Boris Pilniak

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Pil’niak, Boris Andreevich


(real surname Vogau) Born Sept. 29 (Oct. 11), 1894; died 1937. Soviet Russian writer.

The son of a veterinarian in the city of Mozhaisk, Pil’niak began publishing in 1915. He graduated from the Moscow Commercial Institute in 1920. Pil’niak was one of the first to depict conditions of life during and after the October Revolution of 1917. Not understanding the revolution, he portrayed it as an outburst of anarchist elemental forces: a “snowstorm” or “flood.” The stagnant patriarchal way of life, which opposed the revolution, and the multiform Russian man in the street were both included by Pil’niak in this “stream of life” in The Naked Year (1921), The Snowstorm and Ivan and Mar’ia (both 1922), and Machines and Wolves (1925). Attempting to create positive Bolshevik heroes, he depicted them as generalized symbolic iron-willed men in “leather jackets.” Pil’niak had a stylistic spectrum ranging from a traditional attention to detail, tending toward naturalism, to reportage filled with excerpts from documents and with statistical data.

Pil’niak’s ideological confusion led him into serious errors in “The Tale of the Unextinguished Moon” (1927) and the novella Mahogany, published abroad in 1929. Later overcoming these errors, Pil’niak contributed to the establishment of the “production” novel with The Volga Flows Into the Caspian Sea (1930), as well as of the genre of the Soviet sketch. He also wrote a number of works that combined local color with social and historical analysis, such as O.K. (1933), Stones and Roots (1934), and The Ripening of the Fruit (1935). Pil’niak’s historical prose juxtaposes the present with the past, as seen in His Highness, Prince Peter the Commander (1922) and Put Stoss in Everyday Life (1929).


Sobr. soch., vols. 1-8. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929-30.
Stat’i i materialy. Leningrad, 1928.
“Solianoi ambar” (chapters from a novel). Moskva, 1964, no. 5.


Voronskii, A. K. “B. Pil’niak.” In his book Literaturnye portrety, vol. 1. Moscow, 1928.
Andreev, Iu. Revoliutsiia i literatura. Leningrad, 1969.
Ivanov, V. Ideino-esteticheskie printsipy sovetskoi literatury. Moscow, 1971.
Pluksh, P. I. Formirovanie i razvitie sotsialisticheskogo realizma. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The writer Boris Pilnyak (1894-1938) turned his novella Krasnoe derevo (Mahogany, 1928-29, published abroad) into a monumental novel Volga vpadayel [upsilon] Kaspiyskoye more (The Volga Falls into the Caspian Sea, 1931), six times longer than the original (it did not help him; his death was by execution).
Other Russians had brief, unproductive encounters with the film industry, such as the theatrical director Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, film director Sergei Eisenstein, and author Boris Pilnyak, whose artistic visions ran afoul of Hollywood's commercialism.
Further, Hays declared, "I sometimes wish Uncle Mike Gold would rise and slay these demons:' When these bombastic threats were issued, "Uncle" Joe Stalin was literally slaying the "demons" in Russian literature, including such geniuses as Boris Pilnyak, Isaac Babel, and Osip Mandelshtam.
We are now told officially that Boris Pilnyak's last prose fiction, arrested with him in 1937, "has not been preserved." Several unpublished works by Isaac Babel and the great scientist Nikolai Vavilov evidently suffered the same fate.