from 107 Years of Sholokhov, a SovLit.net celebration in honor of|
M.A. Sholokhov's 107th Birthday,
24 May 2012.
It (The Quiet Don) was immediately an enormous success. We all read it at the
time. It reached a very wide public. This was true all over the
West. It seemed to many of us not only the first great novel
written in the Soviet time, but a great novel by any standard.
Many years later, it still seems so.
C.P. Snow & M.A. Sholokhov
The critical reception was as near unqualified warmth as a
modern novel can achieve.
It isn't for a foreigner to make predictions about which Russian works are going to be permanent classics, but my ghost will
be restless unless this is one.
Tikhy Don (The Quiet Don) is a great novel, but under the lucid brilliant surface
a mysterious and difficult one. On the surface it speaks of the
bafflement of ordinary men--passionate men of flesh and bone--living in a particular time in history, a particular tempest of the
world. If that were all, however, it wouldn't be read by young
foreigners today, to whom that tempest, if they know about it at
all, is a passage in their history book.
But under the surface of Tikhy Don there is a subjective passionate sense of life. A tragic sense of life. I have written that deliberately. Sometimes, as we say, an outsider sees most of the
game. The superb end of the work, one of the starkest in literature, is an acceptance of death. Almost all the people who lived
their lives through the long narrative are now dead. Death is the
certainty with which there is no arguing. Gregor Melekhov is
himself dying. The wonderful animal vitality is no good to any of
them. Melekhov's only remaining link with life is with his infant
son. This is his only hold on the future. He can hope that the
child will have a better life in a better world. For himself, the
This is very much harsher than, for instance, the end of War
and Peace or Karamazov. Only a writer of stern regard for the truth would have finished so. It leaves us, curiously enough, on a note
of something like exaltation.
That final volume was published in 1940 when Sholokhov was
thirty-five and was acclaimed and read as the first part had
been. He had, we have to remember, been world famous within
months of the first part appearing. That is unusual, but not unprecedented. In the West, there are several comparable cases.
The best known, perhaps, is Dickens, who was twenty-three
when he began serializing the Pickwick Papers, even younger than
Sholokhov in 1930, and became a national figure in England
within weeks. Some writers seem to be born ready-made, so to
speak, and have only to grow up to say what they have to say.
Writers mature at different ages, and those less lucky envy the
few who have gained great success when young.
May I put in a personal note? I suppose I am one of the comparatively few Westerners who can claim Sholokhov's acquaintance. He has called at my house on each of his visits to England. He sat at my bedside, cheering me up while I was waiting to go into hospital for an eye operation. I had the pleasure of seeing
him receive an Honorary Degree from one of our oldest universities. He was the first Russian writer, we think, to be recognized in that way since Turgenev. In turn I have met Sholokhov
frequently in the Soviet Union, and have enjoyed his open-handed hospitality at Veshenskaya, down on the Don. It was magical to spend summer days in that countryside, when one had read Tikhy Don so many years before.
(From the Anglo-Soviet Journal, December 1975).
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