A History of Women's Writing in Russia

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

5
“A particle of our soul”: prerevolutionary
autobiography by Russian women writers
MARY ZIRIN

“… the great truth [is] that we love our past no matter what it gave us;… that the places where we left a particle of our soul, a fragment of our life, are sacred. ”

— ANASTASIIA VERBITSKAIA

Autobiography plays a pivotal role in the dialog between past and present that we call history: our foremothers' first-person accounts are often the only records we have of past women's lives. 1 Autobiographies and memoirs by Russian women developed in rhythmic interconnection with fiction. 2 Women began publishing imaginative narrative prose in the first decade of the nineteenth century, and fiction has remained an important genre for them since the 1830s. The first recorded autobiographies by Russian women date from the last third of the eighteenth century, but early works even by public figures (those of Catherine II and Ekaterina Dashkova) circulated in manuscript and were published only decades after their authors' death. 3

Quantity is as remarkable as quality in the autobiographical legacy left us by prerevolutionary Russian women: at least 200 substantive works of retrospective life-writing, including memoirs of “great men, ” “family chronicles, ” and travel accounts, have appeared in print to the present day. 4 In the literary-historical context, two points in time are important: when the work was written, and when it was published. The former tells us something about the contemporary culture, the models of writing about the self the author was subscribing to or contesting, and the audience she saw herself as addressing. At the latter point the work was dropped into the cultural stream, to sink into obscurity or to float as a text that could influence the development of the genre.

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