Akhmatova's Boswell

By Moyer, Steve | Humanities, January/February 2011 | Go to article overview

Akhmatova's Boswell


Moyer, Steve, Humanities


From the early 1980s until around 2000, there was a publishing explosion of Russian diaries and memoirs recalling Stalin's Terror and World War IL After glasnost the trend continued but has now subsided. "This moment," writes Irina Paperno in Stories of the Soviet Experience: Memoirs, Diaries, Dreams, "is the end of an epoch."

At great personal risk, editor and literary scholar Lidiia Korneevna Chukovskaia kept a diary of her daily meetings with poet Arma Akhmatova in the years 1938-42 and 1952-65. She gradually became aware of her role and wrote, "Day by day, month by month, my fragmentary notes became less and less a recreation of my own life, turning into episodes in the life of Anna Akhmatova." During Stalin's Terror, Akhmatova's son was among the many imprisoned. Chukovskaia observed, "Before my own eyes, Akhmatova's fatesomething greater even than her own person - shaped this famous and neglected, strong and helpless, woman into a statue of grief, loneliness, pride, courage." Chukovskaia also became a living repository for Akhmatova's poetry. Zastenok, a code word for the Terror meaning literally behind-the-wall-space, "organized the conditions of speaking." Akhmatova, like fellow Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, considered it too great a risk to read her work aloud or commit it to paper, and she consequently relied on Chukovskaia to memorize the verse hastily written on scraps of paper during their visits and then destroyed. …

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