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The genesis of S.N. Sergeev-Tsenskii's Preobrazhenie Rossii Sager, Maureen Rose

Abstract

Sergei Nikolaevich Sergeev (pseudonym Sergeev-Tsenskii) was born in September, 1875 and died in December, 1958. The sixty years of his literary career, which encompassed such momentous political upheavals in the history of Russia, were witness also to the most varied developments in literature, ranging from the experimentation of the Futurists to the enshrinement of Socialist Realism as the State literary Word. Such periods of change demand commitment to one or another political grouping or literary mode. It is rare to find a Russian writer whose life spanned these turbulent decades that could state in 1945: "I never belonged to any groupings of writers nor took part in any circles,"¹ Curiosity is further aroused when the writer is praised by such disparate critics as M. Gor'kii, R. Ivanov-Razumnik and G. Struve. In 1924, Gor'kii called the novel Valia ". . . the finest book of all that have appeared in Russia during the last twenty-four years."² In an open letter to Romain Rolland published in Pravda in 1928, Gor'kii stated that ". . .at this time in the forefront of Russian literature stand two absolutely wonderful masters. They are Sergeev-Tsenskii and M. Prishvin."³ R. Ivanov-Razumnik includes the novels of Sergeev-Tsenskii in his list of the "summits" of Russian literature published after the Revolution.⁴ G. Struve writes that Sergeev-Tsenskii was "one of the outstanding representatives of Neo-Realism in pre-Revolutionary literature...."⁵ Led to delve further into the career of Sergeev-Tsenskii, the student soon finds that his works were the centre of lively and controversial critical interest in the decades preceding the Revolution, were the subject of a spate of polemical articles spawned by the literary battles of the 1920's, were the cause of a spirited discussion of the genre of historical novels and of the fate of the fellow-traveller during the tightening controls of the 1930’s. Sergeev-Tsenskii became the recipient of high State honours in the early 1940's, only to fall into official disfavour in the late 1940's. By the mid-1950's he had managed to stage a "come-back" and by the time of his death was regarded officially as one of the staples of Soviet literature. In spite of his long and complicated career, no extensive studies of Sergeev-Tsenskii have been made by Western scholars; in fact, if he is mentioned at all in English-language histories of Russian or Soviet Russian literature, he is accorded only a few lines. During the last ten years, Soviet critics have published several monographs devoted, for the most part, to Sergeev-Tsenskii's post-1930 works. Recently his pre-Revolutlonary stories have become a source of renewed interest; several Candidate dissertations and scholarly articles dealing with this period of his career have been published. A comprehensive review of all of Sergeev-Tsenskii's works is beyond the scope of my present study; I have chosen, therefore, to concentrate on one large series of novels and short stories, the epopee,⁶ Preobrazhenie Rossii (Transformation of Russia). This cycle seemed an appropriate choice since it includes works written from 1910 to 1958 and ranges in genre from historical novels to stories set in contemporary Soviet Russia. Since no biographical studies of Sergeev-Tsenskii are available in English, I have devoted the first chapter to a general outline of his life and works. In the second chapter I have attempted to unravel the complicated history of the epopee during the forty-eight years of its development. Soviet monographs on Sergeev-Tsenskii unroll to the reader an almost deja vue presentation of the development of the epopee and of his career. The peaceful transformation of a fellow-traveller to active proponent is somehow all too-familiar; no conflict has taken place, no reconsideration of previously-held convictions are revealed. However, the usual vague reference to a "complicated creative path" alerts the reader to the possibility of thorns along the way. The placid picture depicted by Soviet critics of an author calmly observing and recording the events of the thirty years of Russian history described in the epopee turns out on closer investigation to be not entirely valid. Textual comparisons of different editions of works in the epopee and examination of journal articles of the 1920's and 1930's brought to light a rather more tumultuous genesis of the epopee and revealed some of the "complications" in the creative path of Sergeev-Tsenskii. The publication of one particular article in the journal Na literaturnom postu played an important role in the subsequent literary career of Sergeev-Tsenskii and in the development of the epopee, Preobrazhenie Rossii. In response to this article and the adverse criticism which was to follow, Sergeev-Tsenskii extensively revised parts of the epopee. This process is analysed in the third chapter of my study.

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