Isaac Babel Biography


(Short Stories for Students)

Russian writer Isaac Babel was born on July 13, 1894, and given the full name Isaac Emmanuilovich Babel. Though some of his writing implies...

(The entire section is 835 words.)

Isaac Babel Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Isaac Emmanuilovich Babel was born in Odessa on July 13, 1894, into a Jewish family that had lived in southern Russia for generations. Soon after his birth, the family moved from this thriving port on the Black Sea to the nearby small town of Nikolayev, where Babel spent the first ten years of his life. His childhood was typical of a child growing up in a colorful Jewish environment and, at the same time, in a Russian society replete with prejudices against Jews. In his stories, Babel describes the difficult lessons of survival that he had to learn from childhood on, which enabled him not only to survive but also to keep striving for excellence against all odds. He was a studious child who read under all conditions, even on his way home, and his imagination was always on fire, as he said in one of his stories. Among many other subjects, he studied Hebrew and French vigorously, becoming more proficient in them than in Russian.

After finishing high school in Odessa—which was difficult for a Jewish child to enter and complete—Babel could not attend the university, again because of the Jewish quota. He enrolled in a business school in Kiev instead. It was at this time that he began to write stories, in French, imitating his favorite writers, François Rabelais, Gustave Flaubert, and Guy de Maupassant. In 1915, he went to St. Petersburg, already thinking seriously of a writing career. He had no success with editors, however, until he met Maxim Gorky, a...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Isaac Babel Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isaac Emmanuelovich Babel (BA-byihl) was born in the Moldavanka, the Jewish quarter of Odessa, then a part of the Russian Empire, on July 13, 1894. His parents Emmanuel and Fanya Babel were firmly middle class and not entirely comfortable with this lively cosmopolitan city full of foreigners and colorful gangsters. As a result, they moved to Nikolaev, about eighty miles up the coast, shortly after Isaac’s birth. Ever the compulsive mythologizer, Babel would later conveniently forget this detail of his upbringing, just as he brushed over his father’s prosperous agricultural machinery business and depicted him as a simple shopkeeper. To be fair to Babel, however, he was writing in the Soviet Union at a time when it was often expedient to soft-pedal bourgeois origins and emphasize one’s closeness with the working people.

In any case, his family’s modest wealth could not insulate them from the fact they were Jews in a virulently anti-Semitic society, where pogroms, or riots, broke out with alarming regularity. His granduncle was murdered during the pogrom of 1905, and Babel had to watch his own father kneel in supplication to a Cossack officer. However, that act of self-abasement did not spare the family business from a mob of looters or consequent financial ruin. Upon the family’s return to Odessa in 1906, Isaac himself had to struggle to be admitted to the Russian-language commercial school, since the regular Russian-language high schools had a harsh quota limiting the number of Jewish students they would admit.

At this time, Babel’s literary interests began to flower, but not in the way one might have expected for a young man of his background. He had little interest in either Hebrew or Yiddish literature, instead preferring the great Russian writers of the era, including Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov. He also developed a strong interest in Western literature, particularly French writers such as Guy de Maupassant and François Rabelais. In these authors, Babel found a vision and power in marked contrast to the resignation and frequent self-pity of his coreligionists’ writings.

His literary yearnings led him to the imperial capital, St. Petersburg, where he lived in defiance of restrictions against Jewish settlement. Although this course of action exposed him to considerable hardship, it also put him in contact with writer Maxim Gorky, who enabled Babel to get his first stories published in 1917. The stories proved controversial enough to get Babel...

(The entire section is 1020 words.)

Isaac Babel Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isaac Babel’s continual focus upon characters at once grim and colorful, combined with the peculiar way in which he died, served to make his writings a highly desirable “forbidden fruit” in the Soviet Union for many decades. Even after his rehabilitation in the 1960’s, the official editions of his works, carefully edited to remove references that were still politically problematic—such as an appearance by Leon Trotsky at the end of the segments that make up Red Cavalry—were printed in very small editions and thus nearly impossible to acquire if one did not have the appropriate connections. Even in the West, Babel remained largely unknown because many scholars felt awkward about approaching stories that were so unsparing in their portrayals of the cruelty of war.

Isaac Babel Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isaac Babel (BA-byihl), for all the sparseness of his literary output, is generally regarded as the greatest Soviet-Russian writer of short stories. He was born on July 13, 1894, to an ambitious middle-class Jewish family living in a colorful, lower-class section of Odessa known as the Moldavanka. Young Babel spent his first decade in the nearby city of Nikolayev, where he was pushed by his family into fanatical diligence as a student, this being the only hope for escape from political oppression. The terrible pogrom of October, 1905, forced the Babels back to Odessa, where Isaac continued his studies and began to write stories. His first published story, “Old Shloime,” about an old man who commits suicide, appeared in 1913 in...

(The entire section is 1062 words.)

Isaac Babel Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

A leading Russian short-story writer during the 1920’s, Babel became a suspect in the eyes of the Soviet police after publishing Red Cavalry (1926), a collection of stories about the Russian civil war. Although he had joined the Bolsheviks during the revolution, his stories presented the revolution and civil war as he saw them—an orgy of barbarous actions perpetrated by all sides. Publication of that book marked the beginning of official distrust that shadowed Babel through the rest of his life. The fact that he was Jewish contributed to this distrust, although the new Soviet regime officially outlawed anti- Semitism. However, Babel was not a stranger to religious persecution; as a child his family was subjected to a...

(The entire section is 399 words.)