Mikhail Mikhailovich Zoschenko (1894 - 1958)

Mikhail Mikhaylovich Zoschenko is a first-rate Soviet satirist. Talented in a unique way he became a true people’s writer in pre-revolutionary Russia of the 1920-1930s. V.Shklovsky witnessed: «Zoschenko is read in bars. In trams. His stories are retold on the upper births of second-class carriages. They gave his stories out to be real accidents».

Zoschenko’s formation as a writer began with critical experience at the studio of K.Chukovsky attached to «Vsemirnaya Literatura» Publishing House (1919), with attending classes of Petrograd Unrestricted Philosophical Association («Volphily»). Soon he entered a literature group «Serapionis Brothers» (1921) together with young writers K.Fedin, N.Tikhonov, V.Ivanov, V.Kaverin, M.Slonimsky, N.Nikitin and others.

The first books by Zoschenko – «Rasskazy Nazara Ilyicha Gospodina Sinebryukhova» (1922), «Veselaya Zhizn’» (1924), «Uvazhaemye Grazhdane» (1926) and others had already shown the writer’s orientation on the traditions of Gogol, Leskov and Chekhov. A satiric mask chosen by the writer was notable for desirable constancy fixing the image of an easily recognizable «Zoschenko’s character» in his readers’ memory. The writer’s ingenuity in «the word comicality» (V.Shklovsky) was correctly taken by readers as a sign of originality of his talent.

Besides short stories Zoschenko wrote a series of «sentimental tales» in the 1920s: «Koza» (1922), «Apollon i Tamara» (1923), «Strashnaya Noch’» (1924), «O Chem Pel Solovey» (1925) and others. They represented in a parody manner the specific interpretation of famous works by Gogol and Dostoevsky about a «little man» whose essence came from Zoschenko’s pen in more farcical than a tragic way.

In the 1930s Zoschenko showed himself in a new and rather unexpected image. He changes writing short and funny stories for large and «serious» books: «Vozvraschennaya Molodost’» (1933), «Golubaya Kniga» (1935). In these works the writer was concerned with the problems of happiness, longevity, human’s physical and psychological health, morals, history of culture of different times and nations. In that period Zoschenko adverted to writing historic tales («Cherny Prints», «Vozmezdie», «Taras Shevchenko» and others), which, nevertheless, did not do any favour to his writer’s fame. His experience in the genre of children’s story turned out to be more successful, i.e., in a series «Lelya and Minka» (1939) that was gauged by S.Marshak as «something original and new».

Zoschenko’s creational search of the 1930s embraced dramatic art as well, i.e., comedies «Uvazhaemy Tovarisch», «Opasnye Svyazi», «Parusinovy Portfel’», one-act plays «Kulturnoe Nasledstvo», «Prestupleniye i Nakazanie», «Svadba» and others.

During the World War II Zoschenko worked on a play «Pered Voskhodom Solntsa», in which he was trying to interpret his life, introducing the idea of the essential «intellectual control on lower forces». The party press considered the first part of the tale published in 1943 far from modern life, absolutely inappropriate and even offensive for the nation in war. The book was printed completely only in 1972 sub voce «Povest o Razume».

After all Zoschenko’s extraordinary popularity could not save him from slashing criticism that he was subjected to (along with A.Akhmatova) in the resolution of the Communist Party Central Committee of 1946 «About ‘Zvezda’ and ‘Leningrad’». All-nation recognition and love to the writer was followed with official disgrace, pain, bitterness and humiliation, which he had to go through.

Post-war years were the hardest for Zoschenko. Nevertheless his creational work continued. In the second half of the 1940s he wrote a series of short stories about partisans (some of them appeared in 1947 in a magazine «Novy Mir»), did translating job and most of all devoted himself to dramatic art. Such plays as «Ochen Priyatno» (1945), «Pust Neudachnik Plachet» (1946), «Za Barkhatnym Zanavesom» (1948), «Delo o Razvode» (1951) came out of his pen. Together with I.Gruzdev he created a play «Pervye Shagi, ili O tom, kak Gorky Stal Pisatelem» (1954). Some of the plays in question were published not long ago.

Pushkinsky Dom disposes a large archive of M.M.Zoschenko. The writer’s widow Vera Vladimirovna (1899-1981) figured prominently in its collecting having managed to preserve carefully various documents, reflecting all the stages of his life and creational activity. She donated the manuscripts of a number of original works and translations, an essential part of prose collections, literary and critical articles, notebooks, correspondence and memoirs by Zoschenko. Afterwards his son Valery Mikhaylovich (1921-1986) presented numerous personal materials of V.V.Zoschenko (diaries, articles, notebooks, mail, photo albums, etc.) containing valuable information on the writer’s life and works.

Except purely creational materials, Zoschenko’s archive holds shorthand reports of discussions about his books, articles, reviews, contemporaries’ opinions about him, readers’ letters, and authentic official documents important for studying of Zoschenko’s biography. In the library there is the first edition in Zoschenko’s lifetime of his Complete Works in six volumes with a donating sign of the writer to Pushkinsky Dom.

A conceivable part of Zoschenko’s archive was published in the serial edition of Pushkinsky Dom «Mikhail Zoschenko. Materialy k Tvorcheskoy Biografii» («Materials to Creational Biography», volumes 1-3, 1997-2002).

V.P. Muromsky