Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov (1905-1984)
Russian writer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965. Sholokhov's best-known work is the novel Quiet Flows the Don (1928-40), the finest realist novel about the Revolution. While Leo Tolstoi's novel War and Peace (1863-69) immortalized the the Napoleonic campaigns to the eve of the Decembrist revolt, Quiet Flows the Don showed the destruction of the Cossacks and the birth of a new society. After this magnificent novel, Sholokhov's career as a writer started to go down and reached its bottom with the novella 'The Fate of a Man' (1956-57). It is among the least impressive works produced by a Nobel writer, along with Hemingway's posthumously published book True at First Light (1999).
Mikhail Sholokhov was born in the Kruzhlinin hamlet, part of stanitsa Veshenskaya, former Region of the Don Cossack Army. His father was a Russian of the lower middle class. He had many occupations, including farming, cattle trading, and milling. His illiterate mother came from an Ukrainian peasant stock and was the widow of a Cossack. She learned to read and write in order to correspond with her son. Sholokhov attended schools in Kargin, Moskow, Boguchar, and Veshenskaia, but his formal education ended in 1918 when the civil war reached the Upper Don region. Sholokhov joined the Bolshevik (Red) Army, serving in the Don region during civil war. During this period Sholokhov witnessed the anti-Bolshevik uprising of the Upper Don Cossacks and took part in fighting anti-Soviet partisans, remnants of the white army. These experiences were later recounted in his works.
When the Bolsheviks had secured their control of power, Sholokhov went to Moskow, where he supported himself by doing manual labour. He was a longshoreman, stonemason, and accountant (1922-24), but also participated in writers "seminars"interrmittently. His first work to appear in print was the satirical article 'A Test', which was published in 1922 in the Moskow newspaper Yunosheskaya Pravda. 'The Birthmark,' Sholokhov's first story, appeared when he was 19. In 1924 Sholokhov returned Veshesnkaya and devoted himself entirely to writing. In the same year he married Mariia Petrovna Gromoslavskaia; they had two daughters and two sons.
Sholokhov's first book, DONSKIE RASSKAZY (Tales of the Don), a collection of short stories, appeared in 1925. The dominant theme in the stories is the bitter political strife within a village or a family during the civil war and the early 1920s. Sholokhov joined the Communist Party in 1932, and in 1937 he was elected to the Soviet Parliament. He wrote to Stalin about the brutal mistreatment of collective farmers in 1933 and complained about mass arrests in 1938. This letter led to a treason case against the author, but he was spared and promoted as the leading figure of the Soviet literary establishment. Stalin followed closely Sholokhov's literary career and influenced publication of his works.
Sholokhov gained world fame with his novel TICHY DON (Quiet Flows the Don), which won the Stalin Prize in 1941. The work was originally published in serialized form between the years 1928 and 1940. The author was 22 years old when he submitted the first volume for publication and 25 when three-quarters of the work was composed. In the second volume Sholokhov especially relied on documentary material. The third book's frank account of ill treatment of Cossacks by Communists caused the journal Oktiabr to suspend publication in 1929. Permission to resume was only accorded after reference to Stalin himself. Book 4 did not appear in complete form until 1940, 15 years after the young author had first written its early scenes.
Quiet Flows the Don presents the struggle of the Whites against the Reds more or less objectively. Sholokhov portrays the Cossacks realistically and reproduces their speech faithfully. This also inspired orthodox Communist to accuse the writer of adopting uncritically a conservative Cossack point of view. The story traces the progress of the Cossack Grigory Melekhov, a tragic hero. He is based on a historical prototype, Kharlampii Ermakov, one of the first Cossacks to rise against the communist in 1919. He was later imprisoned and shot in 1929. Like many figures of classical tragedy, Melekhov fate is destined by his own virtues. He first supports the Whites, then the Reds and finally joins nationalist guerrillas in their conflict with the Red Army. Back at home he is destroyed by a former friend, a hardline communist. However, Grigory's political and war experiences are overshadowed by the story of his tragic love. In the narration nature description has a central place. Sholokhov's prose is ornamental with prolific use of color, figures of speech, and careful attention to details.
During World War II Sholokhov wrote about the Soviet war efforts for various journals, among them Pravda and Krasnaia zvedza. He received Stalin Prize for Literature in 1941 and Lenin Prize in 1960. Sholokhov's second novel. Virgin Soil Upturned, appeared in two parts, 'Seeds of Tomorrow' in 1932 and 'Harvest on the Don' in 1960. The novel depicted collectivization of agriculture in a Don Cossack village. It is perhaps the best-known and most sympathetic description of this period. It also became required reading for all collective farm directors. The dramatic events are written in the first volume in rapid sequence with the touch of a journalistic report. The second volume, which covers only the summer of 1930, shows the decline of Sholokhov's artistic ambitions and ideological orthodoxy. The reader learns nothing about the terrorism and famine of 1932-33. During the 1933 famine Sholokhov himself saved thousands of lives by persuading Stalin to send grain to the Upper Don region. No new literary work of his appeared since 1969.
Sholokhov accompanied in 1959 the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on a trip to Europe and the United States, and in 1961 he became a member of the Central Committee. In most of his speeches and journalistic writings Sholokhov faithfully followed the official policy of the day. Sholokhov died on January 21, 1984 in Veshenskaya, where he had lived from 1924. By 1980 almost seventy-nine million copies of his works had been printed in the Soviet Union in eighty-four languages.
Quiet Flows the Don is Sholokhov most controversial work and it has been alleged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn among others, that much of the novel was plagiarized from the writer Fyodor Kryukov, a Cossak and anti-Bolshevik, who died in 1920. Several studies has been published on this subject: R.A. Medvedev's Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov (1977) was criticized in Slavic and East European Journal in 1976 by Herman Ermolaev. Additional information is in A Brian Murphy's studies of Tikhiy Don in the New Zealand Slavonic Journal (1975-77) and the Journal of Russian Studies, no. 34 (1977). Sholokhov's other works are not on his masterwork's level, but the accusations remain largely unproven. Critics have argued, that he could not have written all or part of the novel because of his young age and because Quiet Flows the Don described atrocities on both sides impartially. In 1984 Geir Kjetsaa and others published their study The Authorship of the Quiet Don, where computer study supported the authorship of Sholokhov. Most of the manuscripts were lost when the Germans occupied Veshenskaya , but in 1987 some two thousand pages of manuscript was discovered and authenticated.