V.P. Polonskij and the Traditions of Russian Literary Criticism

J. Frank Goodwin, University of Florida

Scholars of Russian literature and culture often cite Vjacheslav Pavlovich Polonskij (1886–1932) as an outstanding critic of the Soviet period, but to date there are no thorough studies or reviews of his work. Two valuable collections in 1968 and 1988 provided samples of Polonskij's writings, but neither fully reflects the scope and diversity of his literary output, which included criticism, journalistic editorials, theatrical reviews, investigative reporting, historical writing and cultural studies. Least familiar is the early period of Polonskij's career, which began before the first World War. By the summer of 1921, when he became the editor of the prestigious thick journal, Pechat' i revoljucija, Polonskij was already an experienced journalist and literary critic with publications in leading periodicals like Vestnik znanija, Letopis' and Novaja zhizn'.

Like many of his older associates in the literary intelligentsia, in his work as a Soviet critic Polonskij often applied and endorsed principles from the pre-revolutionary period. Together with Voronskij, Lunacharskij and other veterans, Polonskij defended, for example, the merits of the Russian classics while opposing the advocates of an exclusively "proletarian" literature. At the same time, however, Polonskij maintained an ostensibly independent position in the battles over ideology and methodology in the Soviet arts. Having begun his career comparatively later than many of his colleagues, in a sense Polonskij stood at the head of the new, younger generation of critics whose task was to secure the transition from "Russian" to "Soviet" literary criticism.

My paper aims, firstly, to identify the sources of Polonskij's early methods in the history of Russian literary criticism and, secondly, to determine the significance of critical traditions in Polonskij's most representative work as a Soviet critic. By comparing a number of little-known writings by Polonskij before 1921 with his more widely read articles from Pechat' i revoljucija and Novyj mir between 1921 to 1931, I hope to establish the important moments in Polonskij's evolution not only as an individual thinker, but also as a key figure on the front to preserve and disseminate some of the traditional aspirations of Russian literary criticism.