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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 5 Gothic Monsters


Powers of Darkness In 1929, Vladimir Nabokov’s paternal aunt, Vera Dmitrievna Pykhacheva, published an autobiographical account of life under the Bolshevik gov- ernment entitled Sem’ let vo vlasti temnoi sili [Seven Years In The Power of the Dark Force] (1929). Her identification of the Soviet government with the temnaia sila [dark force(s)] – of Russian folk legend was a politically legitimate, if somewhat hyperbolic, position.1 However, pro-Soviet writers were equally apt at equating their capitalist enemies with supernatural foes. Writing in 1939, Grigorii Grebnev, author of Arktaniia [Arktania], argued that fantastic fiction should always represent ‘the struggle between progres- sive humanity and the dark forces of reaction’.2 Accordingly, Grebnev’s fiction caricatures political opponents as stereotypical Gothic villains – either psychotically unpleasant (as in Arktaniia) or supernaturally malevo- lent. In his short story, ‘Rasskaz ob odnom rasstreliannom’ [‘The Tale of a Man Who Was Shot’] (1935), told, like Arktaniia, from the perspective of a teenage boy, Grebnev depicts a White army of ficer who possesses both the psychopathology of a Gothic villain and an apparently demonic ability to evade death. A tradition of ‘страшные и удивительные’ [dreadful and startling] legends has grown up around this individual: 1 Pykhacheva’s subsequent attendance at the Romanian court in Belgrade until her death in 1938 revealed her monarchist sympathies unambiguously. 2 ‘борьба прогрессивного человечества с темными силами реакции’. Grigorii Grebnev, ‘Krasnyi admiral Erteil’, Detskaia literatura, 5 (May 1939), p. 25. 188 Chapter 5 Говорили, что Шок рвет ногти арестованным, во время допроса подвешивает женщин за груди, и сам без всякого суда расстреливает своих подследственных при малейшем подозрении в большевизме. В Шока стреляли в одиночку и залпами, бросали ему под ноги бомбы, отправляли водку, которую он пил, и все это каким-то чудом Шок оставался жив и невредим.3 [They said that Shok pulled out prisoners’ nails, that he hung women up by their breasts during interrogations, and...

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