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Nicholas Hall on British Travellers to the Soviet Union

NHWe are delighted that our summer reading group will be led by Nick Hall, PhD student at the University of Exeter. It will be held at 5pm on Friday 17th May at Pushkin House, bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org).

This reading group focuses on three British travellers to the Soviet Union: Gareth Jones, E.M. Delafield and Herbert Marchant. We will be asking how their experiences and writing highlight – in the words of Angela Kershaw – the ‘generic variety’ of much reportage about the Soviet Union from the period, and also exploring the subtle and interesting complexities of the discourse of travel and of interactions between foreigners and Soviet people.

Nick Hall’s work looks at British travel accounts of journeying to and around the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The period is infamous for intense foreign fascination with Soviet affairs, and particularly for the phenomenon of ‘fellow travellers’ – intellectuals who praised Soviet conditions and policies whilst news of famine, slavery and violence persistently surfaced.

Nick is currently focused on two key areas relating to these travel accounts. The first is a discourse of travel. As the period was so coloured by heated ideological debate and continually contradictory news from and about the Soviet world, travellers were acutely conscious of the potential for ‘eyewitnessing’, and also the pitfalls and problems faced by travellers when trying to determine what the Soviet Union was ‘really like’ on the basis of only a short time there. Furthermore, they were also aware of Soviet tours, translators and guides – an apparatus known in the historiography as ‘cultural diplomacy’, that many contemporaries thought was intended to deceive foreigners. Thus he explores how travellers justified their travel, how they presented themselves as investigators of Soviet affairs, and how they variously sought the ‘truth’ of Soviet life, and who they thought might embody that truth, and where they might be found. This leads into the second area: as travellers sought to find the ‘truth’, they often ventured away from tours and guides and translators, spending time with Soviet people in many different locales and contexts. Nick’s work considers interactions between Soviet people and British travellers via the perspective of these travel accounts.

The Anglo-Russian Research Network organises termly reading groups for those interested in the interactions between British and Russian culture and politics in the period 1880-1950. These are informal events with plenty of discussion and wine, and are open to all. If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) know. The discussion will finish at 6.30pm, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

The reading for this session can be downloaded here. Please email Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) and we will provide you with a password to access these documents.

Reading Group: Henry Stead on the Union of Soviet Writers and 1950s Britain

The Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its autumn reading group at the slightly earlier time of 5pm on Friday 5th October 2018 at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury. We will be exploring the Union of Soviet Writers and 1950s Britain.

henry_ouWe are delighted to welcome Dr. Henry Stead, who will be leading the session and sharing some unique archival materials with us.

“Dear Comrade Apletin…” The British Left and the Foreign Commission of the Union of Soviet Writers

This session is based on recent archival findings in Moscow’s Archive of the Muses (RGALI). There was much correspondence between the Foreign Commission of the Union of Soviet Writers and Western writers. Selected written exchanges between the Foreign Commission (particularly Mikhail Apletin and Oksana Krugerskaya) and three British writers (Naomi Mitchison, Doris Lessing and Jack Lindsay) reveal an overwhelmingly warm Anglo-Russian relationship across the Iron Curtain. It is now well documented how delegations of foreign writers were charmed by highly controlled tours of the early Soviet Union, but the genuine and open long lasting friendships that developed between international writers with shared interests and common social and literary ambitions, e.g. world peace and the poetry of Robert Burns…, have been less thoroughly explored. The reading consists of one forthcoming chapter on Anglo-Soviet relations by John Connor and a handful of letter exchanges between the three selected British writers and 52 Vorovsky Street, Moscow.

Henry Stead  is a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow in English and Classical Studies at the Open University, UK. He is author of A Cockney Catullus (2015) and co-editor of Greek and Roman Classics in the British Struggle for Social Reform (Bloomsbury, 2015). His current research project is called: “Brave New Classics (1917-1956)”, and it explores the impact of the Russian Revolution on British Culture through the lens of contemporary engagement with the Greek and Roman classics. The first book to come out of this project will be Cecil Day Lewis and Virgil: The Making of a Laureate — forthcoming with Bloomsbury.

The Anglo-Russian Research Network organises termly reading groups for those interested in the interactions between British and Russian culture and politics in the period 1880-1950. These are informal events with plenty of discussion and wine, and are open to all. If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) know. The discussion will finish at 6.30pm, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

Readings for 5th October can be found here. Please email Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) and we will send you a password so that you can access these materials.

Reading Group: What Did Cultural Diplomacy Ever Do For Us – and Them?

Pauline Fairclough: What Did Cultural Diplomacy Ever Do For Us—and Them? Performing the Musical State in Britain and Russia

The Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its spring reading group at 5:30 on Friday 12 May at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury (www.pushkinhouse.org). We will be reading about and discussing the role of music in Anglo-Russian cultural understanding.

The discussion will be led by Dr Pauline Fairclough of the University of Bristol. The readings can be downloaded here.

At first glance, the mutual showcasing of national musical cultures looks like a diplomatic strategy that cannot fail. As the most superficially ‘harmless’ of the arts, music’s role as a neutral pacifier and conduit for bland cultural admiration has been exploited many times over; yet this apparent innocence has masked many a more dubious strategy, as recent Cold War studies of music exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union have demonstrated. And during the Soviet period, political undercurrents can be found at every level of a composer’s reception, as the case of Shostakovich in Britain makes abundantly clear. Yet Russian and British musical exchanges were well underway before the Bolshevik Revolution, and even in less ideologically fraught times, critical receptions of music within both Russia and Britain reveal ways in which the two cultures regarded each other, at times with condescension, at times with admiration, and at other times with mutual incomprehension. Pauline’s talk will touch on all these issues, looking at pre-revolutionary and Soviet eras to ponder the nature of music’s role in facilitating, or even obscuring, processes of cultural understanding.

Pauline Fairclough is Reader in Music at the University of Bristol. She is a cultural historian specialising in Soviet musical history, and has published widely on Shostakovich and music of the Stalinist era. Her last book, Classics for the Masses. Shaping Soviet Musical Identity Under Lenin and Stalin (Yale, 2016) looked at how Soviet symphony orchestras made the transition from pre-revolutionary bourgeois concert culture to a tightly scrutinised Stalinist administration, yet in many respects consciously preserved the ‘bourgeois’ identity of musical life. Her current project is a century-long look at Anglo-Russian musical connections, focusing on the importance of personal relationships in shaping exchanges and critical reception.

If you plan to attend, it would be helpful if you could let Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) and/ or Matthew Taunton (M.Taunton@uea.ac.uk) know. The discussion will finish at 7, and anyone available is very welcome to join us for dinner nearby.

 

Reading Group at Pushkin House, Friday 28 October, 5.30PM – Elinor Taylor on James Barke: The Novel, The Nation and the International

The Anglo-Russian Research Network will be holding its autumn reading group at 5:30 on Friday 28 October at Pushkin House, Bloomsbury. We are delighted to welcome Elinor Taylor of the University of Westminster, who will be introducing the work of James Barke and exploring his overlapping engagements with both Communism and Scottish Nationalism. The texts can be downloaded here. These are password protected: please contact Rebecca Beasley (rebecca.beasley@ell.ox.ac.uk) or Matthew Taunton (m.taunton@uea.ac.uk) if you would like to attend and we will gladly send you the password.

This session will explore the ‘national turn’ proposed by the Comintern in its Popular Front phase (1935-1940) through the work of the Scottish Communist writer James Barke, and will aim to assess the relationship between Communist revaluations of the nation and contemporaneous debates over literary form.

At its Seventh Congress in 1935, the Comintern’s General Secretary Georgi Dimitrov asserted the need for a Communist-oriented, populist cultural politics that would directly challenge fascist claims to national legitimacy. This call was attended by the increasingly unyielding endorsement of socialist realism as Soviet cultural doctrine. While English Communists met the call for a reclamation of national cultures with an outpouring of texts on historical themes in a range of genres and historiographic styles, for Communists elsewhere in Britain it was far from clear that Scottish or Welsh cultural traditions could be celebrated without any reference to questions of political constitution, nor was it clear that traditional realist forms could adequately encompass the complex class, national and regional dynamics of their communities.

major-operation

James Barke, a Glasgow shipyard engineer, produced two novels directly engaged with the national politics of the Popular Front: 1936’s experimental Major Operation and the more conventionally realist The Land of the Leal (1939), and was an active participant in public discussions of the relevance of Scottish national culture to the anti-fascist struggle. Through extracts from these two novels, from Barke’s other writings on the national question, and from the work of his friends and correspondents, this session will consider how Barke negotiated, accommodated and resisted the national turn in his work, and how we might read the transition from modernism to realism in his work.

The texts we will be reading (available here) are:

  • an extract from Barke’s Major Operation
  • an extract from his The Land of the Leal 
  • some short selections from Barke’s correspondence with Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Neil Gunn, as well as from his Left Review essay ‘The Scottish National Question’
  • Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s essay ‘Glasgow’
  • extracts from a couple of unpublished letters and a Manchester Guardian article

Elinor Taylor is postdoctoral teaching and research fellow in English at the University of Westminster, London. She is the author of a forthcoming monograph, The Popular Front Novel in Britain (Brill 2017), and of articles on British Communist writers published or forthcoming in Keywords: A Journal of Cultural Materialism and Twentieth Century Communism. She has also written for Radical Philosophy, the TLS and Socialist History, and is a member of the executive committee of the Raymond Williams Society.

Upcoming event: ‘Scotland and Russia: Performance Since 1900’ – Edinburgh, 17 October 2014

‘Scotland and Russia: Performance Since 1900’

University of Edinburgh, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Reid Concert Hall, Friday, 17 October 2014

‘Scotland and Russia: Performance Since 1900’ is the inaugural event of the ‘Scotland and Russia: Cultural Encounters in the Twentieth Century’ project dedicated to exploring the history of cultural exchange between the two countries over the last hundred years. Scotland and Russia have a long tradition of mutual engagement and influence, going back to the Middle Ages and still thriving today; and nowhere is the strength of these links more apparent than in the worlds of theatre and music. The day-long event at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities will feature talks by leading performance scholars and practitioners, including directors and musicians, and will conclude with a recital of folk and classical music at the Reid Concert Hall. The recital, ‘Glasgow Concerts in the 1930s: Performing Russian Music in Scotland’, is free and open to the public.

The programme will include selections from Medtner, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich and Erik Chisholm’s ‘Celtic Folksongs’.

Please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/scotland-and-russia-performance-since-1900-tickets-12498169361