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Russian Literature in the 20th Century (2)

Written by eastern writer on Monday, January 04, 2010

Post-war literature is characterized as being devoid of any artistry. It appears that Stalin cracked down on the government bashing and authors that published works with any negative sentiments were shipped off to prison or some other fate. This time was also very treacherous for writers, even those who chose to conform to the government requirements. It was not uncommon authors who believed themselves to be in a safe zone in their work to find themselves in trouble.[17] At times the "safe" topics were not safe.

Any literature that was written after the Cultural Revolution and before Stalin's death noticeably differs from pre-Revolution and Western writings in that the writers were required to convey a message to the people. They were permitted to reflect the authors' style, as John Grisham and Stephen King, but they had to remain with in the standards set by the government.[18] One definition of the requirements is as follows:

...requires from the artist a truthful, historically concrete representation of reality in its revolutionary development. Moreover, truth and historical completeness of artistic representation must be combines with the task of ideological transformation and education of the working man in the spirit of socialism.[19]

This was the "official" method of Soviet Literature, known as socialist realism. The only literature that was published were writings that had been conformed to the requirements set forth by the Soviet leaders.

The mid 1950s is considered the beginning of the thaw in Russian literature. With the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet government eased up on the restrictions writers faced trying to have their works published. The next three years would see important changes take place for writers. Topics and ideas which had been considered taboo during Stalin's lifetime were not as unmentionable now as they once were. How World War II was viewed in literature also changed. During the war and up until the 1950s, the Russian soldiers and government were the heroes, often exaggerated, and nothing bad could be said against them. The end of the decade allowed more freedom to write the actual truth and nothing more.

Following Stalin's death, as soon as a month afterwards, some writers began to question and criticize the system that had been in place for the last thirty years or so. One of the first people to do so was poet Olga Berggolts. She had been asked during a poetry
program to add something a little more lyrical than what had been read. After examining the works that had been produced under Stalin, she saw that there was nothing all that lyrical about the poetry that had been written during the last ten years. This she blamed on the Soviet government's restrictions that had been placed on writers and not allowing them to write about "the most important thing...humanity, the human being."[20] What people were writing about were construction machinery and the outside of a person, nothing worthy of being called beautiful.

Russian poetry, which had previously dominated literature, began its decline about 1925. Poets for some reason stopped writing poetry and turned to fictional writings and those that did stick with poetry tried prose instead of lyrical. They were attempting to bring the two forms closer together in content and style.[21] The quality of Russian poetry did not improve. Stalin must have had something against poetry as well. He personally ordered several poets out of the country or had them arrested for one reason or another. This did not help the problem any. After Stalin's death, poetry was in dire need of help.

A prominent author, Vladimir Pomerantsev, said that the latest writings were bad for the simple reason that they did not give an accurate sense to reality. They polished up the disagreeable facts and gave a more pleasant description compared to what was actually true. Pomerantsev also blamed the government for guiding the writers astray, but also blamed the writers for following along so willingly. Ilya Ehrenburg, a famous war-time writer in favor of authors gaining creative freedom, said "Books cannot be ordered or planned,"[22] meaning that if good literature is desired there can be no restrictions or guidelines to what can or cannot be done. The post-Stalin government eventually realized the damage to the literary world that had been cause and made an effort to rectify the problem. They saw a need for a renewed sense of culture and aesthetics. While authors were still subject to government scrutiny, they were encouraged to get creative in their works.[23]

Since the Cultural Revolution, censorship had been a major obstacle in the literary world, especially when the Soviet government was first being established and during the post-war era. Many authors who were not of the Soviet era were removed from libraries in 1946 and forced into oblivion because their writings were too liberal, too contemporary for Soviet tastes and might be harmful to the literary world.[24] The next seven to eight years was a time where originality and independence for writers was non existent. Editors at companies were replaced and many writers were exiled or sent to prison. Throughout the mid to late1950s, the works of authors, living and dead, were slowly revived and their writings brought back into circulation. Even if they had not originally been removed from the shelves, these authors' works would not have had much effect on the common people. Even though the government denied it, the average Soviet reader had limited access to any writings that might have been available.[25]

Following Stalin's death, another area of writing began to prosper; memoirs and histories. The wish to give an accurate view of their experiences compelled many people who had been in prison or in exile to write about what they went through during their imprisonment. This was a taboo topic while Stalin was in power, and still even more so after he died. It would not do to have the late Soviet leader's name tarnished by bad reports of why people were arrested and what took place in the prisons of the Soviet Union.

Not surprisingly, countries would not publish the memoirs where the author gained the materials necessary to write their book. Since they could not find publishers within the Union, authors went to companies in Ann Arbor, New York, Paris and Milan to have their works published.[26] It was not just prison memoirs that had difficulty being published; some prominent Soviet workers who realized that what the Party was doing was not right wrote about their experiences to expose the wrong-doing that took place. Raisa Berg, a geneticist, gave an eyewitness account of the chaos Trofim Lysenko, an impostor, had on the biological and genetic research done in the Soviet Union. It was not until she emigrated to the United States in the late 1970s was she able to publish her book in 1983.[27]

Forms of writing expanded significantly after 1953. The literature that was in circulation was large, boring novels, fabricated histories and exaggerated propaganda articles. Short stories reemerged towards the end of the decade through the beginning of the 1960s.[28] Two types of prose also evolved at this point too; country and urban prose. Each gave a differing view point of contemporary lifestyles in Russia and the Soviet Union. Writers, since 1953, seemed to have a tendency to recreate the past in their works. But for no apparent reason, no one wanted to touch the time periods before 1900; they stuck with the current century. [part 3]

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