Sholokhov, Mikhail Aleksandrovich Born 24 May 1905 (11 May, Old Style) in the village of Kruzhilin near Veshenskaya in the Don Military Region. His father, Aleksandr Mikhailovich, was a man who frequently changed his employment. Sholokhov wrote in his short "Autobiography" (1931): "My father was a merchant and came from the Ryazan province. He changed professions until his death. He...[bought cattle], worked as a share-cropper sowing grain on Cossack lands, managed a business in a village, and managed a steam mill, etc." The writer's mother, Anastasia Danilovna Chernikova, was an illiterate maid of Ukrainian ancestry.
When young Mikhail was born, his mother was still legally married to her first husband, a Cossack named Stephan Kuznetsov. So, at birth, the child's legal name was registered as Mikhail Stefanovich Kuznetsov. It wasn't until 1913, when the elder Kuznetsov died, that the writer's parents were free to marry and officially change their son's name to Sholokhov.
In 1909 the family moved to the hamlet of Kargin. In 1912, Sholokhov began to attend the local parish school. In 1915, he transferred to a different school in the small town of Boguchar in the Voronezh province. While studying, he lived in the home of a priest who taught religion at the school.
The young Sholokhov was a good student and, during these years, began to write short narrative tales and poems. One of these early tales was an account of the time of Peter the Great. He is also said to have created vaudeville vignettes based on plays by Nikolai Gogol.
The Revolution interrupted Sholokhov's education. In 1918, when Sholokhov was 13 years old, the Germans occupied Boguchar; so Sholokhov left school and returned to live with his family in Pleshakov. By 1919, he managed to finish the fourth grade in a gymnasium in Veshenskaya. While in Veshenskaya, Sholokhov witnessed the bloody anti-Bolshevik Cossack uprising.
By 1920, the Sholokhov family was back in Karginskaya. Sholokhov began working for the local Revolutionary Committee as a census-taker, clerk, and a teacher. During this time he took part in battles against counterrevolutionary partisan groups. In the fall of 1920, he was captured by the anarchist Green forces. The head of the Greens, Nestor Makhno, personally interrogated Sholokhov. Makhno decided to let the youth go, but he promised to hang him if they ever met again.
Sholokhov went on to work in a special detachment for grain requisitions, fighting against grain-hoarding kulaks. He also helped produce a daily, hand-written newspaper as well as daily propagandistic lectures. In addition, he was actively involved in a local theater, even writing short plays which addressed contemporary themes. According to Ludmilla L.Litus in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 272:
One of these early plays, General Pobedonostsev, included a tendentious scene from the civil war on the Don--the cowardly flight of the White army under the pressure of the victorious Bolshevik forces. Another play, Their Morals and Traditions (Ikh nravy i obychai) contrasted the corrupt White Forces with upright, orderly Soviet Red soldiers.None of these plays survived.
In 1921, Sholokhov became a regional tax inspector in Bukanovskaya . It was a brutal time of clashes between peasants and representatives of the Soviet government, and in 1922, accused of overstepping his authority and Sholokhov was convicted and sentenced to death. However, for reasons that are unclear, he was released after two days in jail.
Around this time, Sholokhov met his future wife, Mariia (Masha) Petrovna Gromoslavskaya, who was working in the Tax inspector's office as a statistician.
In October 1922, Sholokhov moved to Moscow, where he found various odd jobs--porter, bricklayer, accountant, and clerk. He felt himself drawn to writing and began to visit various magazine and newspaper offices. Although he was not a member of the Komsomol, Sholokhov began attending writing seminars for Komsomol members sponsored by the journal Young Guard (Molodaya Gvardiya). The sessions were conducted by experienced writers such as Viktor Sklovsky, Osip Brik, I. Rakhillo, Georgi Shubin, and Vasili Kudashev (editor of the literary section of Journal of Peasant Youth). Other young writers in attendance included Yuri Libedinsky, Artem Vesely, Aleksandr Fadeev, Valeriya Gerasimova, Mikhail Svetlov, and Mikhail Golodny.
Sholokhov's first publication came in the form of a feuilleton entitled The Test (Ispytaniye), which appeared in the newspaper Yuneshkaya Pravda on 19 September 1923. Two more feuilletons soon followed: Three (Tri), Yuneshkaya Pravda, 30 October 1923; and The Inspector General (Revizor), Molodoi Leninets, 12 April 1924.
In early 1924 Sholokhov took a quick trip down to Karginskaya to marry Masha. He brought his new bride to Moscow, but, unable to find steady employment, the couple soon returned south and lived in Bukanovskaya with Masha's parents.
Determined to become a professional writer, Sholokhov plunged himself into this work. His first short story to appear in print was Birthmark (Rodinka), which was published in Molodoi Leninets on 14 December 1924. It is the story of the clash between a young Red commander and the wizened old leader of a band of marauding anti-Soviet Cossacks. After the Cossack kills the young Red, he finds a birthmark on the young man's leg which reveals that he was the Cossack's long lost son. In despair, the Cossack kills himself.
Throughout 1925, Sholokhov had numerous other stories published, including Beasts (Zveri), Watchman of the Melon Patch (Bakhchevik), The Shepard (Pastukh), Shebalko's Seed (Shebalkovo semya), Aleshka, The Brat (Nakhalenok) (a partly autobiographical account of Sholokhov's childhood), Family Man (Semeinii chelovek), Whirlpool (Kolovert), Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Soviet of the Republic (Predsedatel' Revvoensoveta Respubliki), The Way and the Road (Put-'Dorozhenka), Crooked Path (Krivaya stezhka), and Woman With Two Husands (Dvukhmuzhnaya)
In 1925, Sholokhov met the established Cossack writer A. Serafimovich, author of the novel Iron Flood. Serafimovich, was greatly impressed with young Sholokhov's work, and he even wrote the introduction to Tales from the Don (Donskiye rasskazy), the first collection of Sholokhov's stories, which was published in January of 1926. In this introduction, Serafimovich wrote:
Comrade Sholokhov's stories stand out like a steppeland flower, like a dash of living color. Simple, vivid, and you feel what happens; it's there before your very eyes. Imaginative language, the colorful language that the Cossacks speak. Terse and the terseness is full of life, tension and truth.A second collection of Sholokhov's stories Tulip Steppe (Lazorevaya step') was published at the end of 1926, and a third one, About Kolchak, Nettles, and Other Things (O Kolchake, krapive i prochem) came out in 1927.
In 1925, Sholokhov's father died. In 1926 his first child was born--a daughter named Svetlana. In that same year he moved to Vechenskaya, where Sholokhov was to live for the rest of his life.
During this early period, Sholokhov was also working on a novel he called Donshchina, in which he envisioned describing the anti-Soviet uprising of the Cossacks. But as he finished the work in 1927 he realized that it was lacking a proper historical context. As he put it:
I began the novel by describing the event of the Kornilov putsch in 1917. Then it became clear that this putsch, and more importantly, the role of the Cossacks in these events, would not be understood without a Cossack prehistory, and so I began with the description of the life of the Don Cossacks just before the beginning of World War I.Thus Sholokhov began work on his first grand novel, The Quite Don (Tikhii Don). By the end of 1927 the first book of the novel was complete, and Sholokhov submitted it to the journal October. At first, the editorial board rejected the manuscript; but when Seramifovich got a look at the work, he persuaded the board to change its mind. The first book of The Quite Don was serialized from January to April 1928.
The reviews of the work were highly favorable. Gorky labeled Sholokhov "a talented writer", and Sholokhov was elected to the editorial board of October. Book Two of The Quiet Don came out between May and October 1928.
Despite readers' enthusiasm for the work, The Quiet Don and Sholokhov came in for some criticism from RAPP, the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. According to L. Litus:
As discussion of the novel continued in the press, the more orthodox Communist critics associated with RAPP voiced their lack of enthusiasm for Tikhii Don and criticized Sholokhov for being a regional, peasant writer who did not give appropriate weight to workers and their problems. They claimed that he was neither a proletarian writer nor, more important, a Communist writer. Some, questioning the point of view in the novel, maintained that the work was written from the perspective of the defeated Whites and not the victorious Bolsheviks.In the spring of 1929, rumors began to circulate saying that Sholokhov was not the actual author of Tikhii Don. In response, Sholokhov handed his notes, drafts, and manuscripts over to Pravda. Several senior writers, including Serafimovich, Aleksandr Fadeev, and Leopold Averbakh, examined the papers and declared the rumors baseless.
More trouble for Sholokhov arose in September of 1929 when he was accused of collaboration with kulaks and other anti-Soviet activities. The Party, however, and Joseph Stalin himself, continued to support Sholokhov.
Excerpts from Book Three of The Quiet Don were published in 1930.
In 1930, Sholokhov started writing articles about the difficult conditions and mismanagement of agricultural reforms in the Don region. This was also the year that Sholokhov became a candidate member of the Communist Party.
Approval for publication of the last part of Book Three of Tikhii Don was a long time coming. Some editors at October denied that the Cossack uprising described in the book--which Sholokhov himself witnessed as a youth--ever took place. Finally, in July 1931, Sholokhov met with Gorky and Stalin. Stalin ordered that the book be published, despite his disagreement with how some events were portrayed.
Stalin's intervention was also required to get the journal Novy Mir to publish the first part of Virgin Soil Upturned (Podnyataya tselina, 1932), Sholokhov's novel about collectivization, which included frank descriptions of the brutal treatment of kulaks.
At the end of 1932, Sholokhov became a full member of the Communist Party.
In 1933, a purge of "enemies" was unleashed in the Don region. Sholokhov put his career and life at stake when he wrote to the local Party secretary in defense of some of the "enemies" and condemning "atrocities" being committed in the Party's name. For this, Sholokhov might well have been arrested, but, once again, Joseph Stalin protected him.
In 1934, Sholokhov took part in the First All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers, and he was elected to the new Writers' Union board.
In 1935, he traveled to Denmark, England, and France, meeting with agricultural workers as well as writers.
The beginning chapters of Part Four of The Quite Don were published in March of 1935.
In 1939, Sholokhov was named to the Academy of Sciences and given a Lenin Prize. The final chapters of The Quiet Don appeared in 1940.
In March 1941, Sholokhov received the newly created Stalin Prize, which included a monetary award of 100,000 rubles. But after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June of that same year, Sholokhov contributed the entire prize amount to the war effort.
During the war, Sholokhov served as a war correspondent. He visited the besieged city of Leningrad and was at the Battle of Stalingrad. His story The Science of Hatred (Nauka nenavisti, 1942), which portrayed German war atrocities, is based on his experiences and conversations with soldiers.
On 10 July 1942, Sholokhov's mother was killed in a Nazi bombing raid on Veshenskaya. In 1943, the newspaper Pravda began printing chapters of a new war novel by Sholokhov, They Fought for Their Motherland (Oni srazhalis' za rodinu). Sholokhov continued to expand the work for another two decades.
Following the war, controls over literature were again tightened, and a campaign against so-called "cosmopolitanism" (an excessively positive view of Western achievements) was unleashed. In this campaign, Sholokhov sided with the Party. Notably, he, along with Fadeev and Fedin published an open letter in Literaturnaya Gazeta entitled Whom are you With, American Masters of Culture? Also, in 1950, he lashed out in the pages of Pravda against American involvement in Korea.
In December 1954, the Thaw in Soviet literature, which had started barely a year earlier, was under attack. Surprisingly, at the Second Congress of Soviet Writers, Sholokhov spoke in support of many of the arguments advanced by the pro-Thaw forces. He referred to a "gray stream of new colorless literature" and accused writers of "losing respect for their work and for their readers". He said:
Those who lose respect for their work and for their reader wither on the vine and finally degenerate from masters into craftsmen.On his 50th birthday in 1955, Sholokhov was given the Lenin Prize.
The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which marked the beginning of Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign, was held in February 1956. At the Congress, Sholokhov game another speech highly critical both of Soviet writers and of the Writer's Union. Near the beginning of the speech he said:
In the Union of Soviet Writers, there are 3,247 members and 526 candidates--in all, 3,773 people armed with pens and possessing, to a greater or lesser degree, literary mastery. In appearance, a not insignificant force. But be neither frightened nor gladdened by our numbers, for this is only "in appearance", while in fact, a significant portion of the list of writers is made up of "dead souls"He asserted that many writers had turned into "touring performers", and he was appalled that many were not ashamed to accept payment for their appearances at factories and even military academies. Further, he noted disapprovingly the trend of so many writers choosing to live in Moscow, cutting themselves off from life, spending no time at the factories and farms:
But many of today's writers--particularly, many of the Muscovites among them--live in an enchanted triangle: Moscow-dacha-resort; and again: resort-Moscow-dacha. Really, is it not shameful to be wasting life and talents in this empty way?!While praising Fadeev as a writer, Sholokhov said, however, that he was a lousy administrator of the Writers' Union.
In the late 1950s, Sholokhov traveled abroad extensively, visiting Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, England, Italy, and even the United States.
in 1957, Sholokhov published the tale Fate of a Man (Sudba cheloveka). In this work, a Soviet soldier is captured and consigned to the Nazi concentration camps. He suffers hunger, torture, and humiliation before finally managing to escape and return to the Red Army. However, his wife and children all die during the war. When peace and demobilization come, he sinks into drepression and drunkenness, until he finds an orphan boy to care for, giving him a renewed reason to live.
In 1959 and 1960, the American journalist Harrison Salisbury irked Sholokhov with articles claiming that Sholokhov couldn't get the last installment of Virgin Land Upturned published because it concluded with Soviet authorities concocting false accusations against the hero, who ends up killing himself in jail. Sholokhov lashed back at Salisbury in Pravda with an article entitled About the Little Boy Harry and Big Mr. Salisbury: In the article, Sholokhov writes:
Mr. Salisbury, known for his malicious but foolish imagination, is traveling far, but he has chosen a dirty and dishonest road for his sensation and for earning his living.... You can't tell where his meanness ends and his stupidity begins.In 1965, Sholokhov won the Nobel Prize for literature. In his acceptance speech he gave a spirited defense of realism as an art form superior to any avant-garde trend. He said:
Many fashionable currents in art reject realism, which they assume has served its time. Without fear of being accused of conservatism, I wish to proclaim that I hold a contrary opinion and am a convinced supporter of realistic art.At the 23rd Party Congress in 1966, Sholokhov spoke out against dissident writers in general and against Abram Terts (aka A.D. Siniavsky) and Nikolai Arzhak (aka Yu.M. Daniel) in particular.
Throughout his life, Sholokhov involved himself in environmental concerns. He called for protection of the Volga and Don rivers and of Lake Baikal.
In 1974, renegade A.I. Solzhenitsyn again dragged out the accusation of plagiarism against Sholokhov. A computer analysis of Sholokhov's works, conducted by a group of Scandinavian researchers, however, supported Sholokhov's authorship of The Quiet Don.
During his lifetime, rumors of alcoholism also plagued Sholokhov.
Mikhail A. Sholokhov died on 21 February 1984, after a long bout with cancer. He weighed only 80 pounds at the time. He was buried on the shores of his beloved Don River.
Litus, Ludmilla L. Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokov. In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 272. (primary source)
Terras, Victor, ed. Handbook of Russian Literature. Yale University Press. 1985.
Kratkii biograficheskii slovar'. Moscow, 2000.