Gulʹ, Roman, 1896-1986Alternative names
Roman Gulʹ (1896-1986), Russian writer, editor, journalist, and political activist.
From the description of Roman Gulʹ papers 1879-1966. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702134077
"Nel'zia ob"iat' neob'iatnoe ("There are limits") [Roman Gul', IA unes Rossiiu (New York: Most, 1981), I, 4.]
Roman Borisovich Gul' was a prolific and successful Russian writer, an editor, journalist, chronicler, political activist, consummate craftsman of words and a master in the descriptions of human emotions and traumatic experiences, a scenarist, radio broadcaster and scriptwriter, who occasionally held such positions as woodcutter, glass factory worker, and farmer, and who was even a temporary resident of the German concentration camp Oranienburg.
Gul' was born in Kiev on August 1, 1896, the younger son of Boris Karlovich Gul', a jurist and a prosperous notary, who died in Penza in 1913 when Gul' was seventeen years old. His mother, Ol'ga Sergeevna born Vysheslavtseva, was the daughter of Sergei Petrovich Vysheslavtsev and Mar'ia Petrovna born Efremova. She descended from impoverished gentry. Gul's mother died in the southwest of France in 1938. Gul' describes his father's death and pays tribute to his mother's memory in his book Kon' ryzhii ("The Red Horse") as well as in his memoirs. In the same sources there are descriptions of how his mother and his nanny ("niania" Ana Grigor'evna Buldakova) arrived in Berlin in 1921 after a dangerous, 400-kilometer journey from Kiev to Warsaw on foot. They crossed the Russian-Polish border illegally and traveled from Warsaw to Berlin by train. Sergei, Gul's older brother by a year and a half, died in 1945 in the southwest of France, leaving behind his wife and son Mikhail.
Gul' grew up in Penza where he graduated from the Pervaia muzheskaia gimnaziia (high school) in 1914. He then enrolled in the University of Moscow, where he studied law and developed a great interest in philosophy. He was forced, however, to terminate his studies during World War I because he was drafted and sent to a military school. After graduating from officer's school in October 1916, he served, among other assignments, on the Austro-Hungarian front. He was later discharged from his duties by his commander. With false identity papers he and his brother Sergei voluntarily joined Kornilov's (later Denikin's) Dobrovol'cheskaia armiia (The Volunteer Army) in the south on the Don, in order to fight against the Bolsheviks in November 1917. In 1918, Roman and Sergei took part in the famous Ledianoi pokhod (The Ice March) and were wounded. Disappointed in the White movement, they left the army and in August 1918 journeyed to Kiev. Again mobilized, they fought for a short time. After they surrendered, they were transported to Germany as prisoners of war, crossing the German border on January 3, 1919.
In Germany, Roman and Sergei were transferred from one officers' prison camp to another (Altman, Claustahl, Neustadt, Helmsted, Bad Blenhorst, etc.). The brothers were released after writing to the Russian Military Mission in Berlin explaining that they had refused to participate in Russian civil war for political and emotional reasons and because of the atrocities, the executions, and the destruction that took place. Gul' also maintained that he was unable to kill another Russian. Their release marked the beginning of their emigrant status; they settled in Berlin, an important Russian refugee center.
In the prison camp, Gul' began his first literary work, his memoirs of the Ice March. It was completed and published in Berlin in 1921. Gul's "vzdokhi" (laments) about the "bratoubiistvennoi voine" (fratricidal war) provoked mixed reactions.
In Berlin, Gul' worked with a group called Mir i trud, (founded by Vladimir Benediktovich Stankevich), on their short-lived biweekly magazine Zhizn', and on the newspapers Golos Rosii and Vremia . He also served as editor for the literary supplement of a daily newspaper Nakanune (July 1923-June 1924), and as secretary of the bibliographical magazine Novaia russkaia kniga . He later secured a job with the German publishing firm Taurus and continued to write articles and publish books. Gul's ties with the newspaper Nakanune caused his expulsion from the Association of Russian writers, because it was a publication of Smenovekhovtsy, a new political group comprised of some Russian émigrés and some Soviet citizens. They believed that the New Economic Policy (NEP, 1921-28) adopted by the Soviet government meant the liquidation of the Communist Revolution and probable reconciliation with the Soviets.
Gul' married Ol'ga Andreevna Novokhatskaia on July 27, 1926. She was born in Russia on January 23, 1898. During this union of nearly fifty years, she was Gul's best friend, companion, supporter, and defender. They had no children.
In Berlin, Gul' met and associated with many people, including such Soviet writers as Konstantin Aleksandrovich Fedin and Nikolai Nikolaevich Nikitin. Their photographs, together with Gul', are in the collection. At the same time, Gul' published three books in the Soviet Union.
Around 1930, the Gul' family built a small house on the outskirts of Berlin. One of Gul's books, General Bo, was printed in Berlin in 1929 and later published there in several languages. The German version, translated by F. Frish in 1930, was entitled Boris Savinkov; der Roman eines Terroristen at the suggestion of publisher Paul Zsolnay. After Hitler came to power, the book caught the attention of the Nazis and, on July 13, 1933, Gul' was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist and incarcerated at the nearby Oranienburg concentration camp. Released approximately three weeks later, his recollections of this brief but painful experience were described in his book Oranienburg .
In order to avoid further harrassment from the Nazis, Gul' and his wife fled to France in September 1933, leaving his mother, his brother Sergei, his wife, and their child Misha behind. Gul's nanny had returned to the Soviet Union in 1926 where she most probably perished during the forced collectivization. Her letters from the Soviet Union are in the collection. The Gul's remained in France until 1950.
In Paris, Gul' concentrated on writing. Krasnye marshaly, which was later translated into French, German, Swedish, Polish, Czech, Finnish, and Latvian, was published in Berlin. In Paris, Gul' also published articles in Illustrovannaia Rossiia, Illustrovannaia zhizn', and Poslednie novosti, Sovremennye zapiski . With the help of B. I. Nicolaevsky, he attempted to bring the rest of the family from Germany.
Gul' travelled to London for six weeks in 1936-37 to become a technical advisor for Jack Feyder's and Alexander Korda's film The Knight Without Armour, starring Marlene Dietrich. During stay in London, his family arrived in France.
Gul' and his family moved from Paris to the southwest of France in 1937. Already at the beginning of 1937, on Sergei's insistence, they purchased a small farm, "Petit Caumont," near Nérac, in the département of Lot et Garonne. It was called playfully "Château de la Misère". Gul's mother died there in 1938. They later leased a bigger farm near Viane, and afterwards another, called "Pailles." Due to insufficient funds, Gul' and his wife found it necessary to seek employment in a glass factory. Their stay in the southwest of France until the end of World War II saved them from the Germans, who were still in pursuit of Gul', because of Oranienburg . They never learned of his whereabouts in occupied France.
Gul' described these years of isolation from friends, acquaintances, and literary work: "And we are completely lost in this world. No one, absolutely no one needs us. No one is interested in our fate. Yes, and no one even could be interested . . . And you, an emigrant, with a particular force, you perceive to what degree no one needs you, absolutely no one . . . [and] the complete unfriendliness of the country which surrounds you, is a heavy burden. And understandable only to you, to an emigrant who has been this "foreign body", this "foreign" splinter in a foreign nation . . ." [Roman Gul', "IA unes Rossiiu," Novyi zhurnal, 157 (December, 1984), 22-23.]
After the war, the Gul's sold their farm and ventured to Paris, later traveling to West Germany where he contacted newly displaced Russians. He heard their horrifying stories and, on occasion, took notes. He could easily identify with their fears, insecurities, and problems.
Prior to World War II, Gul' was a member of the Russian Masonic lodge "Svobodnaia Rossiia." After the war, he became a member of the Russian lodge "Jupiter." When he learned, however, that the lodge was not open to criticism of the Soviet Union, he resigned. Gul's Masonic experiences are eloquently detailed in his memoirs.
In 1948, Gul' founded a Russian political organization "Russkoe narodnoe dvizhenie," as well as the monthly newspaper Narodnaia pravda . He attracted many supporters from the new emigration. Narodnaia pravda lasted from 1948 to 1951. The newspaper survived as long as Gul' and Nicolaevsky maintained good political relations.
In February 1950, Gul' and his wife moved to New York. The period between 1950 and 1965 is well documented and constitutes the nucleus of Roman Gul' Papers. The papers also reflect upon the lives, work, and activities of other refugees, as well as those of Russian political organizations and of Radio Liberty, forming a dense and detailed political commentary on the community.
In New York, Gul' immediately incorporated himself into the mainstream of Russian literary and political life. On March 13, 1949, "Liga bor'by za narodnuiu svobodu" had been founded in New York by a group that included A. F. Kerenskii and V. M. Zenzinov. They published a biweekly bulletin Gradushchaia Rossiia, a supplement of Novoe russkoe slovo . Gul' continued his involvement in "Liga," and his own group, "Russkoe narodnoe dvizhenie" merged with it in March 1949, when Gul' realized that the two groups had common goals. In July 1951, however, Gul' and others accused the "Liga" of betraying the objectives of fighting against communism and regaining the independence of the peoples of Russia. Gul', along with others, terminated his membership. The "Russkoe narodnoe dvizhenie" renewed its work. In the interim, Gul' also threatened to leave the "PEN Club Centre for Writers in Exile" because of their apparent cooperation with the communists.
Almost immediately after his arrival in New York, and at the invitation of Professor M. M. Karpovich, Gul' joined the ranks of Novyi zhurnal, a quarterly published in Russian and distributed in thirty-four countries. The aim of this journal, founded in 1942 by M. A. TSetlin and M. A. Aldanov, was to disseminate Russian culture and to provide opportunity for Russian writers to publish. Gul' became secretary of Novyi zhurnal in 1952. After Karpovich's death in 1959, Gul' became a member of the editorial board and later assumed the position of editor-in-chief. The unpublished material and correspondence related to Novyi zhurnal form a voluminous and invaluable part of the Gul's papers. Gul's involvement with the quarterly continued until his death in June 1986.
Besides the Novyi zhurnal, he became involved in "Voice of America" radio broadcasts, writing occasional scripts for this program in 1950-51. In September 1952 he joined Radio Liberation, later called Radio Liberty. For several years he wrote his own scripts, most of which are in the collection. Beginning in March 1956, he edited scripts of others. Gul' found this work to be strenuous and tiring, but interesting. According to the information available, he held this position until April 1966.
At this time Gul's financial situation improved, thus affording him and his wife the opportunity to travel. When they received the news of his sister-in-law's death in 1956, they decided to return to France and to travel throughout Europe. That same year, Gul' and his wife became naturalized citizens of the United States. Gul' later, on his own, journeyed to Greece and Israel, and together with his wife, made another trip to Europe in 1962.
Gul's responsibilities, activities, and work began to take their toll. He complained of being tired and overworked. He lacked the time to engage in leisure activities, became physically exhausted, and, in the fall of 1964, suffered a heart attack. Despite illness, he continued to write and remained the "heart" of Novyi zhurnal . In 1970 he was awarded the honorary title of "Writer in Residence of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at New York University," for his outstanding service in the field of Russian émigré literature.
In April 1976 Gul's wife died, and the following year he began his memoirs, where he says: "And now. I am very old. I am writing this book because I would like to tell the story of my life to a person very close to me. But whom I, absolutely, do not know . . . But I will, some day, find such a friend. And he will be intrigued by my strange life - in many countries, with a great variety of occupations . . . And I would like to tell him how I, once upon a time, lived almost my whole life as a Russian émigré rolling stone . . ." [Ibid., 9.]
The material of the first two volumes of his memoirs and a small portion of the third appeared as a sequel in the publications of Novyi zhurnal . The first two volumes were published individually while the third will appear posthumously.
Reminiscing alone, Gul' asks himself: "How and why did I, together with my wife wind up here? As a matter of fact, I don't know . . . I remember . . . the skyscraped shores of New York's dock . . . in violet dusk. All this I remember. But, really, why am I here? Who needs me here? And why should I die, of all places, in America? . . . Mais ne cherchez pas à comprendre . . ." [Ibid., 11.]
Gul' was a complex human being: multifaceted, hardworking, energetic, learned, sometimes unpredictable and pitiless in his criticism, simple in his profound feelings, gifted in verbal expression, individualistic and freedom-loving. He died on June 30, 1986 in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City. He was buried next to his wife, Ol'ga Andreevna, in the cemetery of the monastery Novo-Diveevo, Spring Valley, N.Y.
From the guide to the Roman Gulʹ papers, 1879-1966, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
- Authors, Russian--20th century