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The Attack on Lydia Chukovskaya

Note: Lydia Chukovskaya, who lives in Moscow, is the sixty-three-year-old daughter of Kornei Chukovsky, one of the most distinguished of Soviet men of letters, who died a few years ago. In January she was expelled in a witch hunt from the Union of Soviet Writers for her support of academician Sakharov and, probably, also because she is a close friend of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. For several years her health has been extremely poor, and she is virtually blind. The letter about her that follows is by Zhores Medvedev, the Soviet scientist and author of A Question of Madness, who recently has been living in England.

To the Editors:

On January 12 the newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya (Soviet Russia) published an article about an incident which took place in Moscow during a tourist visit by the British journalist and translator Michael Scammell. The essence of the incident was that during a customs inspection at Moscow airport, in June, 1973, Michael Scammell was searched and his personal notes on his stay in Moscow, as well as a letter from Lydia Chukovskaya to me, were confiscated. Mme Chukovskaya’s letter contained a request about the receipt abroad of royalties for her two books, The Deserted House (Sofya Petrovna/Opustely dom) and Going Under (Spusk pod vodu), both published here. Lydia Chukovskaya had written this letter while Mr. Scammell was visiting her, and she explained to him orally that she needed this money for the purchase of certain medicines which are unavailable in the Soviet Union.

Although the confiscation of Michael Scammell’s papers took place in June of last year, the newspaper Soviet Russia has published its account only now, timing it to coincide with Lydia Chukovskaya’s expulsion from the Union of Soviet Writers. Moreover, the article contains numerous false allegations specifically designed to compromise Lydia Chukovskaya and to create some semblance of grounds for her expulsion from the Writers’ Union.

Ilya Yurchenko, the author of the article in Soviet Russia, asserts that Lydia Chukovskaya published her books with the anti-Soviet organization NTS, and that they were printed by the émigré publishing house Possev. He also claims that during the search, stories written by Lydia Chukovskaya were confiscated from Michael Scammell. All these assertions of Ilya Yurchenko are, of course, lies. I have seen the official customs record [that was given to Scammell] of the confiscated items; it contains only a listing of Michael Scammell’s personal notes (sixteen handwritten pages). Lydia Chukovskaya’s letter to me was not recorded, as the confiscation of this letter was illegal. No stories by Lydia Chukovskaya were involved at all.

Concerning Lydia Chukovskaya’s books published abroad, it should be stated that these publications have no connection either with NTS or with the publishing house Possev. The story Sofya Petrovna appeared in the United States in The New Review (Novy Zhurnal) in 1966. It was published in book form in Paris, under the title Opustely dom (Deserted House) by the book store Librairie des Cinq Continents, which specializes in the sale of Russian, primarily Soviet books. This book store has no relationship to NTS or to Possev. Lydia Chukovskaya’s story Spusk pod vodu (Going Under) was published in Russian in 1972 by the Chekhov Publishing Corporation in the USA. This corporation also bears no relation to Possev. Both books by Lydia Chukovskaya have been translated into several languages by independent commercial publishing houses.

The short novel Sofya Petrovna was written by Lydia Chukovskaya in 1939-1940. In 1963 this novel was submitted to the publishing house Sovetsky pisatel; it received a favorable evaluation, and was approved for publication. The publishers signed a contract with the author, but in 1964, when the publication of all works dealing with the problem of Stalinist repression was banned, the publishers discontinued the publication of Lydia Chukovskaya’s novel, which at that time was being type-set. Lydia Chukovskaya sued the publishers for breach of contract. The writer’s suit was heard April 24, 1965, in the People’s Court of the Sverdlovsk district of Moscow. The record of the court proceedings subsequently circulated as a samizdat document. In the West it was published in 1972 by the Alexander Herzen Foundation in Amsterdam, as part of the collection Political Diary (Politichesky dnevnik) (pp. 51-57). The representative of the publishing house Sovetsky pisatel (i.e., the defendant), in explaining to the court why Lydia Chukovskaya’s novel had not been published, said the following:

Citizen judges, if you have not read the novel Sofya Petrovna, I can explain to you that the novel has virtues and faults. But we have no need today of this novel. The novel records the ugly phenomena of the time of the “cult of personality,” but it is merely a photograph; the novel does not analyze these phenomena. Since the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, we have received a stream of manuscripts on this theme. But these manuscripts are being returned to their authors. It was not we ourselves who realized that the manuscripts must be returned; we received instructions that for us, communists, there is no need, and above all no advantage, in simply criticizing this period…. Chukovskaya’s work, because of its ideological thrust, cannot see the light of day anyway. What feelings does the novel Sofya Petrovna evoke? The thought arises—where were all of us? A feeling of hopelessness rises in one. It is not necessary to irritate old wounds and pour salt into them.

These are the facts. The representative of the publishing house Sovetsky pisatel expressed himself with sufficient frankness. But now the newspaper Soviet Russia is attempting to entangle the whole affair in cobwebs of lies. These lies were also transmitted by the Soviet radio in English and other languages, through broadcasts to many countries.

Zhores A. Medvedev

London, England

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