Konstantin Fedin
from 107 Years of Sholokhov, a celebration in honor of
M.A. Sholokhov's 107th Birthday, 24 May 2012.

Sholokhov listens as K. Fedin addresses a jubilee celebration held in honor of Sholokhov's 60th birthday, 24 May 1965.
If it is true that an artist's own course in life is the main channel for his impressions of the world--and I believe it is--Sholokhov's life has embraced one of the deepest and most turbulent currents that ever flowed in the Russian social revolution. Where else have there been such storms as those that raged on Cossack soil? The sturdy cliffs of an ancient mode of existence seemed to stand impregnable to the thrust of any wave. And yet even they yielded to the onslaught of the new life.

Sholokhov was a boy when the Civil War flared up on the Don. The war gave him his schooling and sharpened both his revolutionary will and artistic gift.

In this sense his career was remarkable. At the age of eighteen he was already in print. At twenty he had published a book of stories. The older generation remembers the reception given to the first volume of Quiet Flows the Don, in the days when the Soviet novel was only just beginning to take shape. The author was then only twenty-three years old. It was a noisy, joyful, astonished reception, and at times a rather ominous one, because not all the predictions were promising. "What does the future hold for this writer?" was the question that excited us all. The next five years brought one surprise after another, and each of them affirmed that Russian Soviet literature had acquired a massive new talent.

The second and third volumes of the epic of revolution and the Civil War were followed by the first book of Virgin Soil Upturned. The appearance of this book showed how great was the range of this writer's capabilities. To put aside his work on one novel and begin another was a wrench, not only because it meant taking up a new subject that differed from his previous one, but also because the new subject was the swift flow of current events. The Civil War, which had for years gripped the artist's imagination and which now belonged to history had to give way to the current struggle for the collectivization of farming throughout the country. The success in dealing with this most complex task was due to the writer's being in constant contact with life, his rich and detailed knowledge of the working people with whom he was so perfectly in step. And--need it be said--success also stemmed from Sholokhov's brilliant poetic gift of portrayal.

It is not my purpose here to make a summing-up of his works, so highly prized by our literature and so spell-binding for a huge readership. I would draw attention to only two specific features of all Sholokhov's prose.

The courage which is an intrinsic part of Sholokhov's writing has rendered to Soviet literature a tremendous service. He has never side-stepped the contradictions inherent in life, no matter what period he is describing. His books show the struggle in all the fullness of past and present. Involuntarily one recalls the precept that Leo Tolstoy imposed upon himself as a young man--to tell no lies, either direct or indirect, and never to lie by omission. Sholokhov omits nothing, he writes the whole truth. He does not turn tragedy into drama or drama into light reading. His tragic situations are not concealed among consoling posies of wild flowers. But the strength of the truth is such that the bitterness and sorrow of life, no matter how terrible, is outweighed, overcome by the will to happiness, by the desire to achieve happiness and the joy of its achievement. I think this is really how matters stand. Not for nothing have we accepted the idea of "optimistic tragedy" in the full knowledge that this is not merely a play on words. While fully appreciating the depth of tragedy in the fact portrayed by the artist, we nevertheless close his book with a sense of illumination. And we feel it particularly in the great concluding volume of Quiet Flows the Don.

I would describe the other specific quality of Sholokhov's prose as the life-giving continuity of the national tradition of the Russian epic. This is not to say that we should follow the roads and by-ways trodden by our classical forebears. Sholokhov has given us an emotionally convincing proof that progress in art is achieved by a writer's organic unity and kinship with his time. What we call the content of a work is inseparable from the totality of the author's ideas about the age in which he lives. When we take up a book by Sholokhov, we hold in our hands our own time with all its beliefs, ideas and human aspirations. He draws freely on all that is most valuable in the classical heritage, when it is not out of tune with the new life, but merges with it, multiplying the wealth of the literature of socialist realism.

This is the literature of which Mikhail Sholokhov is a past master.


For more on Sholkhov, visit:
107 Years of Sholokhov

Return to:

Address all correspondence to:

© 2012 All rights reserved.