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Russian literature

Soviet Literature, 1917–39

After the triumph of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution (1917), many writers emigrated and were active abroad (Bunin, Kuprin, Merezhkovsky, Aldanov, and Vladimir Nabokov, among others). Some writers remained in Russia but published no new works; others became Communists; some adapted their talents to the needs of the new system while remaining partly aloof from its doctrines. Literary forms developed under the Bolshevik regime were at first similar to those appearing in Western Europe at the same time. In the first period after the revolution (to 1921) poetry flourished; principal figures included the symbolist Blok, the imagist S. A. Yesenin, and the iconoclast V. V. Mayakovsky. The older novelist Boris Pilnyak chronicled the new scene, and Isaac Babel wrote colorful short stories.

In the era of the New Economic Policy (1922–28) there was much debate over literary dictatorship, with the "On Guard" group arguing for it and the Mayakovsky group against it. The Serapion Brothers (a group including K. A. Fedin, M. M. Zoshchenko, Vsevolod Ivanov, V. A. Kaverin, Yevgeny Zamyatin, and Lev Lunts) proclaimed their credo of artistic independence, and the formalists emphasized the structure of a poem rather than its content. This period saw the rebirth of the novel in the satirical works of Ilya Ilf and Y. P. Petrov and in the psychological and romantic novels of L. M. Leonov, Yuri Olesha, and Kaverin. M. A. Sholokhov gave the revolution-oriented novel an epic breadth, and in 1928 Gorky returned to enormous popularity.

A general dissolution of the various literary groups took place from 1929 to 1932, and there was a marked trend toward political mobilization of writers. This trend was strengthened in the 1930s during Stalin's purges of the intelligentsia, and socialist realism was proclaimed as the guiding principle in all writing. In the drama, a form greatly encouraged and widely used as a means of propaganda, outstanding figures since the revolution include Yevgeny Schvartz, Nikolai Erdman, M. A. Bulgakov, S. M. Tretyakov, V. P. Katayev, V. M. Kirshon, A. N. Afinogenov, and Alexei Arbuzov. Boris Pasternak and Nikolai Tikhonov became the leading poets, and the novels of Ostrovsky, Aleksey Tolstoy, and Ilya Ehrenburg were widely read. V. B. Shklovski gained great influence as a critic.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Russian and Eastern European Literature


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