,” as well as “plus-and-minuses” to express his (un)willingness or hesitation to follow “guidance,” i.e., to make the changes that Simonov requested. The final result was rather predictable: the “plusses” prevailed in the publication. But the author had shown his personal view, or at least, what was left of it after having been sentenced for paragraph 58 (counter-revolutionary agitation), spent two years of “re-education” in the labour camp of the Baikal-Amur Mainline, and seven years of work as a “free labourer” in the Far-Eastern labor camp system.

  • 23 Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past.
  • 24 Ibid., 42.
  • 25 Ibid., 4.
  • 26 M. David-Fox, “The Iron Curtain as a Semipermeable Membrane: Origins and Demise of the Stalinist S (...)

11The massive opening of a dialogue between authors and readers after Stalin’s death has been well documented in Denis Kozlov’s The Readers of Novyi Mir.23 Kozlov shows how the texts published in the journal Novyi mir after 1953 by writers like Erenburg, Solzhenitsyn, or Pasternak provoked thousands of letters sent to the journal, which allowed for an unprecedented exchange between Soviet citizens and their assessment of the country’s dramatic history, from the 1917 revolution to collectivization, the purges of the 1930s, and the “Great Patriotic War.” Even if Kozlov’s work amply proves that the “massive, widespread, and open defiance of officially expressed viewpoints”24 became only possible and visible during the Thaw, he acknowledges that Soviet literary audiences never fit the “Procrustean bed of ideological visions.”25 As Michael David-Fox has shown, border-crossings between the Soviet Union and the West never ceased, even during the most isolationist period of Stalinism.26 Reading foreign literature was certainly part of it.

  • 27 One of her last publications is a memoir of the 1930s. M. Turovskaia, Teeth of the Dragon: My 1930 (...)

12Let us take one of those readers who, to use Dobrenko’s formulation, “erred to the opposite direction,” i.e. did not follow the “reading guidance” of the state. “I started to read while sitting on my pottie (sidia na gorshke),” said Maiia Turovskaia in an interview that I conducted with her on 1 August 2018 in Munich, about seven months before her death. Turovskaia was a major Russian scholar, author of numerous books and articles about Soviet theater, film, and culture, as well as co-director of Mikhail Room’s famous 1965 film Everyday Fascism (Obyknovennyi fashizm). The “pottie” stood next to the bookcase in the Moscow communal apartment where she lived. “I never stopped—she added—and I am still reading, at the age of 94. Russia is a reading country. Perhaps peasant Russia was illiterate, but urban Russia was always reading.” Turovskaia was of course a typical representative of the intelligentsia, but her reading experience was not always typical of her ‘class.’ After all, Stalinist culture and socialist realism was one of her strong interests.27

13One of the first things that Turovskaia shared with me was her recollection of going with her father to the antiquarian (bukinistichnye) and non-antiquarian bookshops. Some of those shops were private, the others were government shops. Because she was still a child, they looked for children books. She had a remarkable collection of fairy tales. Gipsy tales, for example, or tales of the Ore Mountains, “not to mention the tales of the Brothers Grimm, or the Andersen Tales.” Then, there were the book markets, the so-called “book-breaks” (knizhnye razvaly), which were the most interesting, of course. They were around the monument of Fedor the First Printer (pamiatnik Fedoru pervopechatniku), and also at the Kremlin Wall.

1. A book-break at the Kremlin Wall (1920s)

1. A book-break at the Kremlin Wall (1920s)

14In what was discarded there, one could find anything and everything, starting with the collected works published by M. O. Vol’f and ending with books of the Niva publishing house, with their special paper covers. Then, of course, the book-breaks disappeared. And there was this man, called “book carrier” (kniganosha). He brought the subscription editions. He was very small, wearing an astrakhan hat. He brought the first editions of Marcel Proust and Romain Rolland. Turovskaia started reading adventure fiction at the age of six or seven: Jules Vernes, Mayne Reid, Louis Henri Boussenard, Gustave Aimard, O. Henry, etc. Her readings recall those of Tolia Starodubov, the “provincial boy” presented by Lekmanov in his contribution about the “other” readers of the 1920s. But Turovskaia was visibly a more privileged “reader-intellectual” than Anatolii Fedorovich. Her family had also a sizable German library. She had started learning German at the age of six and read the Grimm tales, or Lohengrin, in the original. Most of the readings were translated literature: she remembers playing the characters of Marc Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper with the other children in the courtyard. But she only wanted to play the male characters…

  • 28 Lahusen, “Cement (Fedor Gladkov, 1925),” in F. Moretti (ed.), The Novel. Volume 2 Forms and Themes(...)

15Of course, Russian literature was also on her reading list: Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol’... But when asked if she read Soviet literature, her answer was not devoid of contradictions. After a distinctive and general “no,” she admitted reading Nikolai Ostrovskii’s How the Steel Was Tempered (Kak zakalialas’ stal’). “Even if its text was helpless (bezpomoshchnyi), very badly written, the story was dramatic. But Cement, we did not read,” she added emphatically, and in contradistinction to the already quoted Anatolii Starodubov, who “liked the novel.” Perhaps he did, because in 1926, the novel had not yet been the object of the bloodletting experienced during the countless instances of rewriting, during which most of Cement’s “ornamentalism” was purged for the sake of “socialist realism.”28 Turovskaia remembered reading The Rout (Razgrom) by Aleksandr Fadeev, even quoting Commissar Levinson’s last words at the end of the novel: “A man has to live and do his duty” (Nuzhno bylo zhit’ i ispolniat’ svoi ob”iazannosti). Fadeev’s The Young Guard (Molodaia gvardiia) too, was very much read and discussed “because it was a true story, because these were real people, even if there was a lot of lies, as it turned out later. We couldn’t forgive that Fadeev depicted Tret’iakevich as a traitor.” Other authors mentioned were Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don (Tikhii Don), but Turovskaia did not want “to engage in the Solzhenitsyn polemic about the novel’s authenticity”. She also read Sholokhov’s novel Virgin Soil Upturned (Podniataia tselina), which had “strong passages,” and Konstantin Paustovskii. His novel Kara-Bugaz was one of her favorites. “Later Paustovskii became sentimental,” she said.

16Asked what kind of books were on the school program, Turovskaia proudly remembered going to the “Fridtjov Nansen” School No.10. Some of her classmates became very famous, Konrad Wolf, the future GDR film director, and his older brother Markus Wolf, who became the legendary head of East Germany’s foreign intelligence bureau, inspiring John le Carré’s character Karla. Among the students of School No. 10 was also Radek’s daughter and Svetlana Bukharina. “Svetlana Stalina and Svetlana Molotova were students of School No. 25, attached to the Kremlin. We had the unreliable (nenadezhnaia) Svetlana. She was one of my best friends.” Concerning the program in School No. 10, the choice was decided by the teachers. One of the texts for history, said Turovskaia, was Aleksei Tolstoi’s Prince Serebrenni (Kniaz’ Serebrianyi) (about Ivan the Terrible), or Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. In School No. 25, directed by some Leonova, “a strict party person,” the teaching was more “conscious.” It is only in fifth grade that “stable textbooks” were introduced, with the same program for all. Turovskaia recalled her first “stable” history textbook, authored by (Anna Mikhailovna] Pankratova. It was “written for small children and had nothing to do with a serious textbook.” But she vividly remembered one of her teachers, Ivan Kuz’mich: “He taught in the older classes of our school how to read newspapers between the lines. He taught us how to read the Soviet press. To read what was not written, what was hinted at, what was referred to, etc. It was an art to read between the lines, and he taught us this art.”

17I could not refrain asking Turovskaia about the novel I had spent years of reading “between the lines”: she had read Far from Moscow “because of its title and because everybody knew about what he was writing.” I am still not sure if I can believe her. In any case, Azhaev’s novel was largely read, and not only in the workers’ settlements of the Donbass. Reporting on the “remarkable craving for the printed word in the immediate post-war years,” Kozlov quotes Iurii Trifonov’s memoirs:

  • 29 Iu. Trifonov, “Zapiski soseda” [1972], in Idem, Rasskazy. Povesti. Roman. Vospominaniia. Esse (Eka (...)

Readers wanted books about contemporary life, the life that was familiar to them. The quality of prose, overall, plummeted starkly in comparison to the 1930s, not to mention the 1920s. … And yet the avidity for reading, the passion for books was an enormous, all-embracing fascination— after the war, after all the misfortunes, after the rationing system, after the years when books had been sold in order to buy bread. Therefore, writings in which there flickered at least a semblance of truth were embraced with unbelievable and seemingly inexplicable delight. Discussions about the novels Far from Moscow by [Vasilii] Azhaev or Kruzhilikha by [Vera] Panova gathered thousands of people. And what was in those books to discuss? What was there to debate? Everything in them was clear and indisputable.29

18Turovskaia was of course a reader not like any other and her ‘situation of reading’ was certainly very different from that of the ‘conscious readers’ enrolled in Moscow’s School No. 25 or in the trade and factory training schools, mentioned by Dobrenko. Not everybody had among his or her classmates a Svetlana Bukharina or a Konrad Wolf, and few Soviet readers were able to read the Grimm tales in the original. But there is no doubt that she shared the “craving for the printed word” with the rest of her contemporaries, with one caveat, however: as Turovskaia noted at the beginning of the interview, if urban Russia was always reading, “perhaps peasant Russia was illiterate.” In the next section of my article, devoted to other readers and other ‘reading situations,’ I will attempt to bring some clarification.

* * *

  • 30 Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet Writer. For an analysis of the post-1917 readership, see Dobren (...)
  • 31 Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet Writer, xiv.
  • 32 Ibid.
  • 33 F. Engels, “Dialectics of Nature” (1883).
  • 34 Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet Writer, 220, 281, 397.
  • 35 Ibid., 389.

19Russia, or rather, the Soviet Union, was not only a country of readers but also a country of writers. As Evgeny Dobrenko showed in his The Making of the Soviet Writer,30 a fascinating sequel to The Making of the Soviet Reader, socialist realism was “a boundless sea of ‘artistic production’—epics, novels, poems, plays, and so forth.”31 The statistics Dobrenko provides, based on the data released from the Second Congress of Soviet Writers in 1954, are mind staggering: between 1934 and 1953, i.e., during the “classical Stalinist era,” an average of 3,685 works was published per year with an overall print run of 119,231,000 copies. Within three decades, “the number of producers (and consequently the ‘artistic products’ produced by them) increased threefold during this period.”32 The process follows the principle of the “transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa33: when the “collective creativity” of the “workers’-correspondent writers” and the “shockworkers of literature” of the late 1920s—early 1930s was replaced by the “mastery” of the “Soviet writer,” nurtured by the institutional control of literary circles, the litkonsul’tanty (litconsultancies), the Conferences of Youth Writers, and, of course, the Union of Soviet Writers itself,34 quality was, in turn, transformed into quantity: “the torrent of the ‘new writers’ cadres” did not dry up; on the contrary, it swelled.”35

  • 36 Lekmanov, “The ‘other’ readers of the 1920’s: three portraits,” in the present volume.
  • 37 Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir, 2-3.

20One particular genre of writing did not make it into “Soviet literature,” but can be considered, at least in part, as its by-product. It is the diary. On the one hand, the diaries written during Soviet times focused, like all diaries, on the personal and the intimate and were not meant to be published. But on the other hand, they followed the process outlined above: they were part of the mass literacy and the “collective creativity” that was brought about during the 1920s and “swelled” during the years to come. Traditionally, diaries were written by the intelligentsia, by writers, politicians, artists, and other “cultural figures.” These are the “readers-intellectuals,” presented by Oleg Lekmanov in his “Three Portraits.”36 However, from the 1920s onwards, the “lower strata” too began to write personal accounts of their life. In the sample that I will use in my presentation—diaries written during the 1930s “literature,” including “socialist realism” makes its appearance not only as an object of reading but in the very form of writing. As Denis Kozlov noted in The Readers of Novyi Mir, socialist realism blurred the boundaries between literature and journalism: on the one hand, literature was mobilized for political purposes; on the other hand, journalists regularly aspired to a literary career.”37 For many men and women of the 1930s, writing a diary was also a way to participate in “literature,” from writing to criticism, and was therefore part of the “horizon of expectations” and “guidance” described above.

21To trace activities of reading in my diaries, I proceeded by a simple search for keywords, such as the verbs chitat’ (read), chital(a) (read, past time), kniga (book), gazeta (newspaper), zhurnal (revue), avtor (author), etc., or I looked for less obvious “signs” of reading. I was interested in what the diaries said about the diary writers, and what these writers read, and in what context. My search attempted to identify those readers who responded to the state’s “horizon of expectations” and those who did not, or to use Turovskaia’s term, those who displayed or not “consciousness.”

  • 38 V. Garros, N. Korenevskaya, T. Lahusen (eds.), Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s (N (...)

22Some diaries that served for my present research were collected around 1995 in the context of a project that lead to the publication of our collection Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s.38 The remaining are diaries that did not “make it” into our collection. The authors of the diaries considered here were five professional writers, an actor of theater and film, a journalist, an archivist, a scientist, a Red Army commander, a woman activist, and two peasants. Some of the diaries that initially were found in the archives or were obtained after placing ads in newspapers have since then been published in journals or in book form. Instead of referring to page numbers, I chose to identify the quoted passages by their date. I chose to concentrate on the second half of the 1930s, the time of the Great Terror, which also corresponded to the time when the “collective creation” of the late 1920s-early thirties finally crystallized in “high Stalinist” socialist realism.

  • 39 O. Bergol’ts, “Ol’ga. Zapretnyi dnevnik,” Neva, 5 (1990), 174-177. For the “strange history” of th (...)
  • 40 I. Paperno, Stories of the Soviet Experience: Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams (Ithaca, London, 2009).
  • 41 Ibid., 12.
  • 42 Ibid., 10.

23I will start with the writings of a poet, Ol’ga Bergol’ts’ “forbidden diary.” Published in the early 1990s, it was one of the revelations of the glasnost’ era.39 The entry of 15 July 1939 states: “On 13 December 1938 I was arrested, on 3 July evening 1939 I was released from prison. I had stayed there 171 days.” One of the first readings mentioned in the diary is Bergol’ts’s own “poem about Stalin,” written in prison. “How they liked that weak verse there! They wept when I read it to the end, and I was myself overcome with emotion, when I read it [...] Then, I had not yet started thinking: ‘Your fault!’” (23 December 1939). Further entries mention reading newspaper materials about Stalin, among them, a “foul article” by some P. Tychina in Literaturnaia gazeta, which had refused to publish her poem, “not conform to the greatness of Stalin.” One year later, Bergol’ts reads Herzen, “with yearning envy of that type of people of the nineteenth century. Oh, how free they were. How large and pure!” (1 March 1940). Irina Paperno has discussed the turn to the “classics” of Russian literature, and especially to Herzen, in her Stories of the Soviet Experience: Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams, a book that explores the phenomenon of diary and memoir writing in Soviet society.40 What Soviet intellectuals took from My Past and Thoughts (Byloe i Dumy) was Herzen’s “authorial position: a historicist self-consciousness that gave meaning and value to their difficult and complex lives, turning diverse personal records into documents of potential historical significance.”41 Russian intellectuals drew on this tradition since the nineteenth century. One of the two texts that Paperno analyzes in her book is Lidiia Chukovskaia’s Notes about Anna Akhmatova. Chukovskaia was herself a Herzen scholar, and to some of her contemporaries, “she was a Herzen of her time.”42

24My Past and Thoughts appears in another of our diaries, at a precise moment of a life crisis. Reingol’d Berzin (Reinholds Bērziņš) was a Latvian Soviet and military figure. During the Civil War, he was the commander of the Northern Ural-Siberian front. In the 1930s, he lived in Moscow and held a high administrative position in Narkomzem, the People’s Commissariat for Agriculture. He started to write a diary in January 1936. “Reading” appears not very often on these pages, except increasingly frequent references to the press reporting on stories of sabotage and wrecking. At the closure of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyist Center show trial at the end of January 1937, he notes: “the history of mankind has not seen a more dark and infamous treason.” Soon, the noose is tightening around his own persona, and he finally writes “all day long” a letter to Stalin, but the more he writes, the more he understands that Stalin will never read his letter (diary entry of 17 April 1937). Soon, he is reduced to “doing nothing.” On 2 July 1937, he writes: “Today I began to read the second volume of My Past and Thoughts, by Herzen. I rest while doing this.” Reading Herzen inspired Berzin for the name he gave to a new chapter of his diary: “Notebook No. 3.” It is entitled “1937. Random Notes from the Past” (“1937 god. Sluchainye zametki iz proshlogo”). The first entry is made on 13 November 1937. It begins with these lines:

Alas, I have studied philosophy,
The law as well as medicine,
And to my sorrow, theology;
Studied them well with ardent zeal,
Yet here I am, a wretched fool,
No wiser than I was before.
Goethe, Faust.

25It continues as follows:

Today at night, I remembered these words by Goethe. At night, when peace and silence is all around and the soul is awake, thoughts raise, in a long string, one after the other, and as out of the fog, scenes from long bygone days— long-extinct dreams and desires. Everything, everything, and perhaps not everything.

26The diary has now taken the appearance of a historical narrative. Berzin remembers his youth, his unfinished studies of medicine, his involvement with the revolutionary underground in St. Petersburg and arrest by the “Tsar’s chancery.” And then his moment comes: Berzin can “beautifully pay him back” when the Tsar happens to be in his hands, “a miserable prisoner, in Ekaterinburg.” The diary does not mention whether Berzin took part or not in the decision to execute Nicholas II and his family on 16 July 1918. A year and a half after starting his diary, Berzin was arrested on 10 December 1937 and executed on 19 March 1938. His diary was kept by his daughter. Asked why there was a hole in the middle of the diary with traces of rust, she said that she nailed it under a bench of their dacha, a few days before her father’s arrest. We did not receive the authorization to publish the diary in our collection, and I don’t know if it was published later.

  • 43 “Gody i sud’by. Andrei Arzhilovskii. Dnevnik 36-37,” Ural, 3 (1992).
  • 44 Intimacy and Terror, 111-165. I quote Arzhilovsky’s text from this translation, while adapting the (...)

27The diary of Andrei Arzhilovskii was one of the pieces of conviction that lead to his execution on 4 September 1937 for “counter-revolutionary crime.”43 Information about his life is outlined in the English translation of the diary.44 For our purpose, suffice is to say that Arzhilovskii was an “educated” peasant: he had attended a rural school. And he read a lot. On 15 December 1936 he writes: “I am reading Dickens. Wonderful! And the kids have gotten engrossed in Hugo; they have to be dragged from the book by force.” Here are some other reading excerpts of Arzhilovskii’s diary:

I’ve started reading Jack London. A smart man and an enemy of the capitalists (23 November 1936); Sometimes I try to read, but it can be rather hard to swallow: Soviet literature shows only the good side of life, the part that is for show, and it just doesn’t grab me (2 February 1937); This year is the centennial of Pushkin’s death. Soviet power has adopted Pushkin as one of its own… True, the man loved freedom, but he also loved his native country as well, he was a true Russian patriot. The late poet was not fond of serfdom. Dostoevskii also adopted Pushkin for his own, but Soviet power is not fond of Dostoevskii (15 February 1937); When I find the time, I read from Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don. He writes well enough, but I wonder how he’s going to manage to tie it all together at the end to conclude with the ‘happy life.’ It’s hardly likely he’ll be able to be honest right up to the end. Given the amount of pressure the writer was under, it must have been impossible to be objective and impartial. But once he starts hopping around on one foot, there is nothing in it any more for the reader; it feels forced and unnatural (21 February 1937); I borrowed Gladkov’s book, but it turns out I’d already read it once. What nonsense (19 April 1937).

28The last sentence was underlined in red, like other “incriminating” passages marked by the NKVD employee for “evidence.”

  • 45 Shirnov, Fedor Efimovich. Dnevnik rukopis’. S 1 marta 1888 g. po 1 oktabria 1938 g. Avtograf., Ros (...)
  • 46 Intimacy and Terror, 67.
  • 47 I quote Shirnov’s text from the translation provided in Intimacy and Terror, which attempts to ren (...)

29Few readers were so outspoken in their criticism, and not all rural schools provided the same amount of education. Fedor Shirnov is the only other peasant of our sample.45 Or rather, born as a peasant in the Urals, he climbed a few steps of the social ladder during his life. As we stated in our introduction to his “Manuscript Diary” (also published in Intimacy and Terror), the fact that he ended up in the Central [now Russian] State Archive of Literature and Art is an enigma.46 The author was painfully aware of his limits. In the last section of the diary, simply entitled “1938,” he writes: “I ask my readers for forgiveness for the bad style in my wretched little manuscript diary. All the education I had was a village school way out in the middle of nowhere where I was born and spent my childhood up to the age of 14.”47 Shirnov mentions “reading” a very few times, for example at the start of his “Trip on the Kalyma (sic) Expedition” in 1932:

When on the third day the locomotive whistle blowed and the train left the station, I got settled on my seat by the window and tried to read the paper my favorite, Gudok; but I was so worn out I couldn’t make no sense out of it. I just stared at the lines without seeing them. And there was something in that monotonous clattering of the wheels that touched my heart, a kind of joy inside.

30Two years later, Shirnov became the head of a workers’ dormitory in Moscow: “In the evening I read them newspapers, explained things and told about my trip up north, they was very interested and that took care of all the disorderly conduct at the factory.”

  • 48 G.V. Shtange, “Vospominaniia, 1932-1936 gg.” RGALI, f. 1337, op. 5, ed. khr. 48. Parts of Shtange’ (...)

31Reading newspapers, including Gudok (Whistle), the famous daily of the railway workers, appears many times in our diaries. It can even take a material form, like in Galina Shtange’s “Remembrances” (Vospominania).48 Shtange, who joined the women’s movement with the wives of the Commanders in the Transportation Field of the People’s Commissariat of Communication and Transportation in 1934, documents her “community work” by pasting newspaper articles (together with photographs, invitation cards, etc.) in her handwritten diary. Her special interest are articles, taken from Izvestiia, Dzerzhinets, Krasnogvardeiskaia pravda and other newspapers, describing the work of women activists. Gudok is not absent from the collection.

  • 49 A.V. Kirillov, “V seredine tridtsatykh. Dnevnik ssylnogo redaktora.” Publ. i poslesl. L. Kirillovo (...)

32Andrei Kirillov, a journalist of peasant origin, who worked in the Soviet press since the first years of its formation, writes a diary in his Krasnoiarsk exile.49 Over and over again, he implores his family and former colleagues to send him already-read newspapers and journals. He manages to find books, both “classics” and Soviet literature.

  • 50 Novel by Aleksei Novikov-Priboi (1932).
  • 51 Citation from Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pecuchet (1881): “Le suicide est beau !—témoin Caton (...)

I went to the library and there I read Rostand. Read again Cyrano de Bergerac, a work of genius. How desperately bleak are his other works in comparison to Cyrano! Here is what means to have written only one successful thing! The fate of Griboedov… The fate of today’s Afinogenov (Fear) … (22 February 1935). It’s Sunday, a day off. That’s why there is a snow storm. I just finished reading Tsusima50 (11 March 1935). I carry with me Flaubert and a tutorial of German. Perhaps all this will soon be superfluous… “Suicide is beautiful.”51 (8 September 1935).

33On 26 October 1935, Kirillov is expelled from the party, together with other party members (20 percent of the local aktiv). It is the time of the campaign of “verification and exchange of party documents.” In April 1936, he is sent to work in the remote village of Rozhdestvenskoe, where he fulfills the functions of commissioner for sowing in the local collective farm. He asks his wife to send him books from their private library: she dispatches a volume by Pushkin, Virgin Soil Upturned by Sholokhov, Energy (Energiia) by Gladkov and The Big Refit (Kapital’nyi remont) by Leonid Sobolev. Kirillov’s diary ends abruptly on April 19, 1936. On 4 October 1936, after a search in Kirillov’s room, the Kazachinsk party aktiv qualifies these books as “counter-revolutionary Trotskyite literature.” The same day, Kirillov commits suicide on the shore of the Enisei.

  • 52 N.V. Zhuravlev, Dnevnik, Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Tverskoi oblasti (GATO), f. R-652, op. 1, ed. khr. (...)
  • 53 In April 1938, the Central Archival Administration of the USSR (Tsentral’noe arkhivnoe upravlenie (...)

34“These last days I have read the first part of Sholokhov’s Virgin Soil Upturned. Not a bad book, even if there are weak and even too weak passages.” These lines are from Nikolai Zhuravlev’s diary, written on 1 February 1936, a few months before Sholokhov’s novel earned the label of “Trotskyite literature,” some 4,000 Km East from where the diarist lived and worked.52 Zhuravlev was an employee of the State Archive in Kalinin. While he was writing his diary, his work place became a branch of the NKVD.53 He was also a local historian, doing research on his region and in particular on the writer and civil servant M.E. Saltkov-Shchedrin. Zhuravlev was also an avid reader and the entries of his diary reveal numerous literary comments, some of which accurately reflect the “horizon of expectations.” According to him, “the weakness of Virgin Soil Upturned consists in the abundance of characters, appearing and disappearing on one single page, without having their personality developed. Too often, Sholokhov uses swear words, which could have been avoided (see for ex. Gor’kii).” In the entry of 4 February 1936, Zhuravlev discusses Leonid Leonov’s Road to the Ocean (Doroga na okean):

  • 54 Acronym of nachal’nik politicheskogo otdela dorogi, head of the political section of the railway.

The plot of the novel is quite interesting, but it slightly reminds one of adventure fiction. The crash of the train is well described. … The nachpodor,54 despite the author’s assurance, does not yet look like a true Bolshevik and even less like a Bolshevik put forward by the political section of the railway, especially important in regard to strategy (11 February 1936).

35At times, the diarist digresses about the very “situation of reading”: “There is no greater pleasure than reading an interesting book in bed. It seems that there was not a single night without having read something before falling asleep. For me the day is for scholarly activities, at night I read literature” (13 February 1936).

36Maksim Shtraukh wrote his diary between December 1936 and November 1937, while rehearsing his performances of Lenin, both in theaters and film during 1937 and 1938. We learn about the actor’s insomnia… and readings:

  • 55 Ida, short for Iudif’ Glizer, actress and first wife of Maksim Shtraukh.
  • 56 G. Dobrzhinskii, Ivan Bolotnikov. P’esa v aktakh (Moscow, 1938).
  • 57 Zhenshchina v grazhdanskoi voine (The Woman in the Civil War) was a collection published in 1937. (...)

In Kislovodsk I didn’t lose weight, I even gained some. Bought a brochure entitled Obesity… (8 September 1938); In the evening, I read memoirs about Lenin (15 September 1938); Read about Lenin. At night, insomnia. Got up and read again. Fell asleep late (9 October 1938); Three o’clock at night. Insomnia! I switched on the light and sat down to read the memoirs of Sarah Bernard in German, so to get tired and fall asleep easier. Obviously, I should walk more… (23 October 1938); We stayed home in the evening. I thought about the role and read Chapaev; Ida55 read Byron, by Maurois (30 October 1938); I’m at home, I am reading the play The Three Musketeers (27 November 1938); For some reason, I woke up at 10, I just couldn’t get up. I wanted to sleep so badly, but couldn’t fall asleep. Started to read in bed Madame Sans-Gêne… and also read the play Ivan Bolotnikov56 (27 November 1938); Again, insomnia! 5 O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING! I got up and read Women in the Civil War57 (28 November 1938).

37Shtraukh’s insomnia seemed to have abated somehow in the following weeks and months. But he continued to read continuously, Russian and foreign plays above all. Other entries of Shtraukh’s diary show that the actor was—like Maiia Turovskaia (and her father)—an avid visitor of book stores and buyer of books. Here are some examples:

  • 58 The real title of Il’ia Repin’s autobiography is The Far Near (Dalekoe blizkoe).

I went to the bookstores. Found the memoirs of Sarah Bernard in German. A big find! (6 October 1937); Day off! During the day, I went to the bookstore—found Near and Far by Repin58 (31 October 1937); Now my insomnia has started toward the end of the night… After the rehearsal, I went “for books” (3 November 1937); During the day, I went to the antiquarian book shops—I found a lot of interesting (foreign) books on theater. I bought them for 250 roubles. We have very little money now. But I can’t resist (9 November 1938).

38I will conclude Shtraukh’s readings with an entry of 21 January 1938:

For the whole month, I couldn’t force myself to write. We were at the dacha for 10 days… We ate, walked, read, slept, ate, read, read, ate, slept, walked, slept… At the dacha, I read Till Eulenspiegel; Hans of Iceland by Hugo; Journey to the End of the Night by Céline; and Captain Fracasse by Gautier. It wouldn’t hurt to spend another ten days at the dacha.

  • 59 Korevanova Agrippina Gavrilovna, pisatel’nitsa. Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Sverdlovskoi oblasti (GASO) (...)
  • 60 S. Fitzpatrick, Yu. Slezkine (eds.), In the Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women. F (...)
  • 61 Ibid., 26.

39The diary of Agrippina Korevanova, deposited in the Sverdlovsk [now Ekaterinburg] State Archive,59 is an almost textbook example of Dobrenko’s The Making of the Soviet Writer. Born in the Ural, of peasant origin, Korenova “worked for her entire life in factories, at unloading barges, as a laundress, dishwasher, nurse in a maternity hospital.” She started to write after 1917. Her memoirs, published in a journal in 1933 attracted the attention of Maksim Gor’kii. Invited as a delegate to the 1st Congress of Soviet Writers, she was admitted to the Union of Writers of the USSR. Her autobiographical novella, My Life (Moia zhizn’), was published in book form in 1936. It also made it recently into the collection on “life stories of Russian women” edited by Sheila Fitzpatrick and Yuri Slezkine.60 In his introduction to the volume, Slezkine underlines that despite realizing her dreams, from “universal justice” to “freedom from pots and pans,” Korevanova remains “completely and bitterly alone.” Her “true family” is now the party, but “the party proves to be a stern patriarchal institution that sends her out to do female chores and rewards her with an occasional honorary diploma.”61 Here is what Korevanova writes in her diary, 31 May 1934:

One must read and read a lot and I can’t, before they read out of love and affection for the book, and now the necessity of reading happened, and a lot, and again there is a barrier, why? What is to be done? Today I took Literary Gazette (Literaturnaia gazeta), read the front page, turned the page to read the last one, and dozed off, as if my eyes had no strength. […] I went to bed and fell asleep right away. I see my daughter, whom I lost many years ago (and who never existed) [sic] and here I found her by chance, a girl, sixteen years old, she looks for her mother, she doesn’t know where she is. They ask her, do you remember your mother? No, I don’t remember, I searched for her a long time, and they told me, your mother died, and now I search for her grave, I would put flowers on it, I would have wept my grief on her grave.

  • 62 M. Gor’kii, L.L. Averbakh, S.G. Firin (eds.), Belomorsko-Baltiiskii Kanal imeni Stalina. Istoriia (...)
  • 63 Vera Inber, Bloknoty i tetrad’ s planami i nabroskami rasskazov, dnevnik, zapiskami, 3 marta 1932– (...)

40Vera Inber is a very different type of writer, born in an Odessa family of the Jewish intelligentsia, highly educated, with lengthy visits abroad, member of the “Literary Center of Constructivists” in the 1920s. But she was also one of the thirty-six authors of the 1934 Stalin White Sea – Baltic Canal (Belomorsko-Baltiiskii Kanal imeni Stalina).62 Was it this publication, or “life” that was the cause of an analogous “reading lethargy”? On 7 October 1934, Inber writes in her diary63: “Apathy, fatigue, disgust for everything. And again, I should do what I did before: go abroad. But I would prefer to lie down without motion and read books.” One year later, she has some thoughts about Gor’kii’s prose: “In Klim Sangin Gor’kii writes on every line “it seemed.” It seemed this, it seemed that. But it is necessary that it does not only seem to the writer, but also to the reader. (29 April 1935). On 2 January 1939, Inber provides us with a list of the “favorite books [she] read in 1938”: 1) Fabre. The Life of Insects; 2) Ovid. Metamorphoses; 3) Thomas Mann, The Buddenbrooks; 4) the Diary of Amelia Earhart.

  • 64 V. I. Vernadskii, “Dnevnik 1938 goda,” Druzhba narodov, 2-3 (1991).

41Vladimir Vernadskii, one of the founders of geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and radiogeology, is probably the most famous of our diarists. The following entries are quoted from his 1938 diary, published in 1991 by the journal Druzhba narodov.64 Vernadskii was also one of our most privileged readers: he had access to recent foreign books, and could subscribe to journals and newspapers from abroad. However, at the time of writing his diary, there were problems with delivery: “January 5. I found out about the subscription of foreign publications. All sorts of chicanery on the part of the finance department and censorship, in order to curtail the penetration of foreign books. […] For the first time, they tried to prevent me from subscribing to the Manchester Guardian”; “January 30. The foreign journals don’t arrive. Mezhdunarodnaia kniga (International Book Company) works badly.” Vernadskii’s complaints are interspersed with acrimonious comments about a number of Soviet publications: “March 25, morning. An academic book about Lenin (of 1934). Most of the authors are wreckers, executed (Bukharin), arrested or “fallen.” About the newspapers of May Day, Vernadskii has only words of contempt: “Mediocre. Nothing to read. One can feel some sort of breakdown. The ‘purge’ does not deliver the punishment it should have delivered… Apart from the leaders, the entire higher bureaucracy is beneath our mid-level: Shchedrin-Gogol types at every step.” But on August 8, the academician has praise for The Pedagogical Poem (Pedagogicheskaia poema), by Anton Makarenko, “a convinced pedagogue and Communist.” Both talk about Dzerzhinskii. For Vernadskii—he was a Torquemada. Makarenko heatedly defends Dzerzhinskii, he was a man who loved children. Vernadskii concludes: “Curious, how at present, with Ezhov’s terror, Dzerzhinskii is remembered as his antipode.”

  • 65 This was (part of) the official definition of socialist realism, put forward by the Organizational (...)
  • 66 V. Vishnevskii, Sobranie sochinenii, 5 vols., VI (dopolnitel’nyi). Vystupleniia i radiorechi. Zapi (...)
  • 67 Tolia Starodubov had found the book “boring.” See Lekmanov, “The ‘Other’ Readers of the 1920s.”
  • 68 I. Stalin, Na putiakh k Oktiabriu: Stat’i i rechi. Mart-oktiabr’ 1917 (Moscow-Leningrad, 1925).

42It seems appropriate to conclude the analysis of my ‘sample’ by turning to readers who leave no doubt whether they read socialist realist literature: They were “socialist realists” themselves. The Optimistic Tragedy, the 1934 play by dramatist and writer Vsevolod Vishnevskii, embodies in its very title the “dialectics” of the “truthful, historically concrete depiction of reality in its revolutionary development.”65 It is all the more instructive to observe Vishnevskii’s comments in his “notebooks” about his contemporary writers, including himself.66 The 11 August 1936 entry is about John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World: “Good job, he really saw it all… Amazingly interesting observations. I remember mine… John Reed! I wept, when I read his chapter on the battles of October and the funeral on Red Square. How he understood Russia!”67 Stalin’s On the Road to October (Na putiakh k oktabriu),68 earns not only Vishnevskii’s observation of “distinct political development” but also an appreciation of Stalin’s style, which somehow reminds him of reading “Leonardo da Vinci” (13 August 1936). André Gide’s “3d volume” (?) only deserves the qualifications “watery, talkative” (16 August 1936). But his views of Nikolai Ostrovskii and his How the Steel Was Tempered (surprisingly?) coincide (almost) with Maiia Turovskaia’s lines about the novel, quoted earlier:

Yesterday night I read in one gulp N. Ostrovskii’s How the Steel Was Tempered. I sharply remember Ostrovskii’s funeral, a winter day, the crowd, the escort, the crematorium, the last kiss, the funeral on Novodevich’e Cemetery. […] Reading the book, my Ukraine was beside me, my year 1919 […] I thought how people read Ostrovskii’s book. It is a confession—once in a life time. Everything is true, even if a lot is condensed, crumpled in the book, but there are moments that bring up tears, amazing moments: the pogrom, the story of the hanging, the building of the railway, and the last chapters about his illness…
I read until dawn. Today I finished the book at 3:00 in the morning. Here you have the pure spirit of Bolshevism. It would still need the brilliance of high style. But perhaps that is what the style consists of—simplicity, abruptness, roughness—the life of these days? (8 April 1937).

43On 3 January 1939, the writer reminiscences about his own life: “All these days, for some reason, I remember my literary youth. Moscow 1920–1933, Spring, worries, anxiety. All the time in the fight, in scuffles, in yearning. It was the struggle for myself, for my place, for my right in literature.”

  • 69 A page of his diary is shown on p. 218 of Intimacy and Terror. I quote from the translation includ (...)

44If there was one writer who had secured “his place and his right in literature,” it was Vladimir Stavskii (real name—Vladimir Petrovich Kirpichnikov), who became the General Secretary of the Union of Soviet Writers in 1936 and the editor of Novyi mir. He was not only known for his Civil-War novellas, describing his participation in the grain confiscations during the collectivization of the Kuban region, but also for his denunciations of Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandel’shtam, and other writers, for which he entered history as the “executioner of Soviet literature.” Judging from his diary of 1938—1939, he had his own thoughts about his “place” and “right.” His notes about “reading” are very sparse. Some of them clearly express—as does his tormented handwriting—the author’s anxiety about his “writer’s block”: 69

  • 70 V.K. Ketlinskaia, Muzhestvo (Fortitude; also translated as Courage) (Moscow, 1938).

On the way-back to Moscow I read Ketlinskaia’s Fortitude.70 She has so much material. And her disposition is so bold. She introduces dozens of heroes all at one. And still manages to individualize them […] She gives so much material in sixty pages that in the hands of another one of us writers would fill three novels!

What can we expect from her in the future? (31 March 1938).

45On August 14, Stavskii is “at Pospelov’s,” the chief editor of Pravda and director of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism. He complains about something “being wrong with the way [he] is being treated in the Writers’ Union.” “Believe me, Pietro, and remember what I’m saying now. A year or two will go by, and sooner or later it will all be clear; how they planned to ruin me, a good Stalinist and Bolshevik.” Pietro gives advice: “You have to write, Volodia! You can write, and you do it well. You can tell by, say, your article about Gor’kii—everyone read it, and they all praised it. Just carry on with your editorial work at Novyi mir and write.” The same day, Stavskii hears that Fadeev will replace him at the head of the Writers’ Union. But Pospelov and others keep encouraging him: “You made such a brilliant debut. Your books were a resounding success. No one cares about the Writers’ Union, but everyone is wondering why Stavskii isn’t doing any writing. Why is he silent? Doesn’t he have anything to write about?” Stavskii did not answer.

Conclusion

  • 71 Yu. Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Ithaca and London, 1994), (...)
  • 72 Ibid., 357.

46Did I “cover” what was “reading in the age of Stalin”? By all means I did not. By taking a number of examples, gathered from a few diaries, some readers’ letters, and an interview, I have perhaps hinted at what could have been some of the “interpretative communities” of the time. But when works of Pushkin, Sholokhov, or Gor’kii became “counter-revolutionary Trotskyite literature,” somewhere on the shores of the Enisei, the Soviet “situation of reading” seemed to have reached its logical conclusion. I would have liked to find readers in the “brotherly republics,” autonomous oblasts, or among the “small peoples of the north” (or south), for example. As Yuri Slezkine has shown in his Arctic Mirrors, for the “natives” of the North “the master plot” of the newly formulated canon of socialist realism “was the ultimate story of conquered backwardness,” which ultimately turned “natives into Russians.”71 To turn them into Russian readers, one had to wait for another few decades, when Pushkin, Lermontov, or Gor’kii “opened a boy’s eyes to a new world of light and freedom.”72

47Is there “a class in this text”? There are remnants of the “old” intelligentsia: the writer Vera Inber, the actor Maksim Shtraukh, the scholar Vladimir Vernadskii. They all liked to read foreign literature, at times even in the original. And some of them loved to go buying books. Vsevolod Vishnevskii and Vladimir Stavskii are “Soviet litterateurs,” “master craftsmen” of the Union of Soviet Writers: they are socialist realists reading socialist realism: Cement, Virgin Soil Upturned, How the Steel Was Tempered, Fortitude, etc. Nikolai Zhuravlev is a local historian and archivist who sees his workplace becoming part of the NKVD. A specialist of Griboedov, he also responds to the “horizon of expectations” of the state, reading socialist realism with a “critical mind.” Andrei Kirillov became a journalist by joining the army of the workers’-correspondent writers of the late 1920s–early 1930s. In his Krasnoiarsk exile, he reads Rostand, Flaubert, but reading Pushkin, Gladkov, and Sholokhov seals his fate. Hero of the Civil War, and among those who decided the fate of the Tsar and his family, Reingol’d Berzin reads Herzen and Goethe when drowning in the raising flood of Stalin’s purges. The majority of the letters that Vasilii Azhaev received from readers of Far from Moscow were “fashioned” in readers’ conferences, but some were more personal, especially when they were sent from the places and institutions which taught the writer “how to live.”

48The sources I found for this study are rather heterogeneous: they come from different times. The diaries I quoted were written in 1930s; Far from Moscow was read some ten years later. My only “real” peasant was Andrei Arzhilovskii. Like the former peasant Kirillov, he paid with his life for writing, and reading. Their fate is no doubt a dramatic illustration of the “death of dialogue” between author and reader in the age of Stalin. But life continued. Our “longest” reader is Maiia Turovskaia: she read for ninety years, but she came from a milieu whose “situation of reading” was hardly determined by the state’s “horizon of expectations.” Nevertheless, she was, like all the other readers we have talked about, part of the “reading country” that never stopped reading, at least during its lifetime.

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Paperno I., Stories of the Soviet Experience: Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams (Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 2009)

Shirnov F. E., Dnevnik rukopis’. S 1 marta 1888 g. po 1 oktabria 1938 g. Aftograf., Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Literatury i Iskusstva (RGALI), f. 1337, op. 1, ed. khr. 296.

Slezkine Y., Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Ithaca, London: Cornell University Press, 1994).

Shtange G. V. “Vospominaniia, 1932-1936 gg.,” Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Literatury i Iskusstva (RGALI), f. 1337, op. 5, ed. khr. 48.

Toporov A., Krest’ianie o pisateliakh (Moscow: Gosizdat, 1930).

Trifonov Iu., “Zapiski soseda” [1972], in Idem, Rasskazy. Povesti. Roman. Vospominaniia. Esse (Ekaterinburg: U-Faktoriia, 1999), 658– 739.

Turovskaia M., Zuby drakona: Moi 30-e gody (Moscow: ACT Corpus, 2015).

Vernadskii V. I., “Dnevnik 1938 goda,” Druzhba narodov, 2-3 (1991).

Vishnevskii V. V., Sobranie sochinenii, 5 vols. vol. 6 (dopolnitel’nyi). Vystupleniia i radiorechi. Zapisnye knizhki. Pis’ma. (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo khudozhestvennoi literatury, 1961).

Zhuravlev N.V., Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Tverskoi Oblasti (GATO), f. R-652, op. 1, ed. khr. 2, 1901-1957.

Notes

1 My many thanks to Yurou Zhong for her detailed reading of the draft of the paper and valuable comments.

2 S. Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge, MA, 1980).

3 E. Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader: Social and Aesthetic Contexts of the Reception of Soviet Literature (Stanford, 1997).

4 D. Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past (Cambridge, MA, 2013).

5 Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader, viii.

6 Ibid., viii-ix.

7 Ibid., 282-83.

8 Ibid., 284.

9 Ibid., 285.

10 Ibid., 287. Dobrenko capitalizes “socialist realism.”

11 Ibid.

12 T. Lahusen, How Life Writes the Book: Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin’s Russia (Ithaca and London, 1997).

13 Ibid., 161.

14 Ibid., 151-154.

15 Ibid., 164.

16 Ibid., 166.

17 Ibid., 176.

18 Ibid., 170.

19 Ibid., 22.

20 Ibid., 172.

21 For an outline of this phenomenon, see T. Lahusen, “Cement (Fedor Gladkov, 1925),” in F. Moretti (ed.), The Novel. Volume 2 Forms and Themes (Princeton, 2006), 476-482

22 V. Azhaev, “Daleko ot Moskvy, roman.” Dal’nii vostok, 1-2 (1946), 3-77; 4 (1947), 3-60; 5 (1947), 63-143; 1 (1948), 3-63; 2 (1948), 3-74.

23 Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past.

24 Ibid., 42.

25 Ibid., 4.

26 M. David-Fox, “The Iron Curtain as a Semipermeable Membrane: Origins and Demise of the Stalinist Superiority Complex,” in P. Babiracki, K. Zimmer (eds.), Cold War Crossing: International Travel and Exchange across the Soviet Bloc, 1940-1960s (College Station, 2014), 14-39.

27 One of her last publications is a memoir of the 1930s. M. Turovskaia, Teeth of the Dragon: My 1930s (Zuby drakona: Moi 30-e gody) (Moscow, 2015).

28 Lahusen, “Cement (Fedor Gladkov, 1925),” in F. Moretti (ed.), The Novel. Volume 2 Forms and Themes (Princeton, 2006), 476-482.

29 Iu. Trifonov, “Zapiski soseda” [1972], in Idem, Rasskazy. Povesti. Roman. Vospominaniia. Esse (Ekaterinburg, 1999), 672. Quoted by Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir, 24-25.

30 Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet Writer. For an analysis of the post-1917 readership, see Dobrenko, Reitblat, “The Readers’ Milieu in 1917-1920s,” in the present volume.

31 Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet Writer, xiv.

32 Ibid.

33 F. Engels, “Dialectics of Nature” (1883).

34 Dobrenko, The Making of the Soviet Writer, 220, 281, 397.

35 Ibid., 389.

36 Lekmanov, “The ‘other’ readers of the 1920’s: three portraits,” in the present volume.

37 Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir, 2-3.

38 V. Garros, N. Korenevskaya, T. Lahusen (eds.), Intimacy and Terror: Soviet Diaries of the 1930s (New York, 1995).

39 O. Bergol’ts, “Ol’ga. Zapretnyi dnevnik,” Neva, 5 (1990), 174-177. For the “strange history” of the Bergol’ts diaries, see the report of Natal’ia Strizhkova, archivist of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI): https://arzamas.academy/materials/667 (accessed October 6, 2018).

40 I. Paperno, Stories of the Soviet Experience: Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams (Ithaca, London, 2009).

41 Ibid., 12.

42 Ibid., 10.

43 “Gody i sud’by. Andrei Arzhilovskii. Dnevnik 36-37,” Ural, 3 (1992).

44 Intimacy and Terror, 111-165. I quote Arzhilovsky’s text from this translation, while adapting the transliteration to the system of the Library of Congress, used in this volume.

45 Shirnov, Fedor Efimovich. Dnevnik rukopis’. S 1 marta 1888 g. po 1 oktabria 1938 g. Avtograf., Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Arkhiv Literatury i Iskusstva (RGALI), f. 1337, op. 1, ed. khr. 296.

46 Intimacy and Terror, 67.

47 I quote Shirnov’s text from the translation provided in Intimacy and Terror, which attempts to render the author’s often “non-standard” Russian writing, for example, in the passages quoted below, incorrect “blowed” (for “blew”) or “they was.”

48 G.V. Shtange, “Vospominaniia, 1932-1936 gg.” RGALI, f. 1337, op. 5, ed. khr. 48. Parts of Shtange’s diary were also published in Intimacy and Terror.

49 A.V. Kirillov, “V seredine tridtsatykh. Dnevnik ssylnogo redaktora.” Publ. i poslesl. L. Kirillovoi Nash Sovremennik 11 (1988), 109-142.

50 Novel by Aleksei Novikov-Priboi (1932).

51 Citation from Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pecuchet (1881): “Le suicide est beau !—témoin Caton, objecta Pécuchet” [Suicide is beautiful! Witness Cato,” protested Pécuchet]. The passage relates to the suicide of Cato the Younger in April 46 BC, considered in Rome as the perfect example of freedom.

52 N.V. Zhuravlev, Dnevnik, Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Tverskoi oblasti (GATO), f. R-652, op. 1, ed. khr. 2, 1901-1957.

53 In April 1938, the Central Archival Administration of the USSR (Tsentral’noe arkhivnoe upravlenie SSSR) was transferred to the NKVD and became the Central Archival Administration of the NKVD of the USSR (Tsentral’noe arkhivnoe upravlenie NKVD SSSR).

54 Acronym of nachal’nik politicheskogo otdela dorogi, head of the political section of the railway.

55 Ida, short for Iudif’ Glizer, actress and first wife of Maksim Shtraukh.

56 G. Dobrzhinskii, Ivan Bolotnikov. P’esa v aktakh (Moscow, 1938).

57 Zhenshchina v grazhdanskoi voine (The Woman in the Civil War) was a collection published in 1937. It was written in part by the women who participated in the operations in the Northern Caucasus against the White generals Kornilov, Denikin, and others.

58 The real title of Il’ia Repin’s autobiography is The Far Near (Dalekoe blizkoe).

59 Korevanova Agrippina Gavrilovna, pisatel’nitsa. Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Sverdlovskoi oblasti (GASO), f. r-561, op. 1, ed. khr. 132.

60 S. Fitzpatrick, Yu. Slezkine (eds.), In the Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women. From 1917 to the Second World War (Princeton, 2000), 169-206.

61 Ibid., 26.

62 M. Gor’kii, L.L. Averbakh, S.G. Firin (eds.), Belomorsko-Baltiiskii Kanal imeni Stalina. Istoriia stroitel’stva (Moscow, 1934).

63 Vera Inber, Bloknoty i tetrad’ s planami i nabroskami rasskazov, dnevnik, zapiskami, 3 marta 1932–21 ianv. 1938. RGALI, f. 1072, op. 4, ed. khr. 4.

64 V. I. Vernadskii, “Dnevnik 1938 goda,” Druzhba narodov, 2-3 (1991).

65 This was (part of) the official definition of socialist realism, put forward by the Organizational Committee of the 1st Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, making known the bylaws of the Soviet Writers’ Union.

66 V. Vishnevskii, Sobranie sochinenii, 5 vols., VI (dopolnitel’nyi). Vystupleniia i radiorechi. Zapisnye knizhki. Pis’ma (Moscow, 1961).

67 Tolia Starodubov had found the book “boring.” See Lekmanov, “The ‘Other’ Readers of the 1920s.”

68 I. Stalin, Na putiakh k Oktiabriu: Stat’i i rechi. Mart-oktiabr’ 1917 (Moscow-Leningrad, 1925).

69 A page of his diary is shown on p. 218 of Intimacy and Terror. I quote from the translation included in our collection, but adapted the transliteration of names to the system used in the rest of the article.

70 V.K. Ketlinskaia, Muzhestvo (Fortitude; also translated as Courage) (Moscow, 1938).

71 Yu. Slezkine, Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North (Ithaca and London, 1994), 292, 296.

72 Ibid., 357.

Table des illustrations

Titre 1. A book-break at the Kremlin Wall (1920s)
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Auteur

Thomas Lahusen (PhD, Lausanne, Switzerland) is Professor at the Department of History and Centre of Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. His research interests and publications include Russian and Polish literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, Soviet culture of the Stalin and post-Soviet era, the history of the Russian Far East, North-East China, and Central Asia. He has also directed and co-directed eight documentary films, including The Province of Lost Film (2006-08); The Photographer (2008); The Interim Country (2010), Manchurian Sleepwalkers (2017) and Screening from Within (2017), all produced by Chemodan Films, of which he is the co-director (www.chemodanfilms.com).

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