Yevgeny Zamyatin

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Yevgeny Zamyatin
Kustodiev Zamyatin.jpg
Yevgeny Zamyatin by Boris Kustodiev (1923).
Born Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin
(1884-02-01)1 February 1884
Lebedyan, Tambov Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 10 March 1937(1937-03-10) (aged 53)
Paris, France
Occupation Novelist, Journalist
Nationality Russian
Genre Science fiction, Satire
Notable works We

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin[1] (Russian: Евге́ний Ива́нович Замя́тин; IPA: [jɪvˈɡʲenʲɪj ɪˈvanəvʲɪtɕ zɐˈmʲætʲɪn]; January 20 (Julian) / February 1 (Gregorian), 1884 – March 10, 1937) was a Russian author of science fiction and political satire. He is most famous for his 1921 novel We, a story set in a dystopian future police state. Despite having been a prominent Old Bolshevik, Zamyatin was deeply disturbed by the policies pursued by the CPSU following the October Revolution. In 1921, We became the first work banned by the Soviet censorship board. Ultimately, Zamyatin arranged for We to be smuggled to the West for publication. The subsequent outrage this sparked within the Party and the Union of Soviet Writers led directly to Zamyatin's successful request for exile from his homeland. Due to his use of literature to criticize Soviet society, Zamyatin has been referred to as one of the first Soviet dissidents.

Early life

Zamyatin was born in Lebedyan, Tambov Governorate, 300 km (186 mi) south of Moscow. His father was a Russian Orthodox priest and schoolmaster, and his mother a musician. In a 1922 essay, Zamyatin recalled, "You will see a very lonely child, without companions of his own age, on his stomach, over a book, or under the piano, on which his mother is playing Chopin."[2]

He may have had synesthesia since he gave letters and sounds qualities. For example, he saw the letter "Л" as having pale, cold, and light blue qualities.[3]

He studied naval engineering in Saint Petersburg from 1902 until 1908, during which time he joined the Bolsheviks. He was arrested during the Russian Revolution of 1905 and sent into internal exile in Siberia. However, he escaped and returned to Saint Petersburg where he lived illegally before moving to the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1906 to finish his studies.

After returning to Russia, he began to write fiction as a hobby. He was arrested and exiled a second time in 1911, but amnestied in 1913. His Uyezdnoye (A Provincial Tale) in 1913, which satirized life in a small Russian town, brought him a degree of fame. The next year he was tried for maligning the Imperial Russian Military in his story Na Kulichkakh (At the world's end). He continued to contribute articles to various Marxist newspapers.

After graduating as an engineer for the Imperial Russian Navy, Zamyatin worked professionally at home and abroad. In 1916 he was sent to the United Kingdom to supervise the construction of icebreakers [4] at the shipyards in Walker and Wallsend while living in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Literary career

Yevgeny Zamyatin.

Zamyatin later recalled, "In England, I built ships, looked at ruined castles, listened to the thud of bombs dropped by German zeppelins, and wrote The Islanders. I regret that I did not see the February Revolution, and know only the October Revolution (I returned to Petersburg, past German submarines, in a ship with lights out, wearing a life belt the whole time, just in time for October). This is the same as never having been in love and waking up one morning already married for ten years or so.."[5]

Zamyatin's The Islanders, satirizing English life, and the similarly themed A Fisher of Men, were both published after his return to Russia in late 1917. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 he edited several journals, lectured on writing, and edited Russian translations of works by Jack London, O. Henry, H. G. Wells, and others. Zamyatin originally supported the October Revolution, but opposed the increasing use of censorship which followed.

His works became increasingly satirical and critical toward the CPSU. Although he supported them before they came to power he slowly came to disagree more and more with their policies, particularly those regarding censorship of the arts. In his 1921 essay "I Am Afraid," Zamyatin wrote: "True literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and skeptics." [6] This attitude made his position increasingly difficult as the 1920s wore on. In 1923, Zamyatin arranged for the manuscript of his novel We to be smuggled to E.P. Dutton and Company in New York City. After being translated into English by Gregory Zilboorg, the novel was published in 1924.

Then, in 1927, Zamyatin went much further. He smuggled the original Russian text to Marc Lvovich Slonim (1894–1976), then editor of a Russian émigré journal and publishing house based in Prague. To the fury of the State, copies of the Slonim edition began being smuggled back to the USSR and secretly passed from hand to hand. Zamyatin's dealing with Western publishers triggered a mass offensive by the Soviet State against him. As a result, he was blacklisted from publishing anything in his homeland.

We has often been discussed as a political satire aimed at the police state of the Soviet Union. There are many other dimensions, however. It may variously be examined as (1) a polemic against the optimistic scientific socialism of H. G. Wells, whose works Zamyatin had previously published, and with the heroic verses of the (Russian) Proletarian Poets, (2) as an example of Expressionist theory, and (3) as an illustration of the archetype theories of Carl Jung as applied to literature. George Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) must be partly derived from We.[7] However, in a 1962 letter to Christopher Collins, Huxley says that he wrote Brave New World as a reaction to H.G. Wells' utopias long before he had heard of We.[8][9] Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing Player Piano (1952) he "cheerfully ripped off the plot of Brave New World, whose plot had been cheerfully ripped off from Yevgeny Zamyatin's We."[10] In 1994, We received a Prometheus Award in the Libertarian Futurist Society's "Hall of Fame" category.[11]

In addition to We, Zamyatin also wrote a number of short stories, in fairy tale form, that constituted satirical criticism of Communist ideology. In one story, the mayor of a city decides that to make everyone happy he must make everyone equal. The mayors then forces everyone, himself included, to live in a big barrack, then to shave their heads to be equal to the bald, and then to become mentally disabled to equate intelligence downward. This plot is very similar to that of The New Utopia (1891) by Jerome K. Jerome whose collected works were published three times in Russia before 1917.[12] In its turn, Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron" (1961) bears distinct resemblances to Zamyatin's tale.

Max Eastman, an American communist who had similarly broken with his former beliefs, described the Politburo's campaign against Zamyatin in his book Artists in Uniform.[13]

Escape and death

In 1931, Zamyatin appealed directly to Joseph Stalin, requesting permission to leave the Soviet Union. In this letter Zamyatin wrote, "I do not wish to conceal that the basic reason for my request for permission to go abroad with my wife is my hopeless position here as a writer, the death sentence that has been pronounced upon me as a writer here at home.".[14] With the encouragement of Maxim Gorky, Stalin decided to grant Zamyatin's request.

Zamyatin settled with his wife in Paris, where he collaborated with French film director Jean Renoir. Renoir's 1936 adaptation of Gorky's The Lower Depths was co-written by Zamyatin.

Yevgeny Zamyatin died in poverty of a heart attack in 1937. Only a small group of friends were present for his burial. However, one of the mourners was his Russian language publisher Marc Slonim, who had befriended the Zamyatins. Zamyatin's grave can be found in Cimetière de Thiais, south of Paris.

Tomb of Yevgeny Zamyatin at the "Cimetière de Thiais", Division 21, Line 5, Grave 36.


Through We, Yevgeny Zamyatin directly inspired George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four,[15] Ayn Rand's Anthem,[16] Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed,[17] Aldous Huxley's Brave New World[18] and Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano.[19]

Major writings

  • Uezdnoe (Уездное), 1913 – 'A Provincial Tale' (tr. Mirra Ginsburg, in The Dragon: Fifteen Stories, 1966)
  • Na kulichkakh (На куличках), 1914 – A Godforsaken Hole (tr. Walker Foard, 1988)
  • Ostrovitiane (Островитяне), 1918 – 'The Islanders' (tr. T.S. Berczynski, 1978) / 'Islanders' (tr. Sophie Fuller and Julian Sacchi, in Islanders and the Fisher of Men, 1984)
  • Mamai (Мамай), 1921 – 'Mamai' (tr. Neil Cornwell, in Stand, 4. 1976)
  • Lovets chelovekov (Ловец человеков), 1921 – 'The Fisher of Men' (tr. Sophie Fuller and Julian Sacchi, in Islanders and the Fisher of Men, 1984)
  • Peshchera (Пещера), 1922 – 'The Cave' (tr. Mirra Ginsburg, Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1969) – Dom v sugrobakh / House in the Snow Drifts, film adaptation in 1927, prod. Sovkino, dir. Friedrich *Ermler, starring Fyodor Nikitin, Tatyana Okova, Valeri Solovtsov, A. Bastunova
  • Ogni sviatogo Dominika (Огни святого Доминика), 1922 (play)
  • Bol'shim detiam skazki (Большим детям сказки), 1922
  • Robert Maier (Роберт Майер), 1922
  • Gerbert Uells (Герберт Уэллс), 1922 [H.G. Wells]
  • On Literature, Revolution, and Entropy, 1924
  • Rasskaz o samom glavnom (Рассказ о самом главном), 1924 – 'A Story about the Most Important Thing' (tr. Mirra Ginsburg, in *The Dragon: Fifteen Stories, 1966)
  • Blokha (Блоха), 1926 (play, based on Leskov's folk-story 'Levsha, translated as 'The Left-Handed Craftsman')
  • Obshchestvo pochotnykh zvonarei (Общество почетных звонарей), 1926 (play)
  • Attila (Аттила), 1925–27
  • My: Roman (Мы: Роман), 'We: A Novel' 1927 (translations: Gregory Zilboorg, 1924; Bernard Guilbert Guerney, 1970, Mirra Ginsburg, 1972; Alex Miller, 1991; Clarence Brown, 1993; Natasha Randall, 2006; first Russian-language book publication 1952, U.S.) – Wir, TV film in 1981, dir. Vojtech Jasny, teleplay Claus Hubalek, starring Dieter Laser, Sabine von Maydell, Susanne nAltschul, Giovanni Früh, Gert Haucke
  • Nechestivye rasskazy (Нечестивые рассказы), 1927
  • Severnaia liubov' (Северная любовь), 1928
  • Sobranie sochinenii (Собрание сочинений), 1929 (4 vols.)
  • Zhitie blokhi ot dnia chudesnogo ee rozhdeniia (Житие блохи от дня чудесного ее рождения), 1929
  • 'Navodnenie', 1929 – The Flood (tr. Mirra Ginsburg, in The Dragon: Fifteen Stories, 1966) – Film adaptation in 1994, dir. Igor Minayev, starring Isabelle Huppert, Boris Nevzorov, Svetlana Kryuchkova, Mariya Lipkina
  • Sensatsiia, 1930 (from the play The Front Page, by Ben Hecht and Charles Mac Arthur)
  • Nos: opera v 3-kh aktakh po N.V. Gogoliu, 1930 (libretto, with others) – The Nose: Based on a Tale by Gogol (music by Dmitri Shostakovitch; tr. Merle and Deena Puffer, 1965)
  • Les Bas-Fonds / The Lower Depths, 1936 (screenplay based on Gorky's play) – Film produced by Films Albatros, screenplay Yevgeni Zamyatin (as E. Zamiatine), Jacques Companéez, Jean Renoir, Charles Spaak, dir. Jean Renoir, starring Jean Gabin, Junie Astor, Suzy Prim, Louis Jouvet
  • Bich Bozhii, 1937
  • Litsa, 1955 – A Soviet Heretic: Essays (tr. Mirra Ginsburg, 1970)
  • The Dragon: Fifteen Stories, 1966 (tr. Mirra Ginsburg, reprinted as The Dragon and Other Stories)
  • Povesti i rasskazy, 1969 (introd. by D.J. Richards)
  • Sochineniia, 1970–88 (4 vols.)
  • Islanders and the Fisher of Men, 1984 (tr. Sophie Fuller and Julian Sacchi)
  • Povesti. Rasskazy, 1986
  • Sochineniia, 1988 (ed. T.V. Gromov)
  • My: Romany, povesti, rasskazy, skazki, 1989
  • Izbrannye proizvedeniia: povesti, rasskazy, skazki, roman, pesy, 1989 (ed. A.Iu. Galushkin)
  • Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 1990 (ed. E. Skorosnelova)
  • Izbrannye proizvedeniia, 1990 (2 vols., ed. O. Mikhailov)
  • Ia boius': literaturnaia kritika, publitsistika, vospominaniia, 1999 (ed. A.Iu. Galushkin)
  • Sobranie sochinenii, 2003–04 (3 vols., ed. St. Nikonenko and A. Tiurina)
File:We first edition 1924.jpg
We, 1924 first U.S. edition, Dutton, New York.


  1. His last name is often transliterated as Zamiatin or Zamjatin. His first name is sometimes translated as Eugene.
  2. A Soviet Heretic: Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin,Edited and translated by Mirra Ginsburg, University of Chicago Press 1970. Page 3.
  3. Introduction to Randall's translation of We.
  4. The Russian writer who inspired Orwell and Huxley, Russia Beyond The Headlines
  5. A Soviet Heretic, page 4.
  6. "I Am Afraid," A Soviet Heretic: Essays
  7. Orwell (1946).
  8. Russell, p. 13.
  9. "Leonard Lopate Show". WNYC. August 18, 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (radio interview with We translator Natasha Randall)
  10. Playboy interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., July 1973.
  11. "Libertarian Futurist Society: Prometheus Awards". Retrieved 22 March 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "The New Utopia" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-06-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Max Eastman, Artists in Uniform: A Study of Literature and Bureaucratism, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934) pp. 82–93
  14. Yevgeny Zamyatin: Letter to Stalin. A Soviet Heretic: Essays Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1970; pg. xii.
  15. Bowker, Gordon (2003). Inside George Orwell: A Biography. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 340. ISBN 0-312-23841-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Mayhew R, Milgram S. 2005. Essays on Ayn Rand's Anthem: Anthem in the Context of Related Literary Works. Lexington Books, p.134
  17. Le Guin UK. 1989. The Language of the Night. Harper Perennial, p.218
  18. Blair E. 2007. Literary St. Petersburg: a guide to the city and its writers. Little Bookroom, p.75
  19. [1] Archived June 7, 2011 at the Wayback Machine


  • Collins, Christopher. Evgenij Zamjatin: An Intrepretive Study. The Hague and Paris, Mouton & Co. 1973. Examines his work as a whole and includes articles earlier published elsewhere by the author: We as Myth, Zamyatin, Wells and the Utopian Literary Tradition, and Islanders.
  • Cooke, Brett (2002). Human Nature in Utopia: Zamyatin's We. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Fischer, Peter A. (Autumn 1971). "Review of The Life and Works of Evgenij Zamjatin by Alex M. Shane". Slavic and East European Journal. 15 (3): 388–390. doi:10.2307/306850.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Kern, Gary, "Evgenii Ivanovich Zamiatin (1884–1937)," Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 272: Russian Prose Writers Between the World Wars, Thomson-Gale, 2003, 454–474.
  • Kern, Gary, ed (1988). Zamyatin’s We. A Collection of Critical Essays. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis. ISBN 0-88233-804-8.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Myers, Alan (1993). "Zamiatin in Newcastle: The Green Wall and The Pink Ticket". The Slavonic and East European review. 71 (3): 417–427.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Richards, D.J. (1962). Zamyatin: A Soviet Heretic. London: Bowes & Bowes.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Russell, Robert (1999). Zamiatin’s We. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shane, Alex M. (1968). The Life and Works of Evgenij Zamjatin. Berkeley: University of California Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zamiatin, Evgenii Ivanovich (1988). Selections (in русский). sostaviteli T.V. Gromova, M.O. Chudakova, avtor stati M.O. Chudakova, kommentarii Evg. Barabanova. Moskva: Kniga. ISBN 5-212-00084-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (bibrec) (bibrec (Russian))
We was first published in the USSR in this collection of Zamyatin's works.
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1966). The Dragon: Fifteen Stories. Mirra Ginsburg (trans. and ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1970). A Soviet Heretic : Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Mirra Ginsburg (trans. and ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (1984). Islanders & The Fisher of Men. Sophie Fuller and Julian Sacchi (trans.). Edinburgh: Salamander Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zamyatin, Evgeny (1988). A Godforsaken Hole. Walker Foard (trans.). Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2006). We. Natasha Randall (trans.). NY: Modern Library. ISBN 0-8129-7462-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. List of translations.
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny. Collected works (Russian) including his Autobiography (1929) and Letter to Stalin (1931)

External links