Russian Women's Studies: Essays on Sexism in Soviet Culture

By Tatyana Mamonova; Margaret Maxwell | Go to book overview

4
Our Grandmothers: Mariya
Konstantinovna Tsebrikova

Mariya Tsebrikova — one of the greatest representatives of Russia's progressive intelligentsia from the 1860s through the early twentieth century — is totally unknown in the Soviet Union.In school, Soviet young people read Belinski and Dobrolyubov, but never Tsebrikova.No one has ever heard her name, even though in her time she was no less famous than these two critics because of the broad expanse of the subject matter of her writing and her incisive style. Her essay "Our Grandmothers", published in 1870, influenced prerevolutionary generations of women as strongly as did Chernyshevsky's novel What's to be Done, and its independent heroine Vera Pavlovna. Tsebrikova's essay, "Our Grandmothers", 1 with its brilliant analysis of the female characters in Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace, is completely neglected in Soviet schools despite the fact that it remains extremely topical even today and would be very useful, especially in girls' education. Tsebrikova portrays a succession of generations of women and, in reminding us of the existence of Russian women's history, teaches us about independence.

Tsebrikova's field of activity was very broad.Primarily she was a writer and publicist. Her books, and her articles published in Russia's thick monthly magazines, appeared regularly but she was also an ardent supporter of higher education for women and was in general a defender of those who in her opinion had suffered injustice at the hands of society or the Tsarist authorities.As a writer she conquered her public with her lively polemic style. She expressed her thinking concretely and directly. "Woman's position is unbearably hard", she wrote. "And only those who profit from woman's abasement and lack of rights refuse to admit this truth; just as serf-owning land-holders did not want to admit the desperate conditions of their peasants."2

It is obvious that a woman with Tsebrikova's courage, strong opinions and the ability to express them would sooner or later overstep the bounds of safety imposed by the Tsarist system.This occurred in 1890, after a build-up

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