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Vera (Fëdorovna) Panova (1905-1973)


Soviet writer and journalist, who followed in her works socialist realism quite faithfully, and empasized kindness and sympathy between people. Vera Panova won three State Prizes and her book were published in more than 50 languages. Several of her best stories were devoted to children and explored the problems of moral upbringing.

"While you're still a kid, you can't imagine what a man's life is like. You think when your Dad's done his seven or eight hours he's finished for the day. Apart from a bit of voluntary work he may have to do, of course, or a meeting. But when you begin to grow up and go on your own, to the left and right of the gate, the you see what a mass of different things men have to occupy their time. Take the motor cyclists, for instance, taking their driving tests every day in Stable Square. There's the examiner, a lieutenant of the militia, watching someone doing figures of eight on his motorbike. And there's a a regular crowd of men, young and old, standing round. Rooted to the spot they are, won't move an inch. Just stand there looking on, criticizing." (in 'The Boys at the Cafe', An Anthology of Soviet Short Stories, translated by Robert Daglish, 1976)

Vera Panova was born in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. Her father, who was a bank clerk, drowned in a boating accident when she was only six years old. Panova's mother worked as a bookkeeper. When still a child, Panova was forced to go to work in a laundry and she could not continue her education at the gymnasium school.

Panova had started to write poetry and prose at early age, and in 1922 she joined the staff of a small local newspaper, Trudovoi Don. She also worked as a correspondent for other newspapers, writing mostly book reviews, and on publications for children. Under the pseudonym "Vera Veltman" she published humorous pieces and sketches.

In 1937 Panova left Rostov with her family and settled in Ukraine. In 1933 she began to write plays, but, by her own admission, did not succeed well. Her first play, Vesna, was produced by B. Fatilevich in the Theater of Drama of Rostov-on-the-Don. Il'ia Kosogor (1939) showed the influence of Gorky. By the beginning of World War II, she lived in the town of Pushkin. When the town fell to the Nazis, she was due to be deported to a German concentration camp. However, she managed to escape and returned to Ukraine.

After the liberation of Ukraine, she moved to the city of Perm in the Urals where she worked for local newspaper and radio. Panova' play, Devochi (1945), won a Committee on the Arts award as the best play for young people on a contemporary theme.

During the war years Panova began writing the factory novel Kruzhilikha (1947), set in a factory town in the Urals. Often her characters were not only good or bad citizens, and in the portrayal of Listopad, an egocentric, she showed her skills in created a likeable "negative hero". In 1944 she was invited to travel from Perm on board a hospital train. Her journey formed the basis for the popular novel Sputniki (1946, The Train), which won a Stalin Prize. Later on it was adapted into screen under the title The Charity Train and in 1975 it was turned into a four-part television film. The plotless story, written as a direct assignment from the Union of Soviet Writers, was composed of series of episodes, and depicted human relationships and suffering under war conditions.

Despite criticism she won a second prize for Kruzhilikha, and her third Stalin Prize was awarded for Yasny bereg (1949). From the early 1950 Panova wrote regularly for the journal Novyi mir. Sentimentalnyi Roman (1958) was largely autobiographical work and reflected some of her experiences as a young reporter. This story was adapted to screen by Igor Maslennikov in the 1970s. Serezha (1955, Time Walked / A Summer to Remember) marked the beginning of a new cycle of stories about children. It was a psychological novella, seen through the eyes of a small boy, whose life changes when his widowed mother marries a collective farm director, a kind and understanding man. Serezha was turned into a film in 1960, which received the main prize at the 12th Internatinal Film Festival in Karlovy Vary.

"Panova was essentially a Party writer, whose books were considered (on the whole) ideologically sound. Against a generally mediocre socialist realist background, however, she was noted for her vivid descriptions of real-life situations. Furthermore, the reader could identify with her characters who were not portrayed in purely black-and-white terms as either heroes or villains... Her style was warm and vivid and, for an ordinary Soviet reader brought up on stodgy ideologically sound prose, her books represented in comparative terms a "good read"."(Anna Pilkington in Reference Guide to Russian Literature, ed. Neil Cornwell, 1998)

Panova managed find room for her literary creativity and her liberal views under the pressure of the censorship and the constraints of Socialist Realism. Though she wrote about women's lives, her perspective was not strictly feminist; the term "woman writer" had in Soviet society negative connotations dating from prerevolutionary times. Focus on domestic issues and the private sphere without ideological content was regarded as a serious drawback by censors and critics. Panova's later works include Vremena goda (1954), which was attacked at the Leningrad Writers Conference and in the press. Vsevolod Kochetov, a minor novelist, criticized Panova's work for its "naturalism" and lack of "Party spirit". "Naturalism can entertain, astound, arouse emotion, but it cannot make profound and true social and artistic generalizations," said Kochetov in Pravda. The story depicted everyday life in the Soviet Union. Dorofeya, an ambitious party official, whose son Gennadi gets involved with hooligans. Another central character is Bortashevich, a top-level Communist bureaucrat and a scoundrel. Panova boldly implied a parallel between criminal elements and corruption: Gennadi and Bortashevich are victims of social their social and personal circumstances. The book was an immediated success with the reading public and was also well received in England and the United States. It is considered the first novel that signaled the "thaw", of hopes change in the Stalinist cultural policy, but it was Ilya Ehrenburg's novelette The Thaw that gave its name to the “de-Stalinization” era of the late 50's.

A Leningrad writer Kiril Koscinski characterized Panova as straightforward and sharp in her evaluation of the authorities. On the other hand, she participated with a number of other decent writers in the campaing against Boris Pasternak, regarding the publication of Doctor Zhivago abroad as a provocation against the Soviet intelligentsia. In the 1960s Panova travelled in the United States as a part of a delegation of Soviet authors and described her impressions in From My American Encounter. Panova also published plays, film scenarios, memoirs O Moei Zhizni, Knigakh i Chitateliakh (1975), and some historical novellas about Russian princes and saints. In 1967 she suffered a serious stroke. Vera Panova died in Leningrad on March 3, 1973. She was married three times: Arsenii Starosel'skii (1925, divorced in 1927), Boris Vakhtin (separated), David Iakovlevich (from 1945).

For further reading: V mire geroev Very Panovoi by S. Fradkina (1961); Tvorchestvo Very Panovoi by L.A. Plotkin (1962); Women in Soviet Fiction by Xenia Gasiorowska (1968); World Authors 1950-1970, ed. John Wakeman (1975); Soviet Russian Literature since Stalin by Deming Brown (1978); Vera Panova by A. Ninov (1980); Vera Panova: stranitsy zhizni: k biografii pisatel'nitsy by Serafina Iur'eva (1993); Women's Literature, ed. Claire Buck (1992); Reference Guide to Russian Literature, ed. Neil Cornwell (1998)

Selected works:

  • Sputniki, 1946 (publ. in Znamia)
    - The Train (translated by Eve Manning and Marie Budberg, 1948) / Sputniki = The Traveling Companions (selected and edited by Galina Stilman, 1965)
    - Matkatoverit (suom. Juhani Konkka, 1951)
  • Kruzhilikha, 1947
    - The Factory (translated by Marie Budberg, 1949) / Looking Ahead (translated by David Skvirsky, 1955)
  • Yasny Bereg, 1949 [The Bright Shore]
    - Selkeä ranta (suom. Tyyne Perttu, 1951)
  • Vremena Goda, 1953
    - Span of the Year (translated by Vera Traill, 1957)
    - Vuodenajat (suom. Juhani Konkka, 1954)
  • Seryozha (in Novyi Mir), 1955
    - Time Walked (tr. 1959, reissued in 1962 as A Summer to Remember / Serezha (in Fifty Years of Russian Prose: From Pasternak To Solzhenitsyn, edited by Krystyna Pomorska, 1971) / Seryozha: A Few Histories from the Life of a Very Small Boy (translated by V. Korotky, 1974)
    - Pikku mies: kertomuksia pienen pojan elämästä (suom. Tyyne Perttu, 1957) / Serjoža (suom. Juhani Konkka, 1958)
  • V staroi Moskve, 1957 (play, publ. in Neva)
  • Metelitsa, 1957 (play, publ. in Priboi)
  • Sentimental'nyi roman, 1958 (in Novyi Mir)
    - Romanssi (suom. Juhani Konkka, 1959)
  • Evdokia, 1959 (in Leningradskii al'manakh)
    - Yevdokia (translated by Julius Katzer, 1960)
    - Naisen sydän (suom. Vieno Levänen, 1963)
  • Valya, 1959 (in Oktiabr')
    - Valya (tr. 1964)
  • Volodya, 1959 (in Oktioabr')
  • Seryozha, 1960 (screenplay, with Georgi Daneliya & Igor Talankin, prod. Mosfilm, dir. Georgi Daneliya & Igor Talankin, starring Borya Barkhatov, Sergey Bondarchuk, Irina Skobtseva)
  • Provody belych nocej, 1961 (play, publ. in Novyi Mir)
  • Skolko let, skolko zim!, 1961 (play, publ. in Novyi Mir)
    - It's Been Ages (translated by F.D. Reeve, in Contemporary Russian Drama, 1968)
  • Kak pozhivaesh, paren?, 1962 (play, publ. in Teatr)
  • On Faraway Street, 1968
  • Rabochii poselok, 1964 (in Novyi Mir)
  • Rano utrom: povesti, 1964
  • Sasha, 1964 (in Novyi Mir)
  • Eshche ne vecher, 1967 (play, publ. in Zvezda vostoka)
  • Nadezhda Milovanova, 1967 (play, publ. in Zvezda vostoka)
  • Trediakovskii i Volynskii, 1968 (play, publ. in Neva)
  • Liki na zare: istoricheskie povesti, 1969
  • Sobranie sochinenii, 1969-70 (5 vols.)
  • Iz zapisnikov pamiati, 1971 (a memoir; publ. in Neva)
  • Zametki literatura, 1972
  • Izbrannoe, 1972
  • Svadba kak Svadba, 1973 (play, publ. in Teatr)
  • O moeĭ zhizni, knigakh i chitateli͡akh, 1975
  • Selected Works, 1975 (translated by Olga Shartse and Eve Manning)
  • 'The Boys at the Cafe', 1976 (in An Anthology of Soviet Short Stories)
  • Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 1980 (2 vols.)
  • Kotoryi chas: roman-skazka, 1981 (in Novyi Mir)
  • P'esy, 1985
  • Zhiznʹ Mukhammeda, 1990

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