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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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‘The Gothic novel is an integrated and well-structured system’.1 Gothic has always been noteworthy for its ‘remarkable institutional stability … its long history of repeating and reworking a limited set of devices to reproduce similar ef fects’.2 In the context of this generic stability and coherence, it would be remarkable had Gothic-fantastic tropes failed to characterize Soviet literature, at least to some extent. The preceding chapters have argued that the survival of characteristically Gothic tropes and topoi throughout Soviet fiction was a natural consequence of the durability and centrality of this ‘well-structured system’ within Russian culture. If only four writers wrote both intentionally and consistently in the Gothic-fantastic mode – that is, Bulgakov, Krzhizhanovskii, Ognev and Chaianov – Gothic tropes of haunting, deformity, monstrosity, regression, and usurpation none- theless recurred in multiple genres of literature by ideologically diverse authors throughout the early Soviet period. In the post-war Soviet dec- ades, as Socialist Realism became increasingly reified, Gothic narrative prose largely retreated into samizdat and tamizdat, or into specific genres such as science fiction or children’s literature. Consider, among the rare later examples of Gothic texts, Varlam Shalamov’s collection of lightly fictionalized camp memoirs, Kolymskie rasskazy [Kolyma Tales] (written between 1954 and the mid-1970s). In the short story ‘Noch’iu’ [‘By Night’], two inmates of a Kolyma camp secretly exhume a recently buried body to steal its clothing; Shalamov’s lucid, unemotional naturalism enhances the 1 ‘Готический роман – целостная и хорошо структурированная система’. Vatsuro, Goticheskii roman, p. iii. 2 Peter K. Garrett, Gothic Ref lections: Narrative Force in Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Ithaca, NY...

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