NABOKV-L post 0020702, Thu, 9 Sep 2010 17:31:35 -0300

[NABOKOV-L] D.B.Johnson, Chernychervsky, Gorky and Ayn Rand
After having given up on Banana Yoshimoto's "N.P." I passed on to another unfamiliar author to me: Ayn Rand, in a collection of short-stories organized chronologically in order to orient the reader who'll then be able to follow her progress as an American stylist. After I gave her up on my fourth attempt (the first two and the two last stories in the collection), I became curious about her. I found an interesting item by D.B.Johnson which, at the time, I hadn't explored when it was posted at the Nab-List in Feb.21, 2006.
Cf. Strange Bedfellows: Ayn Rand and Vladimir Nabokov
by D. Barton Johnson

For the list, as a revival, I selected one set of paragraphs by Don, mentioning Chernyshevsky and a reference to Social Realism's positive heroes for whom "doubt and ambiguity are unknown..." Nabokov's "negative heroes" (although this is a poor categorization) offered to me a contrasting cultural background as a setting for Humbert Humbert, Kinbote, even, Shade.

" Nabokov and Rand shared more than just the happenstance of time and Russian birth. They shared a milieu in which the martyred radical literary and social critic Nikolai Chernyshevsky (1828-1889) was a revered figure in the pantheon of the anti-establishment intelligentsia....Doubtless, neither Rand nor Nabokov found much to fancy in Chernyshevsky's socialism. Yet, in a sense, both writers-to-be responded to the Chernyshevsky tradition in ways that fundamentally shaped their future work. Rand took her utilitarian view of literature (and style) from Chernyshevsky-although substituting a very different ideological content. Chernyshevsky's famous 1863 novel What is to be Done? From Tales about New People, written in prison, became the progenitor of Socialist Realism and Rand's Capitalist Realism--although in both cases the "realism" was anything but "real." Rand, by the way, divided literature into "Naturalism," an odious value-free approach that focused on the seamy sides of man and society, and "Romanticism," which exalted the feats of the principled rational individualist (B. Branden 1986, 24). Her own work she rather oddly termed "Romantic Realism." Although her professed model was Victor Hugo (B. Branden 1986, 24-25), any connoisseur of Russian literature will recognize Chernyshevsky's ascetic revolutionist Rakhmetov as a major prototype of her literary heroes and heroines. Rakhmetov was, of course, the foremost representative of "the new people" heralded in the subtitle of What is to be Done? [...] Both Chernyshevsky's opus and Rand's Atlas Shrugged center upon a young woman who is or becomes an entrepreneur. She is one of the new people who will, after the collapse of the old society, build a better, rational world. Just as John Galt displays his ideal community to Dagny Taggart, Chernyshevsky's heroine, Vera Pavlovna, offers her dream vision of a new perfect society. Each novel ends with the old world on the verge of being replaced by the new-although the message is obviously much muted in Chernyshevsky's work. Both novels are cast as mystery melodramas full of didactic harangues. And, not least, both have been seen as monuments in the women's rights movement...The Soviet Short Literary Encyclopedia sums up What is to be Done? as a "publicistic, socio-philosophical, educational novel," something "almost unknown in earlier Russian literature." The description fits Rand's Atlas Shrugged like a glove, and if her opus is not the first American novel to do so, it is a fine example of that Russian genre transferred to American soil [...] If Chernyshevsky's 1863 What is to be Done? is the grandmother of Socialist Realism, the birth-mother is Maxim Gorky's 1906 Mother which tells of the radicalization (and martyrdom) of the widowed mother of a young factory worker, a revolutionary, who attempts to organize a strike[...] The crudely propagandistic Russian novel was written, oddly enough, in the Adirondacks where Gorky had retreated [...] Gorky had come to America to rally foreign support for the Russian workers movement [...] The novel, written for the express purpose of sanctifying its heroes and heroines and demonizing their opponents, first appeared in Appleton Magazine thus giving an American family magazine the honor of publishing the foundation work of Socialist Realism.[...] Katerina Clark in her The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual carefully establishes the links between Gorky's potboiler and Chernyshevsky's What is to be Done? (1985, 28 and 52-67). [...] In 1934, Socialist Realism was officially declared the sole legitimate category of Soviet literature and Gorky's Mother was its foundation work [...] A key phrase is "reality in its revolutionary development," which in practice means not reality, but "a reality" interpreted in terms of the ideal overarching goal of the inevitable achievement of a Communist society. A second corollary is "the positive hero," described by one Soviet writer as "a peak of humanity from whose height the future can be seen" (Tertz 1960, 172). Doubt and ambiguity are unknown to these heroes."

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Visit Zembla:
View Nabokv-L policies:
Visit "Nabokov Online Journal:"

Manage subscription options: