Yevgeny Zamyatin

About the Author

Yevgeny Zamyatin was born in 1884, the son of an Orthodox priest and a musician, in a town 200 kilometres south of Moscow. As a child he read works by Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Gogol, and later claimed these authors as his first friends and elders. But he had an equally strong passion for science and technology, and it was naval engineering that he chose to study in St Petersburg from 1902-8.

Having joined the Bolsheviks, Zamyatin was arrested and exiled during the Russian Revolution of 1905, and though he managed to remain illegally in St Petersburg for some months, he was eventually forced to flee to Finland. He was granted amnesty, and returned to Russia, only to be arrested and deported once again in 1911.

Alongside his political activities, Zamyatin began to write. He criticised Russian provincial life in Uezdnoye (‘District Tales’) but it was his novella Na Kulichkakh (‘At the End of the World’, 1913) which angered the Tsarist authorities. The journal that published the story was impounded, and Zamyatin himself was tried on charges of maligning the military.

In 1916, Zamyatin travelled to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England to supervise the construction of the icebreakers being built there by a British firm. He disliked Newcastle which he found sterile and unimaginative and he satirised the staid, class-bound English bourgeoisie in his 1917 novel, Ostrovityane (‘Islanders’). After the Revolution of 1917, Zamyatin returned to Russia, where he worked in literary circles, editing journals and working on translations of books by Jack London and H.G. Wells, a writer whom he particularly admired.

Soon, Zamyatin began to oppose Bolshevik censorship, privately and in print. Famously, he declared that ‘literature can only exist when it is created, not by diligent and reliable officials, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels and sceptics.’ Then, in 1919, he began writing his polemical, hugely influential novel My (‘We’). Manuscript copies were circulated in Russia in 1920-1, and translations made into European languages. After a Russian émigré journal published the text in 1927, Zamyatin’s oeuvre became the first to be banned by Glavlit, the official censorship body, and life became untenable for him in Russia. In 1931, he wrote to Stalin, asking permission to leave his homeland, a request that was granted. Zamyatin and his wife moved to Paris, where he died, impoverished, in 1937.

Books by the author