Summary: Did Jack London's dystopian novel, The Iron Heel, published in 1908, influence Zamyatin's We?

Yevgeny Zamyatin's novel, We, completed in 1921 and published in English in 1924, is one of the earliest dystopian novels, and usually called a significant influence on George Orwell's 1949 novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, published in 1932.

Huxley denied any connection to We, saying that Brave New World was written in response to H. G. Wells's utopian works long before he read We. Wells was surely an influence on every later writer in the field and many outside as well.

Having edited Wells's works in Russian, Zamyatin was also certainly influenced by him. But Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut both believed Zamyatin had an impact on Huxley, with Orwell going so far as to say that Huxley was lying. — Wikipedia

But who were the dystopian writers before Zamyatin that might have influenced him?

Of course, it may not have been necessary. Living in the Soviet Union at that time must have been inspiration enough. It's not a coincidence that We wasn't published in the Soviet Union until 1988. It was an unpalatable and unwelcome critique of the government.

Still, there were a few dystopian writers positioned to have impacted Zamyatin.

Andrei Marsov had a dystopian novel, Love in the Fog of the Future, published in 1924, but that's a little too late. Unless he started writing several years earlier and they knew each other well enough to share early drafts, he couldn't have had an effect on Zamyatin. — Wikipedia

Jerome K. Jerome wrote a short story The New Utopia, in 1891, and that probably did influence Zamyatin. — Wikipedia, Goodreads I haven't read it yet, but I have found a copy here.

I know of one other writer who published a dystopian novel well before Zamyatin. Jack London's The Iron Heel was published in 1908, over a decade before Zamyatin completed We. The book details the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. It's said to have influenced Orwell. — The Iron Heel

Did Zamyatin read it? Could it have spurred the creation of We? Frankly, it's over my head, but I'm hoping someone here might know.


2 Answers 2


While I cannot say for certain whether Yevgeny Zamyatin was influenced by Jack London's The Iron Heel, Zamyatin does not acknowledge any debt to London in the most natural place for him to have done so. Zamyatin's collection A Soviet Heretic discusses his the influences on his life and his feelings about writers of the early twentieth century. While the focus is primarily on Russian literature of the period, Zamyatin also talks about his favorite authors from elsewhere in the world. However, I don't think he even mentions Jack London, and he certainly does not identify London as a major influence.

The book contains autobiographical material, chronicling what Zamyatin presumably considered the most interesting or influential periods of his life. While Zamyatin is widely reported to have worked as a translator of Jack London's work during or after his sojourn in London from 1916 to 1918, London is not mentioned as an influence. This is followed by reprints of fifteen critical essays, dealing with specific developments in Russian literature during the period from 1914 to 1933, although most of the essays were written during the first decade of communist rule. The focus in this section of the book is heavily on Russia, and there is very little discussion of foreign influences, which makes sense, since communications between the Russian literary community and the West had cut down to almost nothing during this early period of Soviet international isolation.

The end of A Soviet Heretic though, is where Zamyatin would naturally have written about his debt to London, if he felt that there was a debt that it was important to acknowledge. The books ends with portraits and critical studies of authors that Zamyatin considered important: Russians Andrei Bely, Alexander Blok, Anton Chekhov, Maxim Gorky, and Fyodor Sologub; Westerners Anatole France, O. Henry, and H. G. Wells; as well as the Russian artist Boris Kustodiev. Jack London again is absent, while Zamyatin write extensively about the importance of Wells' twisted visions of utopia (of the kinds seen in The Sleeper Awakes and The Time Machine). The inclusion of Anatole France among Zamyatin's chosen literary lights is also interesting in this regard, since France was a great admirer of London and wrote a famous foreword to later editions of The Iron Heel; Zamyatin was probably aware of France's evaluation of London but still does not find London important enough to discuss.

So it is clear that Zamyatin had ample opportunity to discuss any influence that London's work may have had on him, yet he does not. This strongly suggests that Zamyatin did not feel that London had been important to the development of his own ideas.

Finally, during the period from 1933 and 1937, both Zamyatin and Leon Trotsky were living in exile in Paris. It is unknown whether the two knew each other while they were there; Zamyatin lived in poverty, while Trotsky was a prominent figure in the city's Russian exile intelligentsia. However, Trotsky, unlike Zamyatin, did write a critical analysis of The Iron Heel (although I am not sure when it was published). London's work certainly was known among the Russians in Paris at the time, but Zamyatin just did not feel like discussing it.


"The Iron Heel" was an enormous best seller in Russia before and during the writing of "We", as were nearly all of London's books between 1902 and 1916.

It would have been highly unlikely that Zamyatin would not have been exposed to London's novel and the concepts it contained.

Exposure is one form of influence - clearly, based on Buzz's analysis, it seems that Zamyatin did not feel overly compelled by London's work.

The writing styles are of course very different (although both books share the narrative frame of a "found" text).

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