We played a fateful role in Yevgeny Zamyatin's life. An epitome of his philosophy, the novel prefigured his own future and that of his country with astonishing accuracy. Zamyatin's credo is best expressed in the words of the heroine of We: "There is no final revolution. Revolutions are infinite," and, 'I do not want anyone to want for me—I want to want for myself." These two principles—eternal change, and freedom of the individual to choose, to want, tocreate according to his own need and his own will-dominated both his life and his work. "We shall break down all walls—to let the green wind blow free from end to end—across the earth," says his heroine. Small wonder he was hated and hounded by those who demanded uniformity and total compliance with an outside will—the state's, the Benefactor's, the Party's. A powerful and original writer, and an entirely modern one, Zamyatin is deeply rooted in the traditions of Russian literature. He is a direct descendant of Gogol and Dostoyevsky, the favorites of his childhood. He is also close kin to Leskov, Chekhov, Shchedrin, and his own contemporaries Alexey Remizov and Audrey Bely. Like Gogol and Dostoyevsky, he is profoundly concerned with central moral problems; like all of them, he is a great master of satire, style, and the grotesque. Zamyatin was born in 1884 in Lebedyan, one of the most colorful towns in the heart of die Russian black-earth belt, some two hundred miles southeast of Moscow—a region of fertile fields, of ancient churches and monasteries, of country fairs, gypsies and swindlers, nuns and innkeepers, buxom Russian beauties, and merchants who made and lost millions overnight. It was also a region that preserved a richly expressive folk speech, which Zamyatin absorbed and later used to magnificent effect in many of his stories, plays, and novellas. His father, an Orthodox priest, taught religion at the local school. His mother was a talented pianist. A naval engineer by training, Zamyatin early turned to literature. In 1913 he published the novella "A Provincial Tale," and in 1914 "At the World's End," satirizing army life in a remote garrison town. The journal in which the latter appeared was confiscated by the Tsarist authorities, and both the editor and the author were brought to trial for "maligning the Russian officer corps." The charges were dismissed, but this was only one of Zamyatin's lifelong clashes with constituted authority. As a student at the St. Petersburg Polytechnical Institute during the early years of the century, Zamyatin had joined the Bolshevik faction of the Social-Democratic Party. Arrested during the revolution of 1905, he spent some months in solitary confinement and on his release was exiled from St. Petersburg. After a short stay in Lebedyan, he came back to the capital, where he lived "illegally" (and even continued his schooling) until 1911, when the police finally caught up with him and exiled him a second time. It was during this exile that he wrote "A Provincial Tale." In 1913 he was amnestied and permitted to reside in St. Petersburg. On graduation from the Polytechnic Institute, he was invited to serve on its faculty. For some years literature was largely superseded by teaching and engineering work. During World War I, Zamyatin was sent to England to design and supervise the construction of some of the earliest Russian icebreakers. When the Revolution of 1917 broke out, he could not endure to be away from Russia and hastened back, bringing with him two tales satirizing English life, "The
Islanders" and "The Fisher of Men." In Russia, Zamyatin (no longer a Bolshevik) threw himself with tremendous energy into the great cultural and artistic upsurge that followed the revolution. This was a period of fantastic contradictions. Russia lay in ruins after years of war, revolution, and continuing civil strife. Her economic life had all but wholly broken down. Transportation, communication, the...
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