The Severed Continuum: Soviet Realism and the Case of The Silent Don

  • John Orr
Part of the Edinburgh Studies in Sociology book series (ESIS)


The continuity of Russian realism has always been a controversial issue. After the Russian Revolution, the wholesale rejection of cultural tradition by many left-wing artists and critics also entailed a rejection of classic mimetic forms. Futurists, Constructivists and Suprematists rejected representational art as a relic of bourgeois individualism and committed themselves to new experimental techniques in poetry, film, drama and architecture. In the sphere of literature LEF and On Guard, the magazine of the Na Postu group, made violent attacks upon pre-revolutionary literature. Advocating a didactic, proselytising literature they rejected representational fiction as static and conservative and hence useless in the task of politicising the masses through art. Later, in 1928, the various anti-mimetic groups became absorbed into the new proletarian writers’ organisation of Leopold Averbakh, RAPP. New forms of attack were made on representational art, less by rejecting the principle as such than by subjecting it to criteria which were severely constricting. Class background, active commitment to the party, and the choice of fictive themes relevant to the tasks of socialist construction were all weighed positively. Their absence provoked condemnation and often a refusal to publish.


Literary Tradition Active Commitment Social Privilege Wholesale Rejection Tragic Hero 
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  1. 1.
    See Roy A. Medvedev, Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov (London 1977)Google Scholar
  2. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ’sholokhov and the Riddle of “The Quiet Don’”, Times Literary Supplement, 4 October 1974, p. 1056Google Scholar
  3. Vladimir Molozherenko ‘About a certain undeservedly forgotten name’, ibid., p. 1057; and the article on Medvedev’s study by Peter Osnos in the Guardian, 19 April 1975. Molozherenko, a Soviet critic, re-affirms Kurkov’s literary importance as a Cossack writer. In the opening paragraphs he explicitly compares the fate of Krukov with that of the novel’s hero Gregor Melekhov. Both were forced to flee the Red advance on the Don in 1920 and both contracted typhus during the retreat. In the novel, Gregor survives the fever, but in real life Krukov died from it. Molozherenko has since claimed, as a result of the controversy arising from his article in the Soviet Union, that Sholokhov is the sole author of The Silent Don.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    It is impossible to make any definitive judgment about the authorship on the basis of the abridged English translation in two volumes (London 1967 and 1972). More than a hundred pages have been cut out from the original Russian text. Apart from general historical commentary on the civil war, the two most vital elements missing are the story of Liza Mokhova, which is taken from the diary of a dead Cossack, and a fuller portrait of Eugene Listnitsky. Sections covering Listnitsky’s relationship with Aksinia have been omitted, as have his letters to his father. The English edition, translated at the end of the thirties, does have the virtue of excluding the postwar Soviet revisions of the novel forced on Sholokhov by the Zhdanov cultural regime. For a discussion of the English omissions see David Stewart,’ The Silent Don in English’, American Slavic and East European Review, vol. xv, 1956, pp. 265–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© John Orr 1977

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  • John Orr

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