Lev Lunts

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Lev Natanovich Lunts (Лев Натанович Лунц; May 2, 1901 – May 10, 1924) was a Russian/Jewish writer, playwright, critic, translator, and essayist. He was a member of the Serapion Brothers literary group.


Sourced from the website of Yale University Library.

Lev Natanovich Lunts, the promising but short-lived playwright, critic, and author, was born in St. Petersburg on May 2, 1901 (April 19, old style), into a family of Jewish intelligentsia. His father, Natan Iakovlevich, was a provisor and importer of optical instruments; his mother, Anna Efimovna, had been a concert pianist. He graduated from the St. Petersburg gimnasiia (high school) in 1918, with honors, and enrolled in the department of Romano-Germanic Languages and Literatures of the St. Petersburg University, where he studied under professors Dmitry Petrov, Georgy Lozinsky, and others. He was considered an outstanding student and, upon graduation in 1922, was asked to remain on the faculty of his department as a post-graduate fellow. He began publishing his first articles of literary criticism in the St. Petersburg periodical Zhizn' iskusstva in 1919-20.

While at the university, Lunts also attended lectures at "Dom Iskusstv", which was organized as part of Maksim Gorky's project, "Vsemirnaia Literatura", for the encouragement of young writers and poets, and which served from 1920 to 1923 as a place for meetings and lectures, and as a residence. The lectures and seminars there inspired him and his friend Mikhail Slonimsky, on the advice of Viktor Shklovsky, to found the literary group known as "Serapionovy brat'ia" (Serapion Brothers). Its first meeting took place on February 1, 1921 in Slonimsky's room at Dom Iskusstv, where it continued to meet in its first years. Those present were: Il'ia Gruzdev, Veniamin Kaverin, Lev Lunts, Nikolai Nikitin, Elizaveta Polonskaia, Vladimir Pozner, Viktor Shklovsky, Mikhail Slonimsky, and Mikhail Zoshchenko. Konstantin Fedin, Vsevolod Ivanov, and Nikolai Tikhonov joined the group that spring. Others who attended the meetings were the "Serapion maidens"-- Musia Alonkina, Zoia Gatskevich (Nikitina), Ida Kaplan, and Lidya Khariton, as well as "guests," who included Yevgeny Zamyatin, Olga Forsh, Iurii Tynianov, Anna Akhmatova, and Osip Mandelshtam. The group was characterized by a deliberate lack of a single literary or ideological tendency and a common belief that the artistic claims of literature should not be subjugated to social agenda or political ideology. Lunts belonged to the left, "westernizing" wing of the Serapions, as he indicated in his article "O rodnykh brat'iakh" and the speech "Na zapad!", which was published in the Berlin periodical Beseda (number 3, 1923). The group came under attack by Marxist critics who accused its members of being "apolitical." Lunts responded to these criticisms in his articles "Pis'mo v redaktsiiu" and "Ob ideologii i publitsistike."

In June of 1921 Lev Lunts joined the All-Russian Professional Writers Union. In the same summer, his parents left Russia and moved to Germany. Lunts remained in St. Petersburg to finish his studies at the university. During the years 1921-23 he lived in the "obez'iannik" at Dom Iskusstv, along with other young writers, artists, and poets including Aleksandr Grin and Vladimir Piast. It was then that Lunts wrote and published the greater part of his works. By the end of 1922, beginning of 1923, he became known in St. Petersburg for his literary criticism, his plays Vne zakona and Bertrand-de-Born, and his controversial polemical articles "Pochemu my serapionovy brat'ia", and "Na zapad!".

In 1922 Lunts's health began to deteriorate. From his correspondence with his parents we learn that he originally decided to remain in Russia, although they repeatedly urged him to join them in Germany. By 1923, however, he was making every effort to obtain permission to travel abroad. With the help of Maksim Gorky, he procured an academic leave from the university and an exit visa for a literary-research trip to Spain. He left Russia on June 1, 1923. By the time he reached his parents in Hamburg, he was too sick to continue and went instead to a sanatorium in Koenigstein. It is there that he wrote the chronicle "Puteshestvie na bol'nichnoi koike". Lunts spent the last year of his life in sanatoriums and hospitals in Germany. For most of this time he was bedridden, at times partially paralyzed; at one point, after what was probably a stroke, he lost the ability to read and write and was obliged to teach himself again. Among his writings from this period was the second of his two screenplays, Vosstanie veshchei, and the play Gorod pravdy, which he sent to the Serapions. Lev Lunts died in the hospital in Eppendorf on May 9, 1924 at the age of 23.