Дата публикации: 02 октября 2018
Автор(ы): Valentin OSIPOV
Публикатор: Шамолдин Алексей Аркадьевич
Номер публикации: №1538501350

Valentin OSIPOV, (c)

Mikhail Sholokhov, our classic. Author of the Don Stories and of The Azure Steppe (1926); of the epic And Quiet Flows the Don (also known abroad as The Quiet Don, 1928 - 1940), a novel that brought him world fame. He who wrote Virgin Soil Upturned (1932 - 1960), They Fought for Their Motherland (1943 - 1944, a new version, 1969), Human Destiny (a war-time story, 1956 - 1957). Such is the Sholokhov heritage that holds pride of place in our literary thesaurus... Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov was born on May 11, 1905 in a Rostov oblast village in the river Don area populated by Cossacks. An outstanding prose writer, he was elected to the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1939) and merited a Nobel Prize for Literature (1965). Today he would have turned 100 years. Marking his birth centennial, we would like to tell our readers about some of the episodes of Sholokhov's life little or not known at all to the public, locked that they were in closed spetskhranarchives.

Pages. 78

by Valentin OSIPOV, Sholokhov Prize winner, member of the Russian Writers' Union


The ruling Communist Party sought to hush up the true biography of a writer who became a classic still in his lifetime. He was pictured as a myrmidon of the communist regime and a high priest of socart, or "socialist realism" in literature. The powers that be were lavish with every kind of awards and titles. From 1937 on Sholokhov was elected nine times to the national legislate, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR; in 1961 he was even elected to the Central Committee of the Communist Party. As early as 1934 he became a board member at the Soviet Writers' Union, and in 1967 was awarded the coveted title of Hero of Socialist Labor. Most of the Soviet people could not-and would not-discern the real countenance of the man behind this tinsel of honors.

But the truth will out. Some of the documents promulgated soon after the author's death in 1984 (materials recovered from the closed archives, his personal correspondence, honest eyewitness accounts) shed light on what Sholokhov was really like. A bold, straightforward man, he wrote appeals to Stalin exposing the atrocities committed during the collectivization drive of 1929 - 1936, when millions of peasant households were hoarded into collective and state farms, and during the Great Purge of 1937 - 38. "But how could one live for years under such devilish pressure? This awful prison regime and these Inquisition-like methods of investigation... Come(rade) Stalin! A method of investigation, when an inmate is put fully at the mercy of investigating judges, is vicious through and through..." Sholokhov did not hesitate to pen these bitter words in one of his letters to the Kremlin dictator.

Time and again Sholokhov defied danger and rushed to stay the vengeful sword of state poised over victims. Thanks to his intercession, Lev Gumilyov (son of poet Nikolai Gumilyov and poetess Anna Akhmatova, and subsequently an eminent scholar) was released from prison, and so was Andrei Platonov's son (Andrei Platonov is a classic of Soviet literature). He took up the cudgels for Anna Akhmatova, much in disfavor in the late 1930s, and defended Kornei Chukovsky (prose writer, translator and literary critic), poetess Olga Bergoltz and many others. Sholokhov did not break with Sergei Yermolinsky, an exiled playwright and script writer. We could well continue the list... Under the new rulers who succeeded Stalin-Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev - he gave a helping hand to the prose writer Andrei Platonov, in penury and still out of favor with the authorities, and praised the works of Victor Nekrasov (author of the epic novel In the Trenches of Stalingrad, who had to emigrate under Brezhnev) and Mukhtar Auezov (a Kazakh novelist and historian branded as a "bourgeois nationalist"). Sholokhov was in for a reprimand for his Paris interview in which he suggested that Doctor Zhivago (author, Boris Pasternak) should be published at home, too. A seditious proposal quite out of keeping with the "party line"-small wonder that the reprimand came from the CPSU Central Committee! And he backed Alexander Tvardovsky, poet and editor-in-chief of the literary journal Novy Mir, in his decision to publish One Day of Ivan Denisovich telling a tale of just one day of a prison camp inmate Ivan Denisovich (author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn). And he defended Alexander Tvardovsky who got into hot water because of the critical poem Tyorkin in the Next World banned from publication. Besides, Sholokhov took a critical view of Khrushchev and Brezhnev's policies, including the shooting in Novocherkassk of a workers' protest demonstration (1962).

He had a narrow escape in the late thirties when some from among his next of kin were tossed into jail. Frustrated under dire circumstances like that, Sholokhov was unable to keep up his work for a time.

Today we can take a fresh view of his pronouncements at party and writers' congresses on acute problems of the day. Just two examples (out of many).

... March, 1939. The 18th Congress of the Communist Party. Stalin makes a political report. He justifies mass reprisals against the intelligentsia, writers and artists including. "The intelligentsia fed from the propertied classes and catered to them. Well understandable therefore is the mistrust, often going over into hatred, that the revolutionary elements of our country, workers above all, harbored towards it..."

However, Sholokhov begged to differ when he took the floor. "There is but another category of writers 'awarded' in the distant past. 'Awarded' with exiles to Siberia and banishment, put in the pillory, pressed as army recruits, crushed by the steam-roller of state power or just slain by coxcomb officers... Yet these classical writers are revered and loved whole-heartedly..."

And here's an excerpt from his speech in 1956. "Lust for power is absolutely good-for-nothing in authorship. The Writers' Union is no army unit, it is in no way a penal battalion either, and no writer shall ever stand at attention."

Pages. 79


In 1939 Mikhail Sholokhov was elected to the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (today the Russian Academy of Sciences, RAS).

So he became an academician, a full member of the Science Academy. We knew next to nothing about his activities there, all the more so that he kept silent about his record. As commonly believed, he shirked his duties there.

And yet...

I've happened to read the decision of the Politburo of the Communist Party's Central Committee dated November 7, 1946, on the complete, "academic" edition of Leo Tolstoy's works... Well, I found Sholokhov's name mentioned in it.

The first plank of the decision says that the Party's presiding body, the Politburo, has endorsed the state editorial commission set up to supervise the publication of L. N. Tolstoy's complete works. Sitting on the editorial commission were only five members who were to oversee the mammoth edition comprising nearly 100 volumes. Three represented the Central Committee and the Government, one-the Science Academy (a historian), and two-the Writers' Union: Mikhail Sholokhov and Alexander Fadeyev, the Union's Secretary General. Experts versed in Tolstoy's letters were relegated to rank-and-file editors.

The text of the document made a dogmatic critique of the first volumes just off the press: toeing the party line, it contained many instructions concerning censorship but said nothing about the Tolstoy studies proper: "Grave mistakes... The volumes, both off and prepared for the press, have no prefatory articles elucidating Tolstoy's world outlook from the Leninist standpoint... All of his religious-philosophical works are there in a variety of different versions as well as the scripted abstracts of religious books... This does not agree with the tasks of educating the Soviet youth and inflicts damage on the Party's ideological work..." The document closed with the verdict: "Unable to implement the Leninist views..."

Now, how did Fadeyev respond to Politburo's directions? To begin with, he wrote a letter to the publishing house: "The obscene words coming up in L. N. Tolstoy's manuscripts should be replaced by three dots..." (Fadeyev, A. A., Collected Works, Vol. 7, p. 200; Moscow, 1971). Then he produced another letter which said in so many words-one could not disobey Politburo: "We shall do but nothing unless we know the opinion of the leading bodies... Wfe can proceed only if these bodies support our point of view, and agree with it" (ibid., p. 286). He said in a special paragraph that not all members of the commission were prepared to act on Politburo's demands: someone "failed to comprehend" the gist of the writings which were "overtly reactionary" and "mouthpieces of religious propaganda" (ib., p. 285).

There were but five members in the commission, with only one opposing the directive to censor the great writer - Sholokhov! Invited to attend a commission's session, he sent a brief but eloquent cable to the director of the publishing house: "Dear friend, I cannot be there. I am for a full-value edition of Tolstoy..." That is Sholokhov was against an edition emasculated by censorship.

Yet another episode from Sholokhov's academic career. For decades

Pages. 80

the works of Sergey Yesenin, the great Russian poet of the early 20th century, were banned from publication. An outrageous fact! But why? Because he did not propagandize the ideas of socialism and was an ardent Russian patriot to boot. In 1968 the Literature and Language Department of the USSR Academy of Sciences appointed Sholokhov editor-in-chief of the editorial board charged with the publication of Sergey Yesenin's complete works. However, the idea failed to materialize because the CPSU Central Committee was against. But Sholokhov did not give up in lending support to the ground-swell of public opinion - his say carried weight. In a letter to the publishers he asked to publish a monograph on Yesenin (author, K. Zelinsky, a literary critic).


Sholokhov's three epic novels happened to be mutilated by censorship, as it came out after the author's death. The powers that be feared the political independence of the writer: many passages where he disagreed with the official doctrine were expurgated, bowdlerized and blue-penciled. So a good deal of meticulous textual work is needed, and this is being done by the A. M. Gorky Institute of World Literature (IMLI, RAS); the first volume will soon be ready for the press.

In fact, some of the Sholokhov works have already seen print in their intact, original form and supplied with commentaries.

Collected Works prepared by Dr. Vladimir Vasilyev are already off the press (M., Terra-Knizhny Klub, 2001 - 2002). At long last the Virgin Soil Upturned has appeared without politically motivated deletions (Synergy Publishers, 2003); Dr. Yu. Dvoryashin has done a good job in getting the text back to shape. The novel They Fought for Motherland has been published without censored omissions at the initiative of Svetlana Sholokhova, the author's older daughter, and Raritet Publishers (1995). The writer's son, Mikhail, had an unfinished story, Matvei Kalmykov, published in his book About Father (2005). Two different editions of Sholokhov's correspondence have come off the press: Mikhail Sholokhov: Letters, 1924 - 1984. His Life in Documents (M., Sovetsky Pisatel, 2003); and M. A. Sholokhov. Letters (IMLI, 2004). A revealing insight into the Sholokhov heritage, no longer under wraps!


This past decade has seen the birth of what is now known as Sholokhov studies. These are the monumental monographs: MA. Sholokhov's Epic Prose as Part of Russian Literature by Dr. N. Korovchikhina; Said in Plain Russian... Andrey Platonov and Mikhail Sholokhov by Natalia Kornienko, RAS corresponding member; And Quiet Flows the Don: The Fate and Truth of the Great Novel by Felix Kuznetsov, RAS corresponding member; The World of Mikhail Sholokhov's Prose: From Poetics to Philosophy by Dr. Svetlana Semyonova; Sholokhov and Bulgakov by Dr. Victor Chalmaev... A few collections have been published on the proceedings of annual conferences held by Rostov

Pages. 81

University and by Moscow-based M. A. Sholokhov State Teaching University. A Sholokhov Encyclopedia is being prepared for the press. All these studies are remarkable for impartial analysis, without ritual hallelujahs to social realism.

Professor Hermann Yermolayev in the United States has written a few studies on Sholokhov, with one published in Russia: Mikhail Sholokhov and His Writings.


For a long time Sholokhov's authorship of The Quiet Don was being questioned by some critics here and abroad. Yet a group of Swedish and Norwegian scholars under Dr. Hejro Hjatso proved the irrelevancy of such assertions.

They did this in the book Who Wrote The Quiet Don (Problem of Authorship) based on a mathematical method of comparative textual studies. The first two books of Sholokhov's stories, his novels The Quiet Don, and Virgin Soil Upturned were compared with the writings of Fyodor Kryukov, allegedly the real author of The Quiet Don, as claimed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Experts did a job of preliminary work in comparing the language and style of the two authors, including such things as vocabulary, the choice of words, the length of sentences, and the like. Conjunctions and other form words were not neglected either. It was a thorough analysis summed up in 150 tables, diagrams and formulae couched in abstruse, heady terminology.

Next came a computer-aided analysis when as many as 150,000 words and 12,000 sentences were collated. The final verdict was formulated thus: "The use of mathematical statistics enables us to exclude the possibility of the novel having been written by Kryukov, while Sholokhov's authorship is indisputable."

The head of the project, H. Hjatso, came to this essential conclusion: "We have proved not only the fact that Kryukov could never be the author of The Quiet Don. More important is our second proof that the long and short stories and two novels published under Sholokhov's name have but one author only, Sholokhov. This leaves no room for other pretenders. Should any come up, he would have to prove he has written all the other works, which is outright impossible."

During our meeting H. Hjatso confided the following:

- Initially I was no expert on Sholokhov. Up until 19751 was involved with literature of prerevolutionary Russia. But I chanced to read a Solzhenitsyn article claiming that Sholokhov was a plagiarist. I felt skeptical, for the arguments were all too slim... A hypothesis, no more than that!

- Why did you choose to become a Sholokhov scholar?

- I wanted hard evidence. That's a scholar's way of thinking. I did not wish to take sides, be it 'pro Sholokhov' or 'anti-Sholokhov'. Facts were most important to me, scholarly facts!

But there came new charges: in the absence of MS there could be no conclusive proof of authorship. Yet the MS was finally recovered in 1999 and bought from those who had it in custody since the 1930s on secret instructions of Sholokhov himself. President V. Putin intervened personally, and the authentic MS was passed to IMLI.

What is it like, the manuscript of the first two books of The Quite Don? These are 910 pages, of which 663 were penned by the author, and the others copied by his wife and sister, with many penciled notes in red, blue and gray. These are not fair copies only, but also the author's rough notes (including type-written ones), amendments, recensions, corrections, inserts in the margins. It was a laborious creative process. Here and there we find the author's testimony on the progress of his work. "Recension completed, 28 III - 27", or "Give a thumbnail landscape. 14.2 - 29".

A panel of scholars have made an official examination of the draft notes found to be done in Sholokhov's handwriting.

The rough copies of the 3rd and 4th books of The Quiet Don were published by the RAS Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House) back in 1995 in the work From the Creative Heritage of 20th-century Russian Writers. M. Sholokhov. A. Platonov. It includes the 259 pages of MS which survived in the German bombing of the Sholokhov home in 1942. Some are in photocopies: Sholokhov sent a part of his rough copies to the Nobel Prizewinners fund of the Stockholm Library.


What we need now is a true biography of the writer that could be free of political intrigue. Even his pedigree was hushed up in the past, e.g. that he came of merchants' stock. In volume 8 of the Brief Literary Encyclopedia published in 1975 we read that his father came from Ryazan province and was a jack-of-all trades who fetched and carried for the rich Cossacks (as shop assistant, land-tiller, steam mill operator).

Meanwhile a large number of new materials have been retrieved to provide a basis for these books on Sholokhov: About Father (by his son Mikhail); How I Discovered "The Quiet Don; Chronicle of the Search ( Lev Kolodny); Mikhail Sholokhov, Pages of Biography (Grigory Sivolyubov); Russia's Genius, Pages of Biography (Vassily Voronov); Paradox of a Genius (Nikolai Fedya); A Tragedy of a Russian Genius (Vassily Petelin)... The yearbooks in the Veshensky vestnik series (published by the Sholokhov memorial museum at Veshenskaya) offer many a glimpse into the author's legacy. I hope that my book: Mikhail Sholokhov's Secret Life: Documentary Chronicle With No Legends (1995) might be of some use. Quite soon Molodaya Gvardia Publishers will produce another work of mine, a popular science biography of the classic (in the popular ZhZL series featuring the lifestories of famous personalities).

Опубликовано на Порталусе 02 октября 2018 года

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