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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 4 Gothic Death


I fear dying, I don’t wish to die, I have a horror of dying.1 ‘To this day men have considered death a thing of horror. Hasn’t resurrection from the dead been the dream of mankind for thousands of years?’ ‘I would have chosen death over this resurrection’.2 In Pil’niak’s short story ‘Ivan Moskva’, the hero marches with two other Red Army soldiers through the Kuban peninsula after a Civil War battle, carrying the bodies of two fallen comrades. All three men are delirious with fever, and thus fail to notice that their burdens are not only dead but rotting rapidly in the summer heat: the lower jaw of one has broken of f, the other’s intestines are trailing. Oblivious, the living soldiers place the corpses on guard duty, and even spoon-feed them their own miserable rations. The reader is perturbed: if Pil’niak intended to create a fable of Soviet martial fraternity, with soldiers supporting each other up to and beyond the point of death, why dwell on the grotesque physical dissolution of these corpses, or on the delirium of the living? By emphasizing death-in-life instead of life-in-death, Pil’niak challenges one of the major tropes of emergent Soviet prose – the immortality myth. 1 ‘Смерти я боюсь, смерти я не хочу, смерти я ужасаюсь.’ Vasilii Rozanov, Opavshie listia (Berlin: Rossica, 1929), p. 8. 2 ‘“… Люди считали до сих пор ужасной смерть. Разве воскресение из мертвых не было тысячелетней мечтой человечества?”“Я бы предпочла смерть такому воскресению.”’ Aleksandr Beliaev, Golova professor Douelia in Beliaev, Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Moscow: Pravda, 1989), pp. 23–164 (p. 26). 140 Chapter 4 Immortality myths – revolutionary visions predicated on the invio- lability and imperishability of the Soviet body...

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