The Englishman from Lebedian': A Life of Evgeny Zamiatin

The Englishman from Lebedian': A Life of Evgeny Zamiatin

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J.A. E. Curtis

Series: Ars Rossica
ISBN: 9781618112804 (hardcover) / 9781618114853 (paper)
Pages: 408 pp.; 33 illus.
Publication Date: October 2013

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After Evgeny Zamiatin emigrated from the USSR in 1931, he was systematically airbrushed out of Soviet literary history, despite the central role he had played in the cultural life of Russia’s northern capital for nearly twenty years. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, his writings have gradually been rediscovered in Russia, but with his archives scattered between Russia, France, and the USA, the project of reconstructing the story of his life has been a complex task. This book, the first full biography of Zamiatin in any language, draws upon his extensive correspondence and other documents in order to provide an account of his life which explores his intimate preoccupations, as well as uncovering the political and cultural background to many of his works. It reveals a man of strong will and high principles, who negotiated the political dilemmas of his day—including his relationship with Stalin—with great shrewdness.


Julie A. Curtis is a Fellow of Wolfson College, University of Oxford, where she has been teaching Russian since 1991. She is the author of two books about Evgeny Zamiatin’s close friend and contemporary Mikhail Bulgakov, including a biography (Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov—A Life in Letters and Diaries). She also has a particular interest in Russian drama from Pushkin to the present day. In the course of her research on Zamiatin’s life she discovered a unique original typescript of his most famous novel, the science-fiction anti-utopia We (1920), which George Orwell read and admired as he was planning his own Nineteen Eighty Four. Her scholarly edition of Zamiatin’s We, co-edited with Marina Liubimova, was published in St Petersburg in 2011, and provided Russian readers for the first time with an authentic text of this classic work.


The first study of its scope, Curtis’s book offers an astute and carefully researched, not to mention unparalleled, consideration of Zamiatin. Here, between a smartly designed cover and interspersed with two sets of illustrations and photographs, we find a carefully wrought portrait of the writer. Curtis has culled from numerous archives to construct a biography that illuminates many aspects of Zamiatin and his many contacts in the Soviet and Western worlds, The Englishman allows its subject to speak for himself. . . . An especially enticing feature of Curtis’s book is that it features the clarity, scope, and novel points of departure necessary to spark further interest in this most unabashedly iconoclastic of writers.
— José Vergara (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 58, no. 4 (Winter 2015)
J.A.E. Curtis’s meticulously researched and highly entertaining new biography is a refreshing addition to Evgenii Zamiatin scholarship. . . . Curtis takes full advantage of archives that were previously closed or inaccessible in order to provide us with a detailed account of Zamiatin’s nomadic life and work. . . . I felt at times that I was peering over Curtis’s shoulder as she delightedly uncovered each new object and letter. Zamiatin’s journeys are informed and enriched by Curtis’s own journey through the archives. . . . I highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in the early Soviet period or in Zamiatin. Curtis provides us with a vivid, well-researched, and entertaining account of one of the most important writers of the twentieth century.
— Eric Laursen (University of Utah), in the Canadian Slavonic Papers, Vol. LVI, Nos. 3-4, September-December 2014
This book is the combined product of love for the subject matter and thorough research in archives across two continents and three countries: the United States, Russia, and France. The result is the first complete critical biography of one of Russia’s leading modernist writers, critics, and philosophers. . . . Curtiss detailed treatment of Zamiatin’s family, work, and literary relationships brings the story of the writer’s everyday life directly to the reader. Her analyses of his literary works are comprehensive but not obtrusively so. They whet the reader’s appetite to read the originals. . . . Most important, Curtis describes the highly complicated individual that was Evgenii Zamiatin fairly. In short, her book should be welcomed into every academic and general reader’s home. Readers will likely learn not only the uniqueness of Zamiatin’s multifaceted heritage and the history of his troubled times but will also understand something about their own personal struggles and victories.
— Zinaida Gimpelevich (University of Waterloo, Canada), in the Slavic Review, vol. 73, no. 4 (Winter 2014)
The Englishman From Lebedian’ by J. A. E. Curtis is a welcome and significant contribution to the scholarship on Evgenii Zamiatin. Weaving together a detailed account of his dual career as an engineer and a writer with insights into his complicated personal life, Curtis creates a narrative fabric that is both comprehensive and nuanced. This book will be useful to students getting acquainted with Zamiatin and to scholars who have known him for many years. . . . Curtis’s access to Zamiatin’s archives and especially his voluminous correspondence has resulted in a full, balanced and meticulously detailed account of his life and work. Of particular value to scholars of this period are accounts of Zamiatin’s friendships and collaborations with Bulgakov, Akhmatova, Fedin, Annenkov, Kustodiev, Chukovskii and many other figures in Russian modernism. The photographs and illustrations included in the book add significantly to the story Curtis tells in this volume. It is a story that expands and enriches our understanding of early twentieth-century Russian and Soviet culture as a whole.
— Karen L. Ryan, Stetson University, Slavonic and East European Review, 92, 4, October 2014
[T]hroughout this compelling new biography we are struck above all by Zamiatin’s multifaceted personality and extraordinary vitality. . . . The sheer amount of detail could have become overwhelming, but Curtis never allows it to stifle a narrative that brilliantly illuminates the life of one of the most talented figures in twentieth-century Russian life and letters.
— Roger Cockrell, University of Exeter, Modern Language Review, Volume 109, Part 4, October 2014
Julie Curtis’s The Englishman from Lebedian’: A Life of Evgeny Zamiatin is an indispensable new biography for readers who want to learn more about one of Russia’s most important 20th-century writers. Curtis has unearthed fascinating new details about Zamiatin’s early years in England, and she brings to life the world of Revolutionary Russia as he wrote what would become his masterpiece, We. The biography’s concluding chapters are especially riveting, as Curtis describes Zamiatin’s final years in emigration and his relationship with friends and colleagues in Soviet Russia and abroad. Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Englishman from Lebedian’ will undoubtedly become the English language standard for both scholars and general readers.
— Justin Weir, Harvard University