From Stalinist Russia, With Love

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

In Stalinist Russia, they had a love-hate relationship with the United States: Stalin hated it but the writers he dispatched to the U. S. on investigatory trips got to rather like it.

stalin photoIlya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov, co-authors of The Twelve Chairs, had such an epiphany when the Man of Steel sent them to America on a fact-finding trip. “Petrov pointed out that only New York City and Chicago had skyscrapers, the remainder of the country consisted of one- and two-story homes,” Inna Kapilevich of Columbia pointed out in a panel at the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention. “Cars defined small towns, from dealers to gas stations to mechanics.”

“They became accustomed to the comforts and high standards in the United States,” Kapilevich said. They traveled 16,000 square miles on their U. S. visit in 1935 through 1936. Soon thereafter, “such a trip would not have been possible due to Stalinist travel bans,” Kapilevich noted. Kapilevich is a PhD candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages at Columbia.

Russia had “an image of technologically advanced America,” Vasily Lvov, who shared the panel with Kapilevich, said. Lvov is with the Graduate Center and the City University of New York. O. Henry and Jack London were the most popular American authors in Stalinist Russia, Lvov claims.

Nevertheless, Americans were usually portrayed as despicable villains in Soviet fiction for decades, particularly in children’s literature, Lioudmila Federova of Georgetown pointed out in that panel on “Perceptions of the United States in Stalinist Culture.” Federova is an associate professor at Georgetown.

Thousands of English professors from around the world attend the MLA’s annual conference.

Photo by x-ray delta one

Photo by x-ray delta one