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Russian Literature during Thaw and Stagnation (1960s-1970s)
September 10, 2008 10:18

 Yevgeny Yevtushenko

In the early 1960s the demand for greater freedom of artistic expression in literature and arts manifested itself with new power, especially by efforts of “the angry young men”, the most well-known of whom became poets Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko and Andrey Andreyevich Voznesensky.

The 1960s in literature were remarkable not only for new works, but also for the first published old ones. Thus, readers got an opportunity to get acquainted with creations of Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), who had committed suicide soon after returning from emigration. The name of Boris Leonidovich Pasternak (1890-1960) appeared in press again, though only his verses were published; as for Doctor Zhivago it was issued in the Soviet Union thirty years later than in the West.

 Mikhail Bulgakov

The most important literary discovery of the 1960s was writing of Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov (1891-1940), earlier known for his staging of Gogol’s Dead Souls and the novel The White Guard (1924), where, unlike in majority of Soviet literature, the opponents of Soviet power in the Civil War were shown not as despiteful villains but as confounded people making a stand for the hopeless matter. The posthumously published novels and stories gained Bulgakov the reputation of the subtlest satirist and one of the best Russian prose writers in general. Theatrical novel issued in 1965 was a mocking caricature on the famous theatre director K.S. Stanislavski. The brilliant novel The Master and Margarita (written between 1929 and 1939), tackles various themes associated with arts, creativity and the feeling of guilt. The third important work by Bulgakov, the story Heart of a Dog, was published abroad in 1969. The eccentric story of a scientific experiment that turned a common animal into a horrible creature combining the worst man’s and dog’s qualities was interpreted by Soviet authorities as a dangerous parody on the Soviet experiment of upbringing of the new man.

The 1960s also saw gradual revival of theatre – both due to new repertoire – for example, plays by Victor Sergeevich Rozov (1913-2004) and Alexei Nikolaevich Arbuzov (1908-1986), and the resumption of stage experimenting of the 1920s.

 Bella Akhmadulina

Poetry was enriched with new talents – poets Bella (Izabella) Akhatovna Akhmadulina and Novella Nikolaevna Matveeva. Some young short-story writers, such as for example Y. P. Kazakov and Y. M. Nagibin aspired to use the experience of pre-revolutionary masters of the genre, in particular that of Chekhov; others, for instance Vasily Pavlovich Aksyonov took contemporary western writers, such as J. D. Salinger as an example.

The most significant literary events of the 1960s was the publication of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn’s (1918-2008) One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962 and the legal process against writers Andrei Donatovich Sinyavsky (1925-1997) and Yuli Markovich Daniel (1925-1988) in 1966.

The following creation of Solzhenitsyn and Sinyavsky, two paramount prose authors of the post-Stalinist epoch reflected the development of Soviet literature during Brezhnev’s rule. After the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, that brought him universal fame Solzhenitsyn contrived to publish just a few short stories, the best of them being We Never Make Mistakes(Matrenin Dvor) (1963); following this the doors of soviet publishing houses turned tightly shut for him. His major novels The First Circle and The Cancer Ward were published abroad in 1968, and in 1969 he was excluded from the Soviet Writers’ Union.

In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The year 1971 saw the publication in the West of the novel August 1914, the first from the series of historic novels ascertaining the reasons for the revolution. Then in 1973 the first volume of the monumental semidocumentary research of the Soviet labor camp system Archipelag GULAGO was published, also abroad. In the heat of the scandal provoked by the publication Solzhenitsyn was expatriated from the USSR. Some time later he settled in the USA, where he went on working on the cycle of historic novels and published The Oak and the Calf (1975), memoirs of the Khrushcev era. In 1994 he returned to Russia.

Sinyavsky, after having served almost completely his 7 year camp sentence, was released and allowed to return to Moscow. In 1973 the writer immigrated to France, where in 1975 he published his critical essays on Pushkin and Gogol (Walks with Pushkin and In Shadow of Gogol), as well as his camp memoirs A Voice from the Chorus (1976). His autobiographical novel Goodnight came out in 1984.

 Joseph Brodsky

In Brezhnev’s Stagnation Era the official control over the Soviet literature was hard, causing many talented authors to leave the country. Among the most outstanding immigrants there was Joseph Aleksandrovich Brodsky (1940-1996), satirist Vladimir Nikolayevich Voinovich (1932) and philosophic writer Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Zinovyev (1922-2006). In 1964 Brodsky was charged with “parasitism” and exiled for compulsory labor. The poet was released in 1965, when the issue of his first book of poems in the West brought attention to his lot, yet in 1972 he was forced to immigrate. The year 1987 saw his becoming the fifth Russian Nobel Prize winning man of letters. Later, in 1991 he got titled the Poet Laureate of the USA.

As for Voinovich he left for the Western Germany in 1981. His most famous book The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin had come out in the West in 1975, followed by Ivankiada (1976) and Pretender to the Throne (1979). When in emigration he published the biting satire Moscow 2042 (1987) and the caricature story The Fur Hat (1988) about the Soviet Writers’ Union.

 Vladimir Voinovich

Like Voinovich, Zinovyev also published his most famed work – the intricate blend of fiction, philosophy and social satire under the title The Yawning Heights (1976) – before his immigration in 1978, but went on writing prolifically and getting his works published.

Some of the notable writers that still stayed in the Soviet Union attempted to somehow withstand the official omnipotence over publishing and spreading of literature. In the early 1960s already the officially disapproved literature started to appear in samizdat (i.e. underground publishing) and dissemination of uncensored self-made reprints gathered momentum past the law process of Sinyavsky and Daniel. Other writers, as mentioned above, where published in tamizdat (i.e. abroad); in particular, Georgi Nikolaevich Vladimov (Volosevich) (1931-2003) whose story Faithful Ruslan depicting Soviet reality through the eyes of a dog from former labor camp guard saw the light in the West in 1975.

The most well-known example of samizdat is the almanac Metropol that united works by both famous and beginning authors. These collected works were banned by Soviet censors in 1979, but then blatantly published in the West. Because of the aroused scandal one of the most remarkable participants of the almanac, prose writer Vasily Pavlovich Aksyonov (1932) had to leave the country. Overseas he published his important works, such as The Burn (1980) and The Island of Crimea (1981).

 Valentin Rasputin

Though the Stagnation years were emasculating for literature, certain noteworthy works still were published in the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. From the 1950s the group of the so-called “villagers” was rising more and more in Soviet literature. Their works depicted sorrowful life of Russian village; imbued with yearning for the past they tended to mythologize Russian peasantry. The leading representatives of this group were Fyodor Aleksandrovich Abramov (1920-1983), Valentin Grigoriyevich Rasputin (1937), Vasily Ivanovich Belov (1932) and Viktor Petrovich Astafiyev (1924-2001).

 Vasily Shukshin

Apart from them there stood Vasily Makarovich Shukshin (1929-1974), also writing about common people, peasants and toilers, who appear interesting for their specific characters, insightful observations about life and sharp tongues in his works.

Some writers focused on life of city intelligentsia. Yury Valentinovich Trifonov (1925-1981) gained attention with his novels studying intelligentsia’s becoming “bourgeois-like” and tackling upon the knot of moral problems related to Stalinist reprisals and their aftermath (novel House on the Embankment, 1976).

 Andrei Bitov

Just like Trifonov, Andrei Georgievich Bitov (1937) also chose intelligentsia as his collective personage. He was still published in his native land in the 1970s, yet the main of his works of that period – Pushkin House, a novel of highly complex structure – could never be fully published in the Soviet Union till Perestroika epoch. It came out in the West in 1978.

The most successful propagator of modernism in Russian literature of the 1960s–1970s was Valentin Kataev. His books of memoirs The Holy Well (1966) and The Grass of Oblivion (1967) started the range of “mauvist” (as he put it; from the French mauvais, i.e. bad) works, which he went on creating and publishing till the end of his life.

 Tatyana Tolstaya

By the early 1980s Russian literature was divided into two parts: of emigrants and Soviet writers. The panorama of legal literature within the borders of Soviet Union grew dull when many outstanding writers, like Trifonov, Kataev and Abramov, passed away, whereas the press showed no signs of any new talents. A considerable exception was Tatyana Nikitichna Tolstaya (1951), whose first short story On a Golden Porch was published in a Leningrad journal in 1983; her collected short stories came out under the same title in 1987. Her second collected works Sleepwalker in a Fog were published in the English language in the USA in 1991.

    Russian Wiki

Tags: Russian Literature Russian Writers Soviet Thaw Soviet Stagnation  

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