I am away on holiday from the 8th August to the 20th August 2019. If you want to order any books, then you still can and I will process them on my return.

Finding Flegon

Marijana's copy
Marijana's copy
In Flegon's book on Solzhenitsyn
In Flegon's book on Solzhenitsyn
Later 1963 copy
Later 1963 copy

Or rather 'dating' Flegon - but not in the way it's usually understood!  The controversial publisher, Alec Flegon brought us many of Russia’s greatest writers at the height of the Cold War.  I find him fascinating but know little – so any information or corrections would be gladly received – and in particular anything about early printings of Ivan Denisovich.

I have a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s ‘A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ (Оди́н день Ива́на Дени́совича) in its first book form.  But which printing? What date?

 It’s certainly from the first batch; lifted straight out of ‘Novy Mir’ magazine where it first appeared in print. It’s unauthorised, it’s either 1962 or 1963 – I believe it’s 1962 – our major libraries are undecided.  So far I’ve found three different covers to the book, one of which Felgon himself reproduces in his book on Solzhentisyn (see below).

In the second-hand book world, it's not always easy to know when a book was published and there's a variety of reasons as to why a publisher may choose to withhold that date. Pirated and unauthorised copies of works were frequently issued without any publication details. And the books turned out by charismatic London publisher, Alec Flegon often appeared either with no date, or in the case of Dr Zhivago, with false publication details.

Alec Flegon, born Oleg Flegont in Bessarabia, arrived in London just after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. First working for the BBC in the Romanian Service, Flegon started his own press in Greek Street with the Russian literary magazine ‘Student’.

The subjects of his publications were unorthodox to say the least, and his methods even more so.  The range stretched from politically useful trade-directories and manuals smuggled out of the Soviet Union to scatological works and mild erotica.

Flegon became famous, even notorious, however, due to his publishing of Samizdat and smuggled literature from the Soviet Union. As well as connections in Russia, he had close connections with the émigré publishing houses Posev in Berlin and YMCA Press in Paris.  Although relations broke down later, in the early sixties he collaborated with these publishers’ to distribute major unpublished works hidden from the authorities in the Soviet Union and only really seeing the light of day in the West.

Bulgakov’s ‘Heart of a Dog’ (Собачье сердце), Pasternak’s ‘Dr Zhivago’ and perhaps even more famously, Solzhenitsyn’s ‘A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ (Оди́н день Ива́на Дени́совича) all appeared under the Flegon imprint – and usually without a date and sometimes with false details.  Even more contentiously, he paid his authors no royalties.

 

Solzhenitsyn later took him to court although Flegon’s argument was always that he was helping to broadcast such literature for the greater good. The trial was famous – Felgon’s own account can be read in the self-published, “A. Sozhentisyn: Myth & Reality” (Flegon, 1986). A rollicking read both wacky and scurrilous.