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Cultural mythologies of the silver age.

Tamara Kataeva, Anti-Akhmatova. 559 pp. Moscow: EvroINFO, 2007. ISBN-13 978-5875320705.

Galina Rylkova, The Archeology of Anxiety: The Russian Silver Age and Its Legacy. 270 pp. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007. ISBN-13 978-0822943167, $60.00 (cloth); 978-0822959816, $27.95 (paper).

Roman Timenchik, Anna Akhmatova v 1960-e gody (Anna Akhmatova in the 1960s). 782 pp. Moscow: Volodei; Toronto: University of Toronto, 2005. ISBN 5902312450, 0772780536.

In terms of culture, the perestroika years were marked by a jubilant rediscovery of late 19th- and early 20th-century Russian culture, the period that has come to be known--perhaps erroneously--as the "Silver Age." (1) With each new publication, Russian readers marveled at the brilliance of poets and novelists whose work had been hidden from them, who had been forced into silence by emigration or persecution. Editions of Osip Mandel'shtam, Nikolai Gumilev, and Boris Pasternak simply could not be printed quickly enough or in sufficient print runs. On the day it was supposed to appear in stores, the first substantial edition of Vladimir Solov'ev's philosophy sold briskly on the black market for ten times its cover price. Such enthusiasm even carried over to the normally prosaic United States, where a two-volume bilingual edition of Anna Akhmatova's complete poetry became a surprise bestseller.

Now mired in the Putin era, it is difficult to imagine how "high culture" could ever have created such excitement. Postcommunist Russia has proved to have the same priorities as the once reviled West. The very poets whose works were published (and sold!) in 40,000 copies are no longer even reprinted. Except for a small group of dedicated scholars and poets, no one seems to remember anything they wrote. True, their works now occupy a privileged place in the school curriculum, but that, as Pasternak said of Vladimir Maiakovskii's canonization under Stalin, represents their "second death." The idea that people would read serious poetry as a source of pleasure (or risk their lives to preserve it) is at this point as foreign to most Russians as it is to Americans. (2)

How did we get from there to here? This is the subject of Galina Rylkova's book, and an interesting subject it is. As her title implies, Rylkova's interest in the "Silver Age" is less aesthetic than archeological. Indeed, "anthropological" might be the most relevant term, since she focuses on the cultural mechanisms that decide what is meaningful in a given society. In her view, the natural development of any culture is along the lines of Harold Bloom's "anxiety of influence" or formalist conceptions of literary evolution. That is to say: great writers come to terms with the achievements of their predecessors by swerving away from them or attacking them directly. According to Rylkova, the Soviet Union distorted this norm by officially mandating aggression toward the previous generation. As the giants of prerevolutionary culture emigrated or died, the Soviet establishment conspired to see that their accomplishments disappeared with them. Even those who survived were marginalized to the point that--as far as the public was concerned--they ceased to exist while alive. (Roman Timenchik [21] cites a poem by an East German writer who visited the USSR in 1955, which consists only of a long list of contemporary Russian poets interrupted by the refrain "Und lebt die Achmatowa noch?" [And is Akhmatova still alive?]). The distinctiveness of the Soviet period, Rylkova contends, is that a process of forgetting and rediscovery that normally takes generations or centuries occurred in the space of two decades.

Such circumstances created an unusual cultural dynamic. Intellectual outsiders (whether marginalized participants or "dissidents") sought their models in those very writers whose works were accorded official oblivion (or censure). The survivors of persecution may have suffered official neglect or worse (stiff prison sentences, execution), yet they received a degree of unofficial adulation rarely accorded to any cultural figure. The works of the most unfortunate--those who had perished--came to be regarded ipso facto as a source of inexhaustible wisdom and depth, as the last testament of a martyr. Dissident writers saw themselves as faithful disciples, "bearers of cultural memory." Rather than engage in polemics, all "outsiders" had a tacit agreement not to criticize their fellow pariahs. (3)

This cult of the written word was something that always intrigued Western intellectuals, who looked--often with a certain envy--toward a country where the taxi drivers recited poetry and the straphangers held highbrow literary journals in their hands as they lurched from side to side on their endless commutes. However, clear-sighted foreign observers recognized this for what it was--a perverse reaction to a perverse reality. Russians did not possess a poetry gene that the rest of the world lacked; rather, in a country without freedom of expression, literature filled a void, and those willing to risk punishment while producing, preserving, or studying it could claim an aura of sanctity (and thereby expiate any number of other sins).

G. S. Smith, unique among Western scholars in that he has closely followed the development of Russian poetry in all its forms (emigre, dissident, official, post-Soviet) for decades, has railed against this wide-eyed belief in the sanctity of Russian poetic culture, arguing that hagiographies of poets lead to a distortion of their works. The "lines"--and not the "lives"--are what should interest us. (4) All three books under consideration here ignore Smith's injunction. Not that the authors in question necessarily disagree with him--they would probably accept the argument that the aesthetic value of a work of art depends little on the circumstances of the author's life. But the phenomenon of the "Silver Age" has become far broader than the writings it produced. For posterity, it would seem, the lives of the various poets loom far larger than the lines they penned.

Though Rylkova's book does contain sections of what might be termed traditional literary analysis (e.g., an interesting chapter on Vladimir Nabokov's reception of Mikhail Kuzmin as well as a reading of Viktor Erofeev's novel A Russian Beauty through the lens of literary tradition), this is clearly not where she sees her main contribution to scholarship. (5) Her focus is less on literary analysis than on various types of reception, be they biographical or broadly cultural. Thus, for example, Rylkova speaks much less about Blok's poetry than about the phenomenon of Aleksandr Blok (what she terms the "Blokian institution"). Blok's place, as she correctly notes, was unique among 20th-century poets in that he was beloved by the Soviet authorities, by poets persecuted by the Soviet regime, by dissidents, and by emigres. To his contemporaries, Blok represented the pinnacle of artistic achievement. To his successors, he was still greater: both a brilliant poet and an unswerving moral compass. (6) Today's readers--even the most well-intentioned--will find it hard to recognize either of these hypostases. Yes, Blok was certainly a talented poet, but large segments of his work are now virtually unreadable. And a dispassionate glance at his biography would hardly qualify him as a moral guide (quite the opposite, in fact). Yet this is precisely the point: no one read him (or his biography) dispassionately. Given this perspective, it comes as no surprise that Rylkova does not dwell on close poetic analysis. (7) More important for Rylkova than Blok's verse per se is its role as an impetus for future writers. She reads Doktor Zhivago in terms of Pasternak's own claim that it was "a substitute for an article about Blok," an attempt to make Blok understandable to a new generation. In her book, Rylkova considers an astonishingly wide range of material: from the personal archives of major Soviet scholars to the views of ignorant Western commentators, from the memoirs of insiders to the gossip of outsiders. In short, all artifacts are relevant to a cultural anthropologist, and Rylkova sees no reason to privilege any of them. (One may fairly ask whether this position is sound. There are many points where readers may wonder about the relevance of certain sources--for example, why cite the views of Akhmatova given by her recent American translator Nancy Andersen or their enthusiastic reception by the British intellectual historian Aileen Kelly?) (8)

One of the more mysterious aspects of Rylkova's book concerns its intended audience. Since the book is written in English and all quotes are translated, it would seem to be addressed to a reader unfamiliar with the details of Russian 20th-century culture. If so, this reader would probably need some help distinguishing Viacheslav Ivanov from Vsevelod Ivanov from Viacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov from Georgii Ivanov (or, for that matter, distinguishing Osip Mandel'shtam from Yuri Mandel'shtam). Rylkova herself knows, but she makes no effort to orient the neophyte. At other times Rylkova--a Russian university graduate who had not studied Russian literature seriously before emigration (vii)--invites speculation as to whether she herself is an "insider" or an "outsider." When she cites some fascinating internal reviews of the prestigious publishing series "Poet's Library," she either does not mention or does not entirely understand the context. In glossing Viktor Zhirmunskii's 1965 comment that Americans should not have a monopoly on Russia's great 20th-century writers, Rylkova notes that it is "highly unlikely that Zhirmunskii himself feared any American monopoly" (167). This is not obvious to me. Zhirmunskii was clearly referring to the multivolume scholarly editions of persecuted Russian writers prepared by emigre scholars Gleb Struve and Boris Filippov (for details, see Timenchik, 689-90). Funded by the CIA, this undertaking was an American propaganda success, and it surely annoyed a scholar like Zhirmunskii, who in his young years had been an enthusiastic eyewitness to the culture that his country stubbornly refused to reprint. Likewise, Rylkova's comments on D. E. Maksimov's "routine reports on his teaching of so-called foreign students" [sic!] (31) seem to show a lack of understanding of how the Soviet system worked. There is no contradiction whatsoever in a freethinking Soviet professor taking his pedagogical duties seriously, especially as concerned foreign students. (9)

The cover of Rylkova's book features a picture taken from a 1989 film in which (to quote the back cover) "the image of Anna Akhmatova dissolves into the image of Nikolai Gumilev." Without the context of the film, however, the dynamism is lost; the picture looks frozen. The relationship of this disturbing two-faced creature to more familiar images of the photogenic Akhmatova presumably corresponds to the effect that Rylkova wishes her book to have on the standard literary-historical views of the period. Given that Akhmatova plays a central role in the book proper (not only the cover) and is the single focus of the other two books under consideration, it makes sense to devote the remainder of our discussion to the treatment(s) she receives. These three approaches leave us with wholly different impressions.

Roman Timenchik has devoted decades of his distinguished academic career to Akhmatova's life and work, and this book is one of the fruits of those labors. As the title makes clear, his subject here is the final period of her life, which is for most scholars terra incognita. Timenchik seeks to illuminate both the writer and the broader milieu, and he does so with a staggering degree of detail. It seems that every memoir and every letter (whether published or archival) has been consulted, and every lead has been followed as far as it can go. The book is essentially a collection of such material (much of it fascinating), peppered with insightful comments on Akhmatova's poetics (e.g., the role of the fragment, of memory, of citation). What more could one ask for? A lot, actually. The book assumes a reader who already knows an immense amount about the period in question. Timenchik does not bother to fill in details that he considers obvious; in a list of 12 names, he will comment only on the 3 most obscure. But even the well-informed reader will have his work cut out for him. The book has almost no structure (it moves chronologically, though unhurriedly and with numerous "flashbacks") and thus no overarching goal. With the average sentence containing about three footnotes (all of which are paragraphs, if not pages, long), it is maddening to attempt to read each footnote where marked. By the time you finish the note, you return (midsentence) to the main text and can no longer remember the start of that sentence, let alone the broader context. Indeed, it is unclear how the book is best read: should one read the entire chapter, then the (much longer) "notes and excurses," or should one begin with the back matter and only then the chapter itself?. Given the loose structure of the whole, it is not even obvious that the chapters need be read in order. Such density of material cries out for authorial guidance, yet Timenchik remains silent, preferring to let the evidence speak for itself. For example, he cites in full the laconic yet fascinating protocol of Akhmatova's 1957 interview with the KGB, in which she was asked to comment on numerous contemporaries (apparently to say "good things" about them [388] and thus rehabilitate them). Her response to the name Marina Tsvetaeva--"Tsetaeva kharakterizuetsia vpolne khoroshei poetessoi" (Tsvetaeva is characterized as quite a good poetess [49])--certainly makes one wonder about the larger question of her relationship to the other great female poet of her epoch. Timenchik never directly addresses that question (just as Akhmatova did not, cf. 223).

A more troubling issue that Timenchik barely considers is methodological. Given his frequent reliance on memoirs, it is odd that he questions the trustworthiness of his sources only in the most extreme cases. A large percentage of the memoir literature he cites was published after 1989, when most of the people involved were no longer alive to contest the claims. Even if we assume that witnesses were attempting to set down precisely what they saw (and this itself cannot be taken for granted), there is always the question of the fallibility of memory. (10) Finally, one wonders about the principles of selection that guided Timenchik. While he occasionally cites negative evaluations of Akhmatova's work (e.g., the reactions of Artur Lur'e and Vladimir Markov to the poem "Requiem" [621-22]), he rarely includes any criticisms of her person. This book is always respectful, at times verging on hagiographical. It is hardly surprising that the book ends by pointing out that the last word Akhmatova ever penned was "martyr" (284).

Those put off by Timenchik's tone and approach can always turn to its polar opposite: Tamara Kataeva's Anti-Akhmatova. The main question raised by this book is why anyone would invest so much energy on someone she so detests. There may well be reasons to have a critical attitude toward Akhmatova, but Kataeva's book is pure character assassination, not scholarship. She is smug, aggressively ignorant, and not even original. (11) The book consists of citations from memoir literature (which, it must be admitted, has been read closely, though hardly dispassionately) followed by catty "interpretive" commentary. It contains no footnotes and no index; if it had an index, the reader could easily count how often Kataeva repeats the same anecdotes and commentary (in certain cases as many as ten times). The bibliography does not extend beyond memoir literature about Akhmatova. There is no evidence that Kataeva has been trained as a literary scholar or has ever read any scholarly literature. (12)

If Timenchik's goal is to provide context but avoid judgment, Kataeva prefers to judge without offering (or knowing) context. In her view, Akhmatova was a total fraud, a lazy nonentity whom no one ever took seriously, but who somehow succeeded in creating an image of herself as a great poet. Kataeva only rarely cites Akhmatova's poetry (and then only for banal reasons, as she admits rather late in the game: "analysis of her creative work is not among my tasks" [471]), so it would be pointless to challenge her on the basis of poetic texts. However, it is hard to ignore (though she manages!) the testimony of poets from Kuzmin to Mandel'shtam to Tsvetaeva to see that--whether rightly or wrongly--Akhmatova really was considered a major poet by her contemporaries.

Kataeva's second "insight" is that Akhmatova carefully created an image of herself for posterity. Much of her meandering book is devoted to proving this (obvious) point. Curiously, Kataeva seems to think that every poet except Akhmatova behaves "normally" and gives no thought to his/her self-presentation. But not only was Akhmatova preceded by the Symbolists, whose theories of life creation inspired all sorts of bizarre antics, but she was followed by Joseph Brodsky, a poet who guarded his image far more judiciously than Akhmatova, who (like Akhmatova) left reams of "interviews" that he encouraged and steered, and who (unlike Akhmatova) was so worried about inner contradictions that he forbade any of his correspondence from ever being published. Yet Brodsky is for Kataeva the gold standard for honesty and poetic greatness, whereas Akhmatova represents everything petty and poetically worthless. (According to Kataeva, Brodsky's only blind spot is that he invariably wrote positively about Akhmatova. However, Kataeva assures us that he really didn't mean it [469-70].)

Kataeva takes Akhmatova to task for an amazing range of sins. Most are so petty as to be laughable: for example, "excessive heterosexuality" (262), vodka drinking (253), hypochondria (219), the writing of "dedicatory inscriptions" in other writers' books (167). But others are outrageous; Kataeva intimates that Akhmatova spied on her friends for the KGB (104) and accuses her outright of complicity in the death of Marina Tsvetaeva's son Mur ("She killed him as if with her own hands" [413]). More broadly, she argues that Akhmatova always received deferential (and usually preferential) treatment from the Soviet authorities, and that any claims to the contrary can be traced to Akhmatova's own mythmaking. Indeed, she insists that Andrei Zhdanov's famous attack of 1946 barely concerned Akhmatova and had no serious consequences for her (or, for that matter, for Mikhail Zoshchenko). It is no wonder that Kataeva's publisher--apparently happy to reap the profits from her "revisionist" work--includes a disclaimer on the title page: "This book is published in the author's redaction, and the publisher bears no responsibility for the facts and commentary contained within."

While many of Kataeva's points are ridiculous, she is not wholly wrong. It is definitely worth examining the inconsistencies of Akhmatova's claims and the way her own version of stories tended to be repeated as fact by those who heard them. It would be interesting (and eye-opening) to write a biography of Akhmatova that used only sources that Akhmatova could not have influenced. Kataeva's rare good points, however, are lost in a morass of pointless accusations. Her monomaniacal determination to discredit Akhmatova's every utterance leads her to countless errors and contradictions. For example, she notes that Lev Gumilev (Akhmatova's son) has been demonized in the memoir literature. She argues--not without cause--that Gumilev's criticisms of his mother may be just. (Of course, this would hardly make Akhmatova the only bad parent among Russian poets--Tsvetaeva and Brodsky would have nothing to brag about here. But Kataeva is interested in defaming only Akhmatova.)

Let us look at two passages that reveal how Kataeva's prejudices undercut her message. In regard to Modigliani (whose relationship with Akhmatova was, according to Kataeva, insignificant and completely blown out of proportion by the poet herself), she cites a passage where Akhmatova recalls seeing him for the first time and thinking.... What an interesting Jew [evrei]." The suddenly prim and politically correct Kataeva cannot restrain herself and makes the following comment: "Insofar as Modigliani really was a Jew, Anna Andreevna displays a phenotypical observation not very laudable in decent society" (272). In other words, Kataeva suggests that Akhmatova's comment verges on antisemitism. (Curiously, nowhere else in the entire 500-page tome does Kataeva find any evidence of Akhmatova's antisemitism or, for that matter, of any sort of racism. Given the thoroughness with which Kataeva has combed the memoir literature for compromising material, one can only conclude that Akhmatova never uttered such views, making her almost unique among Russian writers of her generation.) However, in a passage from Mikhail Davidovich El'zon's memoirs cited to show Lev Gumilev's suffering (and Akhmatova's insensitivity to it), we read: "We're sitting around the kitchen table. Tears flow from Lev Nikolaevich [Gumilev's] eyes. Mikhail Davidovich, it's not my fault that all the interrogations of my father and me were done by Jews and that they beat me very painfully" (144). This obvious antisemitism begs for some sort of commentary (whether "in decent society" or not), yet Kataeva appears not to notice it. After all, this statement was made not by the evil Akhmatova but by her martyr son. So certain is Kataeva about Akhmatova's disregard for her son that she even assumes that her compliments are insults. When Akhmatova regrets to a friend that, had Lev had lived abroad, "he would have worked on archeological digs with Rostovtsev," Kataeva takes this to be a sign of disrespect, asking: "Is this the full extent of her dreams or the full extent that she establishes for him?" (145). Unbeknownst to Kataeva, the archeologist Mikhail Rostovtsev was a worldrenowned authority on antiquity, probably the greatest academic success story of the Russian emigration. (13) Kataeva has read little beyond the memoir literature about Akhmatova (among the few other works is the autobiography of Agatha Christie, which she cites repeatedly); in any case, she clearly felt no need to google the name Rostovtsev to understand Akhmatova's remark.

Rylkova's approach to Akhmatova is far more nuanced than Kataeva and far more interpretive than Timenchik. Her purview extends beyond the Russian context--for example, when she applies to Akhmatova the well-known dictum of Virginia Woolf about the need for a (woman) writer to have her own room or when she compares Akhmatova's years of silence to those of Jane Austen. It remains unclear, however, how much mileage one gets out of such comparisons. In the first case, Rylkova sensibly points out that Woolf's claim does not apply to Soviet Russian conditions, and in the second the comparison is so strained that one wonders whether it was worth the effort. (Later it is complemented by an equally odd excursus [160-61] based on the views of the psychologist Otto Rank about the need to "pace oneself.") Still, Rylkova at least makes an effort to understand Akhmatova's often uncharitable comments about her contemporaries as "a unique form [of] her anxiety of influence" (97) and her attacks on other writers as being limited to those "whose works were particularly important for her own development" (99). Both of these statements, as well as the larger claim that Akhmatova "reconfigur[ed] poets' relationships ... based on the idea of one extended, yet close-knit family, with every poetic influence being accounted for by marriage, friendship, sympathy, or extramarital affairs"--are thought-provoking and worth further investigation. In the context of Rylkova's book (i.e., without close textual analysis), however, they necessarily remain on the level of hypotheses.

Perhaps the main complaint one might have about Rylkova's approach is that her attempt to grasp such a broad and elusive subject results in a lack of focus. Rylkova is an intelligent and well-informed observer, but her methodology forces her to see the world in a grain of sand, and not all grains are equally revealing. In her readings of Akhmatova, she frequently invests minor episodes or details of everyday existence with an almost epochal significance. For example, Akhmatova was always incensed by the pseudo-memoirs of Georgii Ivanov, once comparing his image of her to Franz Kafka's The Trial. Rather than simply writing this off as an exaggeration or the result of a persecution complex, Rylkova tells us all sorts of ancillary information about Kafka (he died of tuberculosis, "a disease Akhmatova was familiar with" [165]) and seems to think that this helps us to plumb the depths of her psyche. Likewise, she takes a few of the myriad anecdotes from the memoir literature and interprets them in complicated ways that invite skepticism. On one of the frequent visits from her poorly informed British biographer Amanda Haight (whose name Rylkova repeatedly gives as "Height," perhaps a spell-check overcorrection), Akhmatova instructed her friend and amanuensis Lidiia Chukovskaia to tell her about the Stalinist terror while she herself took a nap. After Chukovskaia did so, Akhmatova woke up and began joking. Rylkova takes this scene to be a subtle variation on Pushkin's drama The Stone Guest, "staged for Height's [sic] benefit" (170). To begin with, this interpretation sounds suspiciously like Alexander Zholkovsky's reading of a different Akhmatova "performance," which he understands as a reworking of another "little tragedy" of Pushkin, Mozart and Salieri. (14) But ultimately I suspect that, in Rylkova's example, the explanation is much simpler. Despite Akhmatova's fanatic concern with having a Westerner write her "correct" biography for posterity, she had no desire to explain broad historical context to her ignorant admirer. (15) Any intelligent Russian could do that, and she was happy to delegate this task to a friend. That she then woke up and began to tell jokes need not be interpreted as some sort of comic resurrection undertaken for an audience who surely would not have appreciated the subtext. The whole thing could just as easily be explained prosaically: perhaps this old woman had genuinely been tired and woke up revivified after a nap. Sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.

For those who did not experience it firsthand, the Soviet Union seems as distant as ancient Greece. In his introduction, Timenchik speaks of himself and his generation of scholars as the last "native speakers of the Soviet epoch," who understood the "rhetoric of its lies, the semantics of hints and circumlocutions, the uncontrollable subtexts" (10). Timenchik's erudition is beyond question, but the extent to which his book unravels these hints for future readers is open to debate. It did not have much of an effect on Kataeva, who cites it in its rare demythologizing moments (e.g., Akhmatova's hopes for a Nobel Prize, which were prompted by nothing more than a capricious comment of a visiting Scandinavian Slavist) but generally uses the yardstick of her own post-Soviet world to judge her subject. Rylkova's book is uneven and sometimes puzzling, but at its best it offers a refreshingly new approach to the subject and a convincing explanation as to why the Silver Age and its legacy may ultimately have little to do with each other.

Dept. of Slavic Languages and Literatures

225 East Pyne

Princeton University

Princeton, NJ 08544 USA

(1) On the history of this "misnomer," see Omry Ronen, The Fallacy of the Silver Age in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997). One of Ronen's main points (which comes across more clearly in the Russian title than in the original English) is that the "Silver Age" is a retrospective construct. Ronen investigates the term on the basis of literary texts and scholarly essays. Rylkova extends the purview far beyond the literary, though she does note (5) an essential source that Ronen appears to have overlooked.

(2) On these developments, see Andrew Baruch Wachtel, Remaining Relevant after Communism: The Role of the Writer in Eastern Europe (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).

(3) Rylkova shows little interest in the tendency of recent scholarship to show that the line between innocent victim and mendacious collaborator was rarely clear. See, for example, Katharine Hodgson, Voicing the Soviet Experience: The Poetry of Ol'ga Berggol'ts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). This point comes out repeatedly (if indirectly) in Timenchik's book, since Akhmatova of necessity interacted with numerous figures of the Soviet literary establishment.

(4) G. S. Smith, "Russian Poetry: The Lives or the Lines?" Modern Language Review 95, 4 (2000): xxix-xli.

(5) Indeed, Rylkova (109) appears to excuse her "literary" approach to Nabokov, explaining that it is necessitated by the lack of nonliterary documentation about him. "Unlike Akhmatova and Pasternak, who inspired several volumes of memoirs, Nabokov succeeded in maintaining a reclusive life even during his later years, when he became an international celebrity. His literary texts, therefore, are the most reliable testaments to his intricate bonds with his predecessors and contemporaries."

(6) When the scholar Zara Mints sent a copy of her lectures on Blok to colleagues in Czechoslovakia after the Prague spring, it was apparently viewed as an act of political courage and support. (See Rylkova, 31-32.)

(7) It is characteristic that among the few texts cited in Russian (212), the final stanza of one poem somehow migrated into the initial stanza of another, an error that is corrected in the English translation!

(8) Kelly wholeheartedly accepts the hagiographical view of Akhmatova's life put forth by Andersen, dismissing the cogent criticisms of Alexander Zholkovsky as "rooted in a postmodern intellectual culture" and thus out of touch with the real state of affairs (Aileen Kelly, "A Great Russian Prophet," New York Review of Books 52, 17: 66.

(9) As to the claim that "this was not how Maksimov came to be remembered" (31)--it depends on who is doing the remembering.

(10) For an excellent example of how later retellings can "alter" an event, see N. A. Bogomolov, Viacheslav Ivanov v 1903-1907 godakh: Dokumental' nye khroniki (Moscow: Intrada, 2009), 96-101.

(11) The central issues have been raised with much more subtlety (and brevity) by Alexander Zholkovsky. See his essay "The Obverse of Stalinism: Akhmatova's Self-Serving Charisma of Selflessness," in Self and Story in Russian History, ed. Laura Engelstein and Stephanie Sandier (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 46-68; and his review article "Anna Akhmatova: Scripts, Not Scriptures," Slavic and East European Journal 40, 1 (1996): 135-41.

(12) To give but one amusing and revealing example: Kataeva is unaware that there is a series of books about major 20th-century writers called "Pro et contra." As a result, when discussing the volume Anna Akhmatava: Pro et cantra, she interprets the subtitle as a "bad sign" that compromises Akhmatova's credibility (464).

(13) On Rostovtsev's American academic career as Michael Rostovtzeff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Yale, see Marinus A. Wes, Michael Rostovtzeff, Historian in Exile: Russian Roots in an American Context (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1990); and G. M. Bongard-Levin, ed., Skifikii roman (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1997).

(14) Zholkovsky, "Obverse of Stalinism," 60-61. This is probably an example of critical "anxiety of influence." Rylkova (158) praises Zholkovsky's work but distances her own approach from his.

(15) The special role that Western visitors (usually Slavists) played in the mythmaking process is an important subject that is treated to some extent in all the books under consideration and merits a more systematic analysis. See, for example, Clarence Brown's evaluation of Nadezhda Mandel' shtam's attitude toward him: "She treated me always with the slightly irritated kindness of one charged with the care of a not terribly bright grandson. But I was what God had sent, and she seemed, in the end, grateful for small favors" ("Memories of Nadezhda," Russian Review 61, 4 (2002): 485-88, here 485.
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Title Annotation:Review Forum: Perspective on Anna Akhmatova
Author:Wachtel, Michael
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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