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Red Spectres: Russian Gothic Tales from the Twentieth Century

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In the first decades of the twentieth century, gothic fiction flourished in Russia, despite official efforts to stamp it out. Yet few of these stories have been translated or published outside Russia. This rare collection includes eleven vintage tales by seven writers of the period: Valery Bryusov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Aleksandr Grin and Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky; the lesser known but seminal figure Aleksandr Chayanov, whose story "Venediktov" influenced Bulgakov's Master and Margarita; and the emigres Georgy Peskov and Pavel Perov.

At a time of revolution and civil war, hardship and deprivation, the supernatural genres provided means for a number of Russian writers to explore the dark underside of the machine age and the new political order. Through the traditional gothic repertoire of ghosts, insanity, obsession, retribution and terror, Red Spectres conveys the turbulence and dissonance of life in Russia in these years.

Valery Bryusov: In the Mirror
Aleksandr Chayanov: The Tale of the Hairdresser's Mannequin Aleksandr Chayanov: Venediktov
Aleksandr Chayanov: The Venetian Mirror
Mikhail Bulgakov: The Red Crown
Mikhail Bulgakov: A Séance
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky: The Phantom
Aleksandr Grin: The Grey Motor Car
Georgy Peskov: The Messenger
Georgy Peskov: The Woman with no Nose
Pavel Perov: Professor Knop's Experiment

224 pages, Hardcover

First published November 1, 2012

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Muireann Maguire

6 books3 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 17 of 17 reviews
Profile Image for Merl Fluin.
Author 6 books42 followers
July 21, 2020

DAY 11: The Phantom, by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
A doctor suffers a macabre kind of haunting in this startlingly Ligotti-esque tale from the 1920s.

DAY 6: The Woman With No Nose, by Georgy Peskov
A sick man's descent into panic and delirium, very effectively rendered from a first-person POV.

*The rules:
– Read one short story a day, every day for six weeks
– Read no more than one story by the same author within any 14-day period
– Deliberately include authors I wouldn't usually read
– Review each story in one sentence or less

Any fresh reading suggestions/recommendations will be gratefully received 📚
Profile Image for Mythili.
403 reviews38 followers
May 8, 2013

Readers familiar with Chekhov, Gogol, Pushkin or Turgenev have already tasted some 19th-century Russian gothic literature. Harder to find, however, are early- to mid-20th-century examples of the form—after the Russian Revolution, gothic literature was essentially blocked from publication. A new collection translated and edited by Muireann Maguire showcases stories previously obscured by censorship. The darkness and dissonance of these tightly constructed tales reflect something of the political turbulence of Soviet Russia. “In the Mirror,” by Valery Bryusov and “The Venetian Mirror,” Aleksandr Chayanov’s response to Bryusov’s story, both explore the limits of sanity, as their protagonists do battle with their reflections. Like other stories in the collection, they dabble in the supernatural so as to illuminate the strangeness of the country’s transition. “The supreme irony of Soviet efforts to expunge the Gothic from Russia’s cultural legacy is that such attempts merely guaranteed its resurrection,” Maguire explains. Nearly a century after the time, the stories collected here are still powerful in their disaffection. As a character in Aleksandr Grin’s “The Grey Motor Car” puts it, “A dash of distortion lasts a long time, if not forever.”
Profile Image for Robert Vanneste.
194 reviews21 followers
January 2, 2019
The first story " In The Mirror " is a 4.5 - 5.0 . After that it takes a step down . Well actually a jump down . So the overall collection is somewhere between a 2.0 and 2.5 . Disappointing after the strong start .
Profile Image for Electric.
505 reviews2 followers
August 23, 2019
A mixed bag of course, some really good stories by Bulgakov, Krzhizhanovsky or Chayanov for example, some not so stellar. Would have benefited from including stories by authors that were sympathetic to the revolution, but this would of course have interfered with the editors claim that bolshevism and speculative fiction might never mix. I highly doubt it and so does China Mieville. Still a very good collection of stories full of mirrors, madness, doppelgängers and gloom. FFO E.T.A. Hoffman and E.A. Poe.
Profile Image for Leniw.
203 reviews42 followers
May 31, 2013
This is an interesting collection of weird stories.
The collection consists of 11 stories by 7 authors: Valery Bryusov, Aleksandr Chayanov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, Aleksandr Grin, Georgy Peskov and Pavel Perov.

The collected tales evolve around madness, fear, decay, anxiety, death and deformation. Reflections with their own will, visitors from the other side, deformed creatures, scientists who believe to have outreach God.

Although Chayanov is supposed to be one of the greatest Gothic writers of Russia, I found his stories dull. Personally I really liked the stories of Bulgakov, Krzhizhanovsky, Peskov and Perov.

If you are a reader who appreciates Gothic literature this is a must-read.
Profile Image for Michael Samerdyke.
Author 37 books15 followers
February 4, 2014
This was a very good anthology of Russian fantastic stories written between 1903-1927. I was pleasantly surprised at how powerful some of the stories were.

"In the Mirror" by V. Bryusov had the creeping terror of a Poe story if Poe ever had a female protagonist. "The Red Crown" by Bulgakov was a heartbreaking story of war and insanity, while "A Seance" was slyly humorous.

The real discovery was A. Chayanov (executed in 1937). His three stories were fascinating. One, "Venediktov" seems to have been an influence on Bulgakov for "The Master and Margarita."

A real eye-opening book.
Profile Image for Martica.
20 reviews
January 2, 2014
Great collection of gothic tales from Revolutionary Russia. There is a story for everyone here that can make your spine tingle. My favourite has to be Valery Bryusov's "In the Mirror". An everyday object that can drive you insane.
"Happy" reading, not exactly the right word but if you like gothic tales, then this is for you.
Profile Image for MJ.
110 reviews6 followers
December 20, 2017
While some of the stories had their confusing moments, overall this collection was an enjoyable read. This isn't your typical rattling chains kind of gothic tales where everything is explained away neatly at the end. In addition to being gothic and creepy, these stories are written by Russian authors, and this fact is evident in every story's settings.

Stalinist and/or Russian Revolution era tales plus a gothic twist? Worth the read.

It would be 4 stars but some of the stories were a little confusing (translation problems?) and in one case there was a name change (maybe just a nickname that tends to happen in Russian stories? not sure) mid story that made it seem like a new character appeared when perhaps that wasn't the case.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Kiem.
Author 6 books52 followers
May 5, 2013

n Red Spectres, an inspired but uneven collection of Russian horror stories, a host of apparitions, doubles, dolls and demons refuse to lie quietly. These are stories about the same age as Lenin’s mummy, but as members of a certain 18th century trans-continental literary family, they are, in a sense, much older souls. Penned in the cultural forge of the most radical and destructive social experiment of the 20th century, these are tales of modern men undone by Faustian haunts in antiquated attire. They have survived the New Order of the Proletariat, only to be tormented by “reproachful faces of a perished world.”

Full Review
Profile Image for Jaci.
742 reviews6 followers
June 27, 2013
Interesting collection of gothic tales from the Soviet era. The genre provided the authors with a venue for commentary on politics, industrialization and Civil War, not unlike that of Soviet science fiction. Some of the authors are more well-known, like Bulgakov, Bryusov, and Grin, and their stories seem more tightly constructed. Krzhizhanovsky's The Phantom was compelling in that an embalmed fetus is used in gynecological education by forcing it through a model of the female reproductive tract...over and over again. Lots of eternal torment in these stories and a nod to technology that destroys the soul.
Profile Image for Tony Sullivan.
Author 3 books8 followers
February 13, 2022
A few stories stood out. Both Bulgakov's contributions were very good. So was “The Tale of the Hairdresser’s Mannequin” by Aleksandr Chayanov. It was written in 1918; Chayanov’s other two stories in the collection, both written in 1922, disappointed me, although apparently one of them helped inspire Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. The two stories by Geogi Peskov (pseudonym for Yelena Deisha) were imaginatively rich, and satisfying. I would like to find more of her fiction, but she seems almost unknown; this collection seems to have rescued her from complete obscurity.
Profile Image for Eldonfoil TH*E Whatever Champion.
236 reviews42 followers
December 6, 2015
Aleksandr Grin, a man with whom I share sensibilities, had some disparaging words for the automobile in "The Grey Motor Car," my favorite story of the collection. That tasted very good with my morning blackberries.

Aleksander Chayanov's "The Venetian Mirror" was another great story, and also Bulgakov's "The Red Crown." I also won't complain about a woman with no nose.
Displaying 1 - 17 of 17 reviews

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