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Stalin’s Ghosts

Gothic Themes in Early Soviet Literature


Muireann Maguire

Stalin’s Ghosts examines the impact of the Gothic-fantastic on Russian literature in the period 1920-1940. It shows how early Soviet-era authors, from well-known names including Fedor Gladkov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Andrei Platonov and Evgenii Zamiatin, to niche figures such as Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii and Aleksandr Beliaev, exploited traditional archetypes of this genre: the haunted castle, the deformed body, vampires, villains, madness and unnatural death. Complementing recent studies of Soviet culture by Eric Naiman and Lilya Kaganovsky, this book argues that Gothic-fantastic tropes functioned variously as a response to the traumas produced by revolution and civil war, as a vehicle for propaganda, and as a subtle mode of unwriting the cultural monolith of Socialist Realism.


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Chapter 2 Gothic Castles


Zinaida Gippius, who left St Petersburg for Warsaw in December 1919, compared her city and nation to a tomb or an open grave multiple times in her final diary entries of that year. In a postscript added in April 1920, she suggested that any diarist was merely ‘a corpse, lying in the tomb. I know that even now, after all these months, nothing has changed in the tomb that is Petersburg. Only the process of decomposition continues’.1 In an open letter to the critic N. V. Chaikovskii which appeared in the Berlin émigré journal Nakanune [On the Eve] on April 14, 1922, A. N. Tolstoy cited a similar trope of Bolshevik Russia as a wasteland littered with graves. But Tolstoy (who would soon voluntarily return to Russia) criticized this image as an extravagant misconception that was already yielding to rea- son.2 In émigré culture, and particularly clearly in the fiction of writers like Georgii Peskov, P. N. Krasnov, and Vladimir Nabokov, the entirety of Russia had already, and irrevocably, become a Gothic space: desolate, haunting, terrifying. Gothic fiction is traditionally concerned with the definition and transmission of spatial boundaries; questions of property, inheritance, usurpation and reclamation recur repeatedly within the genre. The chrono- tope of Gothic is the castle, an ancient structure haunted by secrets and 1 ‘мертвец, лежа щ[ий] в могиле. Я знаю: и теперь, за эти месяцы, в могиле Петербурга ничто не изменилось. Только процесс разложения идет дальше’. Zinaida Gippius, ‘Seryi bloknot’, in Gippius, Dnevniki, 2 vols (1999), vol. 2 (Moscow: Intelvak, 1999), pp. 255–80 (p. 280). 2 A. N. Tolstoi, ‘Otkrytoe pis’mo N. V. Chaikovskomu’, in Tolstoi, Sobranie...

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