Boris Dralyuk

The Revolutionary spiked review


October is upon us! Late last month, Tim Black, editor of the estimable spiked review, sent me a number of astonishingly penetrating questions about the 1917 anthology and writers’ responses to the revolution. The interview has just appeared online, in an issue dedicated to all things revolutionary, which also features Susan Weissman’s always stimulating thoughts on Victor Serge.

And I was also happy to see Andrew Stuttaford end his excellent, though decidedly right-of-center, survey of revolutionary books in last weekend’s The Wall Street Journal with two paragraphs about 1917:

Finally, 1917: Stories and Poems From the Russian Revolution (Pushkin Press, 236 pages, $14.95) is an anthology of literary responses to Bunin’s “damn year.” Neatly chosen by Boris Dralyuk, with room for the familiar (such as Boris Pasternak) and those known less well (the sardonic Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, who wrote as Teffi), the volume is reasonably well balanced between the October revolution’s supporters and those appalled by it. Vladimir Mayakovsky catches the millenarian mood (“We’ll cleanse all the cities . . . with a flood even greater than Noah’s”) while in “The Twelve” Alexander Blok opts for a warmer purge: “We’ll . . . set the world on fire . . . give us Your blessing, Lord!”
History made fools of the cheerleaders of revolution, but the words of those who opposed it still haunt. Anna Akhmatova resolves to stay with her “nation, suicidal” and does so, her great chronicling of Stalinist terror still to come. Marina Tsvetaeva writes of the wine flowing down “every gutter” and a “Tsar’s statue—razed, black night in its place.” Zinaida Gippius mourns the death of long longed-for liberty: “The Bride appeared. And then the soldiers / drove bayonets through both her eyes . . . The royal axe and noose were cleaner / than these apes’ bloodied hands . . . Can’t live like this! Can’t live like this!” Both Gippius and Tsvetaeva went into exile. Tsvetaeva later returned to her homeland. She hanged herself in 1941.