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Toxic Voices

The Villain from Early Soviet Literature to Socialist Realism

Eric Laursen

Publication Year: 2013

Satire and the fantastic, vital literary genres in the 1920s, are often thought to have fallen victim to the official adoption of socialist realism. Eric Laursen contends that these subversive genres did not just vanish or move underground. Instead, key strategies of each survive to sustain the villain of socialist realism. Laursen argues that the judgment of satire and the hesitation associated with the fantastic produce a narrative obsession with controlling the villain’s influence. In identifying a crucial connection between the questioning, subversive literature of the 1920s and the socialist realists, Laursen produces an insightful revision of Soviet literary history.


Published by: Northwestern University Press

Series: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This project received the generous support of the Tanner Humanities Center, where I was a Virgil D. Aldrich Fellow in fall 2000, and the University of Utah, which awarded me a faculty fellowship in spring 2001; this year of leave was crucial to beginning my work on this manuscript, and I am most grateful. ...

Note on Transliteration

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pp. xiii-xiv

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Introduction: Scrounging in the Soviet Garbage Pit

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pp. 3-10

Socialist Realism, like Olesha’s “new man,” seems to have had little use for the past except as scrap metal and spare parts for its literary factories and collective farms where the Communist future was always under construction. However, the villains who play such an important part in the socialist realist plot—the kulaks and obstructionists, bourgeois throwbacks and wreckers, ...

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Chapter One: Writing a Precarious Balance

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pp. 11-33

In Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov’s “How Robinson Was Created” (“Kak sozdavalsia Robinson,” 1933), a writer is assigned the task of composing a “Soviet Robinson Crusoe.” He obediently drafts the story of a sole shipwreck survivor, fighting the elements and bravely battling a hostile environment with only his wit and resourcefulness to aid him in the struggle. ...

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Chapter Two: He Does Not Love Us When We Are Dirty

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pp. 34-56

With Lenin as the state’s father figure, Soviet children needed clean hands to make “pretty things.” On propaganda posters, in brochures, and in public lectures Bolsheviks preached the virtue of hot water, soap, and scrub brushes.1 Physical hygiene became a sign of mental hygiene which could only be accomplished with political hygiene. ...

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Chapter Three: Things That Should Not Be Found

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pp. 57-90

By the time Gorky gave his address to the First Congress, it was a well-worn truism that Soviet writers were to enlighten the proletariat and help build the Communist future. During the First Five-Year Plan, many of them had left their solitary writing lives for “direct participation in the construction of a new life,” ...

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Chapter Four: Lost in Translation

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pp. 91-119

The history of prerevolutionary Russian literature is one of secret societies, censorship, arrest, and exile, as writers attempted social change through the printed word. Maksim Gorky’s Mother (1907), one of the earliest prototypes for socialist realism, ends with the title character beaten by tsarist police as she hands out propaganda pamphlets written by her imprisoned son. ...

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Conclusion: Writers Forward!

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pp. 120-124

As the 1920s came to an end, proletarian groups increasingly touted Lenin’s 1905 article on party literature as the definitive statement not only about party writers but about any writer in Soviet society: “Literature must become part of the common cause of the proletariat, ‘a cog and screw’ of one single great Social-Democratic mechanism ...


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pp. 125-146


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pp. 147-156


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pp. 157-170

About the Author

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pp. 186-186

E-ISBN-13: 9780810166356
E-ISBN-10: 0810166356
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810128651
Print-ISBN-10: 0810128659

Page Count: 185
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Russian Literature and Theory
Series Editor Byline: Gary Saul Morson See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 867739728
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Toxic Voices

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Russian literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Socialist realism in literature.
  • Villains in literature.
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