As a banker's son, Ivanov spent his young manhood in the elite circle of Russian golden youth. He started writing pretentious verses, imitative of Baudelaire and the French Symbolists, at a precocious age. Although his technique of versification was impeccable, he had no life experience to draw upon. The favourite subjects of his early poetry were Rococo mannerisms and gallant festivals. Unsurprisingly, he named two of his books "The Embarkment for Cythera", alluding to Watteau's great painting.
After dallying with a puerile variety of Russian Futurism, as promoted by Igor Severyanin, Ivanov came to associate himself with the Acmeism movement. Although not considered a major talent, the 20-year-old was addressed or mentioned in the poems by Osip Mandelshtam and Anna Akhmatova. Georgii Ivanov was also considered to be one of the best pupils of the informal Guild of Poets school organized by Nikolay Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky.
Ivanov was the only prominent member of this circle who emigrated to the West. His natural arrogance and peremptory judgements easily won him respect and admiration from his younger contemporaries. He self-consciously promoted himself as the only remnant of the highly sophisticated milieu of the Russian Silver Age. To augment his standing, he issued a book of memoirs, entitled Petersburg Winters, which contained a fictionalized or widely exaggerated account of his experiences with the Acmeists. The book alienated Ivanov from his elder contemporaries but won instant acclaim from his disciples.
Together with the fellow critic Georgy Adamovich and his own wife Irina Odoyevtseva, Ivanov became the principal arbiter of taste of the emigrant society, forging or destroying literary reputations at will. However, their literary taste was somewhat deficient: they inadvertently dismissed Tsvetayeva's genuine lyrics (when anonymously submitted by her to a poetry contest) as a crude imitation of Tsvetayeva's manner. They enthusiastically feuded with Berlinese Russian litterateurs, with Vladimir Nabokov becoming the favourite target of their attacks. Nabokov revenged himself by satirizing Ivanov in one of his best known short stories, Spring in Fialta, and by subjecting them to a clever mystification, which resulted in Adamovich's immoderate praise of Nabokov's verses printed under an alias.
Afflicted with alcoholism and suffering from despondency, Ivanov sank ever lower. It was in conditions of abject penury and total despair that Ivanov's best poems were created. The more he let himself go down as a person, the more he rose as a poet. His art culminated in his last cycle of poems, written in the days preceding his death. In one of his last pieces, Ivanov prophetically promised "to return to Russia as poems". Actually, his wife returned to Leningrad during the Perestroika and died there in 1990.
Following Ivanov's death, his reputation has been steadily augmented. His "poetry of brilliant despair", as one critic put it, is taken by some to presage the tenets of French Existentialism.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2007)|
- Georgy Ivanov, On the Border of Snow and Melt: Selected Poems. Translated and Annotated by Jerome Katsell and Stanislav Shvabrin. Introduction by Stanislav Shvabrin. Santa Monica: Perceval Press, 2011 (bilingual Russian-English edition, 532 pages, ISBN 978-0-9774869-4-6).
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