220px-Anna_Achmatowa_1950 24grammata Άννα Αχμάτοβα/ Anna Akhmatova,

αφιέρωμα κλικ εδώ



Alexander  ZHOLKOVSKY (USC, Los Angeles)

In every revolution, the main issue is power.


V. I. Lenin[1]


“Poetry is power,” Osip Mandelstam once said to Akhmatova in Voronezh, and she bowed her head on its slender neck. Banished, sick, penniless and hounded, they still would not give up their power.


Nadezhda Mandelstam[2]




The life and works of the poet Anna Andreevna Akhmatova (1889-1966) offer a sustained example of self-presentation that is grounded in historical circumstances in ways one would not have easily suspected. What follows is an attempt to reread the Akhmatova myth as a set of stories told of oneself and received, regurgitated, and institutionalized by the surrounding culture. The case of Akhmatova is especially challenging because of the poet’s well-known stoic opposition to the reigning political climate of the time: her essential affinity with the totalitarian discourse of her oppressors can only be discerned through a fresh parsing of the text of her literary and personal life, usually construed in hagiographic tones.[3]


Fortunately, the task is facilitated by the unabashed conspicuousness of Akhmatova’s self-image-making. Forestalling the needs of biographers, Akhmatova used to give her visitors “guided museum tours of herself”[4] and play to them what she called “gramophone records” (plastinki)–vignettes from her life.[5] She often spoke as if “for the record”[6] and “was not above ghosting her own biography.”[7]


She came to believe… that all her indiscretions would be divulged by her biographers. She lived… aware of her biography… “It is all in our hands,” she would say, and: “As a literary critic I know…” One part of her longed for a canonized portrait without the follies and foibles inevitable in any life, especially that of a poet.[8]


[P]eople… said… that she “corrected her biography”… [She] declared herself… to be the chronologically first Akhmatova specialist to whose objective opinion all later specialists would have to give particular weight.[9]


Here is how she went about providing “objective” data.


She persuaded Vera Alekseevna Znamenskaia to write her memoirs, but… did not find in them what she had expected… A[nna] A[ndreevna] would get angry and even quarrel with Vera Alekseevna, but then she recalled wisely that the very initial period of her relationship with [the poet Nikolai] Gumilev [Akhmatova’s former husband, executed by the Soviets in 1921 on dubious charges] should be remembered by Valia [Sreznevskaia]… Valeriia Sergeevna went ahead and wrote, but [Akhmatova] did not like her notes… although much of it was written according to her own words. Some of it they corrected together, and Valeriia Sergeevna once again copied it out in her own hand, at [Akhmatova’s] insistence. This copybook written by Valeriia Sergeevna was rejected by Anna Andreevna…”[10]


With similar bias Akhmatova shaped her versions of her historic role. According to Sir Isaiah Berlin, she believed that


we–that is, she and I–inadvertently, by the mere fact of our meeting, had started the cold war and thereby changed the history of mankind. She meant this quite literally; and… saw herself and me as world-historical personages chosen by destiny to begin a cosmic conflict… I could not protest… since she would have felt this as an insult to her tragic image of herself as Cassandra–indeed, to the historico-metaphysical vision which informed so much of her poetry. I remained silent.[11]


Berlin identifies the fundamental connection between Akhmatova’s personal fears as a subject of Stalin’s regime and her charismatic self-image. The paranoia, more or less legitimate under the circumstances, develops into a mania grandiosa, which, in turn, energizes her personal myth, in an instructive instance of the paradoxical opposition/ symbiosis between dissident poet and totalitarian leader–of the sort perceptively analyzed by Gregory Freidin with respect to Osip Mandelstam.[12]Akhmatova’s brooking no contradiction from Berlin, therefore, evidences not so much her unreasonableness as her adherence to the laws of charismatic mythmaking.


Indeed, as a disciple of the Silver Age masters of “self-creation” (zhiznetvorchestvo)[13] and a witness to the production of Stalin’s “cult of personality,” Akhmatova had a keen understanding of these laws.


When [Joseph] Brodsky was tried and sent into exile… she said: “What a biography they are making for our Ginger. As if he had gone out and hired someone to do it.” And to my question about the poetic fate of Mandelstam, whether it was not overshadowed by his fate as a citizen… she replied: “It’s ideal.”[14]


On occasion, the “hiring” metaphor would be reified. In the 1920s, Akhmatova engaged the services of a younger friend, P. N. Luknitskii, to work on the biography of Gumilev. In his diary, he noted her instructing him as follows:


“You mustn’t forget that this biography you are compiling is perhaps a most severe indictment… You must gain an understanding of every detail, plow through all this debris… create the true image of Nikolai Stepanovich… You may overly narrow that image and make mistakes”… She realized that creating such a biography was also a work of art… an act of creation like any other.[15]


Akhmatova considered plain wrong and punishable all biographical statements about Gumilev, herself, and Mandelstam that were not authorized by her.


She passionately hates–and fears–authors of biographies romancees. [She says:] “I’d like to set up an international tribunal and give severe sentences to all these Carre’s, Maurois, Tynianovs.”[16]


She insisted also on securing proper portrayals of herself in the sphere of visual arts.


Once she read in someone’s memoirs… published abroad that she was not pretty… From that day on she began to collect photographs… where she looked pretty and pasted them in an album…. heaps of pictures.[17]


[L. V.] Gornung asked Anna Andreevna to take her photograph lege artis. Anna Andreevna gladly gave her consent. She loved being “immortalized.”[18]


Indeed, today Akhmatova is among the photographically best documented literary celebrities.


A sculptor recalls the discussion he had with her during a session:


[Akhmatova:] “And what is the point of sculpting such a fat nape [kholku]? Can it really be so huge?… I hope that the model fully deserves that the artist not set in relief all such details.” Now there was nothing I could object to in this. Indeed: the model was so important and noble, sophisticated to the utmost degree in her views of art… I decided to eliminate the fat excrescence in the area of the seventh neck vertebra, popularly known as kholka.[19]


Even highly esteemed artists, such as A. G. Tyshler (1898-1980), were not spared Akhmatova’s peremptory “editing” of her image:


“Lidiia Iakovlevna, what’s the matter with this drawing?” On the wall of L. Ia. Ginzburg’s apartment there is a framed profile of Anna Andreevna by Tyshler, in which the Roman hump of her nose has been erased and corrected in a soft and unsure line with a different pencil… “Anna Andreevna corrected it. They were together in evacuation in Tashkent, and Tyshler drew her there… She held that he did not do the nose right–and corrected it.”[20]


As for story-telling proper, it lies at the core not only of Akhmatova’s self-fashioning strategies, but also of her innovative contribution to Russian lyrical poetry. In this, she drew on the tradition of the nineteenth-century novel, compressing its narrative topoi into a background support for her laconic poems.[21] To do so, she also coopted the Nekrasovian prosaization of lyrical poetry–with the important modification of narcissistically arranging the narrative element around her persona.


Narcissistic manipulation is also evident in the mode of her entrance, in the 1930s, into the field of literary scholarship:


Akhmatova’s research article on Pushkin’s tale in verse The Golden Cockerel[22] was written with the assistance of [the scholar] N. I. Khardzhiev. “I was ill,” Anna Andreevna liked to recall,” and Nikolai Ivanovich sat facing me and asked: “What do you want to say?” and he wrote it down for me himself.[23]


The manipulative streak conspicuous in this episode–whether fact or one of her fictions–is not an isolated occurrence. Akhmatova was keen on power-play, noticing it in others and practicing it herself. Of the Symbolist poet Viacheslav Ivanov she remarked, acidly: “He was a desperate self-advertiser… A highly experienced fisher of men, a virtuoso! He, a forty-four year old man, would get grey-haired ladies to escort him around… He knew how to establish himself everywhere.”[24] In fact, similar self-promotion was among Akhmatova’s own fortes–be it within her circle of admirers-helpers[25] or vis-a-vis Soviet literary and political establishment all the way up to Stalin himself. Her version of the 1946 Zhdanov campaign against her, Mikhail Zoshchenko, the journals Zvezda, “Star,” and Leningrad, and the liberal Western-leaning intelligentsia in general, characteristically reduces the dramatic plot to only two star performances–hers and Stalin’s:


She also believed that Stalin became jealous of the applause she got: in April 1946, Akhmatova recited her poetry in the Hall of Columns in Moscow and the public stood up to applaud. Standing ovations were due, in Stalin’s opinion, only himself, and here was the crowd applauding some poetess.[26]


Rumor had it that Stalin was furious because of the passionate reception given to Akhmatova by the audience. According to one version, after some such event Stalin inquired: “Who organized the standing up?”[27]


The latter question, usually perceived as Stalin’s willful projection of his own insidious ways onto an innocent poet, is not all that extraneous: a unanimous standing ovation does take organizing, albeit not necessarily of the crude sort Stalin specialized in. His irate acknowledgment of Akhmatova’s techniques of charismatic intimidation[28] is perhaps a telltale tribute to her mastery. As for his contribution to the “making of her biography,” it was perhaps even more “ideal” than what he, according to her, had done for Mandelstam (and what other Soviet leaders later did for Brodsky): she was subjected to harsh, but by the same token spotlighting, persecution, yet spared literary or literal liquidation.


To turn from story-telling to play-acting: Nadezhda Mandelstam recalls how Akhmatova once told her on very short notice before appearing in public that they should instantly turn themselves into beauties.[29] A similar statement is recorded by Lidiia Chukovskaia: “Seeing me off, Anna Andreevna said by the door, ‘Tomorrow I… have to look good.’ – ‘Can you?’ – ‘All my life I could look as I wished: from beautiful to ugly.'”[30] Akhmatova’s theatrical abilities rivaled her narrative prowess, although her actual play and fictional prose writing was practically nonexistent. Where narrative and drama did work for Akhmatova was in her short lyrics and in her zhiznetvorchestvo. Both achievements were in tune with the twentieth-century democratization of culture and advent of mass-media manipulation of the wider public. Despite all her differences from the avantgarde, Akhmatova’s “emplotting” of her poetry and life was akin to their strategy, now prevalent, of valuing gesture and self-promotion over texture.[31] That is probably why her lyrics travel across national and linguistic borders better than those of her rival contemporaries Pasternak and Mandelstam: proportionately, less is lost in translation, not because there is less poetry (in the sense of Robert Frost’s famous dictum), but because there is more posture.


Commenting on the contradictions among memoirists’ versions of the Akhmatova image, the Dutch scholar Kees Verheul proposed to distinguish between her various scripts: “1. The stories about the persona… that… enhance the artistic image created by Akhmatova… 2. The stories about the actress… who created her own persona and sometimes treated this activity with… irony. 3. Finally, the stories about Akhmatova the person… who engaged and quite often did not at all engage in the above, with irony or without.”[32]The last point raises the intriguing question of the enigmatic core “person” hiding within the constructed roles, personas, and performers. A related issue is that of the audience, whose reception of Akhmatova’s stories and acts was crucial to her art of self-presentation. Despite the “regal” image Akhmatova strove to produce, she, unlike Pushkin’s poet-czar, who is supposed to “live alone,”[33] could not stand loneliness.[34] Rather, like the proverbial king on the stage, she needed a retinue that would play the royal in her.


Akhmatova was very deliberate in deploying her considerable skills of impressing immediate and distant admirers. Unlike the Futurists and quite like the Acmeist and the consummate “lady” she was, Akhmatova relied not so much on direct, provocative, or laid bare indoctrination but rather on covert suggestion, leaving her receptive audiences with a sense of (co-)authorship.


She had a special way of adjusting opinions held about her in the desired direction…. “I have a way of unobtrusively floating my own thoughts to people. And in a little while they sincerely believe that the ideas are their own.”[35]


I observed how Akhmatova created her own legend–as if surrounding herself with a strong magnetic field. A strong concoction of premonitions, coincidences, private omens, fatal accidents, secret dates, non-meetings, and three-hundred-year old trifles was always boiling in her magic pot… The pot was hidden from the reader.[36]


The effectiveness of these strategies resulted from that blend of submission and domination that was so characteristic of Akhmatova’s lyrical as well as life-textual persona and is highly relevant to our “Stalinist” theme.




Before proceeding to these issues, let us examine one instance of Akhmatova’s techniques of self-presentation in some detail. It features Akhmatova and Maiakovskii. The problem “Akhmatova vs. Maiakovskii” was posed by the critic Kornei Chukovskii as early as 1920,[37] and, despite later modifications by other scholars,[38] has been since read in terms of stark opposition, but the actual picture was more complex. The two poets paid respectful attention to each other’s work, if only in order “to know the enemy.”[39] Akhmatova liked reminiscing about their 1915 chance encounter on the Morskaia street, of which both poets had had a mystical premonition.[40] Maiakovskii was alarmed by rumors of Akhmatova’s suicide after the execution of Gumilev; she, in turn, reacted with compassion, if somewhat condescendingly, to Maiakovskii’s suicide.[41] And in 1940, on the tenth anniversary of Maiakovskii’s death, Akhmatova wrote a poem that was a panegyric to his pre-revolutionary image and thus a covert polemic with his official Soviet icon.[42]


In 1956, Lidiia Chukovskaia noted the following in her diaries about Akhmatova:


[T]he editors of the Literary Legacy [Literaturnoe nasledsvo] asked Anna Andreevna to write her recollections of Maiakovskii. “I refused,” she said. “… Actually, I never really knew him–only from afar… And why should I run after his chariot? I have my own. Besides, he always badmouthed me in public, and it doesn’t become me to praise him.”[43]


But, then, the 1940 poem was also written “from afar”; more likely, the problem lay in their general competition and in a never forgotten, specific offense.


The invitation was renewed a year later:


She showed me [the editor of the Literary Legacy Il’ia] Zil’bershtein’s letter… asking her to write… her recollections of Maiakovskii. She seems willing to me, but alas! [He] made a grave tactical error. He enclosed… a fragment from the memoirs of [Maiakvskii’s beloved] L. Iu. Brik, who relates how Maiakovskii always liked Akhmatova’s poems and often quoted them. That would be fine, but, unfortunately, Brik goes on to tell how he deliberately, for fun, would mangle them. A poet can hardly hear with equanimity her poems being crippled. It seems to me that these manglings caused Anna Andreevna physical pain. In any case, she is not going to write.[44]


Zil’bershtein’s mistake was, indeed, only a “tactical” one, since Akhmatova did have prior knowledge of Lily Brik’s memoirs. The relevant passages had been brought to her attention in 1940 by I. S. Eventov in the course of his attempts to persuade her to participate in a memorial concert, where she did eventually read her poem “Maiakovskii in 1913.”[45] That interview began with Eventov’s declaration of his interest in studying Maiakovskii’s work.


“Studying,” Anna Andreevna repeated with evident coolness… “Then you probably know that Maiakovskii once publicly, from the stage, made fun of me, reciting my ‘The Grey-Eyed King’ (‘Seroglazyi korol’,’ 1911) to the tune of the vulgar song ‘A cocky merchant rode to the fair…’ (‘Ekhal na iarmarku ukhar’-kupets…’).”[46]


Eventov did know about this, as he did about the notorious “purge of contemporary poetry”… at the Polytechnical Museum in January 1922. There, Maiakovskii had declared that in light of the tasks of revolutionary poetry, “many remain overboard,” including Akhmatova with her “chamber lyrics”.[47] Eventov succeeded in getting Akhmatova to change her mind–by showing her his own excerpts from Lily Brik’s memoirs, which proved that in the years 1915-1916, “Maiakovskii, who was in love… most often recited Akhmatova… and sometimes even sang, to some completely incongruous tune, his favorite lyrical lines. He liked her poems and made fun not of them but of his own “sentiments,” which he was unable to hold in check.”[48] Eventov was also able to “humbly report” [dolozhil] to Akhmatova that “in Brik’s manuscript, the incident with ‘The Grey-Eyed King’ was… clarified: ‘Maiakovskii often recited others’ poems in the street, as he walked… We sang these poems in unison and we marched to them… selecting tunes to fit the original poem rhythmically but sound incongruously because of a clash in meaning.”[49]In the same way, Maiakovskii and Brik would also perform verses by David Burliuk, Sasha Chernyi, Mikhail Kuzmin, and other poets, not just “The Grey-Eyed King.”[50]


Moreover, the mongrelization of that poem was meant in part as a theoretical experiment:


A. Fevral’skii, who attended the Moscow recital where Maiakovskii publicly sang these lines to the tune of “Cocky merchant,” later told [Eventov] what exactly preceded that episode: the speaker was demonstrating to the audience how unexpectedly a poetic text can be turned around when it is used as a bare rhythmical scheme without attention to its meaning.”[51]


Parody, of course, was not a Futurist monopoly, geared only to dumping the classics from the steamship of modernity. At the time, parody also came to be understood by literary theorists as the prime mover of literary evolution in general. Cotemporaneous with Kornei Chukovskii’s article was Iurii Tynianov’s pioneering formulation of the theory of parody,[52] focused on Dostoevskii’s spoofing of Gogol in the comic guise of Foma Opiskin–a treatment not much different from that which was received by Akhmatova at the hands of Maiakovskii. The subversion of authoritarian literary systems (in particular, that of Gogol) through a parodic invasion by “other voices” (in particular, those of Dostoevskii’s characters) was to become central also to the Bakhtinian school of thought.[53] In this context, Akhmatova’s defensive reaction to Maiakovskii sounds rather monological (corroborating Bakhtin’s view of poetry as opposed to the novel).


No less evident, on the other hand, are Akhmatova’s efforts to overcome such onesidedness. Relenting a little, she tells Eventov of her encounters and affinities with Maiakovskii. “I realized that in our first conversation, Anna Andreevna was not above playing games [nemnozhko khitrila]… She knew perfectly well how much Maiakovskii treasured her name and poetry.”[54] The same attraction/rejection was to be noted by Chukovskaia some fifteen years later. But this time around rejection won out–perhaps because of Akhmatova’s growing concern for her own “chariot,”[55] aggravated by her systematic official victimization, which culminated in 1946 but had accumulated ever since Chukovskii’s 1921 article.[56]


Akhmatova refined formidable skills of psychological self-defense, of which the games she played with Eventov were but an innocent example: “Akhmatova, stung by most of the critical judgements, which volens nolens distorted her artistic image, made a point of regally ignoring Maiakovskii’s rude attacks, considering them… extraliterary phenomena.”[57] If such was her “real-life” reaction, an even higher level of sublimation was achieved in her art:


In her poetry she was more fair and positively balanced than… in her oral pronouncements. Poetry was where she was able to rise above the… “all too human”… In her “commemorative” poems about Maiakovskii, whom she… perceived in a very complex way, and also about Pasternak and Tsvetaeva, she spoke of them casting aside all psychological and other overtones… in a voice of sublime affirmation and acknowledgement.[58]


Indeed, similar sublimation mechanisms informed the story of the mongrelized “The Grey-Eyed King,” which had an unexpected sequel. The actor Aleksei Batalov, who as a young man had observed Akhmatova during her stays with his mother Nina Ol’shevskaia and her second husband Viktor Ardov on the “legendary Ordynka” street in Moscow, remembers:


Anna Andreevna let herself treat her most famous poems with irony. And this did not contradict a bit her… regality… The most merciless public mockery of [her] poems took the form of a show. The guests, whom she entertained in such a way… would freeze… as if in a bad dream. I can testify that Anna Andreevna herself… directed… this entire domestic entertainment. Of course, the story has a prehistory.[59]


According to Batalov, the prehistory was as follows. The Ardovs had befriended the returned emigre chansonnier Aleksandr Vertinskii and once arranged a surprise performance in his honor, which included Batalov’s parody of him–to his sheer pleasure.


Gradually I adjusted so well to his gestures and intonations that I could easily replace the text… An especially incongruous and funny effect was achieved when I sang the poems of Maiakovskii in the style of [Vertinskii’s] salon romans. Anna Andreevna time and again made me repeat these parodies… Once, in the presence of many guests… she said: “Alesha, do you… remember what Aleksandr Nikolaevich [Vertinskii] sings to my verses?”… I tried to beg off the dangerous act. “No matter,” she smiled, “… you may use some others, the way you take from Maiakovskii”…


[E]ven adapting Maiakovskii would not sound as unnatural and unmasking as in the case of Akhmatova, because… Akhmatova’s pointedly feminine confessions and emotions, when combined with the gestures and the strictly masculine position of Vertinskii, would border on clowning… To help me… Anna Andreevna started prompting a choice of her poems. Now I felt completely confused–they were lines from her best… lyrics… In such moments Akhmatova’s eyes, despite her regally calm posture, would light up with a slyly mischievous stubbornness and she seemed ready to accept any rules of the game. Prompting, like an experienced conspirator, every word, she finally made me sing the first lines, and the song gradually acquired its funny form…


Akhmatova publicly organized and staged this parodic act, with which she would often “treat” new guests. Many of them, I believe, still have not forgiven me for what I did to Akhmatova’s lyrics… unaware of the origins of this parody [and] that sly wisdom and inner freedom with which Akhmatova dealt with any works of art, including her own.[60]


Similar scenes, with Akhmatova’s friend the actress Faina Ranevskaia in place of Batalov, are described by Nataliia Il’ina:


To an oriental tune of her own invention, rolling her eyes and twisting her arms, Ranevskaia sang: “You don’t love me, don’t want to look my way…” God Almighty!… In the author’s presence these lines are spoofed, mocked! Yet, we were shaking with laughter–both the song’s author and I… Akhmatova, wiping her eyes… would beseech: “Faina! Now, the seamstress”… Akhmatova laughed herself to tears. I also wept. But not only out of laughter. Out of amazement and admiration. Ranevskaia called Akhmatova “rabbi”… I started calling her jokingly “ma’am”… This mixture of reverence and familiarity… gave our relationship a new tinge. I would ask:… “Don’t you think, ma’am, that you are simply a genius?”… “Don’t flatter me, I don’t like it, as the merchant in Ostrovskii used to say.”[61]


The secret dynamics of these self-therapeutic psychodramas becomes obvious once their deeper origins are uncovered. The way Akhmatova played the Maiakovskii-Vertinskii “record,” artfully directing others to rehearse and enact it but not divulging to them its real “prehistory”–the 1920s’ traumas–is very informative. It demonstrates her manipulative expertise at remaining the only one knowing what the show is all about and pulling the strings from behind the scenes.


The heart of the matter is the apparently marginal presence of the principal villain: Maiakovskii. By performing his texts Vertinskii-style in the presence of Vertinskii himself and with his explicit approval, Batalov unwittingly achieves two effects crucial to Akhmatova’s game. Batalov both avenges her: pours balm over her still festering trauma, and suggests to her a felicitous directorial find: the staging of a parody of herself in her presence and thus definitively laying to rest the problem of her vulnerability to humor.


That the parodic acts of Batalov and Ranevskaia stage-managed by Akhmatova were power moves on her part–tours de force in the full sense of the word–was not completely lost on the participants. Batalov goes on to say, “In such… barbaric entertainments… I always glimpse a certain manifestation of a hidden force, of the clarity of the author’s view of the world and her place in it… Anna Andreevna never fenced in her territory, never exempted either herself or her poetry from the surrounding life.”[62] The observation about “barbarism” is corroborated by Il’ina’s reference to a “mixture of reverence and familiarity,” as well as the stylistics of her own discourse, with its “ma’am” and “genius.” This is echoed by the renowned scholar V. V. Ivanov:


Akhmatova was rumored to like the way [Isidor] Shtok treated her, calling her “old woman” to her face and telling her only funny stories… I heard about such parties with Akhmatova’s participation where the guests in their verbal incontinence went pretty far down the road of Bakhtinian carnival.[63]


Remarkably, Akhmatova had not always possessed such a readiness to serve as the butt of ridicule, as witnessed by the long time it took her to cope with Maiakovskii’s antics. A similar observation, this time “in the perspective of everyday life” (“v rakurse byta”), was made by her friend the literary scholar and translator S. V. Shervinskii:


One day [in 1936]… walking on a steep river-bank, she stumbled; for a moment, a shadow of fear crossed her face, but I realized that Akhmatova was frightened by the prospect not of falling, but of looking ridiculous. That was a possibility she could not allow.[64]


Akhmatova’s constant preoccupation with the impression produced by her poetry and person is well attested by memoirists. Could her attitude towards laughter at her expense have undergone such an effective change by the time of the postwar carnivals? To be sure, Akhmatova now had the humor aimed at herself, but she designed the Ordynka happenings in such a way that the deflation of her sublime image would only enhance its “regality”: “This majestic woman, who knew how to petrify those in her presence,[65] had a perfect pitch for humor, and the principal attribute of such a pitch is… the ability… to see oneself in a comic light.”[66] This, however, was by no means an unexpected, independent laughter coming from the outside and threatening to actually subvert her greatness the way Maiakovskii’s mockery once had. On the contrary, the mockery was scripted and directed by Akhmatova herself. Having painstakingly reproduced all the aspects of the traumatic situation–singing to an incongruous tune, disrespectful familiarity, inversion of gender roles, collective laughter–she made a point of changing only one, but decisive, aspect of it: she assumed complete control of the happening.


One is reminded of Chukovskaia’s account of another occasion: “Anna Andreevna sat grandly in the middle of the couch and majestically presided over the wisecracks.”[67] What better way to take the sting out of the debasing spoofs of her poetry than by “presiding over” their replays? A more sinister parallel can be drawn with the truly regal carnival direction in the color sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible (which segues into the murder of the would-be pretender to the throne, Prince Vladimir Staritskii)–and with its real-life prototype: Stalin’s grotesquely “humorous” treatment of the victims of his carnivalized purges.[68]


Such usurpations of carnival do demonstrate the strength of their organizers, but not in the sense of openness to the liberating play of laughter, but rather in the sense of its power-oriented manipulation within the bounds of a secured territory. This refutes Batalov’s claim about Akhmatova’s lack of territoriality.[69] As for humor, under such duress, it inevitably undergoes a mutation. If successful, it acquires self-complacent and even barbaric overtones; if not, it turns subversively against the would-be potentate.


Indeed, in her later years Akhmatova could be blinded by her semi-official fame.   On reading, one was expected to… exclaim in reaction… The newspaper item was supposed to elicit either approbation or indignation. I would occasionally mess up. I exuded approval, when indignation was expected because… of a shade of something Anna Andreevna did not like… So, here I am, enthusing, and from her face and angrily narrowing eyes I can see that I’m out of sync. I try to realign myself as I go, hoping… for a hint as to what exactly I should be indignant about… And she, who could see ten feet below the ground, she, the wisest, the omniscient…she stopped sensing falsehood![70]


One is tempted to conclude, charitably, that power and fame had finally succeeded in corrupting the aging martyr-poet. But then, a similar narcissistic lack of detachment was evident to Kornei Chukovskii almost half a century earlier.[71]


Akhmatova’s remarkable attempts to exorcise parody by presiding over it herself may have had a literary source in her avowed all-purpose mentor and model: Alexander Pushkin. In his “little tragedy” Mozart and Salieri (Motsart i Salieri, 1830), there is an episode in which Mozart brings a blind street fiddler, overheard by him massacring his music, in order to share this campy pleasure with Salieri (Act I, Scene 1). Pushkin’s Mozart is true to his historical prototype, who had included in Don Giovanni a citation from The Marriage of Figaro, travestied by the primitive performance of the invited musicians.[72]However, Pushkin’s (somewhat less historical) Salieri fails to find this funny: he does not “feel like laughing, when a despicable clown/ Dishonors with his parody [an] Alighieri.”[73]


Akhmatova knew her Pushkin well, including the Little Tragedies (Malen’kie tragedii, 1830),[74] and this episode could well have been on her mind as she staged the Ordynka parodies of herself. Fancying herself a Mozart, she did manage to shed at least some “Salierisms.” For instance, Chukovskaia’s typically “Salierian” assumption about the artist’s physical suffering when exposed to a mongrelization of his/her work hardly captures the essence of Akhmatova’s reaction, which was rooted not so much in the aesthetic sphere but rather in that of power politics. Similarly, it was probably Il’ina’s initiative to play Salieri to Akhmatova’s Mozart with her “you-are-a-genius” adulation,[75] although Akhmatova’s coy encouragement is not irrelevant.


And yet, distance herself as she would from Salieri, Akhmatova could not boast the blithely unconcerned self-sufficiency of Pushkin’s Mozart. Her “obedient vassals” Batalov and Ranevskaia do not qualify for the role of a street fiddler messing up the maestro’s work in a random pub. Akhmatova’s control of the performance is reminiscent if not of Salieri then of another quasi-Salierian Pushkin character: Silvio, who insists in “The Shot” (“Vystrel,” 1830) on exercising vengeful power over his “Mozartian” rival (Count B***) even as he attains his personal best in letting him go.[76]


In summing up the differences between the aesthetic credos of Pushkin’s Mozart and Salieri, a Pushkin scholar writes:


The tragedy shows clearly what Salieri does not have: boldness and freedom, the unpredictability… of a genius, his unboundedness by the artificial barriers of the “low” and the “high,” the “proper” and the “improper,” that divine play… that lets him find material for his art everywhere. To Salieri, this creative freedom and unboundedness look like frivolity and lack of discrimination… humiliating ease and irrationality.[77]


This sounds strikingly similar to Akhmatova’s jealous view of Pasternak’s brand of creativity, as reported by her younger friend and secretary, the poet and critic Anatolii Nayman:[78]


[H]er]… principles… set boundaries to the freedom, and unpredictability of [her] writing, and thus to [her] genius. “An everlasting childhood is his prize”,[79] she had written of this aspect of Pasternak’s gifts, with admiration but also condescension, and not without a hint of sarcasm, as if to say, “Enough is enough.” His poems bubbled over the edge of an Acmeistically structured universe…; his lapses of taste… which she did not forgive him for… In short, he “put himself above art,” as Chukovskaia records her saying… I [once] said to her that, dispensing with flattery, Akhmatova was not a genius but some kind of anti-genius.. She listened to this without pleasure.”[80]


Uncannily, Akhmatova’s remark about “putting oneself above art” echoes Salieri’s insistence on the uselessness for “art” of Mozart’s cherub-like soaring to ever new artistic heights.[81]




We have seen Akhmatova pressing her consummate self-presentation skills–narrative, directorial, histrionic, and other–in the service of her carefully constructed persona: ostensibly weak, fragile, victimized, but actually strong, manipulative, powerful. Even as she gets plaudits for self-deprecation and openness to ridicule, she is, in fact, busy secretly performing an aggressive-defensive exorcism of that same laughter. Are these, however, sufficient grounds for interpreting her strategies in a “Stalinist” key? Why not try reading Akhmatova as an olden autocratic barynia, a vainglorious femme fatale, a limelight-crazy bohemian star, or in some other way that would plausibly naturalize the observed tendencies without bringing up that ultimate charge?


Akhmatova can probably be read as any and all of the above lesser despots, but it seems more productive to construe her personality and strategies of survival as part and parcel of the culture of her totalitarian times. Warring parties tend to develop mutual affinities. Hostages, according to the so-called “Stockholm syndrome,” can adopt the value system of their captors. The Zeitgeist principle presupposes a certain cultural unity of the mutually opposing groups. Thus, Ovid, despite banishment from Rome and death in exile, ended up being a great representative of the Augustan epoch. Or, to consider a case closer to home:


Bakhtinian “polyphonism” is usually perceived as a protest against the “monologism”… of Stalinist ideology… But Bakhtin insists… precisely on the totalness of the carnival… whose point is the dissolution of the autonomy of the human body and existence… Bakhtin is highly antipathetic to liberal and democratic values… His portrayals of carnival… are born of the experience of the Revolution… and the atmosphere of Stalinist terror… Yet, Bakhtin’s purpose was by no means their critique… but rather their theoretical justification as an eternal ritual act… To be sure, Bakhtin was not a Stalinist. But he was still less of an anti-Stalinist… A major theme of Russian culture at that time was the aesthetic justification of the epoch… The totalitarian style of the 1930s’ mentality… is also… represented by those, who, while not sharing the Apollonian illusions of worldly power, were, nonetheless, ready for the Dionysian sacrifice.[82]


Akhmatova herself would hardly have settled for the role of a barynia, a superstar, a femme fatale, or some other similarly modest one. “Anna of all Russia”[83] set her sights higher. She perceived–and narrated–herself as a figure on world-size stage, locked in a direct and mortal combat with Stalin the supreme villain, and this fateful match-up kept her charismatic batteries charged. Accordingly, she made sweeping prescriptive pronouncements as someone invested with ultimate ideological and cultural authority. She preferred, “clearcut formulation[s]: The best city in the world [is] Paris, the best country in the world, Italy”;[84] “Dostoevskii is most important with me [samyi glavnyi]. In general, he is the most important.”[85] Akhmatova’s predilection for “the most, the best, the number one” values, which went all the way back to her early years, when it was found unacceptable by Blok,[86] was to resonate later in a paradoxical unison with the Stalinist appointment of ideologically correct icons one per cultural slot, mirroring the strict hierarchical nomenclature of Stalin’s command system in every sphere. In actual life, the establishment of such simplified chain of authority was facilitated by the physical elimination of the competition through purges and the moral cleansing of those beyond historical or geographical reach through defamation. Ironically–and tragically, the same processes led to the elevation of Akhmatova, an unpurged survivor who came to accumulate, inherit, and stand for the literary legacy of an entire era.[87]


Akhmatova’s amalgam of fear, defensiveness, and domineering is a characteristic instance of siege mentality, which was so typical of Stalin, his regime, and the entire “Socialist camp.” Akhmatova the “iron lady”[88] manifested in a grand way the defensive strategies developed by the average homo Sovieticus under the regime’s enormous pressure. Hence the sympathetic chord struck among her contemporaries by her eminently closed personality: her cult of silence and other means of suppressing information (viz., her refusal to take down her poems, reluctance to write letters, and destruction of existing correspondence, in particular, that with her ex-fiance V. G. Garshin)[89] and her replacement of her “real” person with the invented, narrated, and staged selves helping to hide her “iron” core beneath outward fragility.[90]


The constructedness of Akhmatova’s personality and the dynamics of her “power through weakness” were shrewdly discerned by her friend and sometime mentor, the poet and critic N. V. Nedobrovo, who wrote in his 1915 review of her second book of poetry Rosary (Chetki):


[A] very strong book of power-full [vlastnykh] verses… A desire to imprint oneself on the beloved, somewhat coercive [or even rapist: nasil’nicheskoe]… An unrequited love… which by its ability all of a sudden to disappear instantly induces the suspicion of inventedness… Akhmatova’s very voice… displays a lyrical soul that is harsh rather than too soft, cruel rather than tearful, and obviously domineering rather than oppressed… An unsuspecting observer… has no idea that were these very same pathetic holy fools… to return to the world, they would walk with their iron feet over his living worldly man’s body; then he would discover the cruel power… of the capricious ones… who had shed tears over trifles.[91]


Akhmatova’s “intimidating cruelty” sensed by Nedobrovo did materialize later, in the way she struck awe in the hearts of her friends, admirers, and the wider public and would not hesitate to cut off–virtually “non-person,” Orwellian-style–her acquaintances, including Chukovskaia. The imperious, indeed, “imperial,” image that she liked to project and that others chose to validate by playing along, the bureacratic Soviet cliches that she was wont to use quasi-ironically–all these linked her to the surrounding power-ridden cultural atmosphere.


The “Russian-imperial” overtones of her image, far from contradicting her “Stalinist” affinities, actually reinforced them. Her programmatic conservatism–emphasis on memory, love of marble monuments, her own statuesque figure and personality, her dogmatic reliance on classical quotations,[92] her prescriptive cultural rankings (of books, artists, cities, pastimes),[93] the growing traditionality of her versification[94]–turned out to be profoundly in tune with the neo-imperial Stalinist “Culture Two” (in the sense of Vladimir Papernyi’s seminal book).[95]


Lidiia Chukovskaia, in trying to puzzle out the arbitrary humiliation and excommunication to which she, Akhmatova’s devoted younger friend, helper, and chronicler of many years, was subjected by Akhmatova in Tashkent in 1942 (the split lasted through 1952), sketched the following scenario:


As far as I understand it now, Anna Andreevna did not want to break up with me definitively; she wanted to provoke my question: “Why are you angry with me?” Then she would have explained to me my guilt, I would have apologized, she would have magnanimously forgiven me… But my conscience did not bother me, I could find no cause for guilt…[96]


Chukovskaia’s insightful conjecture may have been due to the subliminal familiarity of this psychological script. The silent sadistic treatment by which the would-be infallible senior partner forces the junior one to not only submit to her will but to masochistically “understand” her own guilt and the senior’s righteousness underlies a well-known plot in Akhmatova’s “number one” writer: that of Dostoevskii’s “The Gentle Spirit” (“Krotkaia,” 1877). This is hardly a coincidence. According to Susan Amert,


[In her poem “Prehistory,”] Akhmatova is portraying herself as Dostoevskii’s literary heir. The paternal legacy is… a gift associated with cruelty… Cruelty… has been associated with Dostoevskii’s art since… N. K. Mikhailovskii’s… Zhestokii talant… (1882). It was also a quality ascribed to Akhmatova’s lyric talents by N. V. Nedobrovo…[97]


To expand the analogy, one could complement “cruelty” with “miracle, mystery, and authority,” which constituted the tools of power prized by The Brothers Karamazov‘s Grand Inquisitor and were also among Akhmatova’s favorite poetic motifs and self-fashioning strategies. Indeed, the husband character in “The Gentle Spirit” is a close relation of Dostoevskii’s “Grand-Inquisitorial” types–and of their progeny in the subsequent dystopian literature and real-life totalitarian dystopias with their insistence on rituals of recanting, self-criticism, and re-education. In the story, the husband’s treatment of his wife results from his passing on to her the victimization to which he himself had been subjected earlier in life. Similarly, Akhmatova’s “purging” of Chukovskaia (and some others) can be seen as replicating her own persecution at the hands of Stalin and his henchmen.[98]


To be sure, the legitimacy of the “Stalinist” metaphor is among the many questions raised by the unorthodox interpretation of Akhmatova’s life-text proposed in these pages. But a metaphor is not an equation, and Stalin remains the ultimate paragon of totalitarian power and thus a useful point of reference. And while it is obvious that Akhmatova (whose practical power was negligible and ethical-political stance, well-nigh irreproachable), cannot be compared with Stalin in terms of actual mass victimization, the metaphor does hold on its proper, figurative level. In the domain of literary and personal reputations, where she did wield considerable moral authority, she is known to have resorted to ostracism and character assassination.


Another meta-interpretational issue concerns the comparative validity of the various testimonies used in piecing together Akhmatova’s totalitarian image. Some of the sources could be questioned as suspected or even proven secret police informers, others as envious literary or personal rivals, still others as disaffected former friends/helpers, squirming victims of her imperious treatment, as traders in second- and third-hand gossip, and so on and so forth. It stands to reason, however, that such a discriminating approach should follow, not precede, the sketching of a broad integral picture based on the striking mutual agreement among the otherwise highly different witnesses. Their unanimity is evidence if not of the accuracy of the emerging individual portrait, then certainly of its collective acceptance and desirability. The stories that are told and retold about Akhmatova clearly conform to a commonly cherished model–that of “awesome authority.”[99] In this, they are not so different from those told about Stalin by generations of Soviet people, including intellectuals and dissidents, in the mixed spirit of fear and fascination.[100]


Akhmatova’s strategies of resistance and survival through an obverse replication of the regnant power structure were not exceptional. One analog is Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the once and ever hardened zek (Gulag prisoner), in whom Akhmatova clearly saw a kindred soul: his indomitable opposition to the regime was sustained by his hidden, at least up to a time, authoritarian core. Other strategic options available to and explored by Akhmatova’s great contemporaries included such scenarios as: enthusiasm/ disappointment/ suicide (Maiakovskii), enthusiasm/ collaboration/ Aesopian critique/ silence (Eisenstein), defiance/ submission/ suicide (Tsvetaeva), defiance/ exile/ collaboration/ purging (Mandelstam).[101]


A tellingly different existential course is instanced by the constructed literary and personal self of Akhmatova’s fellow survivor and poetic rival Boris Pasternak. Reifying his master trope “my sister–life,”[102] Pasternak fashioned a program of “fraternization” with women, friends, adversaries, and political realities, which, however, could be practiced only up to a point, beyond which it proved to be but a utopian metaphor and had to be discarded in favor of another similar program-metaphor.[103]This strategy can be seen to underlie Pasternak’s entire tortuous journey from a rather unreserved acceptance of the Revolution (especially, that of February 1917) to an ambiguous, partly Aesopian collaboration in the 1920s to a period of ecstatic, if somewhat self-imposed pro-Stalinism in the early ’30s and eventually to a more or less open rupture with the Soviet system and a clinging to (Russian Orthodox) Christianity in the ’50s.


The affinities among these various life-plans show how essentialy limited were the available scenarios, overdetermined by both the objective realities of Stalinism and the subjective attitudes inherited from the culture of the Silver Age and from the nineteenth-century “populist” tradition. Against this background, Akhmatova stands out as an ultimate paradox of resistance cum replication. The indisputable force of her poetry and persona lays a strong claim on a lasting place in the Russian literary canon–as perhaps the most durable specimen of the siege culture of her time.


[1]. Lenin….


[2]. Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against Hope. A Memoir (New York: Atheneum, 1970), p. 170.

[3]. For such a hagiography of Akhmatova, see Amanda Haight, Anna Akhmatova: A Poetic Pilgrimage (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), and Roberta Reeder, Anna Akhmatova: Poet and Prophet (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994); see also my review of the latter: Alexander Zholkovsky, “Anna Akhmatova: Scripts, Not Scriptures,” Slavic and East European Journal, 40 (1996) 1: 135-141.

[4]. I. Metter in M. Kralin, ed., Ob Anne Akhmatovoi: stikhi, esse, vospominaniia, pis’ma, (Leningrad: Lenizdat, 1990; henceforth abbreviated as OAA), p. 387.

[5]. Nika Glen in V. Vilenkin and V. Chernykh, eds., Vospominaniia ob Anne Akhmatovoi (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1991; henceforth abbreviated as VAA), p. 634.

[6]. Anatoly Nayman, Remembering Anna Akhmatova (New York: Henry Holt, 1991), p. 163.

[7]. Catriona Kelly, “Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966),” in her A History of Russian Women’s Writing. 1820-1992 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 219.

[8]. Nadezhda Mandelstam, “Akhmatova,” in Konstantin Polivanov, ed., Anna Akhmatova and Her Circle (Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 1994; henceforth abbreviated as AAHC), p. 121.

[9]. Nayman, p. 81.

[10]. I. N. Punina, in VAA, p. 27.

[11]. Isaiah Berlin, “Anna Akhmatova: A Memoir,” in Roberta Reeder. ed., The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, Judith Hemschemeyer, trans. (Somerville, Mass.: Zephyr Press, 1990), vol. 2, p 38.

[12]. Gregory Freidin, A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam and his Mythologies of Self-Presentation (Berkeley: UC Press, 1987), p. 1-33; for a recent variation on the more traditional view, see Claire Cavanagh, “The Death of the Book a la russe: The Acmeists under Stalin,” Slavic Review 55 (1996) 1: 125-135.

[13]. On the concept of zhiznetvorchestvo see Irina Paperno and Joan Grossman, eds., Creating Life: The Aesthetic Utopia of Russian Modernism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994).

[14]. Nayman, p. 6.

[15]. P. N. Luknitskii, Vstrechi s Annoi Akhmatovoi, vol. 1. (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1991), p. 232-233.

[16]. Sophie Ostrovskaya, 1988. Memoirs of Anna Akhmatova’s Years 1944-1950 (Liverpool: Lincoln Davies), p. 37.

[17]. Mandelstam, in AAHC, p. 128.

[18]. S. V. Shervinskii, in VAA, p. 292.

[19]. Vasilii Astapov, in OAA, p. 407.

[20]. N. V. Koroleva, “Anna Akhmatova i leningradskaia poeziia 1960-kh godov,” in N. V. Koroleva and S. A. Kovalenko, eds, “Svoiu mezh vas eshche ostaviv ten’…”: Akhmatovskie chteniia. 3 (Moscow: Nasledie, 1992), p. 123.

[21]. This was first noted by Osip Mandelstam, in his early 1922 review, “Letter about Russian Poetry” (see his Complete Critical Works and Letters, ed. by Jane Gary Haris [Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1979], p. 158), and Boris Eikhenbaum, in his 1923 monograph “Anna Akhmatova” (see his O poezii [Leningrad: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1969], p. 140.

[22]. “Posledniaia skazka Pushkina,” in Anna Akhmatova, Sochineniia, vol. 2 (Munich: Inter-Language Literary Associates, 1968; first published 1933), pp. 197-222.

[23]. E. G. Gershtein, in AAHC, p. 140.

[24]. Lidiia Chukovskaia, Zapiski ob Anne Akhmatovoi, vol. 1 (Moscow: Kniga, 1989), vol. 2 (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1980), 2: 451-452; henceforth referred to by volume and page only.

[25]. About this see Beth Holmgren, Women’s Works in Stalin’s Time: On Lidiia Chukovskaia and Nadezhda Mandelstam (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993), Zholkovsky, “Scripts,” and Aleksandr Zholkovskii, “Strakh, tiazhest’ mramor (Iz materialov k zhiznetvorcheskoi biografii Akhmatovoi), Wiener Slawistischer Almanakh 36 (1996): 119-154.

[26]. Chukovskaia, 2, p. x.

[27]. Glen, in VAA, p. 631.

[28]. For more detail see Zholkovskii, “Strakh.”

[29]. Mandelstam, in AAHC, p. 128.

[30]. Chukovskaia 2, pp. 31-32.

[31]. In the provocative formulation by the postmodern poet Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Prigov, Vo vsekh derevniakh, ugolkakh by nichtozhnykh/ Ia biusty vezde by postavil ego/ A vot by stikhi ia ego unichtozhil–/ Ved’ oblik oni prinizhaiut ego (In all the villages, [all] nondescript necks of the wood, I would install [Pushkin’s] busts. But as for his verses, I would annihilate them–for they do lower his image.)

[32]. Kees Verheul, “Neskol’ko posleakhmatovskikh vospominanii,” in N. V. Koroleva and S. A. Kovalenko, eds., “Svoiu mezh vas eshche ostaviv ten’…” Akhmatovskie chteniia. 3 (Moscow: Nasledie, 1992), p. 49.

[33]. See Pushkin’s 1831 sonnet “Poetu” (To the Poet), with its programmatic statement lines: Ty tsar’: zhivi odin… (You are tsar: live alone…), in A. S. Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v desiati tomakh, vol. 3 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1977), p. 165.

[34]. For more detail see Zholkovsky, “Strakh.”

[35]. Nayman, pp. 81-82.

[36]. Ign. Ivanovskii, in OAA, p. 615.

[37]. Chukovskii’s article (see “Akhmatova and Maiakovskii,” in Edward J. Brown, ed., Major Soviet Writers: Essays in Criticism [New York: Oxford University Press, 1973], pp. 33-53) was published in 1921, after a series of 1920 lectures, given in Moscow and Petrograd, on “Two Russias (Akhmatova and Maiakovskii),” where Akhmatova was made to represent the old, sophisticated, churchgoing Russia and Maiakovskii, the new, nihilist, Soviet one; Akhmatova stood for intimacy, silence, Maiakovskii, for public speechmaking, shouting; and so on.

[38]. According to S. A. Kovalenko (“Akhmatova i Maiakovskii,” in N. A. Koroleva and S. A. Kovalenko, eds., Tsarstvennoe slovo: Akhmatovskie chteniia. 1 [Moscow: Nasledie, 1992], p. 168) and V. Vilenkin, V sto pervom zerkale [Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1990], p. 41]), both were major poets, troubadours of “unhappy love”; and, according to Kovalenko, ibid., p. 173 (with a reference to R. Khlodovskii’s unpublished ms. “Akhmatova i Dante,” in the Arkhiv akademicheskogo sobraniia sochinenii Anny Akhmatovoi v semi tomakh [at IMLI]), both were victims of the Soviet regime in general and censorship in particular).

[39]. See I. S. Eventov in OAA, pp. 360-379; Kovalenko, p. 167; V. Katanian, Maiakovskii: khronika zhizni i deiatel’nosti (Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1985), p. 520, where Maiakovskii is quoted saying, after reciting an Akhmatova poem in his powerful voice, that while “expressing refined and fragile emotions, the poem itself is not fragile at all, Akhmatova’s verses are monolithic and can withstand the pressure of any voice without cracking”. Akhmatova, in turn, is known to have “mentally ‘tried on’ Maiakovskii’s fate” (Kovalenko, p. 163).

[40]. See Katanian, p. 100, Kovalenko, p. 166.

[41]. See Kovalenko, p. 166, N. Reformatskaia in VAA, p. 542.

[42]. On this poem, “Maiakovskii v 1913 godu” (Maiakovskii in the year 1913) and other aspects of the interrelationship between the two poets see also L. F. Katsis, “Zametki o stikhotvorenii Anny Akhmatovoi ‘Maiakovskii v 1913 godu,'” Russian Literature 30 (1991): 317-336.

[43]. Chukovskaia, 2, p. 140.

[44]. Chukovskaia, 2, p. 192 (entry for February 13, 1957).

[45]. Also, Lily Brik’s memoirs soon appeared in Znamia (The Banner, 1940, No. 3).

[46]. Eventov, p. 361. In August 1922, Maiakovskii had publicly nicknamed her “Akhmatkina” (Katanian, p. 232).

[47]. Eventov, p. 361.

[48]. Eventov, p. 362.

[49]. Eventov, pp. 362-363.

[50]. The list of poets futuristically mongrelized by Maiakovskii should also include Pushkin, e. g. the famous paraphrase in “Iubileinoe” (The Jubilee Poem; 1924) of Eugene Onegin’s letter to Tatiana.

[51]. Eventov, p. 363.

[52]. See Iu. Tynianov’s 1921 article, “Dostoevskii i Gogol’ (K teorii parodii),” in his Poetika. Istoriia literatury. Kino (Moscow: Nauka, 1977), pp. 198-226.

[53]. See, especially, S. G. Bocharov, “Perekhod ot Gogolia k Dostoevskomu,” in his O khudozhestvennykh mirakh (Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1985), pp. 161-209.

[54]. Eventov, p. 365.

[55]. Also, by the end of the ’50s the association with Maiakovskii may no longer have had any political use for Akhmatova.

[56]. “Through the end of her life–and hardly in fairness, Akhmatova held that precisely this article was the source of almost all her further misfortunes” (Vilenkin, p. 45); see also Kovalenko, p. 171, and M. Budyko, in OAA, p. 465.

[57]. See Kovalenko, p. 174.

[58]. See D. Maksimov, in VAA, p. 124.

[59]. See Aleksei Batalov, in VAA, pp. 563-564.

[60]. Batalov, pp. 565-566.

[61]. See Nataliia Il’ina, in VAA, p. 575.

[62]. Batalov, p. 566.

[63]. See Viach. Vs. Ivanov (who has written professionally on Bakhtin and on carnival), in VAA, p. 479.

[64]. S. V. Shervinskii, p. 282.

[65]. For more detail on Akhmatova’s intimidating presence see Zholkovsky, “Strakh.”

[66]. Il’ina, p. 573.

[67]. Chukovskaia 2, p. 15.

[68]. See Alexander Zholkovsky, “Eisenstein’s Poetics: Dialogical or Totalitarian?”, in John E. Bowlt and Olga Matich, Laboratory of Dreams: The Russian Avant-Garde and Cultural Experiment( Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 249-251.

[69].           On Akhmatova’s treatment of the issue of “boundaries” in a 1915 poem see Alexansder Zholkovsky, “To Cross or Not to Cross: Akhmatova’s ‘Sacred Boundary,'” in Janos Petofi and Terry Olivi, eds., Approaches to Poetry: Some Aspects of Textuality, Intertextuality and Intermediality (Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1994), pp. 248-264.

[70]. Il’ina, p. 592.

[71].           On March 26, 1922, he wrote in his diary about visiting her:


With the gesture of a hostess entertaining an important guest she gave me… a magazine… “They really berate me!… This Gollerbakh… look what he writes about me… It turns out that Akhmatova’s maiden name is Gorenko!! [NOTE Pseudonym] How dare he?”… One could sense that here was the core passion of her life… “What a fool!… As a schoolgirl I bought doughnuts in their bakery–it doesn’t follow from this that he can call me… Gorenko.”


To test my impression, I told her… that in my Studio there was a split…: some are for, others against [her]. “And, you know, among the opponents there are sensitive and clever people…” This excited Akhmatova so much that she felt she had to affect indifference, started looking into the mirror, arrange her bang, and said in a worldly manner: “Very interesting, very! Bring me… this paper.”


I felt a terrible pity for this hard-living woman. She had somehow completely concentrated on herself, on her fame–and barely lives through anything else.” (Kornei Chukovskii, Dnevnik 1901-1929 [Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1991], pp. 201-202).

[72]. On Pushkin’s use of Mozartian self-quoting see Boris Gasparov, “Ty, Motsart, nedostoin sam sebia”, in Vremennik pushkinskoi komissii. 1974 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1977), pp. 115-123; on Mozart’s own games see also Boris Kats, “Iz Motsarta nam chto-nibud’,” in Vremennik pushkinskoi komissii.1979 (Leningrad: Nauka, 1982), pp. 120-124.

[73]. I. e., Dante, who, incidentally, was another of Akhmatova’s idols; see Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie, vol. 5, p. 308.

[74]. See, for instance, her 1947 article, “Kamennyi gost’ Pushkina,” in her Sochineniia, vol. 2, pp. 257-274; for an astute analysis of Akhmatova’s reading her own constructed self and life-text into Pushkin’s Stone Guest see Stephanie Sandler, ‘The Stone Ghost: Akhmatova, Pushkin, and Don Juan, ” in Stanfor Slavic Studies, vol. 4:2 (Literature, Culture, and Society in the Modern Age: In Honor of Joseph Frank. Part. II (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), pp. 3-49. Akhmatova’s special interest in Pushkin’s Salieri is evidenced by one of her “Northern Elegies,” variously numbered Third and Fifth: “Menia, kak reku…” (Me, like a river…). Stylistically and metrically this autobiographical self-portrait in blank iambic pentameter is patterned on Salieri’s opening soliloquy, with which it also shares the more specific motifs of “an existential and creative turn” and “creative envy” (see Anna Akhmatova, Sochineniia, vol 3 (Paris: YMCA-Press, 1983), p. 79-80, Pushkin, Polnoe sobranie, vol. 5 (Leningrad, 1978), pp. 306-307).

[75]. See his lines: “Ty, Mozart, bog, i sam togo ne znaesh’;/ Ia znaiu, ia” (“You, Mozart, are (a) god,and you don’t know it yourself. I know. I [do]”; Pushkin…).

[76].           Silvio was also very important for Dostoevskii (see Paul Debreczeny, The Other Pushkin: A Study of Alexander Pushkin’s Prose Fiction [Stanford University Press, 1983], pp. 114-119), who, in turn, was “number one” writer for Akhmatova (about which presently).

[77]. B. Gasparov, p. 122.

[78]. To be sure, there is always the chance that Nayman has reade Gasparov.

[79]. See Akhmatovas’s 1936 poem “Boris Pasternak” (Sochineniia, vol. 1 [Munich: Inter-Language Literary Associates, 1967], pp. 234-235), with the line: On nagrazhden kakim-to vechnym detstvom (He has been awarded some sort of eternal childhood).

[80]. Nayman, pp. 212-213.

[81]. See Salieri’slines: Chto pol’zy, esli Motsart budet zhiv/ I novoi vysoty eshche dostignet?/ Podymet li on tem iskusstvo? (What’s the use, if Motsart lives on and achieves new heights? Will he thus elevate art?; Pushkin, Polnoe Sobranie, vol. 5, p. 310).

[82].           Boris Grois, “Mezhdu Stalinym i Dionisom,” Sintaksis 25 (1989), pp. 94-97; see also Boris Groys, “Nietzsche’s Influence on the Non-official Culture of the 1930s,” in Bernice Rosenthal, ed., Nietzsche and Soviet Culture: Ally and Adversary (New York: Cambridge UP, 1994), pp. 367-389.

[83]. This appellation, going back to the Ninth of Marina Tsvetaeva’s “Verses to Akhmatova” (1916), has been used as the title of a recent biography: Igor’ Losievskii, Anna vseia Rusi: Zhizneopisanie Anny Akhmatovoi (Khar’kov: Oko, 1996).

[84]. See Mikhail Ardov, “Legendarnaia Ordynka,” in Chistye prudy. Al’manakh (Moscow: Moskovskii rabochii, 1990), No. 4, p. 675.

[85]. See Nataliia Roskina, in AAHC, p. 187.

[86]. “I will never accept [nikogda ne pereidu cherez] your “vovse ne znala,” u “samogo moria,” “samyi nezhnyi”… postoiannye “sovsem“…” (Aleksander Blok, in VAA, p. 43). Incidentally, this obsession with superlatives belies the allegedly “low-key” image of Akhmatova, opposed by Chukovskii to the “loud-mouthed” Maiakovskii.

[87]. See K. Chukovskii, Dnevnik, p. 219; Nayman, p. 211-212.

[88]. To an awed junior contemporary’s compliment: “You all seem like made of iron,” she quipped: “Those not of iron have long ago perished” (Budyko, p. 499).

[89]. See Zholkovsky, “Scripts.”

[90]. A memoirist remembered her saying about an old babushka‘s impression of her: “Poor old thing! She pities me so!… She thinks that I am a weakling. She has no idea that I am–a tank!” (V. G. Admoni, in VAA, p. 342). In connection with “strength through weakness,” worth note are the manifold parallels with the ostensibly “modest” appearances assumed by Soviet leaders, as discussed in Aleksander M. Etkind, “Psychological Culture,” in Dmitri N. Shalin, ed., Russian Culture at the Crossroads: Paradoxes of Postcommunist Consciousness (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1996), pp. 112-113.

[91]. See N. V. Nedobrovo, “Anna Akhmatova,” in Akhmatova, Sochineniia, vol 3, pp. 474, 487-489.

[92]. See Kelly, pp. 209, 220.

[93]. For an extensive list of such dogmatic formulations by Akhmatova see Zholkovsky, “Strakh,” pp. 135-136.

[94]. See Mikhail Gasparov, “The Evolution of Akhmatova’s Verse,” in Sonia Ketchian, ed., Anna Akhmatova 1889-1989: Papers from the Akhmatova Centennial Conference, June 1989 (Oakland, CA: Berkeley Slavic Specialties, 1993), pp. 68-74.

[95]. See Vladimir Paperny, Kul’tura Dva(Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1985).

[96]. Chukovskaia, 2, p. xvi. Additional light has been shed on the matter by a recent communication from Mikhail Meilakh, who has known both Akhmatova and Chukovskaia. In a letter to me (written in the Fall of q996, but undated), he reports what he had heard from Chukovskaia:


“In Tashkent… the ladies in waiting… the “Akhmatissas” started, in Akhmatova’s presence, a game: each one had to state what she loved Akhmatova for… Akhmatova listened benevolently to the ladies excercising in pretentiousness; when the turn of Chukovskaia, who could not stand the game, came, she simply said: “For the poetry,” to a mocking response from the ladies, and Akhmatova did not defend her, to say the least. Lidiia Korneevna got up, left, and never visited Akhmatova in [the next] ten years… Both then and later she blamed Akhmatova and always insisted on this… [But] in her diaries [i. e., in Chukovskaia, vol. 2] she passed in silence over the reasons for the quarrel, which makes her attitude even more sympathetic [to us].”


Meilakh’s letter ends a stipulation that, should I quote it, his reservations regarding some of my “interpretations of Akhmatova’s behaviorism” be mentioned.

[97]. See Susan Amert, In a Shattered Mirror: The Later Poetry of Anna Akhmatova (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), p. 90.

[98]. For Stalin, too, Dostoevskii was a “No. One,” except that he showed his appreciation by effectively silencing the author of Devils out of official literary history. In Stalin’s twilight (my dawning) years, Dostoevskii was not even taught in Soviet high schools; Akhmatova was–as the culprit of the 1946 attacks.

[99]. “Awesome,” rather than “Terrible,” might be the correct English rendering of the epithet Grozny in the sobriquet of Tsar Ivan IV.

[100]. For a reasoned collection of such jokes see Iurii Borev, Staliniada (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1990).

[101]. See Freidin, A Coat, and M. L. Gasparov, O. Mandel’shtam: Grazhdanskaia lirika 1937 goda (Moscow: RGGU, 1996).

[102]. For more detail see Aleksandr Zholkovskii, “Kniga knig Pasternaka: K 75-letiiu ‘Sestry moei – zhizni,'” Zvezda (Star) 1997, 12 (forthcoming).

[103]. See B. M. Gasparov, “‘Gradus ad Parnassum’ (Samosovershestvovanie kak kategoriia tvorcheskogo mira Pasternaka),” in I. Iu. Podgaetskaia et al., eds., “Byt’ znamenitym nekrasivo…”: Pasternakovskie chteniia, vyp. 1 (Moscow: Nasledie, 1992), pp. 110-135.