Russian Émirgé Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky - edited by Bryan Karetnky. 2018
This can serve as an introduction to my forthcoming posts on Russian Émirgé writers in Paris.
Part of my participation in Paris in July 2021, hosted by Thyme for Tea will be drawn from this wonderful collection. Most of the stories were written by post Revolution emigrates to Paris not happy and often not safe in Soviet Russia. Some emigrates ended up in other major European cities and a few in Shanghai. Karetnky says most Russian Émigrés to Paris thought at first they would be going home once the Old system was restored. Almost no one ever returned. Most were at least upper class and many were former aristocrats. One must accept that their alliance with White Russian meant they blamed the Jews for the fall of the Czar. Karetnky says at the heights there were about 75,000 Russian Émigrés in Paris. There were many Russian publications writers could use, many Russian Cafes, Orthodox churches. It seems most Émigrés might have spoken French but lived out their lives in Russian parts of Paris.
Karetnky shares this
“Contrary to popular fancy, the Russian emigration was more than a parade of ballerinas, operatic basses, grand dukes, and would-be Anastasias … Thousands of Cossacks and soldiers from the defeated White armies imparted a military coloration. Politicians, journalists, lawyers, doctors, engineers, priests, professors, businessmen, and shopkeepers contributed a bourgeois flavor. Muzhiks fleeing famine added a peasant element, and a dash of Lumpenproletariat and criminal flotsam mingled with the general flow.”
There were novels written about the Émigré experiences in Paris but the short story was the most common form employed.
These remarks helped me see how Émigrés, many highly cultivated, saw themselves
“As the Russian communities abroad began to see their status as refugees turn into that of exiles, the attendant psychological and intellectual reorientation brought the question of the émigré community’s role in Europe into sharp relief. Harking back to the centuries-old notion of Russian messianism, the concept of the Russian ‘mission’ was given new impetus impetus by the older generation of artists and writers, most notably in a speech of 1924, ‘The Mission of the Russian Emigration’, given in Paris by the writer and future Nobel laureate Ivan Bunin. The notion came to be encapsulated in the popular aphorism: ‘We are not in exile, we are on a mission’ (my ne v izgnan´i, my v poslan´i).12 Thus many came to view the emigration’s purpose, at least initially, as one of preservation and transmission: the preservation of the ‘true’ Russian heritage – that is, its culture as it was prior to its rupture in 1917, and in stark opposition to the emerging Soviet one – and its transmission, not only to their own children growing up in emigration, but also to the wider world.”
In the past Paris in July Events I have posted on Yiddish writers and artists in Paris,
I thing I will close this post with a reference from a post I did on
"The Czarist Emigres" by Joseph Roth (first published September 23, 1926, included in Hotel Days Wanderings Between the Wars, Edited And translated by Michael Hoffman, 2015)
Roth was himself an emigrate in Paris, having left Austria just before the Nazis took over,
“ We were armed with the old literary formula reflexively applied for every transgression and excess: “the Russian soul”. Europe was familiar with music-hall Cossacks, the operatic excesses of Russian peasant weddings, Russian singers and their balalaikas. It never understood (not even after the Russians turned up on our doorstep) how French romanciers—the most conservative in the world—and sentimental Dostoyevsky readers had deformed the Russian to a kitschy figure compounded of divinity and bestiality, alcohol and philosophy, samovar cosiness and the barren steppes of Asia. ....
The longer the emigration went on, the more our Russians resembled the notion we had of them. They flattered us by assimilating themselves to it. Their feeling of playing a part maybe soothed their misery. They bore it more easily once it was appreciated as literature. The Russian count as Paris cabbie takes his fares straight into a storybook. His fate itself may be ghastly. But it is at least literary. The anonymous life of the émigrés became a public production. And then they began to make an exhibition of themselves. Hundreds of them founded theatres, choirs, dance groups, balalaika orchestras."
Bryan Karetnyk is a Wolfson Scholar at University College London. He has translated several major works by the émigré author Gaito Gazdanov, including The Spectre of Alexander Wolf (2013) and The Flight (2016), and is the editor and chief translator of the anthology Russian Émigré Short Stories from Bunin to Yanovsky (2017), which was shortlisted for the Read Russia Prize. He is at present preparing a translation of Yuri Felsen’s debut novel,