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Lev Lunt︠s︡ papers

Call Number: GEN MSS 104

Scope and Contents

The Lev Lunts Papers consist of correspondence, writings, and personal papers that document the short career of the Russian playwright. Most papers date from between 1922 and 1930, but the collection spans the years 1896-1931. Except where indicated, all the papers are in Russian.

The papers are divided into three series; Correspondence (Box 1), Writings (Box 2-3), and Family Papers (Box 4), plus on box of Restricted Fragile Papers.

Series I, Correspondence , consists primarily of letters to Lev Lunts, some letters and drafts of letters written by him, and the personal correspondence of his father, Natan Lunts. Lev's correspondence covers two periods in his life. The first is the year after his parents' departure from Russia in the summer of 1921. This period is documented in the letters of Natan Lunts to Lev and in Lev's letters to his family, which are filed with the Outgoing correspondence. The second period is from June 1923 to May 1924, from the time that Lev left Russia and joined his parents until his death. In the last year of his life, Lunts corresponded actively with people in Russia, as well as friends from St. Petersburg who were already abroad. The correspondence of Natan Lunts dates, for the most part, from after Lev's death.

Among the items in the Incoming correspondence are letters from prominent literary figures such as Kornei Chukovskii, Maksim Gorky, Il'ia Erenburg, and Evgenii Zamiatin, as well as a number of letters from Nina Berberova, who befriended Lunts when he lived at Dom Iskusstv. Berberova writes from Berlin, then Marienbad, and finally from Venice, where she and Vladislav KHodasevich stopped briefly before moving to Paris. For the most part, these are letters of friendship and concern, but they deal also with literary issues, such as plans for the production of the German translation of Vne zakona in Berlin, and the publishing of Lunts's articles and other works in Beseda.

Other incoming letters are from Lunts's colleagues and personal friends, the fellow members of the Serapion Brothers. Most extensive are the correspondences of Lidiia KHariton and Ida Kaplan, two of the Serapion maidens, and of Vladimir Pozner, who was one of the first and youngest members of the group, but who had by this time emigrated to Paris with his parents. The correspondents relate the news of the group and its members and comment on their latest work. Another subject is Lunts's work, the publication and production of his writings and plays in Russia, including the fate of Vne zakona, and an account (L. KHariton) of the reactions of the Serapions to the play Gorod pravdy. These, and the letters from other Serapions, provide an insight into the spirit of youthful friendship in the group, the members' relationships to each other, and the characters of these young writers, who were later to have very different fates, some adjusting and becoming mainstream Soviet writers, some repressed, and some exiled. Taken together, these letters tell the story of a year in the life of the Serapion Brothers--their literary successes and failures and the developments in their personal lives, all against the background of the extraordinary historical events of the time. Also of note are a letter from Elizaveta Polonskaia with an autograph poem and one from Aleksandr Slonimskii, written collaboratively with Samuil Marshak, containing a humorous poem composed by the two. Some of these letters have been published in various issues of Novyi ZHurnal and in the collection Zaveshchanie TSaria. Also part of the Incoming correspondence are letters from Dmitrii Umanskii, Lunts's German translator, which discuss his work on Vne zakona, and his attempts to get it published and produced in German.

Most of the outgoing letters are written by Lev Lunts to his parents in the years 1922-23. He discusses his university studies, his literary success, his material circumstances, and, in the later letters, his health and his plans to leave Russia. There are also two letters to his sister Evgeniia; a draft of a letter to Gorky, in which he expresses despair at being chronically ill in the prime of his life and talks about the Serapions and his play Gorod pravdy, and a draft of a letter to Nikolai Nikitin and his wife Zoia, which is a humorous response to their letters of September 25, 1923 (Box 1, folder 17).

The correspondence of Natan Lunts is filed under its own heading. After Lev's death, his father kept in touch with some of his friends, including Nina Berberova, Ida Kaplan, Lidiia KHariton, Elizaveta Polonskaia, and Mikhail Slonimskii. At first his father and his friends share the pain and shock of their loss; later they discuss the care of his possessions, his manuscripts, and the plans (never materialized) by the Serapions to put out a two volume edition of Lunts's works, including some articles and obituaries by his friends. Also included is Natan's correspondence with translators Dmitrii Umanskii (German) and F. O. Dempsey (pseudonym, John Silver, English) regarding the publication and production of Lev's plays and Natan's personal correspondence with friends and relatives, including R. Jakobson and M. IArblum. The series concludes with three folders of condolence letters, telegrams, and cards to the family.

Series II, Writings is divided into four sections: Drama, Screenplays, Articles, and Shorter Works. Translations comprise a significant portion of this series. Items of particular interest are holograph originals of the unpublished screenplay Zaveshchanie TSaria; the humorous short story "KHozhdeniia", a parody of the Serapions which Lunts sent to them to be read at the group's anniversary celebration and which incited much commentary in the correspondence; and the chronicle "Puteshestvie na bol'nichnoi koike." Other holograph originals include a first draft of the play Gorod pravdy and a draft of the article "O rodnykh brat'iakh."

The third and final series, Family Papers , contains documents such as a birth certificate, educational and identification records; documents related to Lev Lunts's death and burial; and newspaper clippings with obituaries and posthumous articles by his friends, including Konstantin Fedin, Nina Berberova, and Mikhail Slonimskii. Other items include photographs of Lev, Ida Kaplan, and others; Lunts's wallet and its contents; and some newspaper clippings. One clipping, a short resolution, signed collectively by the Serapion Brothers and published in Leningradskaia Pravda on January 27, 1924, became the cause of the group's break with Nikolai Nikitin (see also Lidiia KHariton's letter of March 2, 1924). Also found in the series are some personal papers of Natan Lunts.


  • 1896-1931


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile Papers in box 5 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Lev Lunts Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Lev Lunts Papers were purchased by Yale University in 1965 from Lunts's sister, Mrs. Genia Hornstein. The papers were discovered at Mrs. Hornstein's home in London in 1964 by Gary Kern. Mr. Kern identified the material and made the initial sorting.


3.5 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain correspondence of Lunt︠s︡ and his father, Natan Lunt︠s︡, writings, and personal papers of Lev and Natan Lunt︠s︡.

LEV LUNTS (1901-1924)

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 Dmitrii Petrov, Georgii Lozinskii, 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 Slonimskii, on the advice of Victor SHklovskii, to found the literary group known as "Serapionovy brat'ia" (Serapion Brothers). Its first meeting took place on February 1, 1921 in Slonimskii'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, Victor SHklovskii, Mikhail Slonimskii, 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 Lidiia KHariton, as well as "guests," who included Evgenii Zamiatin, Olga Forsh, IUrii Tynianov, Anna Akhmatova, and Osip Mandel'shtam. 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. Bibliography Lunts, Lev. Rodina i drugie proizvedeniia. Ed. with an afterword and commentary by M. Vainshtein. Jerusalem: Pamiat', 1981. ---. Zaveshchanie TSaria. Ed. with an introduction by W. Schriek. Munich: Sagner, 1983. Novyi zhurnal. Number 79, New York, 1965: 44-79; Number 82, 1966: 136-92; Number 83, 1966: 132-84; Number 90, 1968: 39-57.

Processing Information

Slavic names, titles, and quotations in their original languages have been transliterated in accordance with Library of Congress guidelines.

Guide to the Lev Lunts Papers
Under Revision
by Anastasia Zhodzishskaya
January 1992
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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