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Zamyatin (Замятин) Yevgeny Ivanovich
(1884–1937)

Zamyatin (Замятин) Yevgeny Ivanovich(1884–1937)

Yevgeny Zamyatin was a Russian author, most famous for his 1921 novel We, a story of dystopian future which influenced George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Ayn Rand's Anthem, Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and, indirectly, Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano.

Zamyatin was born in Lebedyan, two hundred miles south of Moscow. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest and schoolmaster, and his mother a musician. He may have had synesthesia as he gave letters and sounds qualities. To Zamyatin "L" was pale, cold and light blue. He studied naval engineering in Saint Petersburg from 1902 until 1908, during which time he joined the Bolsheviks. He was arrested during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and exiled, but returned to Saint Petersburg where he lived illegally before moving to Finland in 1906 to finish his studies. Returning to Russia, he began to write fiction as a hobby. He was arrested and exiled a second time in 1911, but amnestied in 1913. His Uyezdnoye (A Provincial Tale) in 1913, which satirized life in a small Russian town, brought him a degree of fame. The next year he was tried for maligning the military in his story Na Kuhlihchkakh. He continued to contribute articles to various socialist newspapers.

After graduating as a naval engineer, he worked professionally at home and abroad. In 1916 he was sent to England to supervise the construction of icebreakers at the shipyards in Walker and Wallsend while living in Newcastle upon Tyne. He wrote The Islanders, satirizing English life, and its pendant A Fisher of Men, both published after his return to Russia in late 1917.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 he edited several journals, lectured on writing, and edited Russian translations of works by Jack London, O. Henry, H. G. Wells, and others.

Zamyatin supported the October Revolution, but opposed the system of censorship under the Bolsheviks. His works were increasingly critical of the regime. He boldly stated: "True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics". This attitude caused his position to become increasingly difficult as the 1920s wore on. Ultimately, his works were banned and he wasn't permitted to publish, particularly after the publication of We in a Russian émigré journal in 1927.

In addition to We, Zamyatin also wrote a number of short stories, in fairy tale form, that constituted satirical criticism of the Communist regime in Russia, such as in a story about a city where the mayor decides that to make everyone happy he should make everyone equal. He starts by forcing everyone, himself included, to live in a big barrack, then to shave heads to be equal to the bald, and then to become mentally disabled to equate intelligence downward. This plot is very similar to that of The New Utopia (1891) by Jerome K. Jerome whose collected works were published three times in Russia before 1917.

Zamyatin was eventually given permission to leave Russia by Joseph Stalin in 1931, after the intercession of Maxim Gorky. He settled, impoverished, in Paris with his wife, where he died of a heart attack in 1937. During his time in France, he notably worked with Jean Renoir, co-writing the script of his film Les Bas-fonds. He is buried in Thiais, France, at a cemetery on Rue de Stalingrad.


Nicaragua, 1994, «The Lower Depths»

Russia, 2008, Yevgeny Zamyatin

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