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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 6 Gothic Returns


Introduction During the first two decades of the Soviet era, a very few writers stub- bornly sustained the Gothic-fantastic mode within Russian letters. They wrote in isolation and often without hope of publication, yet they were united by a shared aesthetic, common inf luences, and (for some) very occa- sional encounters. This group might well be called the Bulgakov cohort, since its four members – Nikolai Ognev (1888–1938), Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940), Sigizmund Krzhizhanovskii (1887–1950), and Aleksandr Chaianov (1888–1937) – were approximately coeval, with Bulgakov as their most (posthumously) famous member. They were born in the reign of the arch-conservative Tsar Alexander III, and began their literary careers in the 1920s or even earlier, just as the victorious proletariat were discarding their chains. Mutual inf luence between these writers was unlikely to have been significant, although Bulgakov and Krzhizhanovskii were certainly acquainted (both were participants in E. F. Nikitina’s Moscow reading group-cum-publishing house Nikitinskie subbotniki [Nikitina’s subbot- niks]). Moreover, although the two men never met, Chaianov’s short sto- ries would help to shape the dreamscape of Bulgakov’s Moscow in Master i Margarita. The posthumous reception of these four writers’ fiction has varied radically. Since the 1960s, Bulgakov has gradually become one of the most well-known writers of the twentieth century, with a constantly expanding critical bibliography; while Krzhizhanovskii, perhaps the most obscure member of this quartet during his lifetime, is currently experienc- ing a minor revival with the ongoing publication of new translations and 254 Chapter 6 assessments of...

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