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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Leonid Leonov’s Vor : a Soviet paradise lost Stelmaszynski, Margaret Burgess


There is a striking contrast in the assessments by Western critics of the two variants of Leonid Leonov's novel, Vor (The Thief): whereas the original version (1927) is frequently acclaimed as the finest and most artistically honest of all his literary endeavours, Leonov's revision of the work (1959) is generally viewed as evidence of his final capitulation to the dictates of socialist realist doctrine. The present study was initiated as an attempt to elucidate certain obscure thematic and symbolic elements perceived during a concentrated examination of the first novel only. Gradually, however, as the significance of thesi elements became increasingly more evident, attention was shifted to the revision to determine whether or not they had survived the destructive influences of indoctrination and time. If they had been preserved, and the difficulties arrising from the obscurity of their presentation could be overcome, then Leonov's tarnished reputation in the West was decidedly undeserved. Surprisingly, those elements most crucial to the elusive message of the original have not merely survived, but have often been clarified and elaborated as well. The key to their understanding lies in the recognition of a level of narration "higher" than that of the everyday reality of socially and politically oriented circumstances and events. For, in addition to his concern with topical issues, Leonov reveals a profound interest in the great metaphysical conflicts that are eternally re-enacted within the confines of the human soul. The vehicle for his depiction of these conflicts is a network of symbolism, primarily Biblical in origin, which has as its basis the epic myth of "Paradise Lost." The exegesis of this symbolic framework has been divided into five chapters: I) Introduction, II) Paradise Lost, III) Paradise Regained, IV) Paradise Rejected, or the Theory of Progress, and V) Conclusions. Chapter I sets the stage for the analysis by placing the tragic "riddle" of human existence (the conflict of Good versus Evil) in the context of the "march of the generations," or history. Chapter II shows how the metaphysical rebellion (or "fall") of Dmitry Vekshin (Leonov1s "universal Adam") is reflected in the symbolic nucleus of the novel, the "blighted birch," and outlines the implications of this parallel for the fates of Vekshin and of Russia. As the tragedy of the fallen Adam led to the promise of the risen Christ, so the spiritual death signified by Vekshin 1s own "fall" leads to the potentiality of his "rebirth." Chapter III locates Leonov's discussion of this possibility in a polyphonic schematization of characters and events that is highly reminiscent of Dostoevsky, Chapter IV focuses on Vekshin's rejection of salvation and on the revised novel's greatly elaborated "theory of human progress," in which Leonov describes the conflict between "happiness" and "hope," between consideration for individual human beings and the abstract idea of a "greater human good." Dmitry Vekshin's. rejection of "Paradise" ultimately signifies the author's own lack of faith in the Communist ideal. In conclusion, Chapter V discusses specific indications of Leonov's awareness of the subversive nature of his ideas, and of the dangers to which he is consequently exposed. It is a highly ironic measure of his success that Leonov's survival in Soviet society should have won him such acclaim in the Soviet Union and such condemnation in the free world. In any case, his achievements as an artist have been attained at immense personal cost, and it is time they were recognized for their true value.

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