A People Passing Rude
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15.  ‘A Gaul who has chosen impeccable Russian as his medium’:1 Ivan Bunin and the British Myth of Russia in the Early 20th Century

Svetlana Klimova

When in 1915 Maurice Baring published his ‘talented and illuminating’ 2 Outline of Russian Literature, the social and intellectual atmosphere in the country made him confident enough to state that ‘a new interest […] with regard to Russian literature’ was now perceptible among ‘English intellectuals’.3

There were, it would seem, many reasons for such an interest—social and political as well as cultural. Since the Crimean War Russia had been viewed as a political rival by the British, and this political interest was only increased by social and political instability, the phenomena of nihilism, terrorism and anarchism, in the run-up to the October Revolution. In the period between 1856 and 1916 hundreds of books were published in Britain that provided authentic information about Russian history, society and politics,4 and about three hundred novels and books of collected poems which explored the Russian theme.5 It was an interest that was stimulated and sustained by the presence in London and elsewhere in Britain of prominent Russian intellectuals and political activists, including Herzen, Bakunin, (Stepniak) Kravchinskii and Kropotkin, whose work often appeared in English.6

There is little doubt that the interest in Russian culture was closely connected with political concerns. A good example of these intertwined aspirations to understanding Russia and Russians is provided by another of Baring’s books, The Mainsprings of Russia (1914), in which he explored the national ‘Russian character’ through both Russian history and politics, contemporary social life and literature, and through personal insights into people’s beliefs and hopes.

Yet there was another very important impetus to English interest in Russia at that time.7 It was purely cultural and was directly connected with the general European enthusiasm for the novels of Turgenev, Tolstoi and Dostoevskii.8 Baring’s book on Russian literature is very revealing in this respect: indicating Turgenev as the one who ‘led the genius of Russia on a pilgrimage throughout Europe’, he refers exclusively to his noted French admirers—Flaubert, George Sand and Taine.9 And in doing so, he reveals his spiritual debt to one of the most influential book about Russia in England and in the whole of Europe of that time—written by Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé. Vogüé was first to present the Russian novel as a cultural European phenomenon that was meaningful not only for its present, but for its future. The number of editions of his Roman russe speaks for itself: by 1913, when it was first translated into English, eleven French editions had come out. Vogüé and Baring were the key figures among numerous Western writers who made a way for a new, modern British myth of Russia—the myth that, the October Revolution notwithstanding, remained crucial for the understanding of Russia and its culture by British intellectuals in the early 20th century.

There were several major concepts in this pastoral and spiritual myth, all of them primarily rooted in the widespread feeling of ‘the end of civilization’ and desire for spiritual renewal. Thus, criticizing Flaubert and the late French realism, Vogüé observes a close correspondence between contemporary analytical science and positive philosophy, on the one hand, and mechanically treated fictional characters, on the other. Hence he opposes the ‘agglomeration of atoms’ or of ‘sensations’ to the integrity of the ‘soul’, the ‘scientific’ to the ‘religious’, the dead ‘mechanical’ to the ‘living’.10 The positive pole of these oppositions can be found in the English and Russian novel, but Russia is treated by the author as the more essential, enchanting and pure mystery. In his two books mentioned above, Baring describes the ‘sealed book’ of Russia in similar manner, trying to grasp the idea of ‘the Russian temperament’ in Russia’s history and literature in terms of ‘naturalness’, ‘simplicity’, ‘vividness’ and ‘religious mysticism’.11

In Russian literature and Russian spirit Vogüé stresses ‘compassion’, ‘glorified by the spirit of the Gospel’;12 he famously terms Dostoevskii’s writings as ‘the religion of suffering’13 and speaks about the ‘impulsiveness’, ‘mysticism’ and ‘pantheism’ of Tolstoi’s realism.14 Correspondingly, Baring sees ‘the divine aura of love that is in the Gospels’ immanent in Dostoevskii’s novels15 and ‘the truth to nature’ and ‘intense and vivid’ reality in Tolstoi.16 In his conclusion to The Mainsprings of Russia he states that ‘love of man’ and ‘faith in God’, together with impulsiveness, are the essence of the Russian character.17

This newly created myth clashed violently with the long European tradition of perceiving Russia as a ‘colossal aggressive state, permanently expanding and […] threatening Europe’s peace and independence’, a ‘political Ahriman, a sort of dark power, inimical to the ideas of progress and freedom’.18 It was this very tradition that made Byron, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Swinburne feel ‘hatred and contempt’ for the (in many senses) unknown country.19 Yet, even the purely political background, beginning from 1907—the year of establishing closer and friendlier relations between Britain and Russia—worked in favour of the new myth.20 The old negative perception of Russia is obviously the main target of Charles Sarolea’s protest in his Europe’s Debt to Russia (1915), in which the author claims ‘the Russian peril’ to be a widely spread ‘prejudice’ in the USA and Great Britain—the prejudice far from corresponding to the reality.21

The tradition, however, did not (and, indeed, could not) cease to exist. It continued to play an important role in British understanding of Russia’s politics and fate. The old and the new visions of Russia were in many cases attached to different spheres of human reality—that of the human soul and culture (for the new myth) and that of politics and government (for the traditional perception).

The two visions and the two spheres form an evident background to the conclusion made by Bernard Pares—the ‘most influential British scholar of Russian history’ at that time22—in his paper on the objectives of Russian study in Britain (1922): ‘The Russian peasant, by his practical instinct of brotherhood, is capable of doing remarkable things whenever he can free himself from a superimposed dead weight of political theory, whether autocratic or communist…’23 Not only the new myth, but also the old tradition, as we shall see, are key approaches in evaluating the writings of Ivan Bunin.

It comes as no surprise, however, that for many modernist British writers the new myth seemed much more appealing. Thus, pondering the essentially ‘Russian point of view’ in her essay under the same title (1925), Virginia Woolf writes about ‘the soul that is the chief character in Russian fiction’, ‘the simplicity, […] the assumption that in a world bursting with misery the chief call upon us is to understand our fellow-sufferers […] with the heart’.24 Touching on the same subject in another essay, ‘Modern Fiction’, she again stresses ‘understanding of the soul and heart’, ‘a natural reverence for the human spirit’, and ‘sympathy for the suffering of others’.25

Similarly, though in a narrower sense, Arnold Bennett in 1928 writes about The Brothers Karamazov as of the most ‘moral’ and ‘profound’ novel, ‘philosophical in intention and execution’, and states that Dostoevskii’s ‘outlook upon the world was […] kindly’ and that he ‘loved men’.26 And even D.H. Lawrence, austere critic as he was, puts it in a much harsher, satirical, but still recognizable, way, speaking about the too ‘obvious’ character of the Russian novelists’ art27 and about a strict ‘moral scheme’ in ‘Turgenev, and Tolstoi, and in Dostoievsky’;28 he recognizes Dostoevskii’s ‘urge towards the selfless ecstasy of Christianity’29 and the ‘explicitness’ and ‘the phenomenal coruscations of the souls of quite commonplace people’ that lie at the core of Russian literature.30

From what has been quoted it can be seen that the English ‘Russian myth’, which came into being with the turn towards modernity and modernism, consisted above all of such major characteristics as ‘soul’, ‘simplicity’, ‘impulsiveness’, ‘compassion’ and ‘religiousness’. It would be no exaggeration to say that the myth evolved to meet the contemporary European wish to find ‘the other’, and was to quench the thirst for non-civilized, pure being.

The characteristics of ‘simplicity’ and ‘religiousness’ were eagerly searched for and found in Russian history and landscape, as well as in the Russian people and the writings of the three major Russian novelists discussed here. Thus, Baring treats the legend about Rurik, Sineus and Truvor as a real historical event and, stressing the civilizing influence of ‘Norsemen’ on Russia in the 9th century, creates the image of a passive nation and country which needed to be formed by means of ‘organized principalities’.31 He even misinterprets the legend, for he replaces the legend’s version of Rurik being invited by the people of Novgorod with his own, according to which Norsemen ‘took Novgorod and Kiev’.32

A similar ‘insignificant’ change is to be found in his interpretation of Russia’s baptism. Baring omits the story according to which Vladimir invited missionaries of different religions and listened and watched them to understand what would be the best for his country. In Baring’s version it is said only that ‘Vladimir, Prince of Kiev, married the sister of the Emperor of Byzantium and was baptized’, and that as a result ‘Russia was committed to the tradition, the Greek rivalry with the West, and was consequently excluded from the civilization of the West’. The same sub-textual meaning of passiveness is rendered by a small passage about the Russian landscape: ‘Russia is a flat country, without an indented seacoast, and without sharp mountain ranges’.33

A similar implication occurs in a passage about the Russian landscape in Charles Sarolea’s book:

The first feature and the essential fact in the physical geography of Russia is the infinite plain, the uniform steppe and prairie […] And this unity of the infinite plain is still rendered more striking through the unity of climate.34

Stephen Graham’s book The Way of Martha and the Way of Mary (1916), the publication of which was hailed in its time by Maurice Baring, gave a vivid impression of what was to be seen in the Russian people at that time:

The Russians are always en route for some place where they may find something about God. […] The Russians have the child-soul, the peasants get to heaven where we fail. Because they are ‘as little children’.35

It applies equally to the history of Russian literature. Thus, Baring argues firmly and directly that ‘from the fourteenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century Russian literature has nothing to show at all to the outward world’.36 Vogüé’s more precise and less categorical statement that the ‘appearance’ of Russians ‘in the great literary sphere’ of the novel ‘was sudden and unexpected’37 contributes to the same myth.

The numerous English translations of Russian realist novels that were made in this period seemed to confirm this scheme. The translations of novels by Turgenev, Goncharov, Tolstoi, Dostoevskii and Gogol that Constance Garnett produced between the 1890s and 1920s, ‘put Russian literature on England’s literary map’.38 Yet these novels (especially those of Tolstoi and Dostoevskii) were considered not only typically Russian, but European and modern. Edward Garnett in 1903 speaks both about the contemporaneity and the nationality of Tolstoi’s characters:

Tolstoi must be finally looked on, not merely as the conscience of the Russian world […] but also as the soul of the modern world seeking to replace in its love of humanity the life of those old religions which science is destroying day by day.39

Thus, the new British concept of Russian culture worked well for Tolstoi and Dostoevskii. But could another Russian ‘major’ author, who was gradually becoming known in Europe at that time—Chekhov—be perceived through this model?

In Britain Chekhov’s art was established as a new Russian phenomenon in the period between the late 1900s and the early 1920s. Through Chekhov’s art British critics strove to find the clue to the Russian revolution. A number of reviews (in The Nation and Everyman) written in the late 1910s seem to imply that it was a supposed connection between Chekhov’s art and the Russian events of 1917 which made it possible for the British public to accept the writer’s ‘morbid self-analysis’ and his heroes’ ‘inane submission to imaginary obstacles’.40 However, with regard to supposed immaturity and implied impulsiveness and passiveness, as well as the delicate analysis of the soul’s relation to goodness, Chekhov could, certainly, be perceived within the framework of the new British myth of Russia.

In the early 1920s another Russian writer—Ivan Bunin—was seen by the British public in a similar light and his writings appeared no less equivocal. Bunin was translated into English for the first time in 1917, when Peter Selver translated two of his short poems and included them in his anthology Modern Russian Poetry: Texts and Translations. Significantly, but ambiguously, Bunin’s poetry was described in the ‘Preface’ as ‘showing no traces of the later developments of Russian poetic style’ and thus was ‘more typically Slavonic than any of the modernists’.41

The person who really brought Bunin into the English literary world, however, was S.S. Kotelianskii. Kotelianskii enjoyed close relations with such ‘apostles’ of British Modernism as D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield, collaborating with Lawrence and Leonard Woolf to produce translations from Russian. Bunin was among the first contemporary Russian writers on his list. Leonid Andreev apart, he was the only contemporary Russian writer published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press. The first collection of Bunin’s stories translated by Kotelianskii together with D.H. Lawrence (the story ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco’) and Leonard Woolf (‘Gentle Breathing’, ‘Kasimir Stanislavovitch’, ‘Son’) came out in 1922. Later, in 1933 and 1935 respectively, the Hogarth Press published Bunin’s novel The Well of Days (translated by G. Struve and Hamish Miles) and the short story ‘Grammar of Love’ (translated by John Cournos).42 In 1923 Bunin’s novella The Village and in 1924 a volume of Fifteen Tales, translated by Isabel Hapgood and Bernard Guernay respectively, were published. All the publications were reviewed, or at least, mentioned, in The Times and in the Times Literary Supplement. There were also a number of American editions of Bunin’s works at that time, which may have been available to the English reader. They were: Mitya’s Love, a novella published by Henry Holt in 1926, The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories, The Village, and Dreams of Chang and Other Stories, all published by A. Knopf (New York) in 1923;The Well of Days and The Elaghin Affair and Other Stories were published by the same publishing house in 1934 and 1935 respectively.

The intriguing history of relations between the Hogarth Press and Bunin has been vividly narrated and analysed in detail by N. Reingold 43 and A. Rogachevsky.44 To illustrate the character of these relations, it suffices to say that it was Kotelianskii who, on his own initiative, made the first translation of Bunin’s prose work into English (at least, in Britain); that the Woolfs made great efforts to find the author in Paris and received Bunin’s first answer on 17 August 1922; and that it was Bunin himself who, in a letter dated 17 October 1931, suggested the Woolfs publish his new novel, The Well of Days, recommending Gleb Struve and Hamish Miles as translators.

The English public’s reaction to the translations was neither simple nor consistent. On the one hand, we have Leonard Woolf’s and D.H. Lawrence’s high opinion of ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco’, and Woolf’s attesting to its popularity. In his Autobiography Woolf writes that ‘Bunin’s Gentleman from San Francisco is one of the greatest of short stories’, and adds: ‘We printed, I think, 1,000 of each of the three books [Bunin’s, Tolstoi’s and Dostoevskii’s] […] Each of them sold between 500 and 700 copies in twelve months and made us a small profit’.45 And D.H. Lawrence, having read it for the first time, praised the story in a letter to Kotelianskii: ‘Have read The Gent—and in spite of its lugubriousness, grin with joy. […] it is screamingly good of Naples and Capri: so comically like the reality: only just too earnest about it’.46 On the other hand, we have Lawrence’s very different opinion about the rest of the stories in the collection—and about many other controversial publications of Bunin’s work: writing to Kotelianskii in 1922, he declared: ‘…the tales are not very good:Gentleman is much the best’.47 A similar opinion can be found in many British reviews of Bunin’s works in the 1920s and 1930s.

Reviews of Bunin’s writings began to appear in 1921, with an anonymous review in the Times Literary Supplement on 18 August of a Russian-language collection of his tales published in Paris, Gospodin iz San Francisco. The reviewer felt the need to present the still unknown author to the British reader as one who ‘has won distinction among contemporary Russian writers’, having started his literary career ‘in the first year of the present century’ and ‘made his way to Paris in 1920’.48 It is the first of the three reviews in The Times and the Times Literary Supplement that were to make the title of Bunin’s story ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco’ familiar to the British ear. As it was ironically pointed out in a much later review of Bunin’s writings in The Times of 17 October 1957, ‘Bunin burst upon the western world as the author of ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco’ […] The Times reviewed it three times (Russian, French and English versions) in the nine months August, 1921–May, 1922’.49 The other two reviews appeared on 20 April 1922 in the Times Literary Supplement (of the French version, published in Paris by Bossard) and 17 May 1922 in The Times (of the English version, published by the Hogarth Press). Both reviews argue that ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco’ is ‘certainly one of the most impressive stories of modern times’50 and that ‘the other three stories in the book are, in comparison, slight’.51 The TLS review, written by J. Middleton Murry, manifests the sort of criticism that was characteristic of the British reception of Bunin’s writings both at this time and later. His three negative comments on Bunin’s stories concern ‘a disturbance of vision’ (or ‘the authentic power of revelation’ which is ‘not altogether under his control’), an ‘obsession with the facts, and with his way of regarding them’ (‘instead of penetrating the reality […] he has scoured the world’) and the ‘indefinite’ character of his works on the whole.52 The equivocal vigour with which the reviewer stresses Bunin’s ‘delicate style’ is also to be seen in later British critical writings.

Planning in 1925 a series of articles on Russian writers in exile, Stephen Graham starts with Bunin as ‘the only one Russian writer who has gained in prestige during the seven years of revolution’.53 What Graham chooses to stress in Bunin’s image and art is not in general unexpected: this is the ‘limitedness’ of ‘his appeal’ (he is ‘a writer’s writer’), the ‘gentleness’ of his nature and behaviour, and a stern opposition to everything Soviet. The inner message of the emphasized points becomes more conspicuous when the interview is projected against Graham’s next article, on Remizov (April 1925). Unlike Bunin, Remizov is said to be ‘one of the few undoubted geniuses of modern Russia’ and is claimed to know Bolshevists ‘more intimately’ since he ‘lived’ with them ‘until 1921’ and, hence, to be able to ‘correct’ ‘the opinions of Bunin’.54 The date of Bunin’s exit from Russia, changed by Graham (intentionally or unintentionally?) from (the accurate) 1920 to (the inaccurate) 1918 serves as a proof of Bunin’s obsoleteness, or narrow-mindedness.

Reservations about the ‘vagueness’ of Bunin’s themes, the ‘inconclusiveness’ of his composition and the lack of ‘meaning’ in his lyrical ‘bursts’ are expressed in The Times in March 1935.55 John Cournos’s bitter review of the Parisian Russian émigré journal Sovremennye zapiski in the April 1934 issue of The Criterion adds further to the early reception of Bunin’s writings in Britain. The critic sternly places Bunin within the frame of ‘émigré literature’, which he says ‘is willy-nilly forced to subsist on the cumulations of the past, with few stimulations from the present’.56 Cournos’s vividly disparaging and hostile attitude to everything coming from the émigré makes him doubt not only the aesthetic value of The Life of Arsenyev (he equivocally describes it as ‘a longish novel’, ‘an evocation of the past’, and ‘simplicity itself in its theme, prose and unaffected loveliness’), but also the fairness of the Nobel Committee’s decision and the value of Bunin’s art on the whole (in brackets he says that Bunin, ‘I hear, has snatched the laurels from Gorky at the Nobel Committee conference’).57

In May 1957 in the Times Literary Supplement Georgette Donchin, following the well-trodden path, defines Bunin as ‘one of its [Russia’s] finest craftsmen’, ‘the best Russian stylist of the first half of the twentieth century’, who ‘does not ask questions’ since he is ‘no psychologist’, whose stories about Russian peasants, ‘painted in the blackest possible tones’’, seem ‘slightly unconvincing’ and who brings forth too much ‘the lyrical element’ in his prose.58 In Oliver Edwards’s musings entitled ‘Some Secret Fibre?’ (The Times, 17 October 1957) the idea of Bunin’s indefiniteness is pushed to absurd extremes: the author claims that ‘there was little that was pathetic about Bunin’, that ‘he seems no more than a moderate practitioner when compared with the masters’ and even that in photographs, sitting next to Gor’kii, Andreev, and Chaliapin, he looks an ‘insignificant little mouse’.59

Much of this criticism, including that of his appearance, sounds strikingly similar to the perception of Bunin and his art by contemporary Russian writers and readers. Bunin, who confessed that ‘everything’ tortured him ‘with its charm’,60 who was called in his childhood ‘Spasmodic’,61 and who was known for his ‘passion’ and ‘hot temper’ among his close friends and relatives,62 was labelled by his Russian contemporaries ‘a cold, icy writer’,63 ‘a fierce egoist’,64 ‘a guardian of traditions’, ‘standing apart from the general tendencies’ of contemporary Russian literature.65

What was not taken into account by both Russian and British critics is Bunin’s deliberate choice of the role, played to protest against the ‘theatricality’ of his epoch.66 In this respect the photograph referred to in Edwards’s review is extremely significant: the ‘strong’ postures and the decorative ‘folk’ style of Gor’kii, Andreev and Chaliapin form a sharp contrast to Bunin’s sensibly classical image.

To what extent the British reception of Bunin was influenced by this Russian point of view is still to be researched. It is obvious, however, that, close to each other in many aspects, they differ, and it is mainly British critics who feel dissatisfied with the supposed lack of psychological profundity and partiality of Bunin’s writings. The opinion of a more scholarly Russo-British critic, D.S. Mirskii, supports this view.

There is little evidence of scholars’ interest in Bunin in this early period of his reception in Great Britain. In all 17 issues of the Slavonic Review that appeared in Britain between 1922 and 1927 his name is mentioned only once, and then with disapproval, in D.S. Mirskii’s article on the ‘revival of Russian prose-fiction’. Pointing out the ‘elegant and perfect style of Bunin and Sologub’, Mirskii interprets it as a sign of ‘the rapid decline of Russian prose’ after ‘the death of Chekhov’.67 Unlike Bunin’s writings, the work of Solov’ev, Blok, Voloshin, Bal’mont, Remizov, Tsvetaeva and Averchenko was either reviewed or published in various issues of the Slavonic Review.

Given Mirskii’s status as a Lecturer in Russian literature at the University of London (1922–32), his position as ‘the leading historian of Russian literature in England and in Russian émigré circles’, and his influence on the opinion not only of the general public, but of Western writers (including Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence),68 his attitude to Bunin’s art deserves special attention. It was, certainly, expressed more than once. In 1926, for instance, reviewing the émigré journals Sovremennye zapiski and Vol’ia Rossii (1920–5), Mirskii includes a harsh paragraph about Bunin’s ‘profound provinciality’ and ‘hatred for everything new’ and labels him ‘a rare phenomenon of a great gift not connected with a great personality’.69 It is, however, a chapter on Bunin in his famous Contemporary Russian Literature, also published in 1926, that contains Mirskii’s best-known and most influential judgement. Before he actually starts writing about Bunin, he claims Gor’kii to be ‘the greatest name in the realistic revival’, ‘the only Russian author with a really world-wide reputation’ and ‘the obvious champion’ of contemporary Russian literature.70 So, when he comes to Bunin and recommends him as a ‘greater artist than either Gorky or Andreev’ and, ‘in the opinion of some competent judges, one of whom is Gorky, the greatest of living Russian writers’, the reader senses the implied distrust. It is more explicit in his views on the obsoleteness of Bunin’s poetry (‘as a poet Bunin belongs to the old, pre-Symbolist school. His technique has remained that of the eighties’), the imperfections of the story ‘The Village’ (‘it is too long and loose and contains too much definitively ‘publicistic’ matter’), and the author’s lack of psychological profundity (‘The Gentleman from San Francisco […] is not a work of analysis […] It is a “thing of beauty”’) and his overuse of lyricism (‘The lyrical element seems to be growing, and bursting the bonds of that strong restraint’).71

The ‘reproaches’ Mirskii directs against Bunin are essentially similar to the predominant early English perception of the Russian writer’s art: very much like J. Middleton Murry, he stresses Bunin’s obsoleteness, ‘obsession with facts’, ‘a disturbance of vision’ and lack of psychological profundity. Two of the ‘reproaches’—the most serious ones, those of impartiality and lack of psychological analysis—when compared to the early Russian reception of Bunin’s writings, can be seen as especially characteristic of the British reception, to be explained by an extreme discordance between what British critics were ready to accept in a Russian author and what they saw in his writings. It occasions no surprise that the British public, prepared to see ‘compassion’, either in the form of the ‘religiousness’ of the author and his heroes or of inner ‘socialism’ and natural ‘democracy’ of his artistic world,72 was puzzled by the bold and shockingly revealing portrait of peasants’ life in Bunin’s Derevnia (The Village), and by the unique ‘unity of sense and language’ in Bunin’s writings:73 his restrained and capaciously laconic style was perceived as ‘indefiniteness’, or ‘meaningless’, or deficiency in analysis.

Mirskii’s chapter and Stephen Graham’s article on Bunin, as well as The Criterion’s evidently preconceived understanding of Bunin’s art within the framework of the artistic impotence of Russian émigré circles, provide another insight into the deep context of this early perception of Bunin in Britain. Mirskii’s chapter is especially interesting in this respect. In its conclusion the author argues that ‘since 1918 Bunin has not written anything on the same level’ as ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco’’.74 In the Addenda, however, he notes that ‘Bunin has published (in ‘Sovremennya Zapiski’, 1925, books 23 and 24) a new nouvelle ‘Mitya’s Love’, which is superior to all he has written since 1918, and shows that the writer has by no means uttered his last word’.75 Mirskii, it would seem, was manipulating the facts he was reluctant to recognize. The reluctance implies his negative attitude to the ‘obsolete’, ‘non-socialistic’ and, thus, non-compassionate Russian émigré. The same message is more than overtly expressed in The Criterion—not only in the above-mentioned issue, but in the whole tendency of its reviews—which by 1937 had stopped including Russian émigré books and journals in the list of the reviewed publications, having chosen Soviet writings as the only representative of contemporary Russian literature. The deeper motive behind this choice is revealed in Graham’s article in a very simple statement: ‘[…] we had in England before the revolution a strong propaganda against Tsarism. […] Half England still believes that Russia was foully and hideously governed under the Tsar and that it was impossible to live happily there’.76 At this point the new Russian myth, projected upon Bunin’s writings, encounters the traditional and deep-seated negative attitude to the Russian Empire. Associated with the old regime both through his political position and artistic style, Bunin was not to be easily accepted by the British reader.

It was this early perception of Bunin’s writings in Britain that Gleb Struve, a Russian literary critic, translator, historian, Lecturer in Russian Literature and Language at the University of London (from the early 1930s to the mid-1940s), and Bunin’s friend, opposed in his article, ‘The Art of Ivan Bunin’ (published January 1933). Addressing himself to the British reader and, hence, basing his review on the predominant opinion about Bunin in Britain, Struve persistently stresses and declaims against ‘wrong’ judgements. Here are some excerpts to illustrate Struve’s tactics:

It is wrong to regard him [Bunin] as an out-and-out realist […] Bunin’s realism is of a poetical quality, and his details […] are always subordinated to the whole…77

Nothing could be more wrong than to regard Bunin as a soothing, quieting author. Himself at bottom unquiet, he is capable of acting disquietingly upon us […] in a […] suggestive way.78

From the purely literary point of view Bunin was blamed for the abnormal development of his outward visual capacity and the lack of psychological insight. Nowadays, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, we are inclined to view many things in Bunin’s ‘Village’ as prophetic foresight.79

Here we come to […] the philosophical and psychological leitmotiv of Bunin’s work, […] which may be described as a marveling perplexity before the mysteries of the world.80

Whether Struve succeeded or not in his argument with British critics is hard to say. According to what we read in the already quoted reviews by Georgette Donchin and Oliver Edwards (both written in 1957), he did not. According to another scholarly paper also published in the Slavonic and East European Review in 1955, he did, at least in part. It is true that in his ‘Ivan Bunin in Retrospect’ A. Guershoon Colin still labels the Russian author a ‘pessimist’ and ‘the foremost Russian stylist of the first half of the 20th century’. Nevertheless, the paper provides a very favourable and objective view of Bunin’s works: unlike many of his predecessors, Colin argues that Bunin was a ‘great psychologist’, ‘a man of truly outstanding intellect’, whom ‘richness of themes’, ‘bold frankness’, ‘penetrating judgement’, ‘profound wisdom’ and ‘enormous vocabulary’ make ‘the most prominent of’ all Soviet and émigré writers.81

This was not and is not the end of the story of the British reception of Bunin’s works, which continued in the second half of the 20th century and into the 21st, but that story is beyond the scope of this paper.


  1   Bernard G. Guernay, A Treasury of Russian Literature (London, 1948), p. 905.

  2   Bernard Pares, ‘The Objectives of Russian Study in Britain’, The Slavonic Review, I (June 1922), p. 59.

  3   Maurice Baring, An Outline of Russian Literature (London, 1915), p. 5.

  4   Andrei N. Zashikhin, Britanskaia Rossika vtoroi poloviny XIX–nachala XX veka (Arkhangel’sk, 2008), p. 14.

  5   Anthony G. Cross, The Russian Theme in English Literature from the Sixteenth Century to 1980: An Introductory Survey and a Bibliography (Oxford, 1985).

  6   Monica Partridge, ‘Alexander Herzen and the English Press’, The Slavonic and East European Review, 87 (June 1958), pp. 453-70. Vladislav Ya. Grosul, Londonskaya koloniya revolutsionnykh emigrantov i Kropotkin (70-80 gody XIX v.), in ‘Trudy mezhdunarodnoi nauchnoi konferentsii, posveshennoi 150-letiyu so dnia rozhdeniya P.A. Kropotkina’, IV (Moscow, 2002), pp. 120-32. Françoise Kunka, Alexander Herzen and the Free Russian Press in London (Saarbrücken, 2011).

  7   Significantly Georg Brandes, writing in 1887–8, mentions ‘the great interest taken at the present time in the literature of Russia and in everything which relates to that great country’ (Georg Brandes, Impressions of Russia, trans. from the Danish by S. C. Eastman (London, 1890), p. iii).

  8   See, e.g.: Ivan Turgenev and Britain, ed. P. Waddington (Oxford, 1995); Glyn Turton, Turgenev and the Context of English Literature, 1850–1900 (London, 1992); Tolstoi and Britain, ed. W. Gareth Jones (Oxford, 1995); Peter Kaye, Dostoevsky and English Modernism, 1900–1930 (Cambridge, 1999).

  9   Baring, Outline, p. 162.

10     Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé, The Russian Novel, trans. from the 11th French edn by Colonel H.A. Sawyer (London, 1913).

11   Baring, Outline, p. 162; Maurice Baring, The Mainsprings of Russia (London, 1914), pp. 47, 60, 160-2, 201-2.

12   de Vogüé, The Russian Novel, p. 18.

13   Ibid., p. 204.

14   Ibid., p. 324.

15   Baring, Outline, p. 222.

16   Ibid., p. 205.

17   Baring, Mainsprings, p. 322.

18   Nikolai Ia. Danilevskii, Rossiia i Evropa (St Petersburg, 1895), p. 21.

19   Patrick Waddington, From the Russian Fugitive to the Ballad of Bulgarie (Oxford, 1994).

20   Andrei N. Zashikhin, ‘Gliadia iz Londona’. Rossiia v obshchestvennoi mysli Britanii. Vtoraia polovina XIX–nachalo XX v. Ocherki (Archangel’sk, 1994), p. 107.

21   Charles Sarolea, Europe’s Debt to Russia (London, 1915), pp. 53-4.

22   Zashikhin, Britanskaia Rossika, p. 98.

23   Italics are mine. Pares, ‘The Objectives’, p. 72.

24   Virginia Woolf, Collected Essays, I (London, 1966), p. 239.

25   Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader (New York, 1948), p. 217.

26   Arnold Bennett, The Savour of Life: Essays in Gusto (New York, 1928), pp. 131-2.

27   David H. Lawrence, Collected Letters, ed. Harry T. Moore, I (London, 1962), p. 488.

28   Ibid., p. 281.

29   John M. Murry, Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence (London, 1936), p. 82.

30   David H. Lawrence, Selected Letters, ed. by Diana Trilling (New York, 1958), p. 276.

31   Baring, Outline, pp. 11-12.

32   Vasilii Kliuchevskii, recognized by British scholars at that time for his A Course of Russian History (the English version was entitled A History of Russia and came out in 5 volumes between 1911 and 1931), gives an accurate account of the legend’s initial version and provides the following prosaic explanation: ‘These Princes and their following were engaged at a fixed rate of pay to defend the country from invasion’ (Vasilii O. Kliuchevskii, A Russian History, trans. C.J. Hogarth, I (London, 1911), p. 66).

33   Baring, Mainsprings, p. 16.

34   Sarolea, Europe’s Debt, p. 21.

35   Steven Graham, The Way of Martha and the Way of Mary (London, 1916), pp. 53-74.

36   Baring, Outline, p. 19.

37   de Vogüé, The Russian Novel, p. 16.

38   Peter Kaye, Dostoevsky and English Modernism, 1900–1930 (Cambridge, 1999), p. 7.

39   Edward Garnett, Criticism and Interpretations, VI [Tolstoi’s Place in European Literature], in Leo Tolstoy ‘Anna Karenin’ (New York, 1917), pp. xvii-xix (p. xviii).

40   Chekhov: The Critical Heritage, ed. by Victor Emeljanow (London, 1981), p. 93.

41   Modern Russian Poetry. Texts and Translations, selected and edited with an introduction by P. Selver (London, 1917), p. xv.

42   J.H. Willis, Leonard and Virginia Woolf as publishers: the Hogarth Press, 1917–41 (Charlottesville, 1992), p. 93

43   Natalia Reingol’d, ‘Redingskii biuvar s pis’mami Bunina’, Voprosy literatury, VI (2006), pp. 152-68.

44   Andrei Rogachevskii, ‘I. A. Bunin i Hogarth Press’, in Ivan Bunin, Novyye materialy, I. (Moscow, 2004), pp. 333-53.

45   Leonard Woolf, Autobiography: Downhill All The Way (London, 1967), p. 74.

46   Lawrence, Collected Letters, II, p. 656.

47   On Lawrence’s attitude to Rozanov, see: G.J. Zytaruk, D.H. Lawrence’s Response to Russian Literature (The Hague and Paris, 1971).

48   Anonymous, ‘Russian Short Stories’ (review of ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco’ by I.A. Bunin), Times Literary Supplement (18 August 1921), p. 530.

49   Oliver Edwards, ‘Some Secret Fibre?’, The Times (17 October, 1957), p. 13.

50   J. Middleton Murry, ‘The Stories of Ivan Bunin’, Times Literary Supplement (20 April 1922), p. 256.

51   Anon., ‘Ivan Bunin. Review of the book ‘The Gentleman from San Francisco and Other Stories’ by the Hogarth Press’, The Times (17 May 1922), p. 16.

52   J. Middleton Murry, ‘The Stories of Ivan Bunin’, Times Literary Supplement (20 April 1922), p. 256.

53   Stephen Graham, ‘Russian Writers in Exile. I. – Ivan Bunin’, The Times (3 April 1925), p. 17.

54   Idem, ‘Russian Writers in Exile. II. – Alexey Remizof’, The Times (28 April 1925), p. 17.

55   Anon., ‘Review of Ivan Bunin’s Short Stories: Grammar of Love, trans. John Cournos, Hogarth Press’, The Times (8 March 1935), p. 11.

56   John Cournos, Review of Russian periodicals, The Criterion, XIII/LII (April 1934), pp. 529-35.

57   Idem, ‘Review of Sovremennya Zapiski, Paris, 1934’, Criterion, XIII/LII (April 1934), p. 535.

58   Georgette Donchin, ‘Ivan Bunin’, Times Literary Supplement (10 May 1957), p. 288.

59   Edwards, ‘Some Secret Fibre?’, p. 13.

60   Galina Kuznetsova, Grassky dnevnik (Moscow, 2001), p. 42.

61   Oleg N. Mikhailov, Zhizn’ Bunina. Lish’ slovu zhizn’ dana… (Moscow, 2002), p. 20.

62   Galina Kuznetsova, ‘Grasskii dnevnik’, in Ivan Bunin: pro et contra (St Petersburg, 2001), p. 117.

63   A. Sedykh, ‘Ivan Bunin’, ibid., p. 157.

64   Irina V. Odoevtseva, Na beregakh Seny’, ibid., p. 230.

65   Vladimir V. Veidle, Na smert’ Bunina, ibid., p. 420.

66   Ivan A. Bunin, ‘Zametki’, in Sobraniye sochinenii v 9 tomakh, IX (Moscow, 2009), p. 210.

67   Prince Dmitry S. Mirskii, ‘The Revival of Russian Prose-fiction’, Slavonic Review, II (June 1923), p. 200.

68   Ol’ga Kaznina, ‘Kniaz’ D.P. Sv’iatopolk-Mirskii: talant i sud’ba’, in N.V. Makarova and O.A. Morgunova (eds.), Russkoye prisutstvie v Britanii (Moscow, 2009), pp. 210-11.

69   Prince Dmitrii S. Mirskii, ‘Retzenziia na ‘Sovremennye zapiski’ i ‘Vol’iu Rossii’ za 1920–1925 gg’, Versty, I (1926), p. 209.

70   Prince Dmitrii S. Mirskii, Contemporary Russian Literature (London, 1926), pp. 104-6.

71   Ibid., pp. 124-30.

72   Serge Persky, writing in 1907, notes ‘that which has always been called socialism, has had an irresistible attraction to the more intelligent Russians’ and that ‘all of Russian literature is permeated with it’ (Serge Persky, Contemporary Russian novelists, trans. from French by Frederick Eiseman (London, 1907), p. 23).

73   Vladislav Khodasevich, ‘Knigi i liudi’, Sovremennye zapiski, LXIII (9 November 1933), p. 3.

74   Mirskii, Contemporary Russian Literature, p. 130.

75   Ibid., p. 363.

76   Graham, Ivan Bunin, p. 17.

77   Gleb Struve, ‘The Art of Ivan Bunin’, Slavonic and East European Review, XI/32 (January 1933), p. 425.

78   Ibid.

79   Ibid., p. 426.

80   Ibid., p. 434.

81   A. Guershoon Colin, ‘Ivan Bunin in Retrospect’, Slavonic and East European Review, XXXIV/82 (December 1955), pp. 156-73.