Lavrenyov, Boris Andreevich. (Also spelled "Lavrenev".) Pseudonym of Boris Sergeev, born on 17 July 1891 (5 July, Old Style) in Kherson, the son of a teacher of Russian literature.

Lavrenyov's first foray into literature came in 1905 when he was 14 years old. Inspired by his reading of Lermontov's Demon, the boy produced a 1500-line poem called Lucifer in what he believed to be pure iambic tetrameter. His father, while noting that there were some good ideas in the work, suggested, however, that the meter might more correctly be descibed as a limping, lame, paralyzed kasha. Crushed, the young writer buried the manuscript under an acacia tree.

While still in gymnasium, the young Lavrenyov ran away from home and signed up to work on a ship headed abroad. His sailing lasted for two months, until the Italian police snatched him off the deck, an incident to be described later in the story Marina.

Returning home, Lavrenyov continued his studies and, in 1909, enrolled in the law faculty of Moscow University, from which he graduated in 1915.

His first publication came in 1911 when the Kherson newspaper Rodnoi Krai accepted one of his poems. His first national exposure came a year later when Zhatva, an almanac of Moscow symbolists, presented a cycle of his poems--Maki ("Poppies"), Skazka Vechernyaya ("Evening Fairy Tale"), Fevral ("February") and Muka Rassveta ("Torment of Dawn").

For the next few years, Lavrenyov eagerly plunged himself into the whirlwind of ego-futurism. He made it his job to:

...disturb the picturesque prosperity, spoil the mood of the bourgeoisie, to upset its carefree digestion. It was necessary to stun the bourgeois and philistine with the cudgel of novelty.
His poems appeared in editions of the ego-futurist almanac Mezonin Poeziya in 1913 and 1914. These works contained echoes of symbolism but were also imitative of Mayakovsky's early strivings. There were plans to print two books by Lavrenyov, but these plans were never realized.

During World War I, Lavrenyov served in an artillery brigade of the tsarist army. Writing many years later, Lavrenyov said he never regretted his service in this imperialist war, because, as he put it, "I received a priceless gift from this war--an understanding of the people." And this understanding, he says, led him to denounce his futurist past:

With disgust I recalled the petty clowning of the futurist scandals, the pointless fussing of literary squabbles. How indecent the stripped jackets, the painted faces, and silly poetry games now seemed in light of the greatness of the silent, selfless fighting achievement of the people. I wanted to write the story of the people at war and about the true face of this disgusting war.
And so Lavrenyov penned a sharply antiwar story entitled Gala-Peter (the name of a Swiss chocolate firm). Influenced by the rhythmic, stylized prose of Andrei Bely, the story was accepted for publication by the Kiev almanac Ogon. But when the censors read the story, they had the manuscript confiscated and its publication was banned. It wasn't until 1925 that the story finally saw the light of day.

After the October Revolution, frightened by some of the excesses he witnessed, Lavrenyov was uncertain of what to do. He contemplated going abroard for a time until the situation settled down. His father advised him to stay, however, and he was soon back in Moscow. There, much to his dismay, he saw that his former futurist friends were still up to the same clownish antics. Like the Bourbons of France, Lavrenyov wrote, they understood nothing and had learned nothing. So alien was this atmosphere to Lavrenyov that he enlisted in the Red Army just to get out of town.

He served on an armored train sent to battle Petlyura in Ukraine and later as chief of artillery under Commander N.I. Podvoisky. He was wounded in the leg and sent back to Moscow. After recouperation, he was dispatched first to Samara, then to Tashkent where he worked as an editor for the front line newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda as well as administering the literary department of Turkestanskaya Pravda. It was here in Central Asia that Lavrenyov wrote the tales Wind (Veter), Star Color (Zvesdnii Tsvet), and the ever-popular The Forty-First (Sorok-Pervii).

In December of 1923, Lavrenyov was sent back to Leningrad, and he was demobilized in the spring of 1924. He aligned himself with the literary group Sodruzhestvo and won publication--all in 1924--for Wind, Star Color, and The Forty-First in the journals Krasnii Zhurnal Dlya Vsekhk and Zvezda.

Wind is the story of a sailor, turned into a class-conscious revolutionary, who engages in peaceful civilian activity. He grows bored and returns to the adventurous life at the front, where he dies.

The Forty-First, written in only two days, has proven enduringly popular. It tells the story of a young woman snarpshooter fighting with the Reds in Turkestan. She misses her forty-first victim, a handsome White lieutenant, and ends up escorting him, by boat, into captivity across the Aral Sea. A storm, however, strands the two on an island. They fall in love, but in the end, the White's essential bourgeois, anti-human nature is revealed and the heroine shoots him, although she does cry over him. Some RAPP critics were not quite certain how to react to Lavrenyov's work. The ending of The Forty-First was particularly difficult for them to swallow. Why, they asked, should one cry over a White officer? As a result, Lavrenyov found himself labeled as "fellow traveler".

Another work produced by Lavrenyov in 1924 is Story of a Simple Thing (Rasskaz o Prostoi Veshchei). In it, an old Bolshevik and member of the Cheka carries on underground work in a town occupied by the Whites. After some breath-taking adventures, he is captured and shot.

In 1925 Lavrenyov began writing for the stage, producing the plays Revolt (Myatezh) and Dagger (Kinzhal). Revolt is a treatment of an attempted counterrevolutionary uprising in Turkestan.

In 1926, Lavrenyov produced The Sky-Blue Cap (Nebesnii Kartuz), a parody of a Sherlock Holmes story in a Soviet setting, and Thalassa, the story of an ordinary, meek Soviet who citizen gets involved in a smuggling expedition along the Black Sea coast.

Lavrenyov turned to satire in The Fall of the Rebublic of Itl (Krusheniye Respubliki Itl) (1926). It describes a fictional foreign intervention in southern Russia and the establishment of a so-called democratic republic with the help of "Nautilia", an obvious reference to England.

The following year, 1927, Lavrenyov published The Seventh Satellite (Sedmoi Sputnik). In this story, an old White General is arrested in 1918 as part of a round-up of bourgeois elements. The Cheka decides he's harmless and releases him. He is reduced to taking a job as a laundryman, but he finds this work useful. His sympathies change and he joins the Red Army. He is captured by Whites and shot. The work is heavy with images and shows a neo-realist influence. Whereas Evgeny Zamyatin, the king of neo-realism, called Petrograd a brick ocean on which sailed six-storied stone ships, Lavrenyov has the city suffering from scarlet fever, with the buildings peeling and chucking off lime and plaster like a person spitting out sunflower husks:

The whole street was peeling. It was having revolutionary scarlet fever. From its brick body the dry, infected skin was scaling off and swirling with a hissing and rustling along the pavements and the road. . . .It was coming off from everything. From the drooping lip of the saunterer it dropped--chewed sunflower husks--from the walls, coulored lumps of lime and plaster; from the lifelessly sagging shop signs, little squares of cracked paint and delicate flakes of gold leaf.
The hero of the tale, blown by the wind, sails through Petrograd until he strikes a "reef", really a Bolshevik guard. A White officer has "lips taut as bicycle tires" and when he hears something he doesn't like, "The bicycle tires jerked and hissed."

1927 also saw the publication of Commendant Pushkin, in which a Bolshevik sailor named Aleksandr Semyonovich Pushkin is put in charge of the defense of Detskoye Selo, where the great poet Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin spent much of his time. The barely literate Commendant Pushkin knows nothing of his famous namesake, but others teach him and he soon comes to love and respect the poet and Russia's cultural past. Not only does he prevent an overzealous city Soviet from destroying the Cheshme Column, but he also successfully defends the city from a White onslaught. Unfortunately, he is shot and killed in battle, quoting the great poet as he dies.

Lavrenyov's 1928 work Woodcut (Graviura na Dereve) addresses the problems of the intelligentsia and culture.

In 1927, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, Lavrenyov produced another dramtic work, The Breakup (Razlom), which remained in continuous production for some 50 years. Lavrenyov was one of the creators of a type of heroic-revolutionary drama typified in the plays Song of Those From the Black-Sea (Pesnya o Chernomortsakh) (1943) and For Those Who Are At Sea (Za Tekh, Kto v More) (1945). He also penned the political drama Voice of America (Golos Ameriki) (1950). Lavrenyov's play Lermontov debuted on 30 Dec 1954 with music by composuer Khachaturian.

In the early 1940s, an unknown writer by the name of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn sent Lavrenyov a few of his stories. Lavrenyov liked the stories well enough to submit them to a literary journal. Publication was, however, rejected. When Solzhenitsyn sent him more stories a few years later, Lavrenyov continued to give encouragement to the future renegade, writing: "The author has matured, and it is now possible to talk about real literary productions."

Throughout the years, many of Lavrenyov's works have been adapted for film: The Forty-First (Director Yakov Protazanov, 1926); Wind (Director L. Shefer & Ch. Sabinskii, 1926); Story of a Simple Thing, also known as Leon Kutiure (Director V. Kasianov, 1927); The Seventh Satellite (Director V. Kasianov, 1928); For Those Who Are At Sea (Director A. Faintsimmer, 1948).

In 1987, The Forty-First was produced as a ballet-pantomine by Sergei Berinsky. And Lavrenyov's Ring of Fire was presented as two-act opera by Avet Terterian (composer) and Vladimir Shahnarzaryan (libretto).

Lavrenyov was known both as a socialist-realist and as a socialist-romantic. The writer was willing to accept both labels, saying that he strove to combine "healthy revolutionary romanticism with a realistic view of life." In 1930, he summed up his attitude toward literature this way:

Literature should be brief, clear, and untrue to life to such a degree that it might be believed....Literature ought to excite and thrill.
Lavrenyov was also an amateur painter.

Boris Lavrenyov died on 7 January 1959 in Moscow.


Return to: - 
One-stop shopping for all your Soviet Literature needs.

Address all correspondence to:

© 2012 All rights reserved.