Russian Novelists

Figure 1.--This is an illustration for Anton Chekhov's novel "A Naughty Boy" (1883). The illustrator was V.Podolsky, but we know nothing about him. Given the color, it presumably came from a 20th cebtuyry edition.

Some of the greatest novels of all time were written by Russians. Writers like Fyodor Dostoyevski, Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev are seen as some of the greatest novelists of all time. Most of the great Russian novels were written in pre-Soviet times. The only Soviet era that impressed me was Mikhail Sholokhov And Quiet Flows the Don. The shift from great works to hack writing was no accident. The same restrictions on free speech and free thought are a major part of why the Soviet Union failed. Actually there were important novels written during the Soviet by writers like Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but these were authors Soviet authors attempted to supress and their works were not published in the Soiviet Union. They had to be sureptiously smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published in the West. Unfortunately, while I have read several Russian novels, it was several years ago before I began working on HBC. So we will have ro rely on reader input for our assessment here. Here we are not attempting literary criticm, but raher mine these works for information about fashion. Novels written in contemporary tomes often include some useful fashion/clothing information. This is often informtion that can not be induced from photograpgs or catalogs. The descriptions aboutclothing or fashion conventions are particularly useful, although we stress that this this is the case when the novelsare set in contemporary times, meaning the setting of the novel is the time in which the author lived.

Anton Chekov

Anton Checkov is best known in the West for his plays like 'The Cherry Orchard'. A Russian reader tells us that he us better known for his short stories like 'A Naughty Boy' in Russia.

Fyodor Dostoyevski

Nikolai Gogol

Valentin Kataev (1897-1986)

Valentin Kataev was a notable Soviet-era Russian novelist and playwright. As a young man he fought with the Red Army. After the Civil War he began working as a journalist and then turned to writing novels and plays. Somehow managed to craft insightful works describing Soviet social conditions without violating the standards of Sopviet censors. Very few notable authors were able to accomplish this. One of his most beloved books is Beleyet parus odinoky/A White Sail Gleams (1936). Russian readers will immediately recognize both the book and the date, Kataev published it in the midst of the Great Terror. It was a popular success in Russia and immediately turned iinto a movie (1937). Here is a screenshot from the film. The story is about revolutional events of 1905 in Russia from the point of view of two small boys - one Petya, from the family of a school teacher, and second Gavrik, son of a poor fisherman. Here we see Petya in his sailor suit. Here is a translation from Kataev's book with a description of his clothes: "Petya wore his city Sunday suit, which he had quite outgrown during the summer: a navy-blue woollen sailor blouse with a white-edged collar, short trousers, long lisle stockings, button-shoes, and a broad-brimmed straw hat. .... All summer long Petya had run about practically naked. He was now as brown as an Indian and could walk barefoot over burrs and thorns. He had gone swimming three times a day. At the beach he used to smear himself from head to foot with the red marine clay and then scratch out designs on his chest. That made him really look like a Red Indian, especially when he stuck into his hair the blue feathers of those marvellously beautiful birds—real fairy-tale birds—which built their nests in the bluff. And now, after all that wealth and freedom, to have to walk about in a tight woollen sailor blouse, in prickly stockings, in shoes that pinched, and in a big straw hat with an elastic that rubbed against his ears and pressed into his neck!"

Mikhail Lermontov

Boris Paternak (1890-1962)

Soviet author Boris Leonidovich Pasternak came from an artistic family in Tsarist Russia. He was the oldest child of painter Leonid Pasternak (1862-1945) and concert pianist Roza Kaufman. His father was well known for illustrating Tolstoy's novels. Boris was born in Moscow (1890). Boris grew up among in the artistic center of Tsrust society. Tolstoy was a close family friend. Here we have the portrait of Boris drawn by his father (figure 1). The drawing (black crayon on white paper) was done July 20, 1898. Boris was 8 years old. Pasternak's attended a German Gymnasium in Moscow and then the University of Moscow. Influence by composer Scriabin, Pasternak, Pasternak at first prepared for ax career in musical composition (1904-10). He finally decided that his calling was literature. Then came World War I and the Russian Revolution. Writing was a dangerous career choice after Stalin seized control of the Party and state. Pasternak seems to have steered clear of trouble by focusing primarily on non-political verse and doing translations. Trouble began irionicallyafter Stalin's death. Pasternak wrote his masterpiece, Dr. Zivago, but realizing it could not be published in the Soviet Union, had it smuggled out to the West. It was published in Italy (1957). It was immediately seen as a great piece of work in the West. The Soviet people knew nothing about it, but Soviet officials were outraged. Pasternak's book is not like Solzenitzen's Gulag Archipelago, an indictment of the Soviet Union. It does, however, include criticisms of the Soviet Union. And in the Soviet Union, criticism was something not well received.

Alexander Pushkin

Mikhail Sholokhov

An early Soviet era novel that impressed me was Mikhail Sholokhov And Quiet Flows the Don.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is today best known for his epic Gulag Archipelago, but he also wrote some important novels such as First Circle. Much of what we know about the Soviet Gulag is due to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a giant in Russian history. Unlike the NAZIs, the Soviets did not lose World War II and therefore the secrets of the Stalin's Gulag were not exposed. Solzhenitsyn himself explains how he was arrested and entered the Gulag. "I was arrested on the grounds of what the censorship had found during the years 1944-45 in my correspondence with a school friend, mainly because of certain disrespectful remarks about Stalin, although we referred to him in disguised terms. As a further basis for the "charge", there were used the drafts of stories and reflections which had been found in my map case." He has since written several books on the Soviet Gulag. His first book, the slender A Day in the Life of Ivan Denesovich about a Gulag slave laborer was followed by a series of books describing the Gulag in great detail. His masterpiece was The Gulag Archipelago (1967). The first volume describes the development of the Gulag and how people were arrested and committed to it. The second volume describes the operation and institutions of the Gulag. The third volume describes the often hopeless struggle for freedom of political prisoners against the Gulag and Soviet system. [Nivat, p.73] Many authors are struck by the spiritual nature of The Gulag Archipelago and other books by Solzhenitsyn. Nivant writes, "The location of the final section of The Gulag Archipelago 2, entitled ŒThe Soul and Barbed Wire,¹ proves to be spiritually strategic. The quotation from St. Paul which heads the section illuminates that strategy: ŒBehold, I show you a mystery; we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed.¹ The section opens with the linked chapters on 'The Ascent¹ and '...Or Corruption?¹ Those who belong to the 'Community of suffering,¹ innocent of crime, albeit not sinless, are so purified of all that is merely mortal that they are already ascending towards the immortality of resurrection." Soviet leader Y. Andropov of course felt differently. He said, "His Gulag Archipelago is not a work of fiction; it is a political document. This is dangerous. Hence, I propose that we expel Solzhenitsyn from the country. If we don¹t take these measures, then all our propaganda work will lead to nothing." Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel literature prize for literature in 1970 as he was still was working on his Gulag Archipelago.

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Leo Tolstoy was one of the greatest novelist of all time. Chrologically is life span was very close to the great American novelist Mark Twain. He was born into an aristocratic Russian family in 1828 at Yasnya Polyana, in Tula Province. He was one of 5 children. During the Crimean War Tolstoy commanded an artillery battery during the bitterly fought siege of Sebastopol. He had a long life in which he was a soldier, a writer, teacher and political and moral thinker. Tolstoy in 1862 married an 18-year old girl named Sofya Andreyevna. They had an incredinblre 19 children. She was also an influence in his writing. Tolstoy as an older man became a radical Christian thinker. He conceived a Christian philosophy which opposed violence. He died at a railway station on his last pilgrimage to find harmony in 1910.

Ivan Turgenev


Nivat, George (1974).


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Last updated: 09:48 PM 8/2/2007
Created: 3:02 AM 2/14/2012