Sholokhov, Mikhail (Vol. 15)
Sholokhov, Mikhail 1905–
Sholokhov is a Russian novelist. His greatest achievement, the monumental The Quiet Don, has long been the center of literary controversy. It is a saga of his own Don Cossack region during the chaotic decade of the Russian Revolution. Sholokhov was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for 1965. (See also CLC, Vol. 7.)
From the time when it first began to appear in 1928 The Quiet Don has posed a whole series of riddles which have not been satisfactorily answered even today. The reading public found itself confronted with something unprecedented in the history of literature. A twenty-three-year-old beginner had created a work out of material which went far beyond his own experience of life and his level of education (four years at school)…. [The book] could have been written only by someone closely acquainted with many sections of pre-Revolutionary society in the Don region, [for it is] a book whose most impressive quality was its deep insight into the way of life and the psychology of the characters it portrayed.
Although in terms of his origins and his personal record he himself was an "outsider", a non-Cossack, the emotional force of the young author's novel was directed against the influence of "outsiders" and its destructive effect on the traditional culture of the Don—a message which he was never to repeat in later life or in any public statement, however, remaining faithful to this very day to the mentality of those who requisitioned produce from the peasantry by force and served in "special purpose" units. He described vividly and with apparent first-hand knowledge the World War, in which he had been far too young to take part (he was only ten or so at the time), and the Civil War, which was over by the time he was fifteen....
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Under the title Qui a écrit "le Don paisible"? the anonymous French translation of Roj Medvedev's study Zagadki tvorceskoj biografii Mixaila Soloxova (Riddles of Mixail Soloxov's Creative Biography) came out in the summer of 1975…. [It] represents the second major publication on the controversial subject of the authorship of The Quiet Don…. Medvedev is a more thorough, cautious, and impartial investigator…. In the face of all [its] good points, Medvedev's study suffers from a glaring defect: a rather scarce use of materials published during the civil war by the Whites and an absence of reference to White Russian émigré sources. Medvedev obviously had only a very limited access to these sources, without which no serious investigation of the historical background of The Quiet Don can be complete. (p. 293)
Although Medvedev does not claim to have arrived at a definite conclusion, his strong preference for [Fedor Dmitrievic Krjukov (1870–1920)] as the possible author of The Quiet Don is quite obvious, especially since he does not consider any other names and dismisses Solzenicyn's conjecture [see excerpt above] that The Quiet Don might have been the work of an unknown genius who reached his creative peak during the civil war and perished soon after its end….
The reasons for Soloxov's low score in Medvedev's rating are first of all biographical and ideological. The...
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R. A. Medvedev
Ermolaev is one of the most competent specialists in the history of the Don region and the Don Cossacks, and he is obviously one of the best Western experts on M. A. Soloxov and F. D. Krjukov. This of course makes his remarks and conjectures especially valuable [see excerpt above].
However, not all of Ermolaev's observations are equally convincing. He agrees with me, for example, that the novel Podnjataja celina (Virgin Soil Upturned) is incomparably weaker as a work of art than Tixij Don (The Quiet Don). The level of volume 2 of Virgin Soil Upturned (1960) is especially low in quality, as are the chapters published at the end of the war and the still unfinished novel Oni srazaliś za rodinu (They Fought for Their Homeland, 1943–44). "However," Ermolaev notes, "even in the works written after The Quiet Don one finds incomparable descriptions of the Don countryside which could belong only to the creator of The Quiet Don. Who else could have written the opening of volumes 1 and 2 of Virgin Soil Upturned and in particular the first two pages of chapter 34 in volume 1?" (p. 104)
This is a weak argument. In Virgin Soil Upturned one can of course encounter four or five incomparable descriptions of Don nature and the Don village reminiscent of analogous pages in The Quiet Don. But it is precisely the fact that there are so few of these sketches that causes one...
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