Serapion Brothers
The Serapion Brothers was a group of writers formed in Petrograd, Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 in 1921. The group was named after a literary group, Die Serapionsbrüder (The Serapion Brethren
The Serapion Brethren
The Serapion Brethren is the name of a literary and social circle, formed in Berlin in 1818 by the German romantic writer E. T. A. Hoffmann and several of his friends...

), to which German romantic author E.T.A. Hoffmann
E.T.A. Hoffmann
Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffmann , better known by his pen name E.T.A. Hoffmann , was a German Romantic author of fantasy and horror, a jurist, composer, music critic, draftsman and caricaturist...

 belonged and after which he named a collection of his tales. Its members included Nikolai Tikhonov, Veniamin Kaverin
Veniamin Kaverin
Veniamin Alexandrovich Kaverin was a Soviet writer associated with the early 1920s movement of the Serapion Brothers. The immunologist Lev Zilber was his older brother, and the critic Yury Tynyanov was his brother-in-law....

, Mikhail Zoshchenko
Mikhail Zoshchenko
-Biography:Zoshchenko was born in 1895, in Poltava, but spent most of his life in St. Petersburg / Leningrad. His Ukrainian father was a mosaicist responsible for the exterior decoration of the Suvorov Museum in Saint Petersburg. The future writer attended the Faculty of Law at the Saint Petersburg...

, Victor Shklovsky, Vsevolod Ivanov
Vsevolod Ivanov
Vsevolod Vyacheslavovich Ivanov was a notable Soviet writer praised for the colourful adventure tales set in the Asiatic part of Russia during the Civil War.-Biography:...

, Elizaveta Polonskaya
Elizaveta Polonskaya
Elizaveta Grigorevna Polonskaya , born Movshenson, was a Russian Jewish poet, translator, and journalist, the only female member of the Serapion Brothers.-Early life:...

, Ilya Gruzdev, Mikhail Slonimsky
Mikhail Slonimsky
Mikhail Leonidovich Slonimsky was a Soviet writer, member of the Serapion Brothers group.Mikhail was born in Saint Petersburg to the family of Intelligentsia. His grandfather, father and aunt were professional writers. His uncle Semyon Vengerov was a famous philologist and literary critic...

, Lev Lunts
Lev Lunts
Lev Natanovich Lunts was a Russian/Jewish writer, playwright, critic, translator, and essayist. He was a member of the Serapion Brothers literary group.-Biography:...

, Vladimir Pozner, Nikolay Nikitin and Konstantin Fedin
Konstantin Fedin
-Biography:Born in Saratov of humble origins, Fedin studied in Moscow and Germany and was interned there during World War I. After his release he worked as an interpreter in the first Soviet embassy in Berlin...

. The group formed during their studies at the seminars of Yuri Tynyanov, Yevgeni Zamyatin, and Korney Chukovsky
Korney Chukovsky
Korney Ivanovich Chukovsky was one of the most popular children's poets in the Russian language. His poems, Doctor Aybolit , The Giant Roach , The Crocodile , and Wash'em'clean have been favourites with many generations of Russophone children...

 and the Petrogradsky Dom Iskusstv (Petrograd House of Arts). The group was officially organized at its first meeting on February 1, 1921, and "as long as their headquarters remained in the House of Arts, met regularly every Saturday."

The group eventually split: some of them moved to Moscow and became official Soviet writers, while others, like Zoshchenko, remained in Petrograd (Leningrad), or emigrated from the Soviet Russia. Hongor Oulanoff wrote, "The Serapion Brothers did not found a literary school. In fact - as it appears from the Serapion 'Manifesto' and from Fedin's words - the Brotherhood did not even intend to found one."

Evgeni Zamyatin and the Serapion Brothers

Yevgeni Zamyatin became associated with the Serapion Brothers in 1921, when he was appointed lecturer of the "House of Arts" (Dom Iskusstv) where the members of the Searpion Brothers studied and lived. The institute was located at prestigious building on the Nevsky Prospect in the former Palace of the St. Petersburg Governor. Writers, including the Serapions, had occupied the wing of the palace from Nevsky along the Moika river embankment. That location had originally inspired the phrase "Dom na naberezhnoi" (House on the embankment). Zamyatin and other writers lived there as a small community of intellectuals, as their lifestyle and artistic atmosphere was later described in their memoirs and letters.

At that time, Zamyatin fearlessly criticized the Soviet policy of Red Terror
Red Terror
The Red Terror in Soviet Russia was the campaign of mass arrests and executions conducted by the Bolshevik government. In Soviet historiography, the Red Terror is described as having been officially announced on September 2, 1918 by Yakov Sverdlov and ended about October 1918...

. He had already completed We
We (novel)
We is a dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin completed in 1921. It was written in response to the author's personal experiences during the Russian revolution of 1905, the Russian revolution of 1917, his life in the Newcastle suburb of Jesmond, and his work in the Tyne shipyards during the First...

and worked as an editor with Maxim Gorky
Maxim Gorky
Alexei Maximovich Peshkov , primarily known as Maxim Gorky , was a Russian and Soviet author, a founder of the Socialist Realism literary method and a political activist.-Early years:...

 on the "World Literature" project. Shklovsky and Kaverin described Zamyatin's lectures as provocative and stimulating. However, Zamyatin's famous statement that "True literature can be created only by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics" was largely misunderstood. The Serapion Brothers remained neutral, withdrawn and eventually became mainstream, among other, more innovative and experimental literature. Zamyatin became disillusioned with teaching them, and moved on.

Yuri Tynyanov and the Serapions

Yuri Tynyanov supervised the studies and publications of Serapion Brothers since he met them at the "House of Arts" in St. Petersburg. He supported their soft non-conformism, their quiet opposition to the official Moscow-based Soviet literature. Ironically, many of them ended up making their careers in Moscow, as ranking members of the Union of Soviet Writers.

Most members of the Serapion Brothers gradually conformed to official socialist realism.

Kornei Chukovsky and the Serapions

Kornei Chukovsky was a lecturer at the House of Arts, along with Zamyatin and Tynyanov. The Serapion Brothers attended most of the seminars of all three lecturers, albeit not for a long time. Eventually some members of the "Serapion Brothers" had followed Chukovsky in Moscow. There they continued their careers under his wing, and became established within the official Soviet socialist realism.

Leon Trotsky and the Serapion Fraternity

Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky , born Lev Davidovich Bronshtein, was a Russian Marxist revolutionary and theorist, Soviet politician, and the founder and first leader of the Red Army....

gave a brief analysis of the Serapion Fraternity in the second chapter of his Literature and Revolution (1924). Trotsky characterises the group as young and naive; he is not sure what might be said about their coming maturity. He writes that they 'were impossible without the Revolution, either as a group, or separately.' He repudiated their claimed political neutrality: 'As if an artist ever could be "without a tendency", without a definite relation to social life, even though unformulated or unexpressed in political terms. It is true, that the majority of artists form their relation to life and to its social forms during organic periods, in an unnoticeable and molecular way and almost without the participation of critical reason.' But, only two years after their foundation, he admitted that his analysis was hardly likely to be definitive: 'Why do we relegate them to being "fellow-travelers" of ours? Because they are bound up with the Revolution, because this tie is still very unformed, because they are so very young and because nothing definite can be said about their tomorrow.'

Maxim Gorky and the Serapion Fraternity

Most of the members of the Fraternity had no regular income and often were hungry and poorly clothed. They lived from the financial support of Maxim Gorky, even though the group considered the realistic novel to be outdated and therefore called the works of their benefactor into question [see German Wikipedia].


  • Trotsky, Literature and Revolution, Chapter 2 (analysis of the Fraternity).
  • Hongor Oulanoff, The Serapion Brothers: Theory and Practice, Mouton, 1966 (the first book-length study of the group).
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