Learning the Russian alphabet

19 Feb

We all know Stalin’s Soveit Union was unrelievedly grim and sexually repressed, right? So what would you expect when Sergey Merkurov, People’s Artist of the USSR and creator of the three biggest statues ever of Uncle Joe, was asked in 1931 to do an alphabet picture book to counter Russia’s immense illiteracy problem? Well not this, that’s for sure, though it’s sound pedagogy, ahead of its time. The huge surge in creative problem solving that genuine revolution always throws up had not yet been crushed.

Note the nods to Aubrey Beardsley and, in the digs here and there at Church and Monarchy, to George Cruikshank too. Merkurov is less heavy-handed than Cruikshank but that’s not hard!

Soviet erotic alphabet …

8 Replies to “Learning the Russian alphabet

    • Plenty more, Lesley – how’s your back now? Seriously though, I think it’s a wonderful approach. Even Trotsky (in The Revolution Betrayed) paid reluctant tribute to what the Soviet Union achieved in its incredible (and brutal) industrialisation under Stalin. That required a literate workforce where fifteen years earlier there’d been an illiterate peasantry. Decades later psychologists “discovered” that the erotic and the bizarre are great memory aids!

  1. Hmmm, Boris never used this when teaching us the Russian alphabet at Firth Park… probably the reason I failed the O level…. ummm, errr, da!

    • Well if he had, Keith, rest assured that I would have studied at his feet.

      (For the benefit of non Firparnians, Keith and I were in the same year at Firth Park school, though I only entered in 1969 for my two 6th form years. Ecclesfield had booted me out, and Firth Park would too – though not before I’d sat my A levels. ‘Boris’ – real name forgotten – taught Russian. One of his students, before our time, went on to get himself nabbed by the KGB as a spy. He spent a few years cooling off in the Lubyanka.)

      • ‘Boris’ was Alan Haywood…. when he retired, he was awarded the Pushkin Medal for services to Russian language and literature… Gerald Brook was the most famous protege..

        • Ah, Gerald! I actually remembered the Brook and did a half-hearted search on Peter then Robert but of course Brook is too common a surname to have got me anywhere, at least without more effort on my part than I deemed worth it.

          Was Boris a biggish geezer, bluff of countenance? I’m fairly sure I was aware of his presence, though we’d have had no reason to engage. Ecclesfield – three or four miles up the (Barnsley) road from The Brushes – also had a Russian teacher. I bet that’s fallen by the wayside in our day and age.

          Impressed by the Pushkin Gong.

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