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

By Tatyana Mamonova; Margaret Maxwell | Go to book overview

9
Alexander Kuprin's 'Song of
Songs'

Alexander Kuprin, as well as his contemporary Ivan Bunin, was a literary disciple of Anton Chekhov and imitated Chekhov's style in his short stories and narratives.But just as in Bunin's case, Kuprin was more sensual than Chekhov, and it is obvious that he felt the influence of the French novella, and especially of Guy de Maupassant. Kuprin and Bunin met in Russia at the turn of the century and later encountered each other as exiles in Paris where they almost simultaneously ended up after the October Revolution.Both of them were intensely homesick and longed to return to Russia.

In Kuprin's work three basic themes prevail; singly, they are inadequate, but all three taken together are substantial.His Jewish characters — from the lowliest "Rabbi" to the King of the Israelites — attract our attention as a theme the author handles skilfully.I am not aware of any writer before Kuprin who treated this subject in a more appropriate manner.It was only after Kuprin that Isaac Babel and Konstantin Paustovski began to write more freely about Jews.

In Korensky's annotations to Kuprin's six-volume collected works there is one curious detail:

Kuprin, in speaking of courage and fortitude in the common folk who fell prey to the terror of the Black-Hundreds, impressively reflected the political situation in the years 1904-1906, the short-lived 'exuberant days of freedom' and the advent of reaction with its executions and pogroms. 1

We are speaking here about the well known Jewish pogroms, but every Soviet commentator (even Paustovsky in his introduction to this collection of Kuprin's works) avoids the word "Jewish" as though forbidden.There is undisputed evidence of concealed anti-Semitism flourishing even after Stalin's measures "against cosmopolitans".

Kuprin's second theme is traditionally patriarchal.The sailors and fishermen he so obviously romanticizes are absolved by him for all their overt and

-70-

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