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Autobiographical Statements in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature

Autobiographical Statements in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature

Edited by Jane Gary Harris
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 304
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    Autobiographical Statements in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature
    Book Description:

    The fifteen essays in this volume explore the extraordinary range and diversity of the autobiographical mode in twentieth-century Russian literature from various critical perspectives. They will whet the appetite of readers interested in penetrating beyond the canonical texts of Russian literature. The introduction focuses on the central issues and key problems of current autobiographical theory and practice in both the West and in the Soviet Union, while each essay treats an aspect of auto-biographical praxis in the context of an individual author's work and often in dialogue with another of the included writers. Examined here are first the experimental writings of the early years of the twentieth century--Rozanov, Remizov, and Bely; second, the unique autobiographical statements of the mid-1920s through the early 1940s--Mandelstam, Pasternak, Olesha, and Zoshchenko; and finally, the diverse and vital contemporary writings of the 1960s through the 1980s as exemplified not only by creative writers but also by scholars, by Soviet citizens as well as by emigrs--Trifonov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Lydia Ginzburg, Nabokov, Jakobson, Sinyavsky, and Limonov.

    Originally published in 1990.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6075-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION Diversity of Discourse: Autobiographical Statements in Theory and Praxis
    (pp. 3-35)
    Jane Gary Harris

    Diversity of form has characterized autobiographical discourse since the beginning of the Western literary narrative tradition. One of the consequences of this diversity has been the complexity and confusion plaguing attempts to describe it. Historically, autobiography is classified as one of the oldest forms of narrative, its organizational patterns being associated with the rise of the ancient novel. This close association between the novel and autobiography is perceived as traceable to the earliest examples of narrative: the “series of autobiographical and biographical forms worked out in ancient times [had] a profound influence [on both] European biography and the development of...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Rozanov and Autobiography: The Case of Vasily Vasilievich
    (pp. 36-51)
    Anna Lisa Crone

    In a recent discussion of modern autobiography Paul de Man wrote: “Empirically as well as theoretically, autobiography lends itself poorly to generic definition; each specific instance seems to be an exception to the norm.”¹ Nevertheless, Elizabeth Bruss inAutobiographical Actsputs forth some general guidelines for autobiography as a genre. Although she stipulates that these may sometimes be violated, she suggests that they provide a basis for generic definition. The essential aspects of her “rules” for autobiography that have relevance for Rozanov’s use of the autobiographical mode follow:

    Rule 1: The autobiographer is the source of the text’s subject matter...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Alexey Remizov’s Later Autobiographical Prose
    (pp. 52-65)
    Olga Raevsky-Hughes

    Alexey Remizov (1877–1957) was a well-established and influential writer by 1917.¹ Although he never enjoyed wide popularity largely due to his nonbelletrist manner, unusual style, and “difficult” language, his influence on the younger generation of writers was of such magnitude that for the period from the 1910s through the 1920s one can speak of a “Remizov school” in Russian prose. Boris Pilniak and Alexey Tolstoy, to mention only two of the most prominent names, considered themselves Remizov’s disciples.² He was a friend of Alexander Blok and Vsevolod Meyerhold; the latter saw in Remizov’s dramatic work a new beginning for...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Andrey Bely’s Memories of Fiction
    (pp. 66-98)
    Charlene Castellano

    Andrey Bely (pseudonym of Boris N. Bugaev, 1880–1934) never enjoyed fame as a popular writer. He did, however, achieve great notoriety during his lifetime among the literati of Moscow and Petersburg. His wildly idiosyncratic experiments in literary form and his strangely ebullient essays in esoteric literary criticism sometimes earned him respect, sometimes rage, but always an audience of the finest literary minds of his nation. Novelist Evgeny Zamyatin, for example, pronounced Bely “a writer’s writer, a master” of the novel, “a Russian Joyce.”¹ But poet Osip Mandelstam diagnosed him “a sick and negative phenomenon in the life of the...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Autobiography and History: Osip Mandelstam’s Noise of Time
    (pp. 99-113)
    Jane Gary Harris

    Readers ofNoise of Time(Shum vremeni, 1923–25) have long admired Mandelstam’s lyric autobiography as one of the finest literary portrayals of prerevolutionary Russia. However, those who expected a more conventional nineteenth-century autobiographical form have been disappointed, even though Mandelstam’s programmatic statement clearly rejected a traditional approach; others who have tried too hard to distinguish between the poet’s prose and verse have also concluded that the prose is wanting. The most pertinent criticism ofNoise of Timehas focused on locating either a semantic or a chronological pattern as the source of its aesthetic unity.¹ In this essay, I...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Boris Pasternak’s Safe Conduct
    (pp. 114-122)
    Krystyna Pomorska

    Pasternak’s autobiography is in many respects comparable to all his prose pieces that deal with his life story.¹ The reason for this is revealed in the autobiographical text ofSafe Conduct(Okhrannaja gramota),² written between 1929 and 1931 and first published in 1931. Here the author confesses that one of the ideas inherited by him from the symbolists was “an understanding of life in general as the life of a poet.”³ And even though he rejects this concept, declaring that “outside of romantic legends this plan is artificial,”⁴ he follows this “plan,” particularly in one basic respect: in treating a...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The Imagination of Failure: Fiction and Autobiography in the Work of Yury Olesha
    (pp. 123-132)
    Elizabeth Klosty Beaujour

    Yury Olesha¹ always said that his talent was essentially autobiographical.² In his speech to the First Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934 he stated: “People told me³ that Kavalerov [the hero of his novelEnvy(Zavist’)] had many of my traits, that it was an autobiographical portrait; that, indeed, Kavalerov was me. Yes, Kavalerov did look through my eyes. Kavalerov’s colors, light, comparisons, metaphors and thoughts about things were mine.”⁴ To this admission that Kavalerov’s sensibility, though not his activity, were Olesha’s own, one may add the apparently autobiographical material of the childhood stories “The Chain” (“Tsep’,” 1929), “A Writer’s...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Autobiography and Conversion: Zoshchenko’s Before Sunrise
    (pp. 133-153)
    Krista Hanson

    The publication in November 1943 of Mikhail Zoshchenko’s autobiographical novellaBefore Sunrise(Pered voskhodom solntsa) must have taken his readers very much by surprise. Unlike many American readers of Russian literature, they were aware that in the previous decade Zoshchenko had been moving away from the ironic tone and clowning persona that defined his humorous works of the 1920s. He had produced documentary novellas about the fall of Kerensky and about a heroine of the Revolution and even wrote an infamous story about the reform of a swindler in a Soviet labor camp. Nevertheless, the serious tone and the intensely...

  13. CHAPTER 8 A Tremulous Prism: Nabokov’s Speak, Memory
    (pp. 154-171)
    John Pilling

    Almost all “mature” Nabokov has provoked widespread discussion as to his merits and demerits as a writer, generating something like a critical consensus, but notSpeak, Memory. A decade after its author’s death, some twenty years after his “authorized” version, and more than fifty years from its inception, Nabokov’s autobiography continues to be considered ancillary to his other achievements,ofbut not in the fullest senseinthe canon of work that constitutes his principal claim on our attention.¹ This may very possibly tell us as much about our nervous reaction when we come face to face with any author...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Yury Trifonov’s The House on the Embankment: Fiction or Autobiography?
    (pp. 172-192)
    Fiona Björling

    The question of fiction or autobiography concerns the discursive aspect of literature rather than its content.¹ Whether events related in literature are taken from the imagination of from history is less relevant than the significance of the historical writer as the ultimate authority behind the work. We find ourselves at the slippery junction between the writer’s original intention and the authorial position as emanating from within the text itself. My investigation is concerned with the problem of authorial position as manifest in a work where autobiographical sections intrude in an overtly fictional text. Yury Trifonov’s novels, in particularThe House...

  15. CHAPTER 10 The Rhetoric of Nadezhda Mandelstam’s Hope Against Hope
    (pp. 193-206)
    Charles Isenberg

    Despite the critical and popular acclaim accorded Nadezhda Mandelstam’s two volumes of memoirs,Hope Against Hope(in the original Russian, simply Vospominanija or “Memoirs”) and Hope Abandoned (Vtoraja knigaor “Second Book”)¹ not much attention has been paid to her qualities as a writer.² Owing to the combined effect of these qualities and a congeries of historical accidents, her writings have tended to merge with those of her husband. A contrast may clarify this point: If we are arguing about the meaning of some passage in Dostoevsky, most of us are unlikely to appeal to the authority of Anna Snitkina-Dostoevskaya....

  16. CHAPTER 11 Lydia Ginzburg and the Fluidity of Genre
    (pp. 207-216)
    Sarah Pratt

    The raw material of Lydia Ginzburg’s life could certainly provide the basis for a substantial memoir.¹ Born in Odessa in 1902 but an inhabitant of Leningrad for most of her adult life, Ginzburg represents the vibrant generation of the intelligentsia that kept Russian culture alive, indeed injected it with a new intellectual vigor in the 1920s. Having studied with Tynjanov and other members of the formalist school, she has contributed much to the continuing resonance of formalism in Russian culture. As Ginzburg established herself as a scholar, eventually producing seven books and more than fifty articles,² she also moved easily...

  17. CHAPTER 12 Roman Jakobson: The Autobiography of a Scholar
    (pp. 217-226)
    Krystyna Pomorska

    The autobiographical sketch of Vladimir Mayakovsky “I—myself” (1926–29) begins with the words: “I am a poet. This is what is interesting about me. I am writing about this here. About the rest … only if it became fixed in the word.” Another autobiography of a poet,Safe Conductby Boris Pasternak, contains a similar statement, which can be summarized as follows: if we try to present the life of a poet as a sequence of everyday facts, we would end up with trivialities.

    During a discussion after his lecture at Moscow University in October 1979 somebody asked Roman...

  18. CHAPTER 13 In Search of the Right Milieu: Eduard Limonov’s Kharkov Cycle
    (pp. 227-237)
    Patricia Carden

    Eduard Limonov came to general notice in the West with the publication ofIt’s Me, Eddie!(Eto ja—Edichka!), his rambunctious account of his life down and out on the streets of New York.¹ A Russian émigré whose transit to the West had been aided by the eagerness of the Russian police to rid themselves of a troublemaker, Limonov gleefully thumbed his nose at his American hosts, flauting his use of the welfare system to support his vocation as writer, while taking aim at many sacred cows of American liberal ideology. The book also told a dark story of his...

  19. CHAPTER 14 Literary Selves: The Tertz-Sinyavsky Dialogue
    (pp. 238-260)
    Andrew J. Nussbaum

    Andrey Sinyavsky first came to the West as Abram Tertz, a mysterious personality who sent his literature abroad in his search for artistic freedom.¹ Smuggled from the Soviet Union, this literature arrived in the West “faceless,” its author not merely unknown but relying on that anonymity to continue his literary endeavors. Tertz represented an incorporeal identity whose aesthetic opinions challenged Soviet literary authority. The entire drama of Soviet pursuit of this renegade writer, who almost magically evaded the authorities for over six years, has a romantically heroic quality. Using Tertz as a literary costume, the Moscow teacher and writer with...

  20. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 261-278)
  21. Index
    (pp. 279-287)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 288-291)