Russian novelist, playwright and satirist Evgeny Zamyatin (1884–1937) is best known for his 1920 dystopian novel We. In opera, he was involved in adapting the libretto of Shostakovich’s opera The Nose from Gogol’s short story, along with Georgy Ionin, Alexander Preis and the composer, although the extent of Zamyatin’s involvement is contested.
Zamyatin was born in Lebedyan. He trained in St Petersburg as a naval engineer and throughout his life balanced his writing with a scientific career. Early works such as A Provincial Tale and At the World’s End were critical of Russian life under the Tsar; the latter saw him brought to trial and exiled. During World War I he was sent to work in England supervising the construction of icebreakers, and here he wrote The Islanders. Zamyatin was a member of the Bolesheviks as a student, but after the Russian Revolution he distanced himself from the party. His writings increasingly criticized the Soviet state, through such short stories as Mamay, The Cave and The Church of God. His influential masterpiece We, not published in the Soviet Union until 1988 but circulated abroad during the 1920s, led to a 1929 crackdown on Soviet authors and the blacklisting of Zamyatin, both in the publication of his writings and the performance of his plays. In 1931 Zamyatin was granted permission to leave the Soviet Union; he spent the rest of his life in Paris.
Zamyatin’s plays include The Flea and The Society of Honourable Bellringers. He also collaborated with Jean Renoir on Les Bas-fonds.
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Shostakovich was the golden boy of Soviet art in the 1920s, but by The Nose's stage premiere in 1930, the tide was beginning to turn.