Information and questions for reading: Briusov and Kuprin
First, my apology for getting these questions posted on Saturday afternoon, not sooner. I'll do my best to stay ahead of where we are reading!
As I mentioned in class about Worlds Apart: the introductory sections by Alexander Levitsky are very densely filled with information, including writers who have nothing to do with science fiction or fantasy (or whose work could be seen as belonging to these genres in only tenuous ways), and not providing many details about the writers whose work is included in the anthology. I suggest that you skim the pages I've asked you to read, and if you land on any names you want to know more about ask me, or do some online research, or check the reference section, particularly these classic guides which I own and have used in compiling these notes:
I’ve included the call numbers in part because there are other useful reference sources beside these on the adjacent shelves.
(Notice that both these authors were translated by Leland Fetzer, who does a marvelous job of conveying a fin-de-siècle style. Some translation theories hold that a translation should read the way the author "would have written" if he or she were a native speaker of the target language. Fetzer really managed to achieve this.
Valerii Briusov (or Bryusov), 1873-1924, was born in Moscow in a mixed-class family (one grandfather had bought his own freedom from serfdom). As a bright and ambitious college student, he wrote in his diary that he wanted to be the head of a literary movement. With Russian Symbolism, a school that treasured poetry above other genres and modeled itself on the French Symbolists, Briusov very nearly achieved this wish. He wrote in all kinds of genres (poetry, criticism, “publitsistika” – perhaps best translated as ‘passionately engaged social commentary,’ long and short prose, and translation), using a variety of pseudonyms and creating important work in every genre. He wrote for or edited a number of journals and was founder of the premier Russian Symbolist publishing house, Skorpion (‘scorpion’ or ‘Scorpio’ – the Russian fin de siècle was very interested in occult sciences, including astrology).
Briusov’s other works include the novel Огненный ангел ('The Fiery Angel,’ 1908), set in the middle ages and dealing with witchcraft and the Inquisition, but based on a long adulterous affair Briusov conducted that was also a competition with another Symbolist poet (I forget who fancied whom in the love triangle). I have a copy of this in translation, and BOY is the cover lurid.
After the Revolution, Briusov (who had supported the provisional government that took over after the February 1917 revolution and the Tsar’s abdication) ingratiated himself with the new regime and promptly became a censor, a literary bureaucrat, and a prominent figure in the new educational institutions devoted to literature. (In order to develop truly socialist art, the new government began teaching writing to workers.) He died in 1924 of pneumonia.
If you'd like to read more by VB, a couple of poems and a wonderfully decadent, but not at all science-fictional, story “The Sisters” (translated by R. L. Patterson), are at http://www.albany.edu/faculty/rlp96/briusov.html.
Questions for reading:
Whereas Briusov is always mentioned and often read in classes where Russian literary movements are discussed, Aleksandr Kuprin (1870-1938) is less well-known in the West. Along with Maxim Gorky, Ivan Bunin (winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933), and Leonid Andreev, Kuprin was part of a group of realist prose writers in an era when for many readers THE genre was poetry, and he wrote short prose in an era when the great Russian novels of the nineteenth century were being translated and discovered in the West.
Kuprin was born in the province of Penza but grew up in Moscow. As a young writer he had to work at a variety of jobs to make ends meet, but his experiences from these often fed into his writing. He emigrated from Russia in 1919 and lived for many years in Paris, but he returned to the USSR in 1937, already in ill health (so at least he died in his own new bed in 1938).
Questions for Reading:
Back to the syllabus of Russian and East European Science Fiction.