A History of Women's Writing in Russia

By Adele Marie Barker; Jehanne M. Gheith | Go to book overview

4
Women of the 1830s and 1850s:
alternative periodizations
JEHANNE M GHEITH

In Russia, female authors came to the fore in the 1830s and 1850s, a fact which raises questions about one of the central ways that discussions of Russian literature are usually organized: the periodization of the forties and sixties. The men of the forties and those of the sixties are well-known figures in the world of nineteenth-century Russian politics and prose. This division signals a movement from diagnosis to action, from the superfluous man to the New Man, from apathy to activity. 1

In the nineteenth century, women's writings were an essential part of the development of Russian realism; including discussion of these writings in our analyses of realism today would reshape the century in terms of theme, periodization, and style as this essay seeks to show. In addition, the writings I will discuss propose a different model of literary evolution from Harold Bloom's theory of literary paternity as a battle between fathers and sons. While there are certain differences among the writings of the women of the thirties and fifties, there are also many, many points of connection. I contend that, unlike the men of the sixties, the “sons” who came into being in conscious opposition to the “fathers”of the 1840s, the women of the fifties continue many of the themes of their predecessors without taking on an oppositional stance and that Russian women's writings of the middle of the nineteenth century follow a model of connection and development rather than the Bloomian paradigm of struggle that has become canonical for their male counterparts.

The second third of the nineteenth century was crucial in the development of Russian women's writing. In the 1830s, as Russian letters shifted from poetry to prose and from a salon culture to a print culture, women, like men, began publishing prose in (relatively) large numbers; in the 1850s, women's fiction attained new prominence. 2 In this period,

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