Reference Guide to Russian Literature

By Nicole Christian; Neil Cornwell | Go to book overview

explained that the superfluous man tradition still exists, but that it has changed since the I9th century. Nineteenth-century conceptions of the superfluous man, explained Bitov, located him within a particular social context. Now, Bitov continued, it makes sense to view the superfluous man within a global context. Bitov asked, "To what end does Man exist, to what extent is he indispensable (or useless) in relation to his environment, to the system that governs life?" ("Bitov: l'energie de l'erreur", Magazine littéraire, March 1988, 40-41).

Bitov's novel, Ozhidanie obez'ian ( The Monkey Link), published in 1995, addresses the same question he posed in the interview of the purpose of the human being: "Is the human being superfluous to nature?" What is the relationship of the human being to other biological species? What is the role of human beings vis-à-vis other human beings? To this day, the superfluous man tradition continues to live.


Women's Writing in Russia

Russian women have been writing, in the broadest sense, if not producing literature, for many centuries. Female signatures have been found on some of the earliest documents in the Russian language yet discovered — the letters written on birchbark by inhabitants of Novgorod in the IIth, I2th, and I3th centuries. Another "private" genre of writing practised by women (though much more rarely) was autobiography. But the ecclesiastical and political nature of much pre-Petrine writing (sermons, hagiography, chronicles) meant that women were largely excluded from the public tradition, and that the named "bookmen" (knizhniki) of the medieval period included no women whatever.

The exclusion of women from public pis'mennost' (writing) in medieval times delayed their entry into the literary world, once that had been established in Russia. It was not until the second half of the I8th century that women began contributing to the secular, westernized, tradition of literature as such — that is, writing as more than purely functional communication — which had then been established in Russia for about a hundred years. However, from the I750s various factors combined positively to encourage women's participation in literature. The importation of western treatises of moral education and good breeding, such as François Fénelon's De L'Éducation des filles ( Instruction for the Education of a Daughter) of 1687, meant that reading was now accepted as an important part of young women's intellectual development. The curriculum of Catherine's model school for "young noblewomen", Smol'nyi Institute, included western and Russian literary classics, and the cultivation of the women in Catherine's court was to be remarked on by foreign visitors during the late I8th century.

Accordingly, in the late I8th and early I9th centuries a number of women, mostly well-educated aristocrats, did indeed begin contributing to the development of Russian letters. Several of them were the sisters, daughters or wives of male writers. Ekaterina Sumarokova ( 1746-97) was the daughter of the poet and playwright Aleksandr Sumarokov; Elizaveta Kheraskova (c. 1740-1809) and Ekaterina Urusova ( 1747-c. 1817) the wife and cousin respectively of Mikhail Kheraskov, author of the epic Rossiiada. The connections of these and comparable women, such as the Svin'ina sisters and Mar'ia Sushkova ( 1752-1803), facilitated their entrée to literary journals, some of which, for example Priiatnoe i poleznoe preprovozhdenie vremeni ( A Pleasant and Instructive Manner of Passing the Time), and Nikolai Karamzin's Aonidy, published a number of original texts and translations by women, in keeping with the Sentimentalist cult of the "fair sex" as the arbiters of virtue and taste.

Though some late I8th- and early I9th-century women poets were no more than dilettante rhymesters, some, for example Urusova and Kheraskova, and later Aleksandra Murzina and Aleksandra Magnitskaia (active in the I790s), Mar'ia Pospelova ( 1780-1805) and Anna Volkova ( 1781-1834), were genuinely talented individuals, the best of whose work displays intelligence, wit, and technical facility. The most determined, the most prolific, as well as probably the most talented was Anna Bunina ( 1774-1829), the first woman writer to live by her pen. Though lacking the social advantages of Urusova and Kheraskova, Bunina by sustained effort turned herself into an erudite Neoclassical poet, the author of epics as well as lyric verse, whose work includes some of the earliest genuinely autobiographical poetry by Russian writers of either gender. Another remarkable figure was the short-lived, but prodigious Elisaveta Kul'man ( 1808-25), who had a command of classical languages as well as several modern ones, and who was the author of interesting Neoclassical verse, including a tribute to the Greek poet Corinna, much of it written in unrhymed "Pindaric" stanzas.

Besides poetry, women writers produced didactic drama ( Elizaveta Titova as well as the late I8th century's most famous woman writer, Catherine II), and fiction. A good deal of the latter was feeble indeed, consisting of sprawlingly-plotted novels and didactic contes; typical was the work of Mariia Izvekova ( I790s-1830), author, among other works, of Milena, ili redkii primer velikodushiia [ Milena, or A Rare Example of Magnanimity] ( 1806), whose titles bespeak their sentimental and moralistic content. However, Russian nationals writing in French also produced some more distinguished works, notably Julie (or Juliane) de Krüdener's Valérie ( 1803), famous in its day throughout Europe.

The rise of Pushkinian romanticism in the I820s had contradictory effects on women's writing. The new understanding of "genius" as an extraordinary individual talent,


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Reference Guide to Russian Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Reference Guide to Russian Literature *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note vii
  • Advisers xi
  • Contributors xi
  • Alphabetical List of Writers and Works xiii
  • Alphabetical List of Works xix
  • Chronological List of Writers xxiii
  • General Reading List xxvii
  • Chronology xxxv
  • Glossary xxxix
  • Introductory Essays *
  • Old Russian Literature 3
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russian Theatre 9
  • Russian Literature in the I8th Century 13
  • Aleksandr Pushkin: from Byron to Shakespeare 18
  • The Classic Russian Novel 25
  • The Superfluous Man in Russian Literature 29
  • Women's Writing in Russia 35
  • Russian Literary Theory: from the Formalists to Lotman 40
  • Post-Revolutionary Russian Theatre 45
  • Experiment and Emigration: Russian Literature, 1917-1953 49
  • Socialist Realism in Soviet Literature 55
  • Thaws, Freezes, and Wakes: Russian Literature, 1953-1991 59
  • Russian Literature in the Post-Soviet Period 64
  • Writers and Works *
  • A 73
  • B 127
  • C 213
  • D 237
  • E 271
  • F 297
  • G 311
  • H 379
  • I 389
  • K 413
  • L 485
  • M 521
  • N 559
  • O 585
  • P 611
  • R 685
  • S 707
  • T 789
  • U 859
  • V 861
  • Y 897
  • Z 899
  • Title Index 933
  • Notes on Advisers and Contributors 963


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