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Educational, Literary and State Authorities and the Publishing Trajectories of Legacy Children’s Literature in Early Soviet Russia

Rôle des autorités éducatives, littéraires et étatiques dans le devenir éditorial des livres pour la jeunesse à l’aube de la Russie soviétique
Роль педагогических, литературных и государственных авторитетов в издательской судьбе литературного наследия для детей в раннесоветской России
Svetlana Maslinskaya et Kirill Maslinsky


Dès le début des années 1920, les dirigeants bolchéviques ont proclamé la nécessité de réviser radicalement l’héritage prérévolutionnaire de la littérature jeunesse et de créer de nouveaux livres soviétiques pour enfants. Dans notre article, nous cherchons à dégager les facteurs qui ont favorisé les chances des auteurs et des œuvres patrimoniales d’être inclus dans la courte liste des classiques pour enfants, dans les années 1930. Sur la base de données bibliographiques complètes sur les livres pour enfants imprimés entre 1918 et 1932, et de plusieurs sources soviétiques faisant autorité pour recommander les livres pour enfants, nous effectuons une modélisation statistique pour évaluer quelles autorités ont effectivement servi de « sauf-conduit » protégeant certains auteurs et livres contre la politique de purge par élimination. Nos résultats indiquent que l’inclusion dans la liste du Narkompros de 1923 des auteurs dont l’œuvre a été déclarée monopole d’État, ainsi que l’inclusion dans la liste des livres proposés par Gorki pour sa maison d’édition « Littérature du monde » ont eu un effet positif significatif sur le nombre d’éditions de cet auteur. Contrairement à nos attentes, la popularité d’un auteur dans les anthologies pour enfants d’avant la révolution n’est pas corollée à une perspective de croissance significative de sa réédition dans les années 1920 et au début des années 1930.

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1. Introduction

1The first decades of Soviet power in Russia were a time of social and political turmoil, but this was also a period for restructuring the cultural and literary field. Beginning in the early 1920s, Narkompros leaders and other Bolshevik officials responsible for guiding and controlling publishing for children began to clearly voice a new policy—the need to radically revise the pre-revolutionary legacy of children’s literature and to create new Soviet books for children. Not surprisingly, with such a revolutionary focus, there is much more research on what was new in Soviet children’s literature than on what was retained from the old times. Nevertheless, many pre-revolutionary authors continued to be published, with representatives of the classical Russian literary canon holding an important place among them. In this paper, we analyze comprehensive bibliographic data on books for children printed in 1918–1932 to trace what former classics and favorites of children’s reading persisted in the Soviet publishing market. Based on these data, we reevaluate the claims made by the Soviet literary establishment as well as those made by later researchers about how Soviet children’s literature incorporated and restructured the pre-revolutionary legacy.

  • 1 Lydia Felixovna Kohn (1896–?): writer, a historian of Soviet literature. In 1930 she served as a se (...)

2The first monograph that provided a systematic description of the development of Soviet children’s literature in this period is a book by Lydia Kohn1 titled Soviet Children’s Literature. 1917–1929 (Kohn, 1960). She was also the first to draw conclusions on the trends of the period using bibliographic data included in the comprehensive index of books for children printed in Russia between 1918 and 1932, which was compiled by I. Startsev (1933). While Kohn made some justified observations in her book that were based on quantitative data, for instance, about the publishing crisis of 1921, her argument was deeply embedded within Soviet ideological discourse. Her interpretation of the core process characterizing this period in children’s literature was worded as follows: “a critical adoption of literary legacy and the creation of new Soviet literature” (Kohn, 1960: 15). By “critical adoption” she meant that “monarchist and liberal philanthropic trash had to be removed from the library shelves, and along with that, everything had to be kept that could serve ‘for the benefit of communism’ at least to some extent” (ibid.).

3Besides Kohn’s monograph, several works on the history of Russian publishing consider the fate of classical literature in the early Soviet book market. These studies mostly focus on the activities of Maxim Gorky and his publishing house World Literature (Vsemirnaia literatura) (Meilakh, 1967; Shomrakova, 1967; Khlebnikov, 1971; Barenbaum, 2003), and on the publishing activity of the literary section of Narkompros (Dinnershtein, 1970 ; Shomrakova, 1981). In these papers, the statistical data on the number of books by classical authors printed in this period is drawn from the archival publishers’ plans and published catalogs. It is important to note that the activity of both World literature and Narkompros was aimed at a wide audience not confined to children. Indeed, what is lacking in these studies is data on the share of classical works printed specifically for children. Likewise, while Kohn presents her statistical data on the books addressed specifically to children, she does not specify the percentage of classical literature in early Soviet children’s books and does not trace the changes of this percentage. The criteria used to select authors for inclusion in the “classics” list in publishers’ prospects are not discussed, either.

4The history of reprints of works by authors who were popular among children before the revolution, like Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak, Jules Verne, and James Fenimore Cooper, is even less clear. We are not aware of any research on the publishing history of these “children’s classics” in the early Soviet period.

5Apparently neither historians of children’s literature nor historians of book publishing bothered to collect systematic evidence on the printings of literary heritage for children in the first post-revolutionary decades. Meanwhile in all studies of children’s literature of the period it is argued that new children’s literature was created in this time, with considerable attention being paid to its aesthetic and ideological features as well as to development trajectories of new authors and genres (Hellman, 2012; Balina, 2012). Obviously, it was not by chance that “the new” came into focus. It is backed by the position that 1917 was a rupture point after which a completely new history of Russian children’s literature had begun. This position was formed mainly due to the efforts of Nadezhda Krupskaya and Samuil Marshak, the two most influential leaders of the literary process for children in the first two decades of Soviet power (Maslinskaya, 2017). The attention to the new names in children’s literature, along with the emphasis on new topics and style, are characteristic features that the discourse of post-war Soviet literary criticism shares with public discourse on children’s literature of the 1920s–1930s (see, for instance, monographs and textbooks by Lydia Kohn, Irina Lupanova, and others).

6In early 1920s in the professional and party press literary critics and pedagogues echoed proletkul’t leaders in writing about literary legacy in terms of revision and purge (Yanovskaya, 1923; Kalmykova, 1924; Yanovskaya, 1925, and many others). After 1925 the radicalism began to subside, and already in 1933 Marshak, reflecting on literary heritage in the pages of Izvestija newspaper, maintained that “The revolution could not preserve the integrity of this [pre-revolutionary—S. M., K. M.] world of books. Only works by classic authors, both ours and foreign, remained sacrosanct, along with the books of the best contemporary writers” (Marshak, 1933).

  • 2 Here we mean the Instructions for revising library collections issued in 1921 and a 1923 Instructio (...)

7In his article, Marshak holds some elemental force of the revolution responsible for the changes that occurred to pre-revolutionary children’s literature. However, he emphasizes not the destructive aspect of the revolutionary force, but a “protective” one. Speaking 15 years after the revolution, he does not refer to the revolutionary demolition of “outdated” children’s literature (as it was optimistically put in the statements by Yanovskaya, Krupskaya, Sverdlova, and others), but to the inability to preserve children’s literature in its integrity. In his narrative, the revolution appears as a caring nurse safeguarding the dowry of Russian literature, and not as an enraged Valkyrie burning volumes of classics and issuing one list of prohibited books after another.2

8In the 15 years following the revolution, the official Soviet discourse clearly shifted from strong repudiation of children’s classics to partial pragmatic appropriation of it. In our paper, we aim to trace how this general policy shift was, or was not, reflected in the actual printings of works by classical and popular authors that were featured in pre-revolutionary children’s reading. Moreover, using statistical modeling of the comprehensive bibliographic data on books for children printed between 1918 and 1932, we seek to disentangle what factors played a role in the chances of legacy authors and works to be included in the limited selection of appropriated children’s classics by the 1930s. What factors could affect whether a particular author or work turned out to be “sacrosanct”? In particular, did the status of a “classic” earned by 1918 affect the permission to be printed in the new orthography? To what extent could the author’s popularity as a children’s writer before the revolution save his books from getting into the restricted library sections?

9Our method here is to track the presence of authors and works listed as “classical” by various authorities during this period. We regard these lists as something like “security certificates” that protected certain authors and books from the default purge policy. Using the data on the actual printings of books for children in the 15 years after the revolution, we evaluate to what extent the initial status and the later policy changes affected the publishing fate of individual classic authors as well as broader segments of children’s reading in early Soviet Russia.

2. Literary heritage for children: anthologies and authorities

10Our first task is to compile a list of authors who may be potentially identified as classics of children’s reading by 1918. One possible source to obtain such a list is the contents of literary anthologies for schoolchildren. Year after year, these anthologies reprinted the same works considered by the pedagogical expert community to be worthy examples of literary style. We used a database of anthology contents compiled by Alexey Vdovin as our source (Vdovin, 2013a, 2013b).

  • 3 For instance, the decree of the public comissar on enlightenment of 14 February 1918 “On the publis (...)
  • 4 Afanas’ev S. T., Andreev L. N., Aksakov S. T., Bakunin M. A., Belinskij V. G., Gogol’ N. V., Garshi (...)

11Among the post-revolutionary sources, the first source to consider is the lists of publishing writers whose work was pronounced a state monopoly by the Soviet government. This is the case when works by classic authors were considered to be a literary legacy. Deliberately omitting here the discussion of the question of the formation of the category “classic author” in Russian literary criticism (see Vdovin, 2012), we simply base our analysis on several state documents issued in 1918–1923 that included the lists of authors and formed the basis for further book publishing policy.3 For instance, in the Narkompros decree of January 1923, a list of writers monopolized by the State included 47 authors.4

  • 5 More on the relationships of Soviet power, Gorky and Grzhebin in respect to the organization of boo (...)

12In addition to the lists introduced in decrees and resolutions, it is reasonable to also consider lists created by authoritative cultural figures. For the period of 1918–1921, the most authoritative person in the sphere of book publishing in Soviet Russia was Maxim Gorky. Before his departure in 1921 he contributed a lot towards organizing book publishing. Gorky believed that publishing the literary legacy was an important, if not central, part of this work. While making a publishing plan for his World Literature publishing house, he compiled a list of books intended for publication for his partner Zinovii Grzhebin.5 In selecting books for publication, he was guided by the idea that “A man should be shown to a child first and foremost as a hero, as a courageous traveler in unexplored lands, as a knight in spirit, as a fighter for the truth, as a revolutionary and an idealist, as a dreamer in love with his dream fertilizing it by the power of his imagination, animating it with the power of his will”, and he continued that “children should be armed with faith in man and in the great meaning of his creativity from an early age—that will make them strong in spirit, persistent fighters” (Gorky, 1989). Based on this premise, Gorky’s list included Miguel de Cervantes, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Hans Christian Andersen, Hector Malot, Mark Twain, Alphonse Daudet, Alexander Pushkin, Vasily Zhukovsky, Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, and other authors. These were almost exclusively writers whose works were popular among young readers and were not included in the school curriculums and anthologies.

13In 1920, an index of books for children compiled by Alexandra Kalmykova and Olga Kapitsa for libraries and club workers was published (Kalmykova & Kapitsa, 1920). They defined the purpose of their index as follows:

Books for children suffered a common fate: they disappeared from the book market completely, publishers’ shelves are empty. New editions of previously existing books are being published, but this republication process is slow […]. There is no doubt that this is a temporary condition, that books for children will appear, that various publishers will attend to it. And now it is more than ever advisable that those who are close to the school work, to the children’s libraries—supervisors of children’s reading provide guidelines for what should be prioritized for reprinting, what is most needed by the children’s school libraries. This immediate goal requires not voluminous comprehensive catalogs, but indexes of the most needed books that would be useful to the publishers and to the ones who recognize the necessity to compile a children’s library or to supplement the existing one. (Kalmykova & Kapitsa, 1920)

14The index by Kalmykova and Kapitsa, unlike Gorky’s list, included authors from the school curriculums and anthologies along with popular books that were never assigned to be read at school. To better understand the values that might have influenced the decisions of Kalmykova and Kapitsa to include books in their index, let us briefly describe their background. Alexandra Mikhailovna Kalmykova (1849–1926), a member of Marxist circles and of the clandestine revolutionary movement, worked in the Petersburg literacy committee. She was engaged in book publishing and pedagogical activity. From the 1880s she participated in compiling advisory book indexes for children’s reading first as a member of an authors’ collective and later as a single author. That is, by the 1920s she was an experienced bibliographer of children’s literature who, in her forty-year long career, formed the idea of what constituted the core of literature for young Russian readers.

15Olga Ieronimovna Kapitsa (1866–1937) taught in Kronstadt before the revolution, in a school for children of military officers. After 1917 she started to work at the Institute of Pre-school Upbringing (that in 1925 became part of the Leningrad Pedagogical Institute). She was also known as a collector and researcher of children’s folklore. In the beginning of the 1920s, Olga Kapitsa became the central figure of the circle of children’s writers and poets that later grew into a famous Leningrad school of children’s writers. Both Alexandra Kalmykova and Olga Kapitsa shared liberal democratic views on education and enlightenment, were well-versed in the market of books for children and were renowned authorities among the pedagogues working on children’s reading.

16All the lists described above reflect the idea of the core of literary heritage for children supported by different institutional authorities: anthology compilers, pedagogues and bibliographers of children’s reading, Narkompros, and Maxim Gorky personally.

3. Sampling authors and measuring their publishing popularity

17To check our hypotheses about the influence of various authorities on the publishing fate of literary heritage for children in the first 15 years of Soviet Russia, we followed Lydia Kohn in using data on the books for children included in a comprehensive bibliographical index “Children’s literature” (1918–1932) compiled by Ivan Startsev and published in 1933 (Startsev, 1933).

18In this paper we included those authors from the four lists described in the previous section who had editions of their works mentioned in Startsev’s index at least once. All the lists that we used to reconstruct the idea of the core of children’s reading partially overlap, but none of them matches perfectly with another. In the anthologies of 1900–1917 taken into account by Alexey Vdovin, works of 144 authors were printed. Only 43 of them are featured among the children’s books recorded by Startsev in his index during the Soviet period. Judging by Startsev’s index, the most notable group of authors that were included in pre-revolutionary anthologies and disappeared from the early Soviet editions were poets (Batyushkov, Baratynsky, Venevitinov, and others). Among those canonical authors that persisted in the early Soviet book market for children were not only Russian classics of the 19th century (Pushkin, Gogol, etc.), but also less known and more modern writers (Sergey Aksakov, Nikolai Garin-Mikhailovsky, Vsevolod Garshin, and others). From the 47 authors listed by the Narkompros, only 23 are found in Startsev’s index; these are predominantly Russian classics of the 19th century. 19th century revolutionary writers and literary critics listed by Narkompros are not listed by Startsev, apparently because there were no editions of these authors published as books for children. Our sample includes 19 authors from Gorky’s list (from Cervantes to Boussenard). The most extensive and heterogeneous list is given by Kalmykova and Kapitsa’s index (more than 400 editions), 115 of which were registered by Startsev. Our final sample consists of 148 authors in total, mentioned at least in one of the four authoritative lists that also appeared in Startsev’s index.

19To evaluate the rate of growth or decline of the publishing popularity for each author we grouped all registered editions into three periods: (1) first years of Soviet power and Civil War (1918–1922); (2) period of the New Economic Policy (1923–1928); (3) cultural revolution and the first five-year plan (1929–1932). This periodization is common in the historiography on this period. Lydia Kohn in her monograph distinguishes only two periods—“Children’s literature in the years of the Civil War” and “Children’s literature of the 1920s”. But when publishing is taken into account it is appropriate to split the period between 1922 and 1932 into two, because the flow of printed children’s books was highly dependent on the establishment of NEP and its later curtailment in late 1920s.

20We define publishing popularity of the author in each of the three periods as the average number of publications in a year (calculated as the total number of books by this author printed during the period divided by the length of the period in years). Thus for each of the 148 authors sampled we have three point estimates (observations)—the average number of publications by the ends of the periods in 1922, 1928, and 1932. These three values characterize the trajectory of the author’s publishing popularity. Examples of such trajectories are given on Figure 1.

Figure 1. – Examples of publishing trajectories.

Figure 1. – Examples of publishing trajectories.
  • 6 Deviations of the actual values of the publishing popularity of the author from the linear trajecto (...)

21Our aim here is to make a quantitative estimate of the differences in the rate of change of publishing popularity between groups of authors who were supported by different authorities. We use a multilevel linear regression model with mixed effects in order to test our hypotheses. In this model we assume the publishing trajectory for each author to be linear. This means that it is fully defined by two quantitative parameters—the initial publishing popularity level at 1922 (intercept) and the constant rate of growth or decline of popularity until 1932 (slope).6

22We measure the change in the author’s popularity using the yearly increment of the average number of editions. If the increment is positive, it means the author was getting published more by 1932; if the increment is close to zero, the author’s publishing popularity stayed constant; and a negative increment denotes that the author was losing ground in the book market for children by 1932. The magnitude of the increment in our sample ranges from the low of 0.2 books in a year, meaning growth of the average publication frequency by 2 books in a year in the decade between 1922 and 1932 (Ivan Krylov), to the highest value of -0.57 books in a year, meaning decline of the average number of editions of the author’s books by 5.7 in the same period, as happened with the printings of Carrick’s fairy tales. Valery Williamovich Carrick (1869–1943), a famous cartoonist before 1917, wrote and illustrated his own fairy tales in the 1910s. He emigrated from Russia in 1917 and soon lost his connections with publishers. Nevertheless, 81 editions of his fairy tales were printed in Russia between 1918 and 1923, mainly by the cooperative publisher Zadruga founded by Sergei Melgunov. The last Carrick book for children was published in Paris in 1930.

23The linear modeling of the author’s publishing trajectory allows us to determine and measure the general trend in the number of publications while abstracting away from the fluctuations that may be due to some unaccounted random factors. For instance, the generally growing publishing trajectory of Krylov’s works turns out to be quite uneven if examined in detail. There were five editions that appeared in 1918 followed by a three-year publishing gap, 12 editions in 1922 published mostly by Vkhutemas, followed by a steady decline until the only edition of Krylov’s work in 1927. The period was concluded by a definite growth pattern with Krylov’s books rocketing up to 5 editions in 1929 and 14 in 1930. All these fluctuations notwithstanding, these data result in a trend of mild growth for Krylov’s fables that were supported in their literary legacy status by all sorts of authorities, including pre-revolutionary school anthologies, early Soviet decrees and the index by Kalmykova and Kapitsa. Only Gorky refrained from including Krylov in his list. Krylov’s didacticism was in demand in the 1920s, not least because he was ranked as a “truly national” writer (see Leont’eva, Lurie & Sen’kina, 2006).

24Publishing trajectories for most authors in our sample do not experience such dramatic changes, however. An average author in our sample has initial publishing frequency of 0.5 books in a year by 1922, and the increment of publishing popularity does not significantly differ from zero. Thus by 1932 the publishing popularity of an average author remains roughly at the same level, increasing or decreasing no more than by 0.2 books a year. Both classical and famous authors like Nikolai Garin-Mikhailovsky along with less known authors like Maria Konopnicka and Ouida (Maria Louise Ramé) belong to this group.

4. Statistical modeling: results

  • 7 Multicollinearity check was performed before including the variables in the model. The frequency of (...)

25The objective of our statistical model is to estimate to what extent the differences between authors in the initial publishing popularity level and in the rate of its further acquisition or loss could be explained by the “security certificates” issued by various advisory authorities. To this end we have four variables included in our model that specify for each author: (1) whether the author was mentioned in the decree of 1923; (2) whether the author was mentioned by Gorky in his list; (3) whether the author is listed by Kalmykova and Kapitsa; (4) the number of anthologies that include the author’s work from Vdovin’s database of anthologies published between 1900 and 1917.7 The model allows us to evaluate how the presence of the author in any of the four authoritative sources is associated with the expected level of initial publishing popularity and its expected rate of change.

  • 8 The final model was selected based on the informational criteria—AIC, BIC and Deviance.

26During analysis we built a series of models that included the variables mentioned above in various combinations.8 The modeling showed that only some of the whitelists taken into account are associated with significant differences in the rate of change of the publishing popularity. Authors mentioned in the Narkompros’ decree of 1923 by 1932 had on average 1.1 printing in a year more than those not mentioned. Let us recall that Narkompros’ list included Russian classics (Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, and others), and a number of 19th century authors who were close to the revolutionary movement of Narodniks (Gleb Uspensky, Sergey Stepnyak-Kravchinsky, Vladimir Korolenko). The inclusion of the latter group into the decree was lobbied by Maxim Gorky and Nadezhda Krupskaya (Shomrakova, 1981: 115).

27The presence in Gorky’s whitelist also had a significant positive effect on the publishing fate of the authors. Authors listed by Gorky on average had 0.8 printings a year more than others in our sample. As was already noted, almost 90% of Gorky’s list were foreign writers, such as Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Mayne Reid, James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Eliza Orzeszkowa, H. G. Wells, and others.

28Contrary to our expectations, the popularity of the author in the pre-revolutionary anthologies for children did not promise any significant publishing growth prospects in the 1920s and early 1930s. It should be noted, however, that Narkompros’ list of 1923 consisted for the most part of the same Russian classic writers (18 out of 24) that were featured in pre-revolutionary anthologies, and the influence of Narkompros’ list on publishing popularity has already been accounted for by the model. Indeed, popularity in pre-revolutionary anthologies did not have much to add to such a substantial Soviet authority.

  • 9 The percentage of the explained variance is calculated using the method of (Nakagawa & Schielzeth 2 (...)

29Being cited in the index of Kalmykova and Kapitsa is not associated with any gains in the publishing popularity of the author in the following decade. But the authors listed by them had significantly higher initial popularity (by 0.67 books in a year by 1922). This observation is consistent with the goals of the index compilers—to help librarians select the necessary of the best books available on the market at the moment. The average expected trajectories for each group of authors are presented in Figure 2. All the dependencies revealed by the model in sum explain 11.3% of variance of the initial publishing popularity and the rate of popularity change with time among the authors.9

Figure 2. – Expected (average) publishing trajectories for the authors as a result of modeling.

Figure 2. – Expected (average) publishing trajectories for the authors as a result of modeling.

30Thus in terms of publishing popularity in the first decades of Soviet power, the status of a classic writer was best supported by the mention of the writer in the Narkompros’ decree of 1923. The literary legacy of the authors whitelisted by Narkompros was relentlessly reprinted, leading to the significant growth of the presence of long dead classic authors in the corpus of children’s literature of the 1920s. This process is in accord with Samuil Marshak’s statement cited above. At the same time, the range of authors meant to constitute the leisure reading of Soviet children was defined by the influence of Maxim Gorky, who did not value Russian pre-revolutionary children’s poets and writers enough to include them in his list.

31Based on the results of the statistical modeling we can confirm that inclusion in Gorky’s list tells something about the further publishing fate of the writer’s work in Soviet Russia. In particular, in our model, inclusion in Gorky’s list accounts for the otherwise unexplained growth of the number of reprints of foreign authors who were not backed by other authoritative institutional whitelists. Those authors that did not make it into either Narkompros’ list or Gorky’s list experienced an overall loss in publishing popularity. This effect is especially pronounced in the case of Russian writers who were the most published before 1918, such as Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko and Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak.

5. Individual trajectories

32Our model allows not only to evaluate the average trajectories for various groups of authors, but also to identify those authors whose publishing trajectories deviate from the average tendencies either in a positive or negative direction. Besides the already mentioned Valery Carrick and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, the publishing popularity of Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak dropped faster than expected. By 1918 he was one of the most popular and most published children’s authors along with Leo Tolstoy, and acknowledged by the experts in children’s reading as well. By the 1890s the claim that Mamin-Sibiryak is a prominent children’s writer was taken for granted by educationalists (Ostrogorsky, 1895; Abramovich, 1905). In 1908 an authoritative literary critic and bibliographer N. Savvin published a panegyrical article specially devoted to the analysis of the “huge harmonizing power” of Mamin-Sibiryak’s œuvre (Savvin 1908: 323). In the opinion of I. Soloviev, Mamin-Sibiryak loves life as it is, and he inspires children with “a cheerful, resilient mood”, accepts the gloomy while “frequently looking for bright spots and pointing them out to the reader” (Soloviev, 1912: 117). Twelve years later Kalmykova would assert that Mamin-Sibiryak (among others) “set our expectations for children’s literature high” (Kalmykova, 1924: 12).

  • 10 In 1933 Berta Yakovlevna Brainina was a beginning literary critic and a co-author of a school textb (...)

33Thus Mamin-Sibiryak had all the prerequisites for his publishing popularity to grow in the 1920s. But that did not happen despite a rich publishing record, a positive evaluation by the experts before 1917, and moreover, positive evaluations of educationalists like Kalmykova after the revolution. What he lacked was the endorsement of either Narkompros or Gorky. What were the reasons for that? After the revolution the pure humanism that Mamin-Sibiryak was praised for was not enough without a clear class approach klassovyi podkhod). The position formulated by Berta Brainina in 193310 apparently reflected the general stance of the early Soviet critics towards the literary legacy of the writer. In her view, Mamin-Sibiryak was ideologically alien, and was not in any sense a revolutionary, preserving “the traces of petty bourgeois idealism and liberalism”. His stories “brightly, although not critically enough, somewhat contemplatively reveal to a child the everyday life of the pre-revolutionary peasantry in all its onerous indigence, depression, and darkness” (Brainina, 1933: 6). On the other hand, fairy tales that constituted the other part of the works by Mamin-Sibiryak lost their publishing popularity due to the campaign against fairy tales. But already in 1933 fairy tales by Mamin-Sibiryak started to be more and more persistently labeled as being “realist” and would return to the readers: “Rejecting the old fairy tale with its worship of monarchy, with its devilry and mystical fantasy, Mamin opposes his own fairy tale to it that carries through materialistic ideas.” (Babushkina, 1933: 20)

34While a materialistic worldview that served as a kind of “publishing license” was ascribed to Mamin-Sibiryak only in the early 1930s, it was confidently imputed to Jules Verne in the 1920s. This could explain the rapid increase of his publishing popularity in this period. The publication rate started to grow abruptly in 1926 with a peak in 1927–1928 when volumes of his works were printed one after another by Land and Factory publisher, while Molodaya Gvardiya published his novels as separate editions. But the 100-year anniversary of the writer celebrated in 1928 could also explain this abrupt increase. A special meeting of the Institute of Methods of School Work in Moscow was devoted to the work of Jules Verne as a “talented popularizer of scientific knowledge in the form of fiction” (“Stoletnij jubilej J. Verne”, 1928: 58).

6. Conclusion

35Statistical modeling of the publishing popularity of children’s writers in the first decades of Soviet power allowed us to test the assumptions that various institutional authorities could assure the preservation of the pre-revolutionary literary legacy for children. Based on the modeling results we were able to quantitatively evaluate trends in average publishing rates of the authors that were featured in whitelists issued by various authorities. The averaged trajectories of publishing popularity show that the safety of the author’s literary legacy substantially depended on whether the author was included in the number of classics acknowledged by the Soviet power (instantiated by Narkompros). The popularity of the author among the compilers of the pre-revolutionary anthologies had no positive effect for the publishing record of his works in early Soviet decades. On the other hand, our data demonstrates that out of the literary and educational authorities, only Maxim Gorky could compile advisory lists of authors and books that functioned as a kind of “security certificate” for the authors’ publishing fate. The authority of Kalmykova and Kapitsa, who directly recommended the books they listed in their index for reprinting, turned out to be insufficient. The deviation of individual trajectories from the averages that we observed attest to the fact that publishing popularity of an author could be influenced by other reasons as well, especially the acceptability of the author’s work in terms of the ideological discourse of the moment. Further research of these individual publishing trajectories in comparison with the expected average trends will allow to better disentangle what was caused by general policy and what was owed to idiosyncratic circumstances in the history of Soviet children’s literature.

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1 Lydia Felixovna Kohn (1896–?): writer, a historian of Soviet literature. In 1930 she served as a senior editor of the preschool section of Detgiz. Participated in the debacle of Korney Chukovsky’s fairy tale Bibigon in 1946.

2 Here we mean the Instructions for revising library collections issued in 1921 and a 1923 Instructions for Revising Library Collections and Removing Counter-Revolution and Anti-Aesthetic (Antikhudozhestvennoj) Literature signed by Nadezhda Krupskaya (Instrukciya, 1924). In 1924 A Guiding Catalog for the Removal of all Types of Literature from Libraries, Reading Rooms and the Book Market was published (reprinted in Nikoliukin, 1994).

3 For instance, the decree of the public comissar on enlightenment of 14 February 1918 “On the publishing of works of Russian writers” (The newspaper of the Temporary Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, no. 27 6, 19 February 1918); the decree of Narkompros RSFSR of 18 January 1923 “On the announcement of the state monopoly on the publishing of certain writers”.

4 Afanas’ev S. T., Andreev L. N., Aksakov S. T., Bakunin M. A., Belinskij V. G., Gogol’ N. V., Garshin V. M., Gercen A. I., Grigorovich D. V., Griboedov A. S., Goncharov I. A., Dostoevskij F. M., Dobrolyubov N. A., ZHukovskij V. A., Klyuchevskij V. S., Kravchinskij S. M., Korolenko V. G., Kol’cov A. V., Krylov I. A., Lermontov M. Yu., Lavrov G. L., Leskov N. S., Majkov N. A., Mihajlovskij N. K., Nekrasov N. A., Nikitin N. S., Nadson S. Ya., Ogarev N. P., Ostrovskij A. N., Pushkin A. S., Pisarev D. I., Pomyalovskij N. G., Ryleev K. F., Reshetnikov F. M., Radishchev A. N., Saltykov M. E., Timiryazev K. A., Tolstoy L. N., Tolstoj A. K., Turgenev I. S., Tyutchev F. I., Uspenskij G. I., Fet A. A., Fonvizin D. I., Chernyshevskij N. G., Chekhov A. P., Yakubovich P. F.

5 More on the relationships of Soviet power, Gorky and Grzhebin in respect to the organization of book publishing in 1918–1922, see in Khlebnikov (1971).

6 Deviations of the actual values of the publishing popularity of the author from the linear trajectory are considered to be the result of unaccounted factors and random error. The trajectory is selected by the model in such a way as to minimize these deviations.

7 Multicollinearity check was performed before including the variables in the model. The frequency of the author’s works in the pre-revolutionary anthologies was log-transformed. Random effects included in all the models were: random variation of the initial level of publishing popularity and in the rate of its change, as well as random deviations from the predicted linear trajectory. The time parameter was measured in the model in years since 1922 (1922 = 0). The modeling and visualization were made using R statistical environment.

8 The final model was selected based on the informational criteria—AIC, BIC and Deviance.

9 The percentage of the explained variance is calculated using the method of (Nakagawa & Schielzeth 2013). The value of the total explained variance (including random effects) is 67.5%.

10 In 1933 Berta Yakovlevna Brainina was a beginning literary critic and a co-author of a school textbook on literature (1935). Later she became a prolific and odious Soviet literary critic and Stalin prize laureate (1952) awarded for the biography of Konstantin Fedin (1951).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. – Examples of publishing trajectories.
Fichier image/png, 2,4M
Titre Figure 2. – Expected (average) publishing trajectories for the authors as a result of modeling.
Fichier image/png, 3,2M
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Référence électronique

Svetlana Maslinskaya et Kirill Maslinsky, « Educational, Literary and State Authorities and the Publishing Trajectories of Legacy Children’s Literature in Early Soviet Russia », ILCEA [En ligne], 36 | 2019, mis en ligne le 21 juin 2019, consulté le 21 août 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/ilcea.6903

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Svetlana Maslinskaya

Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkinskij Dom) of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Kirill Maslinsky

National research University Higher School of Economics, Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkinskij Dom) of the Russian Academy of Sciences

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