The British Myth of Russia

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New “Soviet” meanings not only infiltrated British literature, but they were also created and then reinterpreted in it (up to the point of denial and elimination). From the 1940s to the 1980s an exceptionally large number of novels dealing with the Soviet theme were published in Britain. For example, in 1980 alone, 19 novels connected with the image of the USSR were published in Britain. Among them were the books that vividly described Britain’s future following its conquest by the Soviet Union (K. Amis. Russian Hide and Seek; J. Gardner. Golgotha), the books that told a love story between an Englishman and a Russian woman during or before the Summer Olympics in Moscow (C. MacArthur. The Flight of the Dove), as well as detective fiction, thrillers, black comedies, etc.

Literature was among the first to declare the rejection of “bolshevism” and the socialist totalitarianism and to focus on the latter as the object of depiction. Already in 1941 the first British anti-Soviet novel Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler appeared and had an immense influence on British audience. In 1945 and 1949 George Orwell (influenced by Darkness at Noon) publishes two dystopian novels Animal Farm: A Fairy Story and Nineteen eighty-four: A Novel respectively, depicting not the USSR itself, but “a totalitarian hierarchical regime based on devious physical and spiritual enslavement and instilling universal fear among people and fueling overall hatred”[1]. Contemporary audience perfectly understood that the prototype of Orwell’s totalitarian monsters was, first and foremost, the Soviet Union. In Ian Fleming’s novel From Russia with Love (1957) for the first time in British spy fiction the Russian and British worlds butted heads as two political powers, two government systems, two understandings of the world.  Fleming’s Russian world is primarily the world of KGB and SMERSH. They are closely intertwined with motifs of death, fear, danger, mechanical and cruel nature of the system, cunning and deceit (typical recurring motif words: “murder”, “brutality”, “carelessness of human life”, “guile”; “mechanical” and “infernally dull” (people)), hardcore propaganda and state’s aggressive expansionist intentions. This narrative characterizes the Russians as semi-savage people with a slave mentality, unable to make art, who only follow the orders no questions asked. The reprimanded General’s subordinates are called “moujiks” (Russian peasants) who are punished with “knout” (a whip) («The moujiks had received the knout»). In these and similar references to such ahistorical atrocious side of Fleming’s depiction of the Russians we can clearly see the layer of the British myth about Russia formed in the 16th century; and in the descriptions of the state machine and people as cogs in it we find a new “Soviet” layer of the myth about Russia.

[1] Bartov A. “Novoyaz” v literature i v zhizni. K 60-letiyu vykhoda romana Dzhordzha Oruella “1984” [“Newspeak” in literature and in life. For the 60th anniversary of George Orwell’s 1984 publication]. Neva Publ., 2009. No. 3, pp. 159 – 165.


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