Dear list,

Several years ago, Sandy Klein sent in a brief statement that Solzhenitsyn had made about the death penalty in Russia. In it, Solzhenitsyn mentioned that V.D. Nabokov had reversed himself on his opposition to capital punishment in 1917. (I'm appending a copy of that info below my name.) D. Barton Johnson asked the list generally if anyone had ever heard this assertion before, but it doesn't look as if he got any public replies.

When I met last fall with Tatiana Ponomareva, director of the Nabokov Museum, she mentioned the same thing in casual conversation. I circled back to ask her about it by email last month, thinking perhaps I had misheard her. She noted this item online:

Но позднее, 2 сент., Набоков выступил в петрогр. Гор. думе в защиту смертной казни за антивоен. пропаганду. По мнению А.В. Тырковой, "из всех его речей это была самая мужественная. Как юрист, как либеральный правовед и гуманист, он был убеждённый противник смертной казни... Но в эти поворотные решающие для России месяцы он понял, что спасти армию, вести дальше войну до победного конца можно только при суровой дисциплине, и он имел смелость сказать это во всеуслышание" (Думова Н.Г. Кончилось ваше время., М., 1990, с. 180).

However, Ponomareva recalls that the source she was thinking of was someone else--Hessen or Shulgin, she thinks, though neither of us has pinned it down yet. Has anyone seen any additional related references? Boyd has clearly established that in 1922, V.D. Nabokov was as opposed to capital punishment as he was in 1906, and the new book by Dana Dragunoiu (Vladimir Nabokov and the Poetics of Liberalism) seems to show definitively that the Crimean Regional Government, in which V.D. Nabokov was Minister of Justice, consistently maintained an anti-death penalty stance, despite serious ramifications. But it would be interesting to know definitively whether there was a brief reversal in 1917.

I am working on getting a hard copy of the Думова to verify the quote and will also try to trace the original Тырковой. (If anyone already has a copy of either, please write me off list!) But I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who has any addtional information on this topic.



Here's the original Solzhenitsyn snippet, sent in by Sandy Klein in 2003:


The well-known Russian writer and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn believes that Russia will stop terrorism only if it lifts the moratorium on capital punishment. 

"Sometimes, capital punishment is needed for the sake of saving the nation and the state. In Russia matters stand this way at the moment," Solzhenitsyn has told Interfax. 
Chechnya remains "an unfinished chapter in Russian history, and a grim political problem. Therefore, the wave of terrorism is rising in this country," he said. 

He said that writer Vladimir Nabokov's father, under the influence of Leo Tolstoy's ideas, had spent 20 years campaigning against capital punishment in Russia. "But when the whole quagmire of the 1917 February revolution inundated Russia and the country was covered with a wave of unpunished murders, he admitted in the State Duma that he was wrong and that uncontrollable violence could be stopped only by the execution of capital punishment verdicts. 

"Those in Europe who are telling us to abolish capital punishment do not know the trials Russia has gone through. Europe has never experienced anything of the kind," Solzhenitsyn said.
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