Writers in Russia, 1917-1978 Analysis

Max Hayward

Writers in Russia, 1917-1978

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

Max Hayward died at the age of fifty-four without ever having authored a book of his own, concentrating instead on translating, editing, and essay writing. Patricia Blake, his collaborator on several poetry and prose anthologies in translation, has collected several of his best-known pieces in tribute to his many efforts in the field of Russian culture and literature. Blake’s lengthy biographical introduction does much to illuminate her subject’s approach to Russian topics, for Hayward was something of a maverick in Slavic scholarship, with a reputation for unorthodox and subjective, though often highly original, interpretations of Soviet literary events. Hayward was already a loner at university, where his working-class background contributed to a certain isolation, but his linguistic gifts soon found acknowledgment and brought him a scholarship to Oxford University. In the pre-Sputnik days of the 1940’s and early 1950’s, when expertise in Russian language was not yet considered promising for career purposes, Hayward distinguished himself by mastering the idiom to near-native fluency. He subsequently devoted his life to Russian literary and cultural pursuits. At the same time, Hayward’s eccentric behavior frequently denied him the recognition due his talents. During a stint as third secretary to the British embassy in Moscow between 1947 and 1949, Hayward was singled out to interpret for Ambassador David Kelly at an important interview with Joseph Stalin. Stalin’s appearance paralyzed the overawed Hayward into speechlessness, and the hapless British envoy had to rely on the services of Stalin’s interpreter. Hayward’s subsequent years as lecturer at Oxford were characterized by heavy drinking coupled with brilliant, albeit nontraditional, presentations on Slavic subject matter. A second embassy appointment to Moscow in the mid-1950’s ended disastrously as a result of Hayward’s public drunkenness and otherwise undiplomatic demeanor. Fortunately, his facility with foreign languages and all-consuming interest in things Russian combined to crown his literary activity with success.

Blake has divided her selections of Hayward’s writing into two sections. The initial articles, comprising part 1, deal with Russian literature in general and have all appeared previously as introductions or contributions to various anthologies. Four of the five essays cover roughly the same postrevolutionary periods, thus leaving an impression of repetitiveness. Hayward’s approach, however, stressing different aspects of Soviet literary development, moderates the feeling of sameness. The lead essay goes beyond contemporary Russia to treat the whole of Russian cultural history. First published as preface to Chloe Obolensky’s The Russian Empire: A Portrait in Photographs (1979), it isolates those historical events which Hayward considers influential in shaping later societal behavior, including the ninth century rule of the Vikings, Christianization, Mongol occupation, imperial expansion, Westernization, and the multifaceted movements of the nineteenth century. The survey is historical rather than literary, though it delineates intellectual currents as well. Hayward gives special significance to the empire’s belated industrialization and highlights the bright spots to such an extent that one comes away with a rather sophisticated view of developing Russia. Hayward’s benevolent tone is in no small measure a result of his fascination with and love of the lower-class vernacular, in which he discerned a beauty and resourcefulness that sometimes colored his estimation of the peasant class.

The second selection, too, is of a general survey nature, serving as part of Robert Auty and Dmitri Obolensky’s An Introduction to Russian Language and Literature (1977). Hayward concentrates on the many experimental trends competing with one another in the 1920’s, when censorship was lax and revolutionary enthusiasm still ran high among the intelligentsia. The latter part of the survey represents Hayward’s evaluation of the “thaw” that followed Stalin’s death in 1953, a period during which strict Stalinist controls were replaced by a return to literary talent and integrity. In his discussion of contemporary literature, Hayward sticks to his own preferences; there is only brief mention of the influential group of nonpolitical authors who rose to dominance in the 1970’s and who are the subject of Klaus Mehnert’s The Russians and Their Favorite Books (1983). Indeed, these two current books complement each other: Mehnert reviews what is actually available to Soviet readers and what they themselves prefer to read, while Hayward focuses on authors who, in his opinion, ought to be published and read but are frequently not accessible to the Russian public. The result on both sides is aesthetically credible literature. Hayward devotes most of his space to earlier, controversial writers widely publicized and printed in the West, with special attention to Mikhail Bulgakov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Anna Akhmatova, and Andrei Voznesensky. The tenor of Hayward’s presentation makes quite clear that he approves of the creative intelligentsia’s intense concern with sociopolitical events and that he considers these artists to be moral giants, ethically superior to their Western counterparts. In assessing the momentum behind Russian quality literature, Hayward is convinced that political tensions and censorial hazards, by challenging the creative spirit, actually contribute to literary excellence....

(The entire section is 2257 words.)

Writers in Russia, 1917-1978 Bibliography

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 12)

Library Journal. CVIII, August, 1983, p. 1484.

National Review. XXXV, July 8, 1983, p. 828.

The New York Review of Books. XXX, December 22, 1983, p. 22.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVIII, October 9, 1983, p. 13.

The New Yorker. LIX, October 3, 1983, p. 130.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXIII, May 27, 1983, p. 59.

World Literature Today. LVIII, Spring, 1984, p. 288.