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||Mikhail (Aleksandrovich) Sholokhov (1905-1984) - born May 11, 1905 (May 24, New Style)|
Russian writer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965. Sholokhov's best-known work is the novel And Quiet Flows the Don (1928-40), the finest realist novel about the Revolution. While Leo Tolstoi's novel War and Peace (1863-69) showed how the Napoleonic campaigns united Russians, Sholokhov's great Don epic portrayed the destruction of the old system, and the birth of a new society. After this magnificent work, Sholokhov's career as a writer started to go down and reached its bottom with the novella 'The Fate of a Man' (1956-57). It is among the least impressive works produced by a Nobel writer, along with Hemingway's posthumously published book True at First Light (1999).
"It was the first really warm days of the year. But it was good to sit there alone, abandoning myself completely to the stillness and solitude, to take off my old army cap and let the the breeze dry my hair after heavy work of rowing, and to stare idly at the white big-breasted clouds floating in the faded blue." (in 'The Fate of a Man')
Mikhail Sholokhov was born in the Kruzhlinin hamlet, part of stanitsa Veshenskaya, former Region of the Don Cossack Army. His father was a Russian of the lower middle class. He had many occupations, including farming, cattle trading, and milling. Sholokhov's illiterate mother came from an Ukrainian peasant stock and was the widow of a Cossack. She learned to read and write in order to correspond with her son. Sholokhov attended schools in Kargin, Moscow, Boguchar, and Veshenskaia, but his formal education ended in 1918 when the civil war reached the Upper Don region. Sholokhov joined the Bolshevik (Red) Army, serving in the Don region during civil war. During this period Sholokhov witnessed the anti-Bolshevik uprising of the Upper Don Cossacks and took part in fighting anti-Soviet partisans, remnants of the white army. These experiences were later recounted in his works.
When the Bolsheviks had secured their control of power, Sholokhov went to Moscow, where he supported himself by doing manual labour. He was a longshoreman, stonemason, and accountant (1922-24), but also participated in writers "seminars" intermittently. His first work to appear in print was the satirical article 'A Test' (1922), which was published in the Moscow newspaper Yunosheskaya Pravda. 'The Birthmark,' Sholokhov's first story, appeared when he was nineteen. In 1924 Sholokhov returned Veshesnkaya and devoted himself entirely to writing. In the same year he married Mariia Petrovna Gromoslavskaia; they had two daughters and two sons.
Donskie rasskazy (1925, Tales
from the Don), Sholokhov's first book, was a
collection of short stories. The dominant theme is the bitter political
strife within a village or a family during the civil war and the early
1920s. Sholokhov joined the Communist Party in 1932, and in 1937 he was
elected to the Soviet Parliament. He wrote to Stalin about the brutal
of collective farmers in 1933 ("In this region, as in other regions,
collective farm workers and individual farmers are dying of
starvation.") and complained about mass arrests in
1938. This letter led to a treason case against the author. Yefim
Yevdokimov, a highly decorated police officer, asked twice for
permission to arrest Sholokhov, but with Stalin's protection, he was
spared and promoted as the leading figure of
the Soviet literary establishment. Stalin followed closely Sholokhov's
literary career and influenced publication of his works, which he
considered to be the highest achievements of the Socialist Realism.
Sholokhov gained world fame with his novel Tikhiy Don (And Quiet Flows the Don), which won the Stalin Prize in 1941. The work was originally published in serialized form between the years 1928 and 1940. The author was 22 years old when he submitted the first volume for publication and 25 when three-quarters of the work was composed. In the second volume Sholokhov especially relied on documentary material. He was not a Cossack and born in 1905, he was too young to have critical and deep knowledge of Cossack life before 1914. The third book's frank account of ill treatment of Cossacks by Communists caused the journal Oktiabr to suspend publication in 1929. Permission to resume was only accorded after reference to Stalin himself. Book 4 did not appear in complete form until 1940, 15 years after the young author had first written its early scenes.
"I will be happy if the English reader sees behind descriptions of the life of Don Cossacks, so strange to him, those colossal shifts in everyday existence and human psychology which occurred as the result of the war and the revolution." (Sholokhov in his foreword to the English edition)
And Quiet Flows the Don presents the struggle of the Whites
against the Reds more or less objectively. Sholokhov portrays the
Cossacks realistically and reproduces their speech faithfully. This
also inspired orthodox Communist to accuse the writer of adopting
uncritically a conservative Cossack point of view. Moreover, a letter, published in Pravda in March 1929, warned that "enemies of the people" were spreading rumors that Sholokhov was a plagiarist. The story traces the
progress of the Cossack Grigory Melekhov, a tragic hero. He is based on
a historical prototype, Kharlampii Ermakov, one of the first Cossacks
to rise against the communist in 1919. He was later imprisoned and shot
in 1929. Like many figures of classical tragedy, Melekhov fate is
destined beforehand. He first supports the Whites, then the Reds, and
finally joins nationalist guerrillas in their conflict with the Red
Army. Back at home he is destroyed by a former friend, a hardline
communist. Another line of the plot is the story of Grigory's tragic
love. In the narration nature description has a central place.
Sholokhov's prose is ornamental with prolific use of color, figures of speech, and careful attention to details. Peter Seeger's famous song, 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone', was inspired by a lullaby from the first volume, The Don Flows Home to the Sea. A Cossack woman sings: "And where are the reeds? The girls have pulled them up. / Where are the girls? The girls have taken husbands. / Where are the Cossacks? They've gone to the war." Quiet Flows the Don was first translated into English in 1934, and reprinted in 1967, after the Nobel award.
During World War II Sholokhov wrote about the Soviet war efforts for various journals, among them Pravda and Krasnaia zvedza. He received Stalin Prize for Literature in 1941 and Lenin Prize in 1960. Sholokhov's second novel, Virgin Soil Upturned, appeared in two parts, 'Seeds of Tomorrow' in 1932 and 'Harvest on the Don' in 1960. The novel depicted collectivization of agriculture in a Don Cossack village. It is perhaps the best-known and most sympathetic description of this period. It also became required reading for all collective farm directors. The dramatic events are written in the first volume in rapid sequence with the touch of a journalistic report. The second volume, which covers only the summer of 1930, shows the decline of Sholokhov's artistic ambitions and ideological orthodoxy. The reader learns nothing about the terrorism and famine of 1932-33. During the 1933 famine Sholokhov himself saved thousands of lives by persuading Stalin to send grain to the Upper Don region. No new literary work of his appeared since 1969.
Before the Swedish Academy decided to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Boris Pasternak,
Dag Hammarskjöld, who was a member of the academy and secretary-general
of the United Nations, approached the American and Soviet sides to
learn their reactions to Pasternak's candidacy. Soviet Foreign Minister
Gromyko was asked whether his country would consider acceptable jointly
granting the prize to Sholokhov and Pasternak. Gromyko reportedly said,
"Yes, Pasternak is well known as a good poet and translator, but
Sholokhov is to us personally a greater writer" (Boris Pasternak: His Life and Art by Guy de Mallac, 1983, p. 225).
Following Pasternak's expulsion from the Writers' Union, Sholokhov said
in an interview that Pasternak got the prize not because of Doctor Zhivago's artistic value but because of its "anti-Soviet tendency."
Sholokhov accompanied in 1959 the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on a trip to Europe and the United States, and in 1961 he became a member of the Central Committee. In most of his speeches and journalistic writings Sholokhov faithfully followed the official policy of the day. Adhering to Party lines, he launched attacks on dissident writers such as Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and called for harsher sentences against Andrey Sinayavsky, and Yuli Daniel after their 1966 trial for "slander" and "defamation" of the Soviet state. Sholokhov died on January 21, 1984 in Veshenskaya, where he had lived from 1924. By 1980 almost seventy-nine million copies of his works had been printed in the Soviet Union in eighty-four languages.
"The story of Mikhail Sholokhov's rise to his reign as king of Soviet literary officialdom is none other than a supreme farce. Decade after decade his pen failed to create anything worth reading. Meanwhile, his mouth created nothing but propagandistic banalities." (Vassily Aksyonov, an exiled Russian novelist in the New York Times, March 10, 1985)
And Quiet Flows the Don is Sholokhov most controversial work and it has been
alleged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
among others, that much of the novel was plagiarized from the writer
Fyodor Kryukov, a Cossak and anti-Bolshevik, who died in 1920 of
typhoid fever. Several studies has been published on this subject: R.A.
Medvedev's Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov (1977) was criticized in Slavic and East European Journal in 1976 by Herman Ermolaev. Additional information is in A Brian Murphy's studies of Tikhiy Don in the New Zealand Slavonic Journal (1975-77) and the Journal of Russian Studies,
no. 34 (1977). Sholokhov's other works are not on his masterwork's
level, but the accusations remain largely unproven. Critics have
argued, that he could not have written all or part of the novel because
of his young age and because his Don epic described atrocities on both
sides impartially. Moreover, he had no acces to the archives of war. In
Kjetsaa and others published their study The Authorship of the Quiet
where computer analysis supported the authorship of Sholokhov. This research has been criticized for its methods.
Most of the Don manuscripts were lost when the Germans occupied Veshenskaya, but in 1987 some two thousand pages were discovered and authenticated.V.P. Fomenko and T.G. Fomenko have applied quantatitative analysis to the works of Sholokhov, concluding that parts of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, as well as a large section of the part 6 of the novel were not written by Sholokhov. (See History: Fiction or Science. Chronology 2, by Anatoly T. Fomenko, 2005) Possibly Sholokhov refused to answer the accusations of plagiarism because of the politically touchy issue of the model of his hero. In 1994 there was a series of programmes on St. Petersburg television, where Sholokhov's birth date was declared dubious.