Yevgeny Zamyatin

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Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Devoted to an ideal Bolshevism, Zamyatin rejoiced at the coming of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He had been jailed and exiled for anticzarist activities in 1905 and 1911, and the Petersburg District Court had interdicted publication of one of his short stories in 1913. From 1917 to 1921 Zamyatin became a leading figure in Leningrad intellectual circles, respected for the virtuosity of his work as creative artist and critic. With the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921, however, he came under attack from communist critics, who characterized him as a decadent, apolitical individualist who was hostile to the Revolution. The Leningrad Regional Administration of Literary and Publishing Affairs banned his verse tragedy Attila in 1928 for its anti-Soviet character, shortly after it had been warmly received by an audience that included eighteen factory directors.

In 1929, with the purge of the All-Russian Union of Writers consequent to the adoption of the First Five Year Plan, Zamyatin came under increasingly heavy criticism for the romantic individualism of his major work, the anti-utopian novel My, completed in 1921 and first published as a whole, in English translation, as We (1924). As a result of that purge, Zamyatin’s books were removed from the shelves of many Soviet libraries, and dogmatic critics were prepared to stop publication of anything new that Zamyatin might produce.

In June, 1931, Zamyatin requested of Joseph Stalin the mercy of being exiled, since “being deprived of the opportunity to write is nothing less than a death sentence.” He left for France a few months later, never to return to Russia. His We has not been published in his homeland.

Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin was born on February 1, 1884, in Lebedyan, a small town in the Russian heartland. The writer would later point out with pride that the town was famous for its cardsharps, Gypsies, and distinctive Russian speech, and he would utilize this spicy material in his mature fiction. His childhood, however, was a lonely one, and as the son of a village teacher, he spent more time with books than with other children.

After completing four years at the local school in 1896, Zamyatin went on to the Gymnasium in Voronezh, where he remained for six years. Immediately after he was graduated, Zamyatin moved to St. Petersburg to study naval engineering at the Petersburg Polytechnic Institute. Over the next few years, Zamyatin became interested in politics and joined the Bolshevik Party. This political involvement led to his arrest late in 1905, when the student was picked up by the authorities who were trying to cope with the turbulent political agitation that swept the capital that year. Zamyatin spent several months in solitary confinement, and he used the time to write poetry and study English. Released in the spring of 1906, Zamyatin was exiled to Lebedyan. He soon returned to St. Petersburg, however, and lived there illegally until he was discovered and exiled again in 1911.

By this time he had been graduated from the Institute and had been appointed a lecturer there. He also had made his debut as a writer: in 1908, he published the story “Odin” (“Alone”), which chronicles the fate of an imprisoned revolutionary student who kills himself over frustrated love, and in 1910, he published “Devushka,” another tale of tragic love. Although neither work is entirely successful, they both demonstrate Zamyatin’s early interest in innovative narrative technique. A more polished work of his was Uezdnoe (1913; A Provincial Tale, 1966), which Zamyatin wrote during the months of renewed exile in 1911 and 1912. Zamyatin’s penetrating treatment of ignorance and brutality in the Russian countryside was greeted with warm approval by the critics. On the other hand, his next major work, Na kulichkakh (1914; at the end of the world), provided such a sharp portrait of cruelty in the military that the publication in which the story appeared was confiscated by the authorities.

(The entire section is 1,926 words.)