Narrative, Space and Gender in Russian Fiction: 1846-1903

Article excerpt

Joe Andrew. Narrative, Space and Gender in Russian Fiction: 1846-1903. Studies in Slavic Literature and Poetics, vol. XLVII. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2007. 195 pp. Bibliography. Index. US$ 54 / euro40, paper.

In this book Joe Andrew builds on his Women in Russian Literature: 1780-1863 (1988) and Narrative and Desire in Russian Literature, 1822-49 (1993), as well as on other feminist studies of Russian literature. These and Andrew's studies reveal the unquestionable importance of feminist approaches and women writers in our appreciation for Russian literature, and for enhancing our understanding of the history of Russian women's writing, the reading of Russian literature generally, and the interpretation of Russian writing about women particularly. In this new collection of essays Andrew examines, on the one hand, how space-and the chronotope especially-informs our understanding of the structure of stories and, on the other, how characters' responses to constraints and opportunities in spaces inform our understanding of their authors' attitudes toward gender identities. The collection consists of an introductory chapter and seven chapter-long analyses of individual stories, primarily povesti, which, in all but one case, are from the period 1846-1864, a time of keen discussion of gender issues in Russian literature. The story from outside this period, Chekhov's "The Fiancee" (1903), Andrew argues convincingly, evokes the "new woman" stories of the 1850s and 60s and therefore deserves inclusion here. Andrew structures his book historically, opening with Dostoevsky's Poor Folk (1846) and closing with Chekhov's story.

In his discussion of Poor Folk Andrew explores erotic tension and confusion that arise between Varvara and Makar, examining the extent to which their relationship is pure and honorable and the different tenors it assumes in different spaces. His second look at Dostoevsky, his chapter on White Nights (1848), proposes that the male protagonist's chronotope of static confinement and solitude emphasizes his unchanging inner being and "addiction to repetition," (p. 48) and also functions as the story's structuring principle. Despite encountering threshold moments, he ends up in solitude. Although he may have unsure feelings for Nastenka, even desire her, in the end he is left without her, and White Nights, as Poor Folk does, reveals that "a woman's love is not to be trusted" (p. 58). In writing A Conversation After Dinner (1858) Nadezhda Sokhanskaia, Andrew argues, aimed to construct primarily a matriarchal world in which Liubov', the central character, gains independence and individuality, surviving her unhappy marriage and gaining a voice and wisdom. …