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Mikhail (Aleksandrovich) Sholokhov (1905-1984) - born May 11, 1905 (May 24, New Style)


Russian writer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965. Sholokhov's best-known work is the novel And Quiet Flows the Don (1928-40), the finest realist novel about the Revolution. While Leo Tolstoi's novel War and Peace (1863-69) showed how the Napoleonic campaigns united Russians, Sholokhov's great Don epic portrayed the destruction of the old system, and the birth of a new society. After this magnificent work, Sholokhov's career as a writer started to go down and reached its bottom with the novella 'The Fate of a Man' (1956-57). It is among the least impressive works produced by a Nobel writer, along with Hemingway's posthumously published book True at First Light (1999).
"It was the first really warm days of the year. But it was good to sit there alone, abandoning myself completely to the stillness and solitude, to take off my old army cap and let the the breeze dry my hair after heavy work of rowing, and to stare idly at the white big-breasted clouds floating in the faded blue." (in 'The Fate of a Man')

Mikhail Sholokhov was born in the Kruzhlinin hamlet, part of stanitsa Veshenskaya, former Region of the Don Cossack Army. His father was a Russian of the lower middle class. He had many occupations, including farming, cattle trading, and milling. Sholokhov's illiterate mother came from an Ukrainian peasant stock and was the widow of a Cossack. She learned to read and write in order to correspond with her son. Sholokhov attended schools in Kargin, Moscow, Boguchar, and Veshenskaia, but his formal education ended in 1918 when the civil war reached the Upper Don region. Sholokhov joined the Bolshevik (Red) Army, serving in the Don region during civil war. During this period Sholokhov witnessed the anti-Bolshevik uprising of the Upper Don Cossacks and took part in fighting anti-Soviet partisans, remnants of the white army. These experiences were later recounted in his works.

When the Bolsheviks had secured their control of power, Sholokhov went to Moscow, where he supported himself by doing manual labour. He was a longshoreman, stonemason, and accountant (1922-24), but also participated in writers "seminars" intermittently. His first work to appear in print was the satirical article 'A Test' (1922), which was published in the Moscow newspaper Yunosheskaya Pravda. 'The Birthmark,' Sholokhov's first story, appeared when he was nineteen. In 1924 Sholokhov returned Veshesnkaya and devoted himself entirely to writing. In the same year he married Mariia Petrovna Gromoslavskaia; they had two daughters and two sons.

Donskie rasskazy (1925, Tales from the Don), Sholokhov's first book, was a collection of short stories. The dominant theme is the bitter political strife within a village or a family during the civil war and the early 1920s. Sholokhov joined the Communist Party in 1932, and in 1937 he was elected to the Soviet Parliament. He wrote to Stalin about the brutal mistreatment of collective farmers in 1933 and complained about mass arrests in 1938. This letter led to a treason case against the author, but he was spared and promoted as the leading figure of the Soviet literary establishment. Stalin followed closely Sholokhov's literary career and influenced publication of his works.

Sholokhov gained world fame with his novel Tikhiy Don (And Quiet Flows the Don), which won the Stalin Prize in 1941. The work was originally published in serialized form between the years 1928 and 1940. The author was 22 years old when he submitted the first volume for publication and 25 when three-quarters of the work was composed. In the second volume Sholokhov especially relied on documentary material. The third book's frank account of ill treatment of Cossacks by Communists caused the journal Oktiabr to suspend publication in 1929. Permission to resume was only accorded after reference to Stalin himself. Book 4 did not appear in complete form until 1940, 15 years after the young author had first written its early scenes.

"I will be happy if the English reader sees behind descriptions of the life of Don Cossacks, so strange to him, those colossal shifts in everyday existence and human psychology which occurred as the result of the war and the revolution." (Sholokhov in his foreword to the English edition)

And Quiet Flows the Don presents the struggle of the Whites against the Reds more or less objectively. Sholokhov portrays the Cossacks realistically and reproduces their speech faithfully. This also inspired orthodox Communist to accuse the writer of adopting uncritically a conservative Cossack point of view. The story traces the progress of the Cossack Grigory Melekhov, a tragic hero. He is based on a historical prototype, Kharlampii Ermakov, one of the first Cossacks to rise against the communist in 1919. He was later imprisoned and shot in 1929. Like many figures of classical tragedy, Melekhov fate is destined beforehand. He first supports the Whites, then the Reds, and finally joins nationalist guerrillas in their conflict with the Red Army. Back at home he is destroyed by a former friend, a hardline communist. Another line of the plot is the story of Grigory's tragic love. In the narration nature description has a central place.

Sholokhov's prose is ornamental with prolific use of color, figures of speech, and careful attention to details. Peter Seeger's famous song, 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone', was inspired by a lullaby from the first volume, The Don Flows Home to the Sea. A Cossack woman sings: "And where are the reeds? The girls have pulled them up. / Where are the girls? The girls have taken husbands. / Where are the Cossacks? They've gone to the war." Quiet Flows the Don was first translated into English in 1934, and reprinted in 1967, after the Nobel award. 

During World War II Sholokhov wrote about the Soviet war efforts for various journals, among them Pravda and Krasnaia zvedza. He received Stalin Prize for Literature in 1941 and Lenin Prize in 1960. Sholokhov's second novel, Virgin Soil Upturned, appeared in two parts, 'Seeds of Tomorrow' in 1932 and 'Harvest on the Don' in 1960. The novel depicted collectivization of agriculture in a Don Cossack village. It is perhaps the best-known and most sympathetic description of this period. It also became required reading for all collective farm directors. The dramatic events are written in the first volume in rapid sequence with the touch of a journalistic report. The second volume, which covers only the summer of 1930, shows the decline of Sholokhov's artistic ambitions and ideological orthodoxy. The reader learns nothing about the terrorism and famine of 1932-33. During the 1933 famine Sholokhov himself saved thousands of lives by persuading Stalin to send grain to the Upper Don region. No new literary work of his appeared since 1969.

Before the Swedish Academy decided to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to Boris Pasternak,  Dag Hammarskjöld, who was a member of the academy and secretary-general of the United Nations, approached the American and Soviet sides to learn their reactions to Pasternak's candidacy. Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko was asked whether his country would consider acceptable jointly granting the prize to Sholokhov and Pasternak. Gromyko reportedly said, "Yes, Pasternak is well known as a good poet and translator, but Sholokhov is to us personally a greater writer" (Boris Pasternak: His Life and Art by Guy de Mallac, 1983, p. 225). Following Pasternak's expulsion from the Writers' Union, Sholokhov said in an interview that Pasternak got the prize not because of Doctor Zhivago's artistic value but because of its "anti-Soviet tendency."

Sholokhov accompanied in 1959 the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on a trip to Europe and the United States, and in 1961 he became a member of the Central Committee. In most of his speeches and journalistic writings Sholokhov faithfully followed the official policy of the day. Sholokhov died on January 21, 1984 in Veshenskaya, where he had lived from 1924. By 1980 almost seventy-nine million copies of his works had been printed in the Soviet Union in eighty-four languages.

"The story of Mikhail Sholokhov's rise to his reign as king of Soviet literary officialdom is none other than a supreme farce. Decade after decade his pen failed to create anything worth reading. Meanwhile, his mouth created nothing but propagandistic banalities." (Vassily Aksyonov, an exiled Russian novelist in the New York Times, March 10, 1985)

And Quiet Flows the Don is Sholokhov most controversial work and it has been alleged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn among others, that much of the novel was plagiarized from the writer Fyodor Kryukov, a Cossak and anti-Bolshevik, who died in 1920 of typhoid fever. Several studies has been published on this subject: R.A. Medvedev's Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov (1977) was criticized in Slavic and East European Journal in 1976 by Herman Ermolaev. Additional information is in A Brian Murphy's studies of Tikhiy Don in the New Zealand Slavonic Journal (1975-77) and the Journal of Russian Studies, no. 34 (1977). Sholokhov's other works are not on his masterwork's level, but the accusations remain largely unproven. Critics have argued, that he could not have written all or part of the novel because of his young age and becausehis Don epic described atrocities on both sides impartially. In 1984 Geir Kjetsaa and others published their study The Authorship of the Quiet Don, where computer study supported the authorship of Sholokhov. Most of the manuscripts were lost when the Germans occupied Veshenskaya , but in 1987 some two thousand pages were discovered and authenticated.V.P. Fomenko and T.G. Fomenko have applied quantatitative analysis to the works of Sholokhov, concluding that parts of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, as well as a large section of the part 6 of the novel were not written by Sholokhov. (See History: Fiction or Science. Chronology 2, by Anatoly T. Fomenko, 2005)

For further reading: Russian Fiction and Soviet Ideology by E. Simmons (1958); Mikhali Sholokhov: A Critical Introduction by D.H. Stewart (1967); Sholokhov by C.G. Bearne (1969); The World of Young Sholokhov by M. Klimenko (1972); Sholokhov: A Critical Appreciation by L. Yakimenko (1973); Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov by R. Medvedev (1977); Mikhail Sholokhov and His Art by H. Ermolaev (1982); The Authorship of the 'Quiet Don' by Geir Kjetsaa et al. (1984); Meetings With Sholokhov by A.V. Sofronov (1985); "Tikhii Don": Rasskazy o protitipakh by G.Ia Sivovolov (1991); Kto napisal "Tikhii Don" by Lev Efimovich Kolodnyi (1995); Sholokhov's 'Tikhii Don: A Commentary in Two Volumes by A.B. Murphy, V.P. Butt and Herman Ermolaev (1997)

Selected writings:

  • Donskie rasskazy, 1925
    - Tales from the Don (translated by H.C. Stevens, 1961) / Selected Tales from the Don (edited by C.G. Bearne, 1966)
    - Film: Donskaya povest, 1964, dir. Vladimir Fetin, starring Evgeni Leonov, Lyudmila Chursina, Aleksandr Blinov, Boris Novikov, Nikolai Melnikov, prod. Lenfilm Studio
  • Lazorevaya step', 1926
    - Early Stories (contains 'The Birth-Mark,' 'The Herdsman,' 'The Bastard,' 'The Azure Steppe,' 'The Foal and Alien Blood', translated by Robert Daglish and Yelena Altshuler, 1966)
    - Kertomuksia (kertomukset 'Lasuurinsinen aro,' 'Syntymämerkki,' 'Paimen,' 'Tarhavahti,' 'Väärä polku,' 'Kahden miehen vaimo,' 'Varsa,' 'Toukansyömä,' 'Vierasta verta,' 'Sama kieli,' 'Eräs ihmiskohtalo', suom. Juhani Konkka, 1962)
    - Films: 1970, dir. Oleg Bondarev, Vitali Koltsov, prod. Mosfilm; TV play 2005, dir. Yelena Lanskaya, teleplay by Stephen Harrigan, starring Ryan Merriman, Steve Bacic, William MacDonald, Darcy Belsher, Scott Heindl, prod. Hallmark Entertainment
  • Tikhii Don, 1928-1940 (4 vols.)
    - And Quiet Flows the Don (translated by Stephen Garry, 1934) / The Don Flows Home to the Sea (translated by Stephen Garry, 1940) / Quiet Flows the Don (in Collected Works, translated by Robert Daglish, 1984)
    - Hiljainen Don 1-4 (suom. Elias Siippainen, 1944-45) / Hiljaa virtaa Don (suom. Juhani Konkka, 1956)
    - Films: 1931, dir. Ivan Pravov, Olga Preobrazhenskaya, starring Nikolai Podgorny, Andrei Abrikosov, Emma Tsesarskaya, Raisa Puzhnaya, Raisa Puzhnaya; 1957-58, dir. Sergei Gerasimov, starring Pyotr Glebov, Lyudmila Khitryaeva, Zinaida Kirienko and Elina Bystritskaya; 2006, dir. Sergei Bondarchuk, starring Rupert Everett, Delphine Forest, F. Murray Abraham, Ben Gazzara, prod. Madison Motion Pictures
  • Podnyataya tselina, 1932-1960 (2 vols.)
    - Virgin Soil Upturned & Seeds of Tomorrow (translated by Stephen Garry, 1935) / Harvest on the Don (translated by H.C. Stevens, 1960) / Virgin Soil Upturned 1-2 (translated by Robert Daglish, 1961-79)
    - Raivattu uutismaa (suom. L. Helo, 1934) / Aron raivaajat (suom. Elias Siippainen, 1938; Juhani Konkka, 1959)
    - Films: 1939, dir. Yuli Raizman, screenplay by Mikhail Sholokhov, prod. Goskino; 1959, dir. Aleksandr Ivanov, screenplay by Yuri Lukin, Fyodor Shakhmagonov, cast: Yevgeni Matveyev, Andrei Abrikosov, Pyotr Chernov, Pyotr Glebov, Lyudmila Khityayeva, Leonid Kmit
  • 'Nauka nenavisti', 1942 (in Pravda)
    - Hate (tr. 1942) / The Science of Hatred (tr. 1943)
    - Vihaamisen taito (suom. L. Helo, 1944)
  •  Slovo o rodine, 1951
  • 'Sud'ba cheloveka', (in Pravda), 1956-57
    - The Fate of a Man (translated by  Robert Daglish, 1967) / 'One Man's Destiny' (in One Man's Destiny and Other Stories, Articles, and Sketches, 1923-1963, translated by H.C. Stevens, 1967)
    - Ihmiskohtalo (suom. Leo Holm, 1958) / 'Ihmiskohtalo' (teoksessa Kertomuksia, suom. Juhani Konkka, 1962)
    - Film adaptation in 1959, dir. by Sergei Bondarchuk, screenplay by Yuri Lukin, Fyodor Shakhmagonov, starring Sergei Bondarchuk, Pavlik Boriskin, Zinaida Kirienko, Pavel Volkov, Iurii Avelin, K. Alekseev, prod. Ministerstvo Kinematografii
  • Sobranie sochinenii, 1956-58 (8 vols.)
  • 'Oni srazhalis' za rodinu', 1959 (in Roman-gazeta)
    - They 'Fought for Their Country' (in Soviet Literature, 7, translated by  R. C. Daglish, 1959)
    - He taistelivat isänmaansa puolesta (suom. M. Jääskeläinen, 1945) / He taistelivat synnyinmaansa puolesta (suom. Ulla-Liisa Heino, Juhani Konkka, 1976)
    - Film adaptation in 1975, dir. Sergei Bondarchuk, starring Vasili Shukshin, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Sergei Bondarchuk, Georgi Burkov, Yuri Nikulin, prod. Mosfilm
  • Sobranie sochinenii, 1962 (8 vols.)
  • Early Stories, 1966 (translated by Robert Daglish and Yelena Altshuler)
  • One Man's Destiny, and Other Stories, Articles, and Sketches, 1923-1963, 1967 (translated by  H. C. Stevens)
  • Fierce and Gentle Warriors, 1967 (translated by Miriam Morton)
  • Po veleniiu dushi, 1970
    - At the Bidding of the Heart (translated by Olga Shartse, 1973)
  • Sobranie Sochinenii, 1975 (8 vols.)
  • Rossiya v serdtse, 1975
  • Slovo o rodine, 1980
  • Collected Works, 1984 (8 vols., translated by Robert Daglish)
  • Sobranie Sochinenii, 1985 (8 vols.)
  • 'Sholokhov i Stalin: Perepiska nachala 30-kh godov', 1994 (in Voprosy istorii, 3)
  • Pisatelʹ i vozhdʹ: perepiska M.A. Sholokhova s I.V. Stalinym 1931-1950 gody, 1997 (edited by Yuri Murin)
  • Pisʹma, 2003 (edited by A.A. Kozlovskogo et al.)

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