"IT WAS ORWELL WHO MADE ZAMYATIN'S NOVEL WE KNOWN IN THE WEST": FIRST ENGLISH EDITION OF THE SOVIET NOVELIST'S 1920 NOVEL, WE, BANNED IN THE SOVIET UNION AND UNPUBLISHED IN RUSSIAN FOR DECADES
ZAMYATIN, Yevgeny. We. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970. Octavo, original gray paper boards, original dust jacket. $2500.
First English edition of Zamyatin's "multi-layered prophetic novel," widely seen as the inspiration for Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Rand's Anthem, Vonnegut's Player Piano, and many more, a splendid copy in the original dust jacket.
"More than anyone else, it was Orwell who made Zamyatin's novel We known in the West" (New Statesman). In a 1946 review, Orwell suggests that Huxley's Brave New World "must be partly derived from it," but contends We "has a political point" that Huxley's lacks. "Zamyatin's book," Orwell writes, "is on the whole more relevant to our own situation… it is in effect a study of the Machine, the genie that man has thoughtlessly let out of its bottle and cannot put back again." Most critics believe "that We, with its theme of human love in a depersonalized, totalitarian society of the future, was a prototype," as well, for Orwell's 1984 (New York Times). In addition, it is seen as the inspiration for Ayn Rand's Anthem, Vonnegut's Player Piano and many more. We has further been credited with charting a new direction for its genre. The novel's idea of a state, one that relieves "man of the 'burden of freedom', the responsibility of choice… finds no direct parallel in Utopian writing up to Zamyatin…. [who] stirred in the psychology and existential revolt of Dostoevsky, as well as his own brand of 20th-century expressionistic style" (Collins, Zamyatin, 357-60). To critic R.M. Preslar: "We is a brilliantly structured, multi-layered prophetic novel that… tells of a future society, regimented, rational… providing apparent happiness and security to its citizens while depriving them of knowledge and freedom" (Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, 33).
Zamyatin imagines a regime where buildings, streets, even space ships, are made of glass: a panopticon where "conversations are recorded by sensitive mechanical membranes placed on the streets… [and] criminals are reduced to chemically pure water in ceremonies of civic religion and justice" (New Criterion). "Children are raised in factories, taught by machines. People do not have names but numbers… [and] rarely use the nearly archaic pronoun 'I.' They think of themselves as 'We'" (New York Times). Zamyatin, a Soviet writer and socialist, wrote the novel in 1920, but it was quickly banned in his homeland and remained unpublished in Russian until the 1950s. In 1931 he wrote a letter to Stalin, which is cited here. In it, Zamyatin pleads for exile abroad. "Largely thanks to Gorky's intercession Stalin allowed Zamyatin and his wife to go abroad, ostensibly 'for one year to undergo medical treatment'… Zamyatin remained exiled in Paris until his death in 1937" (Introduction, 21). First English edition, first printing. Initially published in English in the 1924 American edition: with translation from the Russian by Gregory Zilboorg. First complete edition in Russian issued in 1952. This first English edition with translation by Bernard Guilbert Guerney; Introduction and Bibliographic Note by Michael Glenny.
A fine copy.