Thank you

We are grateful to our friends at St George’s Church for their recent gift of a photocopy of a short story which, as they say in their letter to us, is a part of Jesmond’s history.

The story in question is The Islanders, written by Yevgeny Zamyatin. He wrote it whilst living at 19 Sanderson Road: a blue plaque commemorates his residence there. He had come to Newcastle in March 1916 to supervise the building at Walker and Wallsend of Russian icebreakers for the Romanov government. He returned to Russia in 1917 to find a Communist state in power following the revolution.

In England, I built ships, looked at ruined castles, listened to the thud of bombs dropped by German Zeppelins, and wrote The Islanders. I regret that I did not see the February Revolution and know only the October Revolution (I returned to Petersburg, past German submarines, in a ship with lights out, wearing a life belt the whole time, just in time for October). This is the same as never having been in love and waking up one morning already married for ten years or so.

The ‘first Soviet dissident’

As a student Yevgeny was a Bolshevik, supporting Lenin and the overthrow of the Romanovs. However, his continued satirical writings, in particular his most famous dystopian novel We, fell foul of the later Communist government under Stalin. The novel was the first to be banned by Soviet censors. He smuggled the book to the West to be published, the outrage leading eventually to his being granted permission by Stalin to leave Russia. He went to live in exile in Paris where he died in poverty in 1937.

The Islanders

In this short story Zamyatin pokes fun at what he saw as the British desire for conformity and efficiency.

For Sunday in Jesmond the stone thresholds of the houses, as always, were scraped to a blinding whiteness. The houses are elderly, sooted, but the white stripes of the thresholds sparkled like the false teeth of the Sunday gentlemen.

The Sunday gentlemen, as is known, were manufactured in one of the Jesmond factories, and on Sunday morning they appeared on the streets in thousands of copies. All with identical walking sticks and in identical top hats, the Sunday gentlemen with false teeth respectably strolled along the streets and greeted their double.

‘Beautiful weather, isn’t it?’

It’s a wry, funny and characterful story which we’re sure many of our library users will enjoy reading. Please bear with us while we decide how best to make our newly acquired photocopy of this short story accessible to everyone who would like to read it.


In the meantime, should you wish to read Zamyatin’s most famous novel We, there is a copy available on the library’s fiction shelves.

We is a science fiction dystopian view of a future totalitarian state and is said to have inspired Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and also George Orwell’s 1984.

The Islanders has been described as forming the nucleus of Zamyatin’s longer novel. 

So perhaps Jesmond can be said to have been the source and inspiration for three of the 20th century’s most famous novels!