1st English edition
|Published in English||1936|
Envy (Russian: Зависть) is a novel published in 1927 by the Russian novelist Yuri Olesha. It is remarkable both for its poetic style, undulating modes of transition between the scenes, innovative structure, biting satire, and ruthless examination of Socialist ideals.
The novel is about a pathetic young man named Nikolai Kavalerov, who refuses to accept Communist values and is consumed by loathing and envy for his benefactor Andrei Babichev, a model Soviet citizen who manages a successful sausage factory. With Andrei Babichev's brother Ivan, Kavalerov attempts to stage a comeback of all the old, petty feelings that were crushed under communism. In the end, Ivan and Kavalerov are crushed by their own iniquity.
Envy received glowing reviews throughout the Soviet literary establishment, including in the official state organ Pravda. Soviet reviewers understood the novel as a condemnation of despicable bourgeois feelings, yet Envy can equally be read as a searing indictment of the Soviet value system. There is something cold and inhuman about the novel's model Soviets and something sympathetic about the bourgeois' earnest but doomed attempt to organize a "conspiracy of feelings". In a letter to Andrei Babichev, Kavalerov writes:
I am fighting for tenderness, for pathos, for individuality; for names that touch me [...], for everything that you are determined to oppress and erase. (Ch. 11, MacAndrew)
In 1960, a reviewer for Time concluded that "Olesha once opposed Communism with such passion as to make Zhivago seem like a gentle reproof."
The true message of Envy likely lies somewhere in between these extremes. Olesha was aware of flaws in both capitalism and communism, and he was not wholly sympathetic to either. During the revolution, he was a strong supporter of communism, but he seems to have become gradually disillusioned after watching it in action. However, Envy cannot be reduced entirely to a political statement; the book devotes much of its energy to exploring the psychology of its characters.
Olesha, Yuri. Envy. Trans. Marian Schwartz. New York Review of Books, 2004. Print.
MacAndrew, Andrew R., and Yuri Olesha. Envy and Other Works. Doubleday & Co., 1968. Print.
- "Envy by Yuri Olesha". SovLit.net. Retrieved 2012-02-09.
- "Soviet Envy: Yuri Olesha Is Back, and Only Slightly Less Funny". The Stranger. Retrieved 2006-05-24.
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