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Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum

Authors:
160 Caietele Echinox, vol. 33, 2017: Pour une politique du résiduel en littérature
Abstract: Although some of Gellu Naum’s
books from the 1950s and 1960s are fre-
quently reissued (the two volumes of The
Books with Apolodor), others are often
avoided by critics and literary historians and
dismissed as Naum’s circumstantial attempts
to acknowledge and follow the norms of
socialist realism. This separation is the symp-
tom of a divisive ideology that canonizes
and rejects: the distinction between a major
and a minor oeuvre generated, in this case,
an irreconcilable separation that sidelined
politically “tainted” writings, potentially
depriving them of future critical rereadings.
I intend to argue that their minority is worth
revisiting – although aesthetically awed
and propagandistic, they reveal signicant
aspects concerning Naum’s literary produc-
tion in the 1950s and early 1960s.
Keywords: Children’s Literature; Communism;
Propaganda; Soviet Cultural Inuence;
Socialist Realism.
Gabriela Glăvan
West University of Timișoara, Romania
gabriela.glavan@e-uvt.ro
DOI: 10.24193/cechinox.2017.33.11
Filonul (e Lode) (1952), Tabăra din
munți (e Camp in the Mountains)
(1953), Poem despre tinerețea noastră (e
Poem of our Youth) (1960) and Soarele calm
(Calm Sun) (1961) are titles common-
ly associated with a dark period in Gellu
Naum’s long literary career. ey are his
“communist” books, bearing no relation
or resemblance to his celebrated surre-
alist oeuvre. I intend to explore them in
this paper and argue that they are relevant
not only as distinct samples of the writer’s
protean creativity, but also as instances of
literary (and political) survival, despite the
obvious underlying contamination. My
hypothesis is that they should function as
integral parts of Naum’s work; therefore,
my aim is to challenge the assumption that
their incongruence should doom them to
irrelevance.
Gellu Naum’s literary activity in the
1950s and early 1960s has long been re-
garded as an ideologically compromised
intermezzo in his vast surrealist career;
therefore, few critics seem eager to revis-
it it. With a few notable exceptions (e
Book of Apolodor and e Second Book of
Apolodor), Naum’s socialist realist literature
for children and youth and his proletcultist
poetry have been gradually marginalized,
Gabriela Gl'van
Communist Leftovers:
The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
161
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
exiled into the uncertain territory that
Franco Moretti deemed “[t]he great un-
read.”1 ere is a critical consensus that
he is one of the most prominent gures of
the Romanian historical avant-garde, and,
probably, in Alistair Blyth’s words, “the last
of the Surrealists.”2 Still, his socialist-real-
ist poetry and books for children are yet to
be critically explored in a coherent manner.
Naum’s temporary cultural collaboration
with the Communist regime was hardly
a rarity in the decades after 1945. Many
writers gave in to the ocial doctrine and
adapted their writing to the new political
canon (Mihail Sadoveanu, Camil Petres-
cu, Tudor Arghezi, to name just the most
prominent ones). Later, Naum reneged on
his socialist realist books and editors seem
to have respected his wish. However prob-
lematic and dicult to integrate into the
corpus of his oeuvre, they are an important
part of literary history, worthy of further
investigation.
A recent edition of Naum’s Complete
Works3 excludes the “circumstantial texts”
of the 1950s (as they are called in the book
presentation), and editor Simona Popescu
provides no further motivation for the
exclusion. In a study concerning Naum’s
beginnings,4 Popescu, suggests that, even
if the writer was not allowed to publish
his surrealist literature by the communist
regime for several years, this period was
marked by “a few editorial accidents.”5
Although the critic does not mention the
exact titles she refers to, it could easily be
assumed that she refers to his literary ex-
cursions into social realism and communist
propaganda. Eugen Negrici integrates this
dicult period in Naum’s activity into a
larger frame, and he notes that “[f]orm-
er surrealists are also allowed to become
active (as an implicit adhesion to the new
cultural politics, emerging from the con-
fusion generated by a so-called ‘peaceful
coexistence’).”6 However, he bluntly dis-
credits Naum’s compromise: “After he had
humiliated himself by publishing a volume
adapted to the canon of the red aesthetics
(e Lode, 1952), Gellu Naum decided to
publish only translations and literature for
children (So Is Sanda, 1956, e Greatest
Gulliver, 1958, e Book of Apolodor, 1959).
It is hard to understand today why he gave
in and, in 1960, published a volume with
the title Poem about our Youth, but those
years of terror and indoctrination managed
to exasperate many.7
Both Filonul (e Lode) and Tabăra
din munți (e Camp in the Mountains) are
instances of propagandistic literature for
youth. Naum’s writings for children are
still a huge success in Romania, his Books
of Apolodor (two separate volumes of epic
illustrated poetry) being republished fre-
quently, in various formats. Although they
belong to separate creative realms and have
distinctive audiences, these works have
been reunited under the uniformizing
name of proletcultist literature and rejected
altogether as aesthetically failed and polit-
ically tainted. My aim is to investigate the
complex status these works have in Naum’s
oeuvre and explore some of their main
themes, character types and literary strat-
egies in order to delineate their particular
territories. I intend to question the legiti-
macy of this specic type of exclusion and
its potential consequences. Should literary
history marginalize and exclude this type
of literature in light of the devastating ef-
fects of communism? What can be learned
and retained from these books regarding
the social and political climate of their
162 Gabriela Glăvan
historical context? What could be lost if,
after decades of being ignored, these books
vanish from the literary spectrum of their
age? What are the critical instruments and
methodologies that allow a balanced per-
spective on the “literature of compromise”
in communist Romania?
Romanian Socialist Realism
and Youth Literature
Franco Moretti’s Hegelian metaphor of
the “slaughterhouse of literature”8 could
easily be assumed as a protable starting
point in the investigation of Naum’s com-
munist books. What are the mechanisms
that fuel the branch of the slaughterhouse
where the uncomfortable, “unclean” books
of otherwise important canonical writers
fall into critical oblivion, morphed into nos-
talgic museum pieces or collector’s items?
Naum’s literature for children and teenag-
ers targets a specic audience – the “pio-
neers” (young communist comrades). Both
Filonul and Tabăra din munți (e Camp
in the Mountains) end with a brief note to
readers, inviting them to write back to the
editors and voice their opinions on “this
book and its artistic qualities and design.”
On a friendly tone, the editors claim that
they “would like to know your impressions
about other books published by Youth Pub-
lishing [Editura Tineretului]. We would
like to know if and how the books you’ve
read helped you in any way. Please write us
about the heroes you’ve befriended.”9
e educational value of children’s lit-
erature has been vastly documented, and
the particular case of socialist-realist books
has been researched in connection with the
inuential Soviet tradition. Given the po-
litical and cultural domination of Soviet
Russia over communist Romania, the au-
thority of this paradigm can be fully ob-
served in the case of books for children and
youth.
10
In his comprehensive exploration
of
Romanian literature under the commu-
nist regime,”
11
Eugen Negrici details the
sources of red aesthetics,”
12
a “monstrous
product of communist fundamentalism,”
13
a cultural framework that expressed
the
Party’s vision on literature in the years of
integral Stalinism.”
14
Understandably, the
seminal authors are the central gures of
communist orthodoxy – Marx, Engels,
Lenin, Stalin, seconded by others, such as
Leon Trotsky (and his inuential Literature
and Revolution, of 1923), Andrei Zhdanov
and Georgy Malenkov. Romanian party
leaders often intervened on the subject of
literature as an instrument of political edu-
cation during the numerous congresses and
plenaries of the period, and their speeches
(edited by Leonte Răutu, the party’s leading
ideologist). Another “incomparable source
of information”
15
is Scânteia, the party’s
ocial publication. e sole purpose of so-
cialist realist literature was “to prepare the
soldiers of the Party.
16
e new cultur-
al direction fell on fertile ground, as well.
Negrici outlines a brief explanation for its
rapid success in Romania:
After 1944,
the crypto-communist press organizations
published luring articles that demanded a
literature connected to reality. Quite many
writers saw in this incentive an honest call-
ing in the name of a necessary process of
innovation of the artistic realm after years
of formalism and abstract exercise. Such a
suggestion was worthy to be embraced –
and, back then, it seemed like a reasonable
suggestion – because the country had been
through years of tragic war, a cruel drought
and great social and ethnic dislocations;
163
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
meanwhile, art had not expressed itself any
dierently, it had not welcomed the harsh
present time and the threatening concrete,
and it had not remained silent either.”
17
Russian children’s literature, the pro-
totype followed by the Romanian one,
shares its ideals with all other Soviet lit-
erary genres – the education of mankind
through exemplary world-views and aes-
thetic values.18 Felicity Ann O’Dell also
describes the main characteristics of the
didactic element in socialist realist books
for adults, and all three of them can be
easily identied in the context of children’s
books as well. Naum’s two socialist-realist
narratives that I intend to focus on shortly
clearly follow this doctrine. e most no-
table characteristic of this literary formula
is that all works must be optimistic and
have a happy ending.19 A solid adherence
to the canons of socialist realism implies
that all artistic production must bear an
ideological content20 and literature makes
no exception. e educational component
of children’s literature also calls for a stron-
ger emphasis on these unifying norms, as
Naum’s books visibly illustrate. e pop-
ular, unsophisticated nature of this type
of literature relies on narratives detailing
the everyday heroism of the social man.21
“Society rather than the individual is of
central importance,”22 and this principle
is obviously reected in both Filonul (e
Lode) and Tabăra din munți (e Camp in
the Mountains). Poem despre tinerețea noas-
tră (e Poem of Our Youth) and Soarele calm
(Calm Sun) explore the idea of communi-
ty through the vital bonds of comradeship
and common communist ideals.
Education through literature was
n
ot a Soviet strategy, but rather a nine-
teenth-century one, as Marina Balina
argues in a study on “e Beginnings of
Soviet Children’s Literature”23: “from the
very early days on, the ideological agenda
imposed on Soviet literature for children
was hardly a creation of the Soviet propa-
ganda system. Formed in the democrat-
ic revolutionary circles of the nineteenth
century, the idea of ‘ideinost (ideological
content) in the literary work as its rst and
foremost value was transferred into the
postrevolutionary environment and ap-
plied to the whole body of literature, past
and present, foreign and domestic.”24 Bali-
na invokes prominent nineteenth-century
critics to support the argument that the
educational value of “odetskoi” (children’s)
literature was acknowledged long before
its ideological instrumentation. Vissarion
Belinskii stated that “children’s books are
written for education, and education is an
extremely important task: it decides the fu-
ture of a human being.”25 On a similar note,
Nikolai Dobroliubov considered children’s
literature “a textbook of life,” as it prepares
its readers “to resist life’s evil… retain the
purity of soul, and defend communal truth
from lies, violence and self-interests.”26
Looking back, Lithuanian critic Vincas
Auryla considers the ideology-heavy chil-
dren’s literature of totalitarian regimes an
“anomaly.”27 Moreover, he deplores the fact
that Soviet children’s books are “left to rot
on the libraries”28 as they no longer have
any readers. But Auryla asks an even more
dicult question: “Why did talented writ-
ers cooperate with the regime, falsifying
their books for young readers? How was
the ‘newspeak of Soviet children’s literature
created, with words lacking meaning and
social realism lacking realism? How did
such concepts as humanism, patriotism,
and internationalism mutate in children’s
164 Gabriela Glăvan
literature?”29 Eugen Negrici comes with a
more trenchant diagnosis for the reason
behind the writers’ solidarity with the new
political regime: “What characterizes in-
tellectuals – and the N.K.V.D. knew this
quite well – is the fact that their biological
fear is accompanied and augmented by the
fear of visibility loss.”30 His conclusion is
that “[t]he Party vitally needed the propa-
gandistic help of writers and, in order to
accomplish that, it stopped at nothing.”31
Gellu Naum’s Works for Pioneers
Beyond the ethical question regarding
motivation, there is a pragmatic neces-
sity to decide if this rather massive corpus
of books should be doomed to extinction
or gradually rehabilitated on dierent
grounds. Naum’s case is no dierent, and a
potential answer to Auryla’s question (and
to Negrici’s speculative motivation) would
be that collaborationism (even if literary) is
often the symptom of a struggle for surviv-
al, not in the elementary sense, but the cul-
tural (and editorial) one. ere is a ve year
gap between Naum’s last surrealist publica-
tions and his rst proletcultist book, Filo-
nul (e Lode). It is a 28-page long short
story published in 1952, conrming the
writer’s forced departure from surrealism.
His last avant-garde writings, published
in 1947, were, quite signicantly, collec-
tive works – manifestoes written together
with the members of the Romanian surre-
alist group, Gherasim Luca, Paul Păun, D.
Trost and Virgil Teodorescu (L’infra noir
and Éloge de Malombra. Cerne de l’amour
absolu; this latter manifesto was written to-
gether with Luca, Păun and Trost). Naum
resumed his surrealist activity in 1968,
when he published the volume Athanor.
Signed “G. Naum,” Filonul was published
by Youth Publishing (Editura Tineretului),
and we can assume that its targeted audi-
ence were pioneers and young communists.
A team of geologists, in search of a vein of
ore in the Țibleșului Valley, near the Bran
region, are simultaneously faced with the
crisis of not nding its surface end and
with the imminent danger of a powerful
storm and wild animal predation. Flat and
plainly descriptive, the narrative is all sur-
face and no depth. An introductory para-
graph presents the team and their mission:
It is almost certain that this vein is the
end of the lode that they committed
themselves to nding in honor of the
great August holiday. Until yesterday,
their team, led by Mihalea, hadn’t
found anything, although they had
searched the valley far and near. e
team of four geologists prospected in
groups of twos: Mihalea and Tiberiu,
and Zeceș with Condrea. When Zeceș
discovered the “trace” and found its
direction, it was already dark. Stars
were twinkling above and the forest
was barely visible, like a dark, uncer-
tain spot at the end of the valley.32
Team eort and comradeship are
predominant values, constantly rearmed
throughout the narrative. e geologists
are eager to do their duty and report back
to the Institute in due time. eir enthu-
siasm derives from their impeccable work
ethic (all communist enterprises praise
exceeding the norm, and the geological
institute is no exception) and from their
devotion towards the Party and its sem-
inal holiday – August 23rd (1944), when
the Romanian army ceased to ght along
165
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
Nazy Germany and allied with the glo-
rious Red Army. Condrea, the youngest
member of the team, is an emblematic g-
ure of the young, determined, hardwork-
ing Romanian communist, devoted to the
cause of a prosperous socialist future and
loyal to his superiors. “One cannot take for
granted the team leader’s punctuality, not
even up here in the mountains,”33 Condrea
thinks to himself. An unlikely encounter
with Moș Vlad (Old Vlad), an elderly man
from the nearby village facilitates further
contrasts between the old world and the
new one. While the old man warns the
younger ones that mountain storms and
wild animals can be dangerous, his advice
is received with the skepticism of the brave
and fearless. Old Vlad even confesses that
he still celebrates “the old” holidays – “Peo-
ple keep telling me, but, well! Old age is
the damnedest thing!”34 He also admires
the eagerness of the geologists and trans-
parently expresses his approval of the new
order – “I reckon there’s a great holiday the
day after tomorrow if you’re ready to beat
the storm just to honor it…”35
Condrea had made a promise to his
colleague Gheza, the leader of the foundry
brigade from Baia. e night before their
departure on their mission in the moun-
tains, Gheza encouraged the team with
typical communist formulas: “I look for-
ward to welcoming you back so that we can
celebrate together our holiday ad I wish
you great success in your work. Do not
forget that we need as much ore as possi-
ble, so that we can exceed our plan.”36 e
great ideological shift is visible on an es-
sential level – old religious rites have been
exchanged for new political ones. And the
faithful participate in the festivities, bring-
ing in new converts – their children. Zeceș
laughs when he reminisces that, the year
before, he took his son with him to the pa-
rade – “He was four years old and I carried
him on my back. You should have seen his
joy!”37 Party ideology permeates social in-
teractions to such an extent that, during an
argument with his colleagues, Zeceș rmly
declares: ”Look, I was taught by the Par-
ty to tell things as they are.”38 e mission
is successful and the team nd the lode in
time for the August 23rd celebration. ey
triumph over nature as the ending clear-
ly states – the gigantic bear that watches
them every night from a distance is still
there, by the edge of the forest, somehow
scared and defeated.
Filonul is denitely a sample of ide-
ologized educational literature and it mas-
sively relies on the socialist realist proto-
type outlined above. Social man abandons
his individual needs, and he overcomes his
crises and fears in order to embrace the
higher ideal of the group and of society.
Young pioneers are presented with a tale
of communist ethics that could oer them
direction and guidance in a comprehen-
sive manner, as it reunites paradigmatic
elements of propagandistic formative lit-
erature – work as a supremely noble mis-
sion that must be accomplished against all
odds, in a manner reminding of archetypal
spiritual quests; the new world and its new
political order entails a fundamental shift
in values and beliefs39 – the “old holidays,”
as Old Vlad calls them, have been replaced
by the new ones, signaling triumphant
moments in the history of communist
conquest; much like monotheism,40 com-
munism emphasizes the role of a singular
prophetic leader, whose mission is to guide
his fellow men on their journey to enlight-
enment (disguised as progress) – here, the
166 Gabriela Glăvan
leader is Zeceș, who not only manages
to trace the vein of ore, but also critical-
ly interrogates his colleague Tiberiu, who
seems reluctant and uninvolved:
Specialists of your kind resemble
damn well this shawl. ey are eaten
away by old ideas, just like it would be
eaten by moths. You must shake them
o really well, otherwise, look, you
would do just as you did today, stand
in our way. And we won’t let you. Try
to get a good grip and then you’ll be
able to understand a lot of things, for
example where did your hesitation
and fear come from and where does
our strength come from.41
Although both Filonul and Tabăra din
munți were specically written for teenag-
ers, the latter, published in 1953, resembles
an adventure story with pioneers on their
summer holiday. Despite its educational
framework, Filonul hardly resembles the
classical discursive format of children’s lit-
erature, while Tabăra din munți follows it
closely. Once again, Naum signed his book
“G. Naum” (the author signed his surrealist
books in his whole name). However, it is
dicult to tell if this could be interpret-
ed as a strategy of auctorial dissimulation.
In a 2003 interview with Lygia Naum (by
Sveltana Cârstean), the poet’s wife ex-
pressed the rather surprising opinion that
Tabăra din munți cannot be considered a
concession to the ocial regime: “He did
not make concessions. Not even the re-
portage e Camp in the Mountains could
be considered a concession. Without this
text, he wouldn’t have been allowed to
join the Union [of Writers], as wouldn’t
have been ‘admitted’ with e Incendiary
Traveler, e Terrible Forbidden or Medium.
He had been told that ‘these are not books
to join the Union’.” However, he wouldn’t
have been allowed to publish translations if
he hadn’t joined the Union.”42
Tabăra din munți is an illustrated book
detailing the summer camp adventures of
Vasile, a twelve year old boy from Bucha-
rest, in the summer of 1950. e beginning
of the narrative is dynamic and fast paced:
Vasile bids his home friends farewell and
embarks on a journey to the mountains,
where he would make new friends in new,
exciting circumstances. Both characters and
contexts are didactic and predictable. Vasile
keeps a diary where he writes his impres-
sions about the camp, the people he meets,
the challenges he faces. Dogmatic termi-
nology becomes the norm from the earliest
stages of the narrative – the children are no
longer called children, but “pioneers,” even
if the notion is articially inserted in un-
suitable contexts. A relevant scene occurs on
the train, on the way to the camp, when the
teacher in charge of Vasile’s group notices
that Ștefănică, a younger pupil, got lost and
couldn’t be found, so he asks other travelers
if they had seen “a pioneer of short stature,
with blue eyes.”
43
Signicantly enough, the
rst activity on the camp agenda is to group
the participants according to the generic
structure of the pioneers’ organization, with
group and brigade commanders, replicating
the same structure and hierarchy imposed
in schools. e camp is, in fact, a political
training facility, with Lenin and Stalin’s
pictures on the walls of each dormitory:
“e room Vasile had entered had white
walls, with beautifully framed portraits of
Lenin and Stalin.”
44
e voluble, energetic Vasile makes
friends easily, but also has an opponent in
167
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
the new group – Stere, an orphan boy who
displays visible signs of childhood trauma
and loss. Lonely, cynical, aggressive, Stere
is a transparent character ready to be con-
verted. Indeed, by the end of the book,
what seemed at the beginning like and im-
possible connection turns into a surprising
friendship, as Vasile and Stere become pals
and share a special bond. e social once
again triumphs over the individual, and
the ethics of comradeship proves eective
in alleviating old family traumas.
Indeed, Tabăra... is not a sample of
Naum’s literature for children, it is educa-
tional literature for pioneers. e narrative
relies almost exclusively on conformity and
normative didacticism, as characters con-
stantly seem to learn lessons about them-
selves and about others. Children’s games
are not imaginative and free, but educative
and moralizing. e Soviet model is once
again detectable in the complexity of the
plot – the young pioneers learn how to face
danger and defend the communist cause,
they internalize the values of the ocial
party doctrine and obey their superiors,
they are proud of their status and constant-
ly reiterate it socially, in the most unlike-
ly circumstances. ey are active, helpful
and available to help others, yet they are
aware of the presence of enemies – they
denounce saboteurs and the kulak, people
of the old order who exploited peasants
and were capable of murderous deeds. ey
improvise a small construction site, where
they start building a little bridge, and they
plan to help. While Vasile enjoyed his sta-
tus as group commander, when he is faced
with the responsibility of the site, he takes
a moment to meditate on the signicance
of his status. His monologue is relevant
for the articial articulation of formulaic
ideology: “He was confused. Until then he
was happy he had been elected command-
er, but he was just glad and that was it. It is
nice to be group commander. When some-
body asks ‘Who’s in charge?,’ you briey
answer ‘I am,’ and you also ask them if
there’s anything you can do, while the oth-
ers remain silent, as they should. And then,
out in the square, you order loudly: ‘Group,
attention!’ and that is also very good. And
when you get home and school starts, you
boast: ‘In summer camp I was group com-
mander and my group went perfectly well,
it was rst in the brigade, and, to tell you
the truth, even rst in the unit!’45
e “scientic mythology” of commu-
nism, as Lucian Boia46 termed the commu-
nist obsession for science (and, implicitly
progress) is reected in the educational
context of the book through the specic
task of Vasile’s team – they are “the natu-
ralists,” and their mission is to observe and
study wild plants and animals in the forest;
they collaborate with the group of “crafty
hands” – pioneers who manufacture arti-
sanal objects and devices. When they nd
out that a new school was going to be built
in the village near the camp, they plan to
donate it all the materials they gathered
during the camp. ey befriend Bălănel,
a boy from the village who comes from a
modest family of peasants (workers and
peasants were privileged in communism
due to their “clean” origins) and who is
viciously attacked in the forest by an op-
ponent of the regime – he believes his at-
tacker was Melinte, one of the last kulaks
in the region.
Teachers and parents are constant
authority gures in the book, and they
constantly lecture and give advice. Vasile
remembers that his father had told him
168 Gabriela Glăvan
stories from his factory, where dangerous
saboteurs of the prosperous new political
order would undermine production and
cause serious damage. e iconic Pavlic
Morozov47 is invoked in this context:
“What do you think, that the enemies are
sleeping? My father told me a story about
some kulak who had set re to a materi-
als warehouse. And was it not them who
killed Pavlic Morozov, too?”48 Echoing
Pavlic, Bălănel has a better fate – although
severely wounded, he is treated in the hos-
pital and recovers completely. Comrade
Simion, the teacher who is their camp in-
structor, tells his pupils stories about So-
viet pioneers from Ukraine, who fought
the drought and, through constant eort
and hard work, managed to ”plant over six
and a half million trees”49 and they watered
them with buckets they carried themselves.
Comrade Radu, the principal of the camp,
tells them stories about Korea and its brave
people: “Children – he told us – far away
from our country, to the east, there is an
ancient peninsula, covered by old moun-
tains, crossed by silver rivers. A peaceful
and proud people lives there, freed by the
glorious Soviet Armies, just like we were.”50
When summer camp ends and the pio-
neers prepare to go back home, they make a
bonre and celebrate the moment by singing
“under the star lit sky, the pioneer song We
ank the Party with All Our Heart.
51
Vasile,
Alexandru, Voicu, Mustață, Gâdea, Ștefănică,
Stere and Neagu promise each other to write,
have good results in school and honor their
allegiance to the Party. e narrative ends
on a dynamic, positive note – reunited with
his family, Vasile tells them what he learned,
who he met, what good deeds he did. ere
are no uncertainties, no mystery, no shadows
on the clear blue pioneer horizon.
Poetic Journeys
to the Red Continent
Gellu Naum’s two volumes of poetry
written outside of (and, possibly, in
spite of ) the realm of surrealism, were pub-
lished almost a decade after Filonul and
Tabăra din munți. Poem despre tinerețea no-
astră (e Poem of Our Youth) was published
in 1960, by the same publishing house that
launched his two previous socialist realist
books – Editura Tineretului (Youth Pub-
lishing). Illustrated by Jules Perahim, a for-
mer surrealist painter with whom Naum
had collaborated when he published the
rst edition of e Book with Apolodor, in
1959, the book greatly benets from this
artistic dialogue, despite its problemat-
ic content. Perahim’s visions in black and
white add a strong element of visual dra-
ma, complementing the harsh tonality of
Naum’s poetry. e volume reunites sixteen
poems of various length, and the rst one,
entitled “Back en,” implies a recalibra-
tion of the past meant to revive old myths
in light of present concepts: “I should
probably start by reminding/ of the boat
with silvery oars/ chasing the golden eece
in dreams/ I should probably remind you/
of the magical, unforgettable words/ the
three bewildering words: bread, love, liber-
ty.” 52 Youth is a time of revolution, and its
language is as clear as the laws of science:
“ere would be the wonderful breeze/ and
the tremble of the clear blue sky/ but your
youth demands/ the rough and rigorous
language/ of elementary mathematics.”53
e epic ow reveals undeniable contrasts
between a gloomy, exploitative, bourgeois
past, and the fair, egalitarian present: “Back
then, in factories/ the day used to be frag-
mented in hours of exhaustion/ and the
169
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
hours in seconds of anger;/ back then, in
factories,/ the hearts of men, like secret
res/ were preparing the lights of battle.”54
e dicult life of peasants is invoked
repetitively as an exemplary instance of the
failure of the old world order: “Back then,
some students – over-learned/ holding
their st-sized skulls/ under velvet caps/
dancing shimmy/ discovering the criteria
of the tragic/ in the hunch of the brothel
pianist.”55 Provocateurs, saboteurs, agents
and Hitler himself create a despicable pa-
rade that the Pope looks on admiringly,
but “against them, back then/ Lenin’s word
was humming/ as future forests hum in the
acorn of oaks.”56
e theme of youth is presented di-
rectly, as an invocation – “Oh, My Youth”
is a lamentation deploring the poverty
and precariousness of young age in the
old world. An emphatically titled poem,
“Human Condition,” focuses on the ele-
ment of hands, another fetishized element
of communist iconography. Hands and
arms are stylized in the classical manner
of propaganda aesthetic austerity: “Hands
projected to sow bread and owers/ hands
made to cradle infants/ and the hands of
maidens, like marble balconies/ the hands
that we’d touch our heads with/ in the
desperate hours of love/ and the young,
powerful hands/ that made the air vibrate
with their touch/ hands that would extract,
from earth’s deep sleep/ gigantic waves of
coal.”57 Hands, as universal agents of work
and order, are unifying elements that bring
together individuals that would not be re-
united in the old, individualistic world: “I
speak of the black hands of miners/ the
white hands of weavers/ the harsh hands
of tinkers/ the hands of locksmiths and po-
ets/ the hands of hacks and laborers/ the
hands that clenched back then:/ I speak of
the powerful hands of communists/ and
the hands of those in U.C.Y.58/ the hands
of our youth/ building the barricades of
human dignity.”59
e abandonment of individuality is
proclaimed in unambiguous terms: “the
power to feel, when you imagined your-
self a leaf in autumn trees/ that you are
bound to others with strong ties/ the lamp
that lights the fog, towards the dream/
they were all given to us/ by the Party.”60
Declamatory poetry, like religious hymns,
revisit the sacred history of the dogma, re-
vealing the mythological struggle between
the forces of evil and the new man, guided
by the Party. e poem “Listen” is an exem-
plary instance “this day back in February
1933/ listen how the Party calls them to
battle/ listen how it answers, like a forest
of echoes/ the heart of our youth/ listen up,
listen…”61
Sleep and dreams, the predilect terri-
tories of surrealism, no longer serve imag-
inary enterprises, but real, political ones.
Instead of passively lying asleep, young
communists disseminate manifestos in Bu-
charest at night: “ey were stepping slow-
ly/ carrying in them the vigor of youth/
and the grimness of times to come/ they
were stepping slowly/ feeling the dense re-
ality of danger./ Deep waters of sleep were
ooding/ all houses/ but the sleep of peo-
ple/ – even their sleep –/ was divided/ and
every man/ would travel in his body as if
on a boat. […] But I will say/ at they
were stepping slowly/ in the trap-lled
city night/ leaving on each threshold, on
each wall/ the imprint of the dawn/ they
were slowly stepping by the sleep of tired-
ness/ and they would bring along/ words of
awakening.”62
170 Gabriela Glăvan
e declamatory nature of propagan-
distic poetry contaminates the poetic lan-
guage of the volume in a crescendo, with
stronger accents in the nal cycle of poems.
“e irst to Be United” is a clear sample of
activist literature, fully reecting the ocial
directive of socially and politically involved
poetry: “I will say what other have not for-
gotten/ I will say that hate begun where fear
ended/ I will say that hunger started where
hunger ended/ I will say that bars began
at factory windows/ I will say that parting
started in the arms of the beloved./ I will say
that night began where night ended/ night
of camps, night of barracks, night of pris-
ons.”
63
An inherent opposition with the old
lyrical paradigm becomes apparent in the
poem “Of Course, Tulips Were Blooming.”
e decadent aesthetics of the past is once
again condemnable and blind, unaware of
real pain and feelings. e indierent, arti-
cial contexts of pastels and ballads appear in
dire opposition to the harsh reality of polit-
ical torture, beatings and arrests: “Of course,
tulips were blooming in gardens/ but in the
basement of the prefecture, in cells/ the wall
would tremble as our comrade groaned/ as
he had just be brought to be questioned;/
Of course, orchestras were playing in gar-
dens,/ and trees would rustle, for ddlers’
sake/ and the sky would be lled with stars/
while in the basement of Security/ tor-
tured soles would leave streaks of blood/
and bodies would falter like aspens blown
by winds…”
64
e power of poetic language
seems more real than ever before, more
active and involved, as it has assimilated
the progressive terminology of propagan-
da: “our ears would sadly turn away/ each
time mechanical mouths would sing hymns
– but like snowake owers trembling be-
neath ice/ words of action, words/ from the
secret arsenal of our youth: Lenin, Party,
Freedom…”
6
5
Activist literature is often narrative,
defying the classical norms of metaphoric
hermetism. e Death of the Partisan,”
just as the title states, is the story of glori-
ous partisan opposition in the face of death:
At dawn, they said/ – Wake up; the time
has come…/ And he replied: – Death to all
executioners!/ And then he saw the matte
glare of the bayonets/ the ghostly shape of
a tree/ the city streets, engulfed in fog./ On
the road, they said:/ It’s not too late if you
decide to speak…/And he replied: Death to
all executioners!”
66
e sixteenth poem, and
the last, is an ample epic reloading the main
themes of the volume in the shape of an
artistic creed. “Golden Words” quite trans-
parently proclaims the dogmatic aliation
of poetry to the ocial ideology and could
be considered a relevant sample of politi-
cal theology. As Eugen Negrici pertinently
argued, the “political religion” of commu-
nism “acted just like any religion in its
fundamentalist stage.”
67
Moreover, Negrici
notes that one of the most procient (and
rather unexpected) emotions that patriot-
ic poetry relies on is hate. Quoting from a
poem by Eugen Frunză (“Hate! Hate! As
nothing’s more sacred/than hate guarding
life on earth”),
68
Negrici considers that “the
drug of hate and envy”
69
was a powerful in-
strument involved in class struggle. Naum’s
closing poem revives the central allegory of
youth and connects it to a vast reserve of
hatred: “With the lightning of the thou-
sands and thousands of eyes/ of our youth/
with all the hate, the acerb hate that we’ve
kept/ just like others would cherish a jew-
el/ we’d like to poke the retina/ of these
round eyes”
70
e ending is triumphant as
it reveals the “golden words” meant to guide
171
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
everyone to a luminous future: “with all the
voices of our youth/ we solemnly arm, no
end in sight/ the golden words: Lenin! e
Party! To communism!”
71
Soarele Calm (Calm Sun) was pub-
lished in 1961 by Editura Pentru Litera-
tură (Literature Publishing) and it reunites
ve chapters of poems, illustrated by Jules
Perahim. More complex than Poem despre
tinerețea noastră, Soarele calm integrates
Naum’s ideological stance in a vaster poetic
project. e opening poem, “Un sigur lu-
cru
(Only One ing, which is also the title
of the rst group of poems) is a declarative
rst person confession similar to others in-
cluded in Poem. e omnipresent reference
to a dicult past is once again used as the
starting point of a new poetics: “some other
times I dress my verses in a frock coat/ and
their silhouette bores me to death;/ this is
not a game, of course,/ or, anyway, it is an
extremely severe poetic game,/ but in my
still darkling quests/ one thing is certain:/
I do not easily forget the gloomy gangways
of the past,/ nor the dark shadow of the
dog/ and I keep close watch with other liv-
ing men,/ so that night never reects again
in the serene eyes of children.”72 History is
the overarching theme of an ambitious epic
poem entitled “Primăvara lumii
(Spring of
the World), debuting on a harsh tone that
blames and exposes those who “like to
look in the past/ as is through I don’t know
what king of magic lens/ and rummage it
like a sock full of money.”73 Naum draws a
dierent map of days gone by and signals
the most relevant moments that have come
to dene the present – therefore, “nine-
teen seventeen”74 was the year of war, and
“father had been a poet. And was rotting
away/ somewhere beneath the trenches.”75
is biographical element is the starting
point of universal revolution: “my father’s
bones, rotting away on a eld,/ these bones,
like wet utes/ have been singing in my
ears each spring;/ and from them, and from
millions of tired others,/ from millions of
stormy hopes,/ from millions of chests,
from pure hate,/ from millions of hearts,
from millions of dreams,/ that year, a giant
ame emerged,/ an unbelievable spring:/
e spring of October had started.”76 Oth-
er important dates structure this personal
and ideological account – “March, nine-
teen twenty-two,”77 “oh, Bucharest of thir-
ty-three,”78 “the years of crimes,”79 “March,
nineteen forty,”80 “March, nineteen for-
ty-two,”81April, forty-four,”82 “when the
name of death was LILY-MARLEN,”83
then “spring, nineteen forty-nine,”84 when
“the saps of spring kept going up,” and the
world order was changing, the monarchy
“burst/ like a bubble of soap it burst.”85
March, nineteen fty-ve (the present
moment of writing) is the year of nuclear
arming, and of the capitalist remnants of
war, still lurking, as Mr. Krupp has a new
little hall/ with uranium electric chairs,
covered in leather,/ human skin, black or
white, human skin, just like yours…)/ Mr.
Ford enjoys his siesta, in peace/ Mr. Du-
pont de Nemours/ installed electric brains
in each city,/ and now dreams of build-
ing a drum/ (a human skin drum, black
or white, made of human skin, just like
yours)/ a hydrogen drum/ dreams of beat-
ing it and setting o an attack/ dreams of
singing LILY-MARLEN.”86 e ending
is one long, idealist patriotic exhortation:
“Keep all your hopes/ and dreams of love,
of freedom./ be tough! Keep them pristine!
Spring will be yours, too!”87
Naum’s poetic project shifts back to
an old propagandistic favorite trope – the
172 Gabriela Glăvan
village, the life of peasants, the purity of
nature, the place of new beginnings and
founding myths. e Village Journal, the
second chapter of the volume, marks an
interesting deviation from the rst part,
as it accentuates the traditional dimension
through the means of classical rhyme. e
austere atmosphere of the secluded coun-
tryside is also the haven of essential events,
such as the birth of a calf, the revelation
of the impossibility of God and religion,
the growth of plants, the fertility of earth.
However, the poetic eort to conceptualize
the new political reality sometimes gener-
ates involuntary humorous eects: the nal
verses of “Plutirea timpului” (e Floating
of Time) refer to “a poem/about party pol-
itics in the countryside,”88 “Greu…” (Dif-
cult…) infers that God revealed himself
to an illiterate old woman “in new tennis
shoes/ from the co-operative…,”89 and
the nal poem of the series, “Lights, ends
with an uncanny rhyme that reunites the
celestial with the communist mundane:
“we each were given, from the mill/ full
moons that shine, forever, still.”90
e only non-ideological chapter of
the volume is Cântece de dragoste pentru
Lygia (Love Songs for Lygia), a lyrical in-
termezzo that reveals the poet’s love for
his wife. Traditionally coherent, relying
on classical rhyme and romantic imagery,
the poems of this chapter radically dier
from Naum’s surrealist exploration of the
theme of love in future volumes. e -
nal two chapters, Exerciții (Exercises) and
Alergătorul (e Runner) are interesting at-
tempts at tackling innovative poetic strat-
egies. Although they facilitate the return
of some surrealist themes – reveries, sty-
listic digressions and narrative parentheses,
exotic, unreal landscapes and archetypal
characters – there are also frequent refer-
ences to ”another kind of beauty, unseen
before,”91 to soldiers and martial fantasies
announcing the dawn of a glorious new
era.
Conclusions
A
critical rereading of Gellu Naum’s so-
cialist realist poetry and youth books
is a necessary step towards a coherent un-
derstanding of a dicult and problematic
literary history issue – the writers’ collab-
oration with the communist regime. A
balanced approach should avoid, for the
sake of critical distance, solidarity with
the author’s dismissal of his ideologically
compromised works. e red aesthetics is
a complex cultural phenomenon that can
reveal many facets of a dramatic decade
that established an enduring tradition in
Romanian literature. e 1950s and ear-
ly 1960s, when Naum published his four
works discussed above, lay the groundwork
for a solid, essential genre of the commu-
nist era, propaganda literature. e author’s
partial inclusion in this paradigm is a stim-
ulating challenge for researchers of the pe-
riod and of Naum’s work, as well.
173
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
BiBliography
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Beckett, Reections of Change. Children’s Literature Since 1945, Greenwood Press, Westport, 1997, pp.
177-182
Balina, M., Rudova, L. (ed.), Russian Children’s Literature and Culture, New York, Routledge, 2008
Beckett, Sandra L., Reections of Change. Children’s Literature Since 1945, Westport, Greenwood Press, 1997
Blyth, Alistair, e Last Surrealist. Preface to Gellu Naum, Vasco da Gama and Other Pohems, Bucharest,
Humanitas, 2007
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cultural, March 11, 2003, available online http://www.observatorcultural.ro/articol/orice-face-el-nu-
poate--decit-frumos-ii-interviu-cu-lyggia-naum/, accessed January 12th, 2017
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communist poems published by Gellu Naum), available online http://www.poetic.ro/19-02-2012-o-privire-
necesara-asupra-poemelor-comuniste-publicate-de-gellu-naum/, accessed January 10th 2017
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Review, 1971, vol. 3, no. 2, April 1971, pp. 133-140
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e Slaughterhouse of Literature,
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1964), Cartea Românească, Bucharest, 2010
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sity Press, 1978
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Naum, Gellu, Tabăra din munți (e Camp in the Mountains), Bucharest, Editura Tineretului a C.C. al
U.T.C., 1953
Naum, Gellu, Poem despre tinerețea noastră (e Poem of Our Youth), Bucharest, Editura Tineretului, 1960
Naum, Gellu, Soarele calm (Calm Sun), Bucharest, Editura Pentru Literatură (Literature Publishing), 1961
Popescu, Simona, Salvarea speciei. Despre suprarealism şi Gellu Naum (Salvation of the Species. On Surrea-
lism and Gellu Naum), Bucharest, Editura Fundaţiei Culturale Române, 2000
Popescu, Simona, Clava. Criticţiune cu Gellu Naum. (Clava. Critiction with Gellu Naum), Piteşti,
Paralela 45, 2004
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Veche, 2014
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nia), no. 34/2011, available online http://www.romlit.ro/despre_salvarea_speciei, accessed January 16
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Notes
1. Franco Moretti, e Slaughterhouse of Literature,” MLQ, March 2000, p. 225.
2. Alistair Blyth, e Last Surrealist. Preface to Gellu Naum, Vasco da Gama and Other Pohems, Bucharest,
Humanitas, 2007.
3. Gellu Naum, Opere I. Poezii (Complete Works I. Poems), Iași, Polirom, 2011.
4. Simona Popescu, “Gellu Naum’s ‘Beginnings’ (Which are Dead Ends),” Dada/Surrealism, n o. 20,
number 1/2015.
5. Ibid., p. 2.
6. Eugen Negrici, Literatura română sub comunism. 1948-1964, Cartea Românească, Bucharest, 2010,
p. 204.
174 Gabriela Glăvan
7. Ibid.
8. Franco Moretti, “e Slaughterhouse of Literature,” p. 207.
9. Gellu Naum, Filonul (e Lode), Editura Tineretului, 1952, p. 31.
10. See also Simona Preda, Patrie Română, țară de eroi! (Romanian Homeland, Country of Heroes!), Cur-
tea Veche, Bucharest, 2014, p. 25.
11. Eugen Negrici, Literatura română sub comunism. 1948-1964.
12. Ibid., p. 63.
13. Ibid.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid., p. 69.
17. Ibid., p. 66.
18. Medvedeva, N., qtd. in Felicity Ann O’Dell, Socialisation rough Children’s Literature: the Soviet
Example, Cambridge University Press, 1978, p. 6.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid., p. 7.
21. Ibid.
22. Ibid.
23. Marina Balina, L. Rudova, (eds.), Russian Children’s Literature and Culture, New York, Routledge,
2008, p. 3.
24. Ibid., p. 4.
25. Belinskii qtd. in Balina, p. 4.
26. Dobroliubov qtd. in Balina, p. 4.
27. Vincas Auryla in Beckett, p. 177.
28. Ibid.
29. Ibid.
30. Eugen Negrici, Literatura…, p. 68 .
31. Ibid., p.64.
32. Gellu Naum, Filonul, p. 4.
33. Ibid., p. 5.
34. Ibid., p.18.
35. Ibid.
36. Ibid., p. 20.
37. Ibid., p. 21.
38. Ibid., p. 29.
39. See also Simona Preda’s analysis on the Soviet import of the ideology of “the new man” in commu-
nist Romania, in Patrie Română..., pp. 18-25.
40. Eugen Negrici argues that the central myths and themes of propagandistic literature have a strong
religious component: “In a ceaseless attack, literature acted together with the press, schools, radio, the
army and with any other imaginable institution in order the consolidate the communist ethos. In order
to achieve this goal, it was recommendable to constantly reload, with small variations, some – very few-
themes and subjects, much like in the manner that, during religious sermons, celebratory formulas are
continuously repeated. is pious exercise, involving thousands of genuections and the utterance of repe-
titive formulas, the future soldiers were being taught the following dogma: the cult of sanctied martyrs
(the soviet soldier as civilizing hero; the communist that sacriced himself for our happiness), the cult of
the apostles of the faith (Lenin, Stalin, Gheorghiu-Dej), the cult of the protective church (the Party), the
cult of the heavenly kingdom – the paradise of the righteous (e Soviet Union), the cult of the new man,
exorcised, atoned, redeemed by the righteous faith, vigilantly facing pagan temptations, the shameful past,
the deceiving incarnations of the enemy, enjoying his awakening to a new life (‘in cities and villages’) and
longing for beatitude, for the eternal life promised to the party faithful (communist heaven)”Ibid., p.69.
175
Communist Leftovers: The Forgotten Books of Gellu Naum
41. Gellu Naum, Filonul, p. 29.
42. Svetlana Cârstean, interview with Lygia Naum, “Whatever he does can only be beautiful,” Observa-
tor cultural, March 11, 2003, available online http://www.observatorcultural.ro/articol/orice-face-el-nu-
poate--decit-frumos-ii-interviu-cu-lyggia-naum/, accessed January 12th, 2017.
43. Gellu Naum, Tabăra din munți (e Camp in the Mountains), Bucharest, Editura Tineretului a C.C.
al U.T.C., 1953, p. 20.
44. Ibid., p. 35.
45. Ibid., p. 115.
46. See Lucian Boia, Mitologia științică a comunismului, Humanitas, București, 2006.
47. Pavlic Morozov is one of the martyrs of Soviet propaganda for youth, constantly praised for his
heroic deeds in Soviet schoolbooks. He was believed to have denounced his father for having stolen
part of the crop he had to give for requisition, in order to feed his family. As a result, his father was
condemned to forced labor and then executed. His relatives are believed to have killed him, according to
the communist version of the tale. e invocation of this iconic Soviet character strengthens the argu-
ment that Naum’s book is heavily inuenced by the Soviet paradigm of literature for children and youth.
48. Gellu Naum, Tabăra din munți, p. 172.
49. Ibid., p. 176.
50. Ibid., p. 125.
51. Ibid., p. 309.
52. Gellu Naum, Poem despre tinerețea noastră (e Poem of Our Youth), Editura Tineretului, 1960, p. 5.
53. Ibid., p. 7.
54. Ibid., p. 8.
55. Ibid.
56. Ibid., p. 10.
57. Ibid., p. 13.
58. e Union of Communist Youth (in Romanian, U.T.C., Uniunea Tineretului Comunist).
59. Gellu Naum, Poem despre tinerețea noastră, p. 16.
60. Ibid., p. 17.
61. Ibid., p. 20.
62. Ibid., pp. 23-24
63. Ibid., p. 26.
64. Ibid., p. 28.
65. Ibid., p. 32.
66. Ibid., p. 35.
67. Eugen Negrici, Literatura română sub comunism, p. 71.
68. Ibid., p. 70.
69. Ibid.
70. Gellu Naum, Poem despre tinerețea noastră, p. 40.
71. Ibid., p. 42.
72. Gellu Naum, Un singur lucru” (Only One ing), in Soarele calm (Calm Sun), Bucharest, Editura
Pentru Literatură (Literature Publishing), 1961, p. 7
73. Ibid., “Primăvara lumii” (Spring of the World), p. 8.
74. Ibid., p. 9.
75. Ibid.
76. Ibid., pp. 9-10.
77. Ibid., p. 10.
78. Ibid.,p. 12.
79. Ibid., p. 13.
80. Ibid., p. 14.
81. Ibid., p. 18.
176 Gabriela Glăvan
82. Ibid., p. 21.
83. Ibid.
84. Ibid., p. 23.
85. Ibid.
86. Ibid., p. 25.
87. Ibid., p. 26.
88. Ibid., p. 59.
89. Ibid., p. 65.
90. Ibid., p. 69.
91. Ibid., p. 94.
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Article
MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly 61.1 (2000) 207-227 Let me begin with a few titles: Arabian Tales, Aylmers, Annaline, Alicia de Lacey, Albigenses, Augustus and Adelina, Albert, Adventures of a Guinea, Abbess of Valiera, Ariel, Almacks, Adventures of Seven Shillings, Abbess, Arlington, Adelaide, Aretas, Abdallah the Moor, Anne Grey, Andrew the Savoyard, Agatha, Agnes de Monsfoldt, Anastasius, Anzoletto Ladoski, Arabian Nights, Adventures of a French Sarjeant, Adventures of Bamfylde Moore Carew, A Commissioner, Avondale Priory, Abduction, Accusing Spirit, Arward the Red Chieftain, Agnes de Courcy, An Old Friend, Annals of the Parish, Alice Grey, Astrologer, An Old Family Legend, Anna, Banditt's Bride, Bridal of Donnamore, Borderers, Beggar Girl . . . It was the first page of an 1845 catalog: Columbell's circulating library, in Derby: a small collection, of the kind that wanted only successful books. But today, only a couple of titles still ring familiar. The others, nothing. Gone. The history of the world is the slaughterhouse of the world, reads a famous Hegelian aphorism; and of literature. The majority of books disappear forever -- and "majority" actually misses the point: if we set today's canon of nineteenth-century British novels at two hundred titles (which is a very high figure), they would still be only about 0.5 percent of all published novels. And the other 99.5 percent? This is the question behind this article, and behind the larger idea of literary history that is now taking shape in the work of several critics -- most recently Sylvie Thorel-Cailleteau, Katie Trumpener, and Margaret Cohen. The difference is that, for me, the aim is not so much a change in the canon -- the discovery of precursors to the canon or alternatives to it, to be restored to a prominent position -- as a change in how we look at all of literary history: canonical and noncanonical: together. To do so, I focus on what I call rivals: contemporaries who write more or less like canonical authors (in my case, more or less like Arthur Conan Doyle), but not quite, and who interest me because, from what I have seen of that forgotten 99 percent, they seem to be the largest contingent of the "great unread," as Cohen calls it. And that's really my hope, as I have said: to come up with a new sense of the literary field as a whole. But of course, there is a problem here. Knowing two hundred novels is already difficult. Twenty thousand? How can we do it, what does "knowledge" mean, in this new scenario? One thing for sure: it cannot mean the very close reading of very few texts -- secularized theology, really ("canon"!)--that has radiated from the cheerful town of New Haven over the whole field of literary studies. A larger literary history requires other skills: sampling; statistics; work with series, titles, concordances , incipits -- and perhaps also the "trees" that I discuss in this essay. But first, a brief premise. The slaughter of literature. And the butchers -- readers: who read novel A (but not B, C, D, E, F, G, H, . . .) and so keep A "alive" into the next generation, when other readers may keep it alive into the following one, and so on until eventually A becomes canonized. Readers, not professors, make canons: academic decisions are mere echoes of a process that unfolds fundamentally outside the school: reluctant rubber-stamping, not much more. Conan Doyle is a perfect case in point: socially supercanonical right away, but academically canonical only a hundred years later. And the same happened to Cervantes, Defoe, Austen, Balzac, Tolstoy. . . . A space outside the school, where the canon is selected: the market. Readers read A and so keep it alive; better, they buy A, inducing its publishers to keep it in print until another generation shows up, and so on. A concrete example can be found in James Raven's excellent study of British publishing between 1750 and 1770: if one looks at the table of "the most popular novelists by editions printed 1750-1769," it's quite clear that the interplay of readers and publishers in the marketplace had completely shaped the canon of the eighteenth...
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