Yevgeny Zamyatin

Illustration of Zamyatin by B.M. Kustodiev

From a young age, Zamyatin was familiar with industrial work. In the summers during his youth, he would work in various factories and on ships, eventually choosing to pursue a career in naval engineering, which he studied at Saint Petersburg Polytechnic Institute (Zamyatin). Later he was hired on as an instructor in Russia’s Department of Naval Architecture of the Ship Building Facility where he worked for many years while also writing (Zamyatin). Zamyatin worked tirelessly on engineering projects and writing articles for technical journals (Zamyatin). After a short while in England building ships, Zamyatin returned to his homeland upon hearing about the revolution in 1917 (Zamyatin). A former Bolshevik, his views of the new Russia became increasingly pessimistic as he saw increasing censorship that he would soon feel very directly; He writes in his 1924 autobiography in A Soviet Heretic,

“Thus far, I have been in solitary confinement only twice, in 1905-6 and in 1922…I have been exiled three times, in 1906, 1911, and 1922. I have been tried only once, in the Saint petersburg district court, for my novella ‘At the World’s End.’”

Yevgeny Zamyatin

Zamyatin wrote We in 1920, and it was sent to a publishing house a year later, where it was translated into English and published in New York in 1924 (Zamyatin). The novel achieved very little success in Zamyatin’s own country, however, and it became clear to him that he would not be able to publish We in Soviet Russia (Zamyatin). A member of The Federation of Soviet Writer’s Union, Zamyatin was shocked to see that his own group published a condemnation of his work, stating, “The committee ‘decisively condemns the acts of the above named writers,’ Pilnyak and Zamyatin” and that the committee “make an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the publication abroad of Zamyatin’s novel We (Zamyatin).” Facing censorship and persecution within his own country, Zamyatin fled to Paris where he died in 1937 (Zamyatin).

In his essay, “I Am Afraid,” within A Soviet Heretic, Zamyatin writes,

“It is true that literature can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.”