Vasily Grossman: Myths Refuted.

Yury Bit-Yunan and Robert Chandler have a long and convincing LARB article refuting the idea that the great Vasily Grossman, author of Life and Fate (which I reviewed here), was a dissident persecuted by Stalin. It’s detailed and hard to summarize; here are a few paragraphs to give the idea:

Once again, however, we find the writers of memoirs invoking Stalin’s personal hostility toward Grossman. In 1966, Ilya Ehrenburg published the third volume of his influential memoir People, Years, Life. In it he wrote, “The star under which Grossman was born was a star of misfortune. […] I was told that it was Stalin himself who deleted his story The People Immortal from the list of books nominated for the prize.” And he goes on to say that Stalin must have hated Grossman for “his love of Lenin, for his genuine internationalism.”

And in 1980, in a memoir published in Paris, Natalya Roskina, a younger friend of Grossman, both disagreed with Ehrenburg and repeated his central assertion. “It was certainly not love for Lenin,” she writes, “that was the reason for Grossman being constantly in disgrace. It was exclusively the fact that Grossman never sought Stalin’s love.” She continues, “It was Stalin who deleted the novel from the list of laureates.”

Roskina does not say who told her this; it is likely, though, that she has borrowed from Ehrenburg, just as Taratuta borrowed from Lipkin. And this helps us to see that it is Ehrenburg’s memoir that lies at the origin of this myth of Stalin’s personal animosity toward Grossman. Ehrenburg was the first memoirist to claim that Stalin hated Grossman — and he almost certainly did this with the best of motives. By asserting that Grossman loved Lenin and was hated by Stalin, he could have been hoping to pave the way for an eventual Soviet publication of Life and Fate — if only in a bowdlerized version; Ehrenburg was politically shrewd and he rarely acted without some ulterior motive. And in 1986, 20 years after Ehrenburg, Lipkin resuscitated the idea of Stalin’s personal hostility toward Grossman — though in connection with Kolchugin rather than The People Immortal. He too was doing what he could to further Grossman’s reputation. Ehrenburg, however, was trying to salvage Grossman’s standing in the Soviet Union, while Lipkin was trying to promote his reputation abroad. And so, whereas Ehrenburg writes about Grossman’s love of Lenin, Lipkin makes out that Kolchugin was seen as a “Menshevik,” i.e., dissident and anti-Stalinist, novel.

Incidentally, in the course of reading the essay and looking things up, I learned that Glück Auf, the title of Grossman’s first novel, is (Wikipedia)

the traditional German miners’ greeting. It describes the hope of the miners: “es mögen sich Erzgänge auftun” (“may lodes [of ore] be opened”) which is short for “Ich wünsche Dir Glück, tu einen neuen Gang auf” (“I wish you luck; open a new lode!”).

I never would have guessed!

Comments

  1. great Vasily Grossman

    great man Grossman would have sounded even better

  2. PlasticPaddy says:

    Re Glück auf, here is an old miner’s song:
    https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steigerlied

  3. Stu Clayton says:

    There’s also glückaufzwingend:

    … und wenn es seit Jahrhunderten der Zweck des verbündeten Europa wäre, die glückaufzwingende Tyrannin aller Erdnationen zu sein, so ist die Glückesgöttin noch weit von ihrem Ziele. [Herder, Ideen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit]

  4. What is the “aristocratic lisp” of the Russian r mentioned in the article?

  5. GRASSEYER, verbe intrans.
    A. − Parler en articulant avec la partie postérieure de la cavité buccale. Godefroid ne grasseyait pas, ne gasconnait pas, ne normandisait pas, il parlait purement et correctement (Balzac, Mais. Nucingen,1838, p. 604).
    − [En incise ou avec compl. d’obj. interne] Dire quelque chose en grasseyant. Dites-donc, Mademoiselle Marthe, voilà une lettre que l’ouvreuse m’a dit de vous remettre, grasseya une grosse fille roupieuse (Huysmans, Marthe,1876, p. 12).Grasseyant de lourdes gracieusetés (Rolland, J.-Chr., Foire, 1908, p. 727).
    B. − PHONÉT. R grasseyé. ,,Vibrante uvulaire produite par la vibration de la luette contre la partie postérieure du dos de la langue“ (Ling. 1972). Cf. Saussure, Ling. gén., 1916, p. 74.
    ♦ Grasseyer l’r (rare). Ainsi en français, l’usage général de grasseyer l’r n’empêche pas beaucoup de personnes de le rouler (Saussure, Ling. gén.,1916, p. 164.).

  6. Russian high society slavishly copied this French fad. It was known in Russian as grassirovanie.

  7. the “aristocratic lisp” of the Russian r

    Listen to the man himself speak, from the very first moments:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rg9C1uDLH-8

    I distinctly remember that he had difficulty pronouncing his r‘s.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    in opening a new lode

    No, imperative: “open a new lode!”. I just fixed it.

    Listen to the man himself speak, from the very first moments:

    Huh. Sometimes there’s a uvular approximant, sometimes there doesn’t seem to be anything at all.

  9. Listen to the man himself speak, from the very first moments

    Wow. And he says “када” for “когда”; is that widespread?

    No, imperative: “open a new lode!”. I just fixed it.

    I’ll change it in the post.

  10. Wow. And he says “када” for “когда”; is that widespread?

    I’d say it’s usual.

  11. That is, it’s usual in everyday relaxed speech. Cf. Maryivanna vs. Marya Ivanovna.

  12. I was familiar with the latter but I guess I haven’t heard enough everyday relaxed speech to get to know када. Thanks!

  13. I understand that what Grossman had is not “grassirovanie”, but “kartavost'”, inability to produce a trill ‘r’. But maybe there is not much distinction between the two when applied to Russian. It is stereotypical defect of speech of Russian Jews, but in fact of course, much more widespread.

  14. David Marjanović says:

    Now I hear one or two [ɹ] in there. It’s like he’s approaching [r] from several different directions, and none of them works…

  15. SFReader, Marie-Lucie ones explained that in fact grasseyeur was not in upper-class French until at least mid 19c (see Balzac in your own comment). Thus, it cannot be a posh borrowing into Russian. On a personal note, I tried many times to learn to produce uvular r on the model of Edith Piaf, but alas.

  16. It was late 19th century posh borrowing into Russian then.

    Pretty sure latest Parisian fads reached Petersburg high society within weeks.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    Thus, it cannot be a posh borrowing into Russian.

    Was it an upper-middle-class, grand-bourgeois borrowing?

    On a personal note, I tried many times to learn to produce uvular r on the model of Edith Piaf, but alas.

    If I may guess, maybe what’s throwing you off is the fact that [ʀ] is unlike all other uvular consonants in one respect: it does not involve pulling the tongue backward. Just lift it straight up as you’d do for [t̻]* or [k], then blow air through, and the uvula will vibrate.

    * …that’s a mainstream European /t/, as opposed to the one of English and very northern German, for which you bend the tip of the tongue backwards.

    More of Simonov speaking:

    So much [ɹ]! Also, so much /l/-vocalization that it sounds Polish at times (солдат as if with sał-), and an unreduced когда.

  18. Was it an upper-middle-class, grand-bourgeois borrowing?

    I am not sure it happened at all. Some Russians do not learn how to pronounce trill r because it’s hard and probably some individuals switched to uvular r because it sounded French, but that never caught on a mass scale. Jews, who did not pronounce trill r in larger proportion than Russians (it’s all gone now, probably) were mocked sometimes as “French”, but was it because of kartavost’ or something else, I don’t know. My mental picture of French borrowing is that the upper classes borrowed directly from French then up-and-comers aped their social superiors.

    Thanks for the tips at how improve my Frenchification of r, but my problem is mostly that everything ends up in gargling and occasional successes cannot be reproduced as a part of continuous speech. I simply not dexterous enough with my tongue and throat and whatever else it is (now, dexterous seems to be especially inappropriate here, but you know what I mean) that has to be rearranged quickly to produce the correct sound.

  19. David Marjanović says:

    Gargling means you’re pulling the tongue backwards.

  20. John Cowan says:

    Just lift it straight up as you’d do for [t̻]* or [k], then blow air through, and the uvula will vibrate.

    I keep my tongue-tip at the [ʑ] point, behind the lower teeth, to articulate either [ʀ] or [ʁ], and also to articulate English /r/, which for me is the bunched r (usually written [ɹˤ]) that about 40% of American English speakers use instead of the retroflex [ɻ]. Like all Americans, I labialize /r-/to /r[ʷ]-/, which is why Bugs the r[ʷ]ascally r[ʷ]abbit easily becomes Bugs the [ʋ]ascally [ʋ]abbit.

  21. >Jews, who did not pronounce trill r in larger proportion than Russians (it’s all gone now, probably) were mocked sometimes as “French”, but was it because of kartavost’ or something else, I don’t know.

    I was born Jewish in Kiev in 1970 and could not roll my R as a kid. My parents spent quite a bit of effort sending me to a speech pathologist to make sure this was fixed. (Boy did I learn a lot of R based tongue-twisters) It was a big deal among Jews at the time since that was an obvious reason for the anti-semites to mock you.

    And of course, the anti-communist anti-semites always pointed out “the Jew” Lenin’s severe kartavost’…

  22. And speaking of speech pathologists…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgkYNRQTSBI

  23. Oh, that’s where девочка-февочка originates!

  24. The system is eating a comment, probably because it’s short and a mixture of English and Russian.

  25. My parents spent quite a bit of effort sending me to a speech pathologist

    It was a legit reason to delay a child’s enrollment in a Soviet public school by a year if the child had “speech pathology problems” such as improper r’s or l’s. Of course the dark side of such a school delay for a boy would be that he’d end up conscripted to the military right off the grade school, without a chance to win a college deferral. So of course mothers were very serious about getting their boys’ R’s right.

    We sent our oldest to a speech pathologist on a summer vacation in Russia (back when we were temporary migrants with an obligation to return to Russia after the contracts are over). On his return to the US, the boy’s classmates were stunned to discover that he developed an accent (the newly learnt Russian rolling R displaced the American sound :O ).

  26. The system is eating a comment, probably because it’s short and a mixture of English and Russian.

    I found it and forced the spam folder to disgorge it.

  27. Thanks!

  28. January First-of-May says:

    Of course the dark side of such a school delay for a boy would be that he’d end up conscripted to the military right off the grade school, without a chance to win a college deferral.

    It had not been until 2018 or so that college/university deferrals from conscription for boys who already had to get a school deferral (due to graduating over age 18) were finally officially enshrined in Russian court decisions, and even then only due to the efforts of – yes, really, I’m not making it up – one of my former classmates (they were apparently supposed to exist for some years before that, but not actually implemented much until my classmate proved in court that they should be).

  29. speech pathologists in Russia

    https://youtu.be/Oys9rXyQ900

  30. But lisping is about sibilants so what does it have to do with R’s and L’s? Simonov couldn’t pronounce his first name properly so he changed it. His kartavost’ for the most part wasn’t uvular so was neither “Jewish” not upper class (for the latter, I’d recommend Nabokov or Irina Odoevtseva). His family background was a major handicap and risk in the 1920s and the 1930s but his R’s did not betray it.

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