The son of a tsarist officer, Yury Karlovich Olesha was born in Elisavetgrad, near Odessa, on March 3, 1899. He grew up in Odessa, where he finished his education. He joined the active literary scene in that city and counted writers Isaak Babel and Valentin Katayev among his friends. He began to write poetry but soon abandoned that genre. He had an ambivalent attitude toward the revolution, which was reflected in almost all his later works. He moved to Moscow in 1920 and continued to write and associate with writers. He wrote some short stories in the mid-1920’s but did not publish them right away.
In 1927 he published his first and best novel Envy, which was hailed by many critics as one of the best novels in contemporary Soviet literature. Through the views and actions of the protagonist Nikolay Kavalerov, Olesha expresses his own views about the revolution and the role of the intellectuals, which are replete with ambivalence and doubts about the sacrosanctity, and even need, for the drastic revolution carried out by the Bolsheviks. He rewrote Envy as a play, The Conspiracy of Feelings, which had a successful run at the prestigious Vakhtangov Theater in 1929, as well as at other theaters. This play was followed by A List of Assets, staged at Vsevolod Meyerhold’s theater in 1931. In this work, Olesha continued to wrestle with his ambivalence about the revolution, attempting to strike a balance between positive and...
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