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“Under the Sway of Coal,” or a Story of the British Coal Miner Harold Heslop, Who Failed to Become a Soviet Writer

Elena S. Ostrovskaya


The paper focuses on the rapid and short-living Soviet writing career of the British coal miner Harold Heslop. Between 1926 and 1931, three novels by Heslop were published in the USSR (in Russian translation) and the translation of a fourth was commissioned and completed, and in 1930 the author himself travelled to the USSR as one of two members of the British delegation at the Kharkov conference of the International Union of Revolutionary Writers (IURW). However, that was the end of his success: the translated novel Red Earth was not published nor were any of his later novels. The only venue for his rare shorter essays and occasional prose excerpts was the magazine International Literature. The paper discusses this curious writer’s biography from different perspectives. It analyzes at length the critical article by Anna Elistratova, published in Na literaturnom postu and International Literature, juxtaposing the two versions and the text of Heslop’s novel to contextualize the writer and his work in the Soviet literary criticism of the time. It explores archival materials—Heslop’s correspondence with different people and institutions as well as institutional papers—to discuss the case as  personal as well as institutional history, representative of the situation of the 1930s. Finally the article shifts perspective to discuss the author and his work in the context of the British working-class literature of the time.


Harold Heslop; International Literature; Na literaturnom postu; Kharkov conference of the IURW; Sergey Dinamov; Anna Elistratova; Soviet-British literary contacts; British working-class literature


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