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A History of Russian Women's Writing 1820–1992$

Catriona Kelly

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780198159643

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198159643.001.0001

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Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)

Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)

(p.227) 9 Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
A History of Russian Women's Writing 1820–1992

Catriona Kelly

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

From the 1920s to the 1940s, literature in Russia can be described as diverse and experimental, and Russian women writers of that time were able to produce some of the most adventurous and artistically successful texts. However, it was also during this period when the institution within the Soviet Union of Socialist Realism was formed. This institution was particularly hostile towards the writing quality of Russian women writers. This chapter discusses the concepts of ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’, which are the two kinds of writers of that period, those who lived inside and those who lived outside the borders of Russia.

Keywords:   1920s, 1940s, literature, Russia, Russian women writers, insider, outsider

  • I look to right, I look to left,
  • Folks all have medals on their chests.
  • Boys got theirs for victories,
  • Girls for work in factories.
  • (Rhyme from Rabotnitsa, 1947)
  • I believe like a village woman:
  • Hold my tongue, raise sons for the future.
  • (Natalya Krandievskaya)

WITH the coming to power of the Bolsheviks in October 1917, the cause of women's liberation in Russia seemed to gain an overwhelming victory. Amongst the earliest actions of the new regime was to put together a legislative programme which granted women fuller political, economic, and social rights than they enjoyed anywhere else in the world until after the Second World War. The Menshevik government had given women the right to vote; 1918 decrees on labour, marriage and the family, and the political system acknowledged women's right to full political participation, to equality within marriage, and to equal pay. In 1920 these measures were followed by the legalization of abortion; and the early 1920s saw the passage of numerous other laws and regulations, intended to promote as well as to ensure equality, and also to extend protection to women at work and in the home.1

(p.228) Yet the stuff of victory for women's liberation was also to be the substance of its defeat. This was partly because feminism, its demands satisfied, now appeared redundant. Crises of confidence in the women's movement were evident in other European countries, where women had secured the right to the franchise alone; in Russia, where legal reform was rapidly followed by radical changes in social policy (the provision of a welfare network dealing with child care and medical help, the institution of a service infrastructure), the loss of interest in liberation was, inevitably, still more marked.2

Apart from this generally applicable factor, however, there were additional and more idiosyncratic matters affecting the Russian case. First amongst these was the anti-individualist character which Russian socialism had inherited from Russian radicalism: individual interests were subordinated to collective interests, and civil rights were under-theorized. Theory had direct results on practice: like other manifestations of non-Bolshevik political expression, feminist organizations, newspapers, and journals were suppressed in 1918; and the granting of rights to women depended at least as much on notions of what was expedient to state and Party interests as on abstract ideas of justice. (For example, the first Bolshevik law on franchise guaranteed the vote to ‘persons employed in the domestic sphere’ only where they were supporting a person or persons engaged in ‘productive labour’.) Over the next thirty-five years, equality for women remained a stable element of Party rhetoric, but actual policy on women was subject to a good deal of change; many of the central measures of early Bolshevism were reversed, or their effects transformed out of all recognition. Abortion was made illegal, and procedures for divorce tightened up, in 1936; in the same year, male homosexuality was outlawed. From then on, the nuclear family increasingly began to be institutionalized as the social norm, and the flexible attitudes to sexual liaisons that had been evident in the 1920s gradually disappeared. Emphasis on the interests of the State also meant that the so-called ‘right to work’ was increasingly glossed as a duty to (p.229) work. All through the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, there were drives to bring women out of the home and into the labour force. At first some genuine ideas of the dignity of labour were in play; but later on the demands of the industrialization drive began to acquire overwhelming importance. Soviet enterprises were under-mechanized and hence labour-intensive; the capacity of industry could be expanded only by the participation of women; and so women came under increasing pressure to work, whatever their family circumstances.3

A further factor of significance, which existed right from the beginning of Soviet rule, was the unacknowledged gender bias of Bolshevism. Both before and after the Revolution, the pivot of ideology was not just ‘the worker’, but the politically conscious, skilled worker, whose dominance in metaphor was underpinned by hidden assumptions about what constituted productive and unproductive labour, and about the nature of skills. As in any capitalist society, domestic labour was presumed to be unproductive, and the operation of a lathe was classified quite differently from, say, the operation of a sewing-machine. The practical result was a continuing over-representation of women in jobs which were supposedly unskilled, and hence poorly remunerated; the ideological result was an emphasis on the ‘backwardness’ of women. Assumptions that women were more likely to be ‘illiterate’, both in the ordinary and in the political sense, led to the setting up of special Party women's sections (zhenot-dely), whose ultimate aim was to recruit women to the Party, but which performed useful work in giving working-class and peasant women access to literacy classes, providing them with an elementary political education, informing them about their new legal rights, and propagandizing health care. But the assumption that women had special needs also generated crude positive and negative stereotypes of women's behaviour, polarizing ‘enlightened’ working women and ‘backward’ peasants or bourgeoises, and by a process of circularity at once labelling the ‘feminine’ backward, and stigmatizing ‘backwardness’ as feminine. Traditional ‘feminine’ activities, such as housework and child-rearing, were represented in derogatory terms; it was assumed that women were more likely to be drawn to ‘backward’ forms of belief, such as religion and superstition, and that they were a group sunk in false consciousness and incapable of perceiving their own interests independently.4

(p.230) The crudities of ideology meant that policies intended in women's best interests might function haphazardly, and sometimes do as much harm as good. The campaign to provide child care and services for working women was associated with the creation of a new under-class of ‘unskilled’ service workers, overwhelmingly made up of women. The liberalization of marital regulations in the 1920s gave legal recognition to the fluid liaisons which urban members of the intelligentsia had themselves preferred even before the Revolution, but they deprived working-class and peasant women of the leverage and status which they had derived from the conception of marriage as a binding economic and social contract. And the assault on domesticity carried out in the 1920s ignored the fact that working-class and peasant women's sense of autonomy derived in part from a gender-based division of labour within the home. The result was a contradictory dynamic according to which gender discrimination persisted in the public sphere and in the home, yet any palliative effects deriving from the traditional divisions of labour were eradicated, since women could no longer feel a sense of pride in ‘women's work’.5

Early Bolshevik policy depended on coherent notions of ‘femininity’ in a negative sense, which were in turn to make a narrowly traditional notion of femininity into a positive symbol for their opponents. But there was considerably more uncertainty in the early days, even amongst the ideological leaders themselves, as to what the positive models of femininity should be. Resolute women workers might be ubiquitous symbols in ideology, but the old Bolsheviks who occupied government posts were far from approving the sexual libertarianism advocated by (p.231) young activists on the left fringes of the Party. Most of the Party leaders themselves had monogamous attachments which, if they sometimes continued the traditions of ‘equal comradeship’ practised by the Russian left since Chernyshevsky, just as often resembled the traditional marriages of high-ranking Tsarist officials, with wives as hostesses supported by staffs of servants.6

By the end of the 1920s, these undercurrents of traditionalism, both popular and official, began forcing their way through to the surface again. In 1930 Stalin dissolved the Party women's sections, and declared that ‘The woman question has been solved’. The ensuing years were to see the creation of an increasingly coherent incentive model for women in official ideology: the Soviet woman was to be a fusion of worker, wife, and mother: a graceful and gracious Soviet superwoman, bathed in the light of a never-setting sun. In the 1930s and especially the 1940s, the view of women in Soviet ideology increasingly came to resemble that which was propagandized in other totalitarian states, Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. But there was an important difference. In the Soviet Union, the urgent demand for women's participation in industry meant that they continued to be valued in terms of their productive as well as of their reproductive capacities. Even in the late 1940s, when a variety of pro-natalist policies was instituted in order to compensate for the enormous population losses caused by the War (not to speak of the political purges of the 1930s), there was never a campaign to persuade Soviet women to go back to the home full time, on the pattern of the campaigns to this end organized in Italy and Germany. However, as we shall see, plenty of propaganda was put out in the cause of reinforcing traditional practices and attitudes within the Soviet home.7

Throughout the period from 1917 to 1953, there was a close attachment between literature and ideology, ensured on the one hand by a (p.232) censorship still more rigid than that of Tsarist days, and on the other by economic centralization and nationalization, so that the cultural establishment was progressively brought under state control. The pre-Revolutionary thick journals, like the rest of the non-Bolshevik press, were closed down in 1918; from the end of the ‘New Economic Policy’, the period of limited economic pluralism between 1921 and 1925, book-publishing was brought under ever tighter control, as were the activities of the various cultural groups not until then directed by the State. It became increasingly difficult for writers to survive without hand-outs from the State, and these were never granted disinterestedly. Finally, in 1932, all remaining informal groups were dissolved, and the Union of Soviet Writers became the only legal professional body. At its first congress in 1934, the doctrine of Socialist Realism was imposed. Whatever the possible ambiguities of this doctrine itself, which enjoined an authorial practice at once mimetic and mythic in its representation of ‘reality’, there was no doubt that the writer's first, indeed only, duty was to be a practitioner of ‘Socialist Realism’ in the sense of being an instrument of official ideology.8

The process of cultural centralization was to have particularly marked effects on women writers. Before 1925, their work had been disproportionately represented outside the prestigious organs of the Bolshevik literary establishment. And so, when the informal groups began to close, there was a marked drop in the numbers of women writers able to publish. And after 1932, when literary power became concentrated in the hands of a small number of union officials and journal editors—all of them men—the profile of women's writing dropped still further. The board of the Union of Writers did contain quite high numbers of women, who were in fact over-represented in comparison with their presence in the membership, but these women had token, rather than real, power. Equally token was the representation of women's writing in the prestige literary journals and publishing houses of the post-1932 period.9

(p.233) As we shall see, the decline in publishing outlets for women's writing was to make internal emigration, which is to say withdrawal from the official literary scene and producing work ‘for one's desk drawer’, a particularly important phenomenon amongst women writers, many of whom were to endure official neglect or disapprobation. Granted, women were rarely subjected to political persecution in a direct sense: one advantage of their relatively insignificant status in the world of cultural politics was that they were to succumb less frequently to purges than men. The women writers who were rounded up in the Terror were usually Party members who were arrested for some offence not directly connected with their literary activity: the poet Anna Barkova, for example, appears to have been denounced for a chance remark which she made at a party, rather than for the anti-Soviet character of her work. However, the ‘invisibility’ of women writers meant that they might remain in technical freedom, but that they often suffered terrible economic deprivation, many being forced into hack journalism or subjected to the relentless pressures of production-line translation in order to secure their daily crust, whilst the writers who did enjoy official favour were rewarded with sinecures almost as large as the print-runs of their books, and with all the other appurtenances of bourgeois comfort (flats, servants, dachas, holidays on the Black Sea, full wardrobes and larders) which the Party had at its disposal.10

But if the ideogical, social, and cultural pressures of official Soviet literature made women writers take a prominent place amongst the writers of the internal emigration, as well as amongst the writers of the actual emigration (which is to say, the huge Russian diaspora abroad), that does not mean that women were entirely unrepresented in the Soviet literary establishment. It would be a mistake to over-simplify the sheer variety of choices made by women. In conversation with Lidiya Chukovskaya in the 1940s, Anna Akhmatova looked forward with horror to the time when she, Lily Brik, Anna Radlova, Larisa Reisner, and Zinaida Gippius would be labelled by historians ‘women of one generation’; and there was indeed little resemblance between the post-Revolutionary lives of these five women. Akhmatova was a writer of remarkable talent and a steadfast opponent of Bolshevism from the early days, yet she chose to remain in Russia; Gippius, who was just as talented a writer, and who was still more overtly hostile to Bolshevism, left Russia for good in 1919. (p.234) None of the other three was anti-Soviet, but their biographies also diverged to a high degree from each other. Larisa Reisner was, as we have seen, a not terribly talented practitioner of ‘committed Symbolism’, but she played a significant role after the Revolution as a symbol of Bolshevik feminine heroism; Anna Radlova was a moderately able poet who became a prominent translator in the 1930s; and Lily Brik was one of the many Russian women to achieve prominence solely by virtue of her relationship with a famous man, since she spent many years as Mayakovsky's official mistress.11

There is no evidence that women were any less likely than men to share the beliefs that propelled writers into co-operation with the Bolshevik regime in the early days; in fact, class origins played probably a bigger role in identification with the Communist cause than gender did. The central class supporting Bolshevik cultural policy was one that could be termed (for want of a better name) the ‘petty intelligentsia’. These were people of relatively humble origins (the children of provincial teachers, priests, factory workers, or peasants) who had been given new educational and professional opportunities—as teachers, Party workers, engineers, journalists—by Bolshevik rule. Understandably grateful to the new Soviet regime for the change in their lives, they were also enthusiastic supporters of Stalin, who in the late 1920s had explicitly stated the importance of the intelligentsia in giving guidance to the working classes, and had stepped up the official onslaught on the ‘cultural bohemia’, the reconstituted new arts groups, who were now branded as parasitic subversives. The so-called ‘politics of envy’ may have played some role in making the ‘petty intelligentsia’ prepared to endorse such policies; but of far greater importance were the rather literal-minded views of literary value prevalent amongst Russian autodidacts, and their messianic attitude to ‘culture’ in the broad sense of education, right-thinking morality, hard work, and personal commitment. If the central members of the ‘petty intelligentsia’ were those in the mainstream professions of engineers and teachers, as well as middle-ranking Party officials, there were many writers who shared their background and values. Examples of women writers who did were the prose writers Anna Karavaeva and Lidiya Seifullina, both of whom began their literary activities in provincial creative writing groups in the early 1920s before getting a foothold in the capitals, and the poet Elizaveta Polonskaya. Youthful idealism was another obvious factor prompting women to identify with Soviet ideology; the first generation of women to be educated under Soviet rule supplied numbers of notable cultural activists, (p.235) including the poet Olga Berggolts and the writer Vera Panova, both born in 1910.12

Once allied with the Soviet literary establishment, women writers were just as subject as their male colleagues, too, to the insidious pressures of fear and self-interest which kept successful Soviet citizens in line. A typical instance was the poet Vera Inber, who complied partly because she felt under constant threat, being a first cousin of Lev Trotsky, and partly because she knew that literary conformity would secure her the trips abroad which were her one source of unalloyed pleasure. For similar reasons, Aleksandra Kollontai, the only Bolshevik theorist who made any serious attempt to incorporate feminist ideas into her writings and political policies, recanted on many of her early works after 1930.13

But if age and class meant that gender was not a once-and-for-all determining factor, these qualities did not necessarily play definitive roles in themselves. Reisner, Akhmatova, and Gippius were not only more or less ‘of a generation’; they were also from much the same sort of comfortable, privileged gentry background; so, too, was Olga Forsh, who was soon to become perhaps the most celebrated Soviet woman writer. Finally, the motivation of individuals is beyond slick generalizations or categorizations. What one can safely say, though, is that, slippery as the role of gender may have been in dictating political positions in a broad sense, its role once those political positions were adopted was a good deal more definite. Gender had quite clear-cut effects on women writers’ lives once they had opted for or against emigration. As we shall see, there was a high degree of coherence in women's writing within the official tradition, and some degree of coherence in women's writing outside it. And it was women's writing outside the official tradition which was most productively to consolidate and extend the radical developments in the ‘feminine’ tradition which had come about before the Revolution.

That is not to say that no good work was produced by women who wrote for official Soviet outlets, or that women in emigration wrote under (p.236) no kind of constraints. The separation into ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ traditions made here has analytical convenience; like the notional categorizations which I have used elsewhere, it helps to establish similarities as well as differences. Both Socialist Realism and anti-Soviet traditions could, as we shall see, exercise an inflexible attitude towards ‘the feminine’ that was most inconvenient to women as actual historical subjects, despite, or perhaps more accurately because of, the importance of Woman as a metaphor for certain permutations of national identity within each separate tradition.


For the most part, the ideologists of Bolshevism displayed impatience with abstract speculation on gender issues, considering this a ‘bourgeois’ concern. Even before the Revolution, Lenin had dismissed the argument expressed by Tolstoy in The Kreutzer Sonata—that women would not be free in politics until they were free in the bedroom—as ‘absurd’. With the famous exception of Aleksandra Kollontai, the leaders of the Soviet government remained little interested in the study of gender identities after the Revolution too. Quite logically, the left thinkers of the 1920s and the 1930s (here including Kollontai as well) produced no theories of women's writing as such. Prior to 1930, however, the idea of ‘women's writing’ in a crude sense was in common currency as a ritual term of abuse. In Lev Trotsky's Literature and Revolution, for example, women's poetry is associated, predictably enough, with ‘backward’ religious beliefs: women poets, Trotsky asserts, exemplify the Russian proverb ‘nowhere without a prayer’. In Bryusov's essay of 1922, ‘Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow in Russian Poetry’, women poets are relegated to the ‘yesterday’ of Russian poetry; the ‘tomorrow’, it is suggested, will belong to male poets of proletarian orientation, with their hymns to the male factory worker.14

In texts of the 1920s, even formalist arguments often carry an ideological load. Women's language is never visualized apart from women's culture, and hence it too is backward: feeble, uneducated, incompetent. (In ‘Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’, Bryusov had, for example, asserted that even the average member of a proletarian writing studio would have been ashamed to turn out versification as substandard as Akhmatova's.) Here, as in political ideology, vital energy is masculine, (p.237) historical redundancy feminine. Unlike notions of women's political backwardness, ideas about women's literary backwardness do not, however, seem to have been accompanied by any drive to re-educate women. The ‘proletarianization’ of literature was dominated, in ideology and in practice, by men. At the 1934 Congress of Writers, one delegate did call for the institution of women's proletarian writer groups; but by then the ‘worker writing’ movement was all but dead.15

It was not only women's negative class associations as a gender that coloured views on women's writing. In Literature and Revolution, again, Trotsky used the term ‘gynaecological’ to describe the work of the poet Mariya Shkapskaya. The description is inaccurate (Shkapskaya's work does indeed refer to the state of maternity, but in symbolic rather than physiological terms). But it is most indicative: like Russian Romanticism, and like the post-Symbolist groups of pre-Revolutionary days, the left arts movements of the 1920s derived their views of creative energy from essentialist notions of gender characteristics. If Trotsky praises Shkapskaya (rather patronizingly) for her expression of feminine biology, this was an anomaly: by and large 1920s thinking elevated the masculine at the expense of the feminine. So Mayakovsky's self-assertion in the narrative poem About That partly depends on invective directed at feminine addressees, who replace ‘love by the darning of socks’, whilst some of Mandelstam's later poems take a Weiningerian view of women's language, associating it with childish prattle, and representing a world in which women are silenced by the language of men.16

The essentialist elements in conceptualization of the creative process were in turn to affect the constructs which predominated in experimental writing. There were very few women writers who were associated with the avant-garde literary world in the 1920s. No more than before the Revolution did women poets make excursions into the poetry of zaum, or transrational language, interest in which continued to preoccupy left poets of the 1920s.17 Nor were they much represented amongst the (p.238) practitioners of metafiction, the literary direction which shapes the text as a commentary upon itself and its own fabrication, which was one of the most significant and original tendencies in prose writing of the 1920s. Two women writers who did practise metafiction, Marietta Shaginyan and Olga Forsh, unconsciously illustrated the obstacles to women's endeavours in this supposedly neutral and abstract direction: both of them, like their male contemporaries, used masculine figures as representations of authorship. The instigator of the literary contest which leads to the composition of the texts which make up Shaginyan's Kik is a man, and three out of the four authors who produce these texts are also men. The only woman author contributes a stylistically conventional text on a topic appropriate to her gender: the tale of a nun who has collaborated with the White forces in the Civil War.18 In Olga Forsh's The Crazy Ship (1933), an obliquely narrated and technically brilliant fiction concerning the Petrograd House of Writers in the 1920s, the central figure/narrator is referred to throughout as ‘the author’, and a masculine pronoun is always employed.19 Forsh's play The Substitute Lecturer (1930) made her one of the few Russian women writers to venture into the avant-garde theatre; this was an eccentric play-within-a-play whose technique to some extent prefigures Brecht's. But here, too, adventurousness was applied to ‘masculine’ material: the only female characters, apart from a servant, are a chorus of the mothers and wives of Copernicus's pupils, who urge him to comply with the church's demands.20

As in the pre-Revolutionary period, alternative representations of identity were to be associated with the memoir rather than with the novel. In the early 1930s Vera Gedroits, who wrote (as she had before the Revolution) using the male first name Sergei, published a substantial three-volume fictionalized autobiography: The Little Caftan (1930), The Polack (1931), and The Break (1931).21 The first section is made up of fractured and lyrical reminiscences of childhood, criss-crossed by symbolic motifs, among them the ‘caftan’ of the title, which becomes both the (p.239) metaphor for, and the fetish of, the narrator, Vera's, determination to change herself into a boy. Vera's problems of gender identification become more evident later on. ‘Does being a girl disgust you?’ a doctor asks her, and she replies that it does (The Polack, 116). Her relationships with women develop a homo-erotic character; eventually, when her brother dies, she takes his name and identity. Yet this is no simple and unproblematic realignment. Vera's change to ‘Sergei’ appears to furnish her with an easy new identity, but the shift depends on an asymmetrical polarization. Had her brother been her exact opposite, he would also have been a transsexual: instead, he has had an ostentatious affair with a peasant woman. Yet he is no paragon of machismo either, having been forced out of cadet school by his disgust at the brutal treatment he received there, and so Gedroits is not able to assimilate to a caricature of resolute masculinity. The instability of this gender understanding is reflected in the generic instability of Gedroits's memoirs, which shift from bleakly documentary observation (of Vera's mother's alcoholism, for example) to rich lyricism, and from the linear progression of the provincial tale (as Vera goes through her medical and political education) to a modernist emphasis on memory as an anti-linear, cyclic mode of narrative.

Gedroits's trilogy was praised in the highest terms by the writer Konstantin Fedin, who read it for the Leningrad State Publishing House. He compared it with Pasternak's The Childhood of Luvers, and suggested that it would enjoy an equal success. But the literary climate of the day was increasingly hostile to ‘impressionism’, or non-realist narrative modes, and Gedroits's text in fact had the distinction of being the last substantial piece of stylistically ambitious prose fiction to be published by a woman between 1932 and Stalin's death.22

Even before Socialist Realism was officially imposed on writers, the emphasis on originality as necessarily masculine had tended to push women prose writers in the direction of realist fiction. And since realist fiction was even more tightly connected with progressive ideology than it had been before the Revolution, this meant that they were exposed to the full pressures of Bolshevik thinking on women's liberation. Like their male counterparts, the women writers of the 1920s saw women's (p.240) liberation in terms of encouraging members of backward classes to take a full part in the new society; and their representations hinged round similar positive and negative stereotypes. The ‘positive’ heroine of women's realist writing is normally a young woman worker, equal to her male contemporaries in self-confidence and determination; the ‘negative’ characters are peasant and bourgeois women, who are represented as being unable to adjust to the new social and cultural realities.23 Occasionally peasant women or women with frivolous tendencies may prove reformable: in N. Chertova's ‘The New Galoshes’, for example, a woman white-collar worker who buys new footwear on the black market undergoes a Damascene conversion when she hears of Lenin's death.24 But often women seem beyond hope. In texts such as Anna Karavaeva's novel The Sawmill or Lidiya Seifullina's novella Mulch, the peasant women are shown to be benighted repositories of folklore and popular medical belief, or else vessels of blindly bestial sexual feeling.25 A typical such woman is Zinoveika, a village girl in The Sawmill, who, repulsed by the man on whom she has staked her affections, ‘howls like a hungry, wounded she-animal’.

No less hostile were the 1920s representations of bourgeois women. Sometimes these ‘ladies’ can be seen driving good honest workers to distraction with their snobbish and uppity ways (as in N. Karatygina's short story Over the Furrows’).26 Frequently, though, we see them getting their come-uppance at the hands of sturdy representatives of proletarian machismo. In texts of the 1920s the rape or murder of a bourgeois or petit bourgeois woman is used with dispiriting regularity as a metaphor for class subjugation. One famous example of this tendency is Blok's narrative poem The Twelve, whose climax is the murder of a prostitute.27 A still more shocking scene occurs in Khlebnikov's poem The Night Search, in which a White Russian officer's female relative is humiliated by a group of Red soldiers, in an act of verbal rape: (p.241)

  • Dear young lady in white,
  • Back to the wall!
  • ‘This one? That one?
  • Which?
  • I-am- rea-dy.’
  • ‘To hell with her!’
  • ‘Stop!’
  • ‘Enough blood!
  • Turn round, doll!’
  • ‘Blood? There's no blood today!
  • Only slime, slime, slime.
  • See the puddle run dark
  • Where they butchered those people?
  • That's ʼer brother, you know,
  • Or ʼer husband.’
What Ronald Hingley has described as ‘the characteristic atmosphere of the 1920s, compounded of pornography and sadism’29 pervades the work of many authors who enjoy a high reputation in Russia and outside it; it is by no means something unique to the efforts of forgotten incompetents. Other texts in which violence against women is represented with equally prurient intensity are Bulgakov's The White Guard, and Babel's Red Cavalry.30

(p.242) Women writers of the left were just as ready to include such scenes. In Seifullina's Mulch, for example, the village elder hero, one of the few Bolshevik sympathizers in an outpost of rural primitivism, is driven to fury by seeing a man emerge from the living quarters of the local schoolmistress, to whom he is himself attracted. His response is to rush in and rape the woman. The scene is depicted entirely through the perception of the man concerned; as the woman responds to him in a sexual sense, and then abases herself, she becomes an object of contempt both for him and for the reader:

He flung her to the ground by the door, and, stopping her mouth with his knee, closed the latch. ‘You try squealing, you bitch, and I'll smash your head in! […] You were flirting with me, but you gave it to someone else, eh! Here, show me! Still wet, are you? Eh, you filth, you w[hore]!’ […]

The squalor and cruelty of that act of possession, that worst insult to human nature, brought feeling with it; out of habit her body answered: ‘A-ah!’

He got up, spat in her face, booted her away and turned to the door. Thin white hands grasped at him. She got up and pressed her body to his—once so passionately, so sacredly desired, now it was loathsome. […]

‘Sofron, don't tell anyone … I love you … I'll be yours … for a long time … for ever … Don't tell anyone … Don't shame me …’

Sucking up to him now, was she! All she cared about was that folks shouldn't turn their noses up … Revulsion and torment in his eyes, legs shaking from his coarse act of possession, but whispering, ‘I'll be yours!’ (pp. 90–1)

At the end of the story, an act of violence against a woman again becomes the occasion of the protagonist's suffering, and a metaphor for his internal conflicts: his wife is bayoneted by White soldiers as they attack the village. In contrast, another story by Seifullina, Virineya, depicts a heroine who is a model of monolithic resolution, rather than a wilting punch-ball for masculine aggression. But there is an important difference: Virineya, the eponymous protagonist, is from the working classes—though, unusually, she is a rural factory worker rather than a member of the urban proletariat.31

Occasionally, woman writers do make adjustments to the ‘class war’ stereotypes. One interesting and unusual treatment of the revolutionary heroine is Anna Barkova's play Nastasya Bonfire (1923).32 The play is set in early seventeenth-century Russia; the distance between fictional time and the time of the play's composition may have facilitated the ambivalence with which it portrays revolutionary endeavour. Nastasya, the bandit-rebel heroine, is the match for any man in her sexual rapacity (p.243) and lust for blood, but she is also a tragic figure, who is forced to recognize the limitations which the way of violence brings with it. As she puts it herself, in a moment of insight, ‘Yes, I am strong. I'm dead strong. My strength will be the death of me’ (p. 72). Expressing love solely by aggression herself, she also expects to be assaulted by her lovers; her end, quite logically, is to be betrayed by an associate, but to go down fighting. The play reworks motifs which had also been developed in Barkova's collection of poetry, Woman, published in 1922, but its language, interweaving popular songs, folkloric motifs, and demotic speech, is far richer than that of Barkova's early lyric.33

Until the crack-down on unofficial groups began in 1925, women writers generally could use poetry in order to express more diverse notions of the self than could find their way into prose. As we have seen, Anna Akhmatova's published poetry of the early 1920s such as ‘Fear turns objects over’, included work which not only evoked the victimization of women in the Red Terror, but also used historical and literary references to give this a particular grandeur. Poets were aided by the fact that in the 1920s, as in the 1840s, it was prose rather than poetry which carried prestige; as a peripheral literary medium, poetry was subject to less overt regulation. Affiliations in poetry were also more unpredictable than in prose, leading, for instance, to the publication of selected lyrics by one extremely conventional ‘feminine’ poet in a provincial anthology of proletarian poetry.34

Despite the peculiar restrictions of their medium, however, some prose writers of the 1920s were also able to loosen the straight jacket of the class-war vignette. Ekaterina Strogova's story-cycle ‘Peasant Women’ (1927), for example, begins with a predictable enough narrative relating how a housemaid turned baroness inspires the peculiar loathing of her own servants, and then is rejected for Party membership by her workmates, who include her own former housemaid, after the Revolution.35 However, the stories that follow are much more complex and subtle. We see women factory workers who are politically active and able to determine their own concerns, yet who can also regard ‘the feminine’ as a source of pride; in a pleasantly ironic passage, Strogova shows how the working women are always concerned to wear the best clothes that they can afford, and that they feel a slight sense of contempt for the intellectual Party activists playing at workers in their leather jackets. (p.244) Whilst not in any sense idealizing the women workers (she depicts an unsavoury incident in which one woman is ostracized by her workmates because they suspect that she is a lesbian), Strogova sees the conflict of values between them and Party ideology in rather less jejune terms than most of her contemporaries. For her, ‘backwardness’ is a rational and functional system of behaviour, with its own codes and beliefs; it is not perceived simply as a pathetic tangle of rudimentary and inadequate perceptions, which can easily be weeded out and replanted with the coherent and complex growths of advanced thinking.

Most other women writers contemplated official ideology less thoughtfully than Strogova, though, and their laudatory representations of Bolshevik policy often throw up unconscious ironies. In Karavaeva's The Saw Mill, for example, the women's section activist heroine is struck by the repetitive and tedious work to which women are consigned in the village. Her solution is to recruit them to routine, unskilled, ancillary tasks in the saw mill—progress indeed. Often, in literature as in ideology, there is a direct link between assimilation to the public life and assimilation to masculinity. The hero of Seifullina's ‘The Delinquents’ (1922), for example, is a youth leader in a Soviet orphanage, whose strategies of social engineering—which is to say treating the girls like boys—effect positive changes in the lives of the children in his care: the girls are now able to take a full part in society.36 The emphasis (as in radical writings of the nineteenth century) is on subordination of ‘feminine’ desires to the Cause: the heroine of The Saw Mill, for example, takes her baby along to political meetings; there is never any suggestion that the child could be left with her partner, and in fact an important strand in the narrative is that she learns to adjust her emotional and sexual demands on him in accordance with his work and Party duties. A similar rationalization of work and personal life in favour of the former is advocated in a much better-known text, Kollontai's trio of short stories The Love of Worker Bees (1923). The central character in the collection's most famous component, its first story ‘The Love of Three Generations’, is a young woman who has learnt not to waste any time on the soul-searching and emotional dependency of her mother and grandmother, nor on her own biology: her final gesture of independence is an abortion. And in the last of the three stories, a woman worker whose husband has gone off with the usual caricature bourgeois floosy is able to sublimate emotional upheaval in work. Just to press the point home, the collection ends with a paean to the ‘worker bees’ of the title, (p.245) appropriate metaphors of a sterile, obedient, and diligent femininity, who are exhorted to ‘live and love life’ as they labour away.37

All this was utterly in tune with official policy on equality, as well as with the traditional resolution of the provincial tale; but Kollontai did also absorb from nineteenth-century women's social criticism its emphasis on the need for men to reform their behaviour, and to take on some of the ‘feminine’ attributes of affective frankness and sympathy for others. She has, too, a positive view of gender solidarity, delineating relations between women in favourable terms; in ‘Sisters’, the second story of Worker Bees, she illustrates how a prostitute is persuaded to reform herself by meeting the wife of the man who has accosted her. Similar material is also incorporated by Anna Karavaeva, who gives an idyllic view of a women's section at work in The Saw Mill, and who shows the hero as well as the heroine being re-educated: if she learns to be less demanding, he also learns to be more responsive. In such tales we can see how the didactic fable of sensibility again reworks itself in a new context, one incorporating both the celebration of work now requisite and the late nineteenth-century orthodoxy attributing women's emotional satisfaction primarily to their sexual satisfaction.

But if occasional writers did place some emphasis on the specificity of women's inner life (however schematically depicted), the real concern of 1920s fiction was to show women as men's equals in the sense of being competent workers in the factory and the Party. This concern was to be made explicit at, and perpetuated by, the 1934 Congress of Writers, but with a new shift of emphasis, as group after group of factory and collective farmers was sent on to the platform to demand literary representations appropriate to the leading roles in industry and agriculture which, they declared, Soviet rule had now given women.38 These carefully orchestrated speeches were signals that literature should now take on board Stalin's suspension of the ‘woman question’ in 1930; they indicated that women must now be represented as necessarily equal, rather than as necessarily (except in extraordinary class circumstances) unequal.

The declaration of equality for women in fiction was to have a variety of effects. It meant that attacks on women writers on the grounds of their sex were now to become much less frequent; but on the other hand, it was now no longer possible to confront the problem of discrimination against women. All writers, men and women alike, were to produce plain tales, simply told, which celebrated the participation of women in (p.246) industry and agriculture. There was to be an end to tales of desperation and deprivation in the villages and factories, and fables of consciousness-raising amongst women. At the same time, a ban on ‘naturalism’, or expression of the ‘physiological’, signalled a new puritanism about sex; rape, for example, had become unmentionable not only as a punishment for those born in the wrong class, but in any context whatever. Rather than succumbing to sex or violence, negative characters might now be subjected to verbal invective, and represented satirically, satire having been given canonical status at the 1934 Congress as a counter-pole to Socialist Realism, an ancillary force which was to support the mythic puissance of Socialist Realism by routing its enemies through laughter.

The impact of satire's new significance on the representation of women was to be registered by Lidiya Seifullina in an article written three years after the Congress, in 1937. Underlining the importance of equal treatment for both sexes in fiction, she called for an end to the idealization of women, and suggested that the negative qualities of vanity and sexual jealousy should appear more frequently in delineations of women characters.39 Women writers in particular were to make sure that Seifullina's wishes came true: the satirical portraits of a petty-minded and materialistic cosmetician in Karavaeva's obese trilogy The Motherland (1951) or of a young woman's disastrous and humiliating attempt to pluck her eyebrows in Panova's The Troop Train (1947) are typical examples of how female foolishness was mocked.40

The persistence in satire of traditional ‘feminine’ stereotypes makes all too evident the hollowness of the declaration that inequality for women was at an end. Even in fiction (let alone in real life), women had by no means achieved parity. Successful women engineers and brigade leaders may people the pages of Soviet novels and stories of the 1930s and 1940s, but in fact these fictions are more concerned with the lives and deeds of men than with the lives and deeds of women. In her stimulating analysis of the Socialist Realist novel, the critic Katerina Clark has identified what she terms a ‘master plot’, a narrative stereotype in which the hero is subjected to various trials and rites of passage in his path to enlightenment.41 ‘Master plot’ is in fact exactly the right term, for this narrative of masculine heroic progress has no feminine equivalent. Heroines are generally represented as Athenas who spring into life fully armed in ideological rectitude. This is true, at any rate, of the intelligentsia women (p.247) on whom women writers concentrate, such as Nina, the engineer heroine of Panova's Kruzhilikha, or Olga in The Motherland, the engineer's daughter and would-be pianist who has gone on to the factory floor in the national interest.42 These women have their occasional bursts of self-criticism (a vaunted virtue in Stalinist ideology)—Olga, for example, realizes that she should be allowing more time for a brigade-leader to breast-feed her child—but such twinges of doubt occupy an insignificant place by comparison with the weighty deliberations of the men. Equally, though negative female characters may occasionally prove reformable, and there is some emphasis on the importance of education to women collective farmers, these, too, are peripheral narrative elements.43 The Socialist Realist novel depicts the ideal society of the socialist future; yet it invariably represents a world in which the leaders (factory and Party chiefs, ideologues) are all men. The quintessence of the Socialist Realist heroine is the female partisan of war literature, who fights at the front along with the men, but who is subordinated to higher male authority in the form of her military commanders.44

The Socialist Realist ethic did not simply underline male power through its representation of work hierarchies, but also through its representation of the family. The model most frequently advocated for writers at the 1934 Congress was Gorky's Mother, the tale of a simple working woman who turns out to be capable of having her consciousness raised, but also the portrait of a rapt and adulatory mother-son relation.45 And from the mid-1930s, maternity in that restricted sense, the breeding and training of active new male citizens, was to become an increasingly important element in Soviet fiction, including fiction by women. In 1935, the year before abortion was made illegal, and at a stage when restrictions on its availability had already been introduced, Tatyana Tess published a story in one of the most prestigious Soviet literary journals, Krasnaya nov, which depicted a woman's agonies of guilt as she went to the abortion clinic, a place full of women ‘screaming (p.248) and writhing in pain’. The reader is shown how this woman's sufferings continue afterwards as she contemplates the duty of motherhood which she has neglected, and sees ‘other people's children […] other people's future already achieved’.46

The year 1935, which also saw the production of To Dine with the Mothers, an enormous icon painted by Gaponenko which represented women breast-feeding their plump pink offspring during a break from the harvest, was a turning-point in Soviet representations of women. As late as 1933 or 1934, official literature had still harked back to the traditions of the 1920s: early poems by Margarita Aliger, for example, showed a young working woman expressing pity for a contemporary stuck in the mire of domesticity (‘Wife’, 1934), or poked fun at a young woman jealous of her beloved's female colleagues at work (‘The Tempest’, 1933).47 But from 1935, there is an insistence that women may at one and the same time contribute to the cause of industrialization and perform their duties as brood mares by state appointment. In a story published in 1940, ‘Rose, My Rose’, Anna Karavaeva showed how a young woman, first discovered breast-feeding her baby in appropriate Madonna and Child style, is persuaded by an older woman friend to leave home and child and go out to work; she and her husband are anxious at first, but soon find that their relationship is working still better than before.48 Sometimes motherhood is even celebrated independently of any work duties. For example, a poem by Tatyana Volgina, published in 1941, both apotheosized burgeoning maternity, and asserted adult woman as servant to infant man:

  • (p.249) His noisy yells
  • Will ring like bells,
  • And our neighbours all around
  • Will shut their ears against the sound.
  • No sleep for his mum
  • In nights to come,
  • She'll rock him for hours at a time,
  • But that's no matter, she'll be fine.
  • Sewing-machine, rattle and hum!
  • Making rompers for my son!
  • Not a wrinkle let there be,
  • So my son is pleased with me!

When the Second World War began, the need for womanpower again became paramount, and the insistence that women should place duty to State above duty to family again became the main theme of official literature. Typical war stories dealt with women who refused to betray their partisan comrades even when their babies were cut in two before their very eyes, or who left a comfortable life at home to work sixteen-hour shifts in munitions factories.50 But in the late 1940s, as the exigencies of population replacement after the war made themselves felt, the representation of motherhood was to become a near-obligatory part of Soviet literature (and of painting too, for that matter).51 However, the continuing needs of the factory floor also dictated that fictional women should still be shown displaying an unabated commitment to work. To production and reproduction were added the duties of appropriate conjugality: though in practice unmarried liaisons were tolerated as an alternative method of insemination, and single women were granted maternity incentives, the conventional nuclear family was perceived as the fulcrum of social stability, and so its symbolic role became still further entrenched. In ideology and literature, babies are always born to, and brought up by, two legally wedded parents; even single mothers in the sense of war widows are a rarity.52

The heroines of late 1940s magazine articles, stories, and novels are treated as equals by their work and Party colleagues; they weld and lay bricks as expertly as anyone; but once their overalls are off and they have crossed the thresholds of their model flats, they don their aprons and fall (p.250) with enthusiasm to their household tasks. As an article by a professional woman which was published in the magazine Soviet Woman during 1947 put it:

Many people believe to this day that a woman who chooses a scientific career ceases to be feminine, neglects her looks, and doesn't care about her home. I must say I have never felt that in my own case. I have always enjoyed taking care of my appearance. I still like to dance, I adore my home, and love to make it cosy.53

Like other women's magazines in the 1940s, Soviet Woman carried endless portraits, both photographic and verbal, of such superwomen—female heroes of labour, record-breaking milkmaids, and Stalin-prize-winning professionals, often shown with their beaming, well-fed broods arranged around them in their ‘cosy homes’. Such hymns to successful femininity, Soviet style, are sandwiched between educational material for aspiring all-round women: fashion photographs, recipes, tips on housekeeping and child care, and cheering poems on such subjects as ‘Our Soviet Mothers’, crafted with all the imagination and originality of greetings-card verse.54

The heroines of 1940s novels display an equal ability to harmonize their lives. Having worked on the production line until the last possible minute, women brigade members go off and produce bouncing sons for the motherland, and the fusion of state and private interests may be symbolically crowned by a marriage between the engineer heroine and the Party organizer hero.55 The day-to-day demands of work and home are juggled by women characters with eye-stretching competence and efficiency. Just occasionally there are hints that even superwomen may not always cope entirely on their own. One woman may help another look after the children for a while, or a heroic husband put himself out to help his wife. In Galina Nikolaeva's novel The Harvest (1947), for example, there is a scene in which Valya, an agronomist, is late back from a meeting, and so keeps her husband waiting for supper. But he, we learn, treats this disruption of his rights remarkably tolerantly, and has ‘even set the table’ by the time that she returns.56 A different kind of co-operation is sketched in Karavaeva's Motherland: here domestic arrangements (p.251) at the house of the heroine's parents are in the hands of a devoted elderly nanny, who has also (as it happens) protected the piano and the furniture from the atrocities to which they might otherwise have been subjected by German barbarians after the evacuation of the city.

For all the preposterousness of such scenes, they do indicate, if only remotely and obliquely, that Soviet women in the 1940s were often thrown on non-State resources in order to cope at all. In particular, help from other women and domestic servants was of great importance in enabling working women to overcome the exigencies of the ‘double burden’, women's simultaneous subjection to work and to domestic commitments; for, as a Soviet manual for prospective mothers, Mother and Baby, firmly informed its readers in 1951, child care outside work hours was considered to be the responsibility of parents, not of the State.57 Writings of the 1940s and early 1950s also throw out hints that maternity was in practice often accompanied by physical discomfort and difficulty. The stress in fiction on the devotion of women who work practically to the moment of parturition can be seen as a dim reflection of the still not terribly generous provisions for maternity leave; mothers who have to breast-feed during shifts are illustrations of the inadequacies of postnatal leave. The unconsciously enlightening lapses here are similar to those in other propaganda sources. For example, the following passage from Mother and Baby indirectly indicates, for all its military rhetoric, something of the grim realities of maternity care: ‘Like a soldier in the heat of battle, who is borne up by the thought of moving ever onward, so a woman dreaming of a child feels no pain when giving birth.’ Proper women, in other words, need no pain-killers.58

But if 1940s and 1950s texts do afford insights through their occasional oversights, all the same, the gap between the happy fictional families of the 1940s, and the actual conditions of the day, was nothing less than immense. Soviet literature, like Soviet ideology, silently ignored the families atomized by war; the fresh rounds of political persecutions; the ubiquity of squalor and overcrowding in bomb-blasted cities; the constant food and goods shortages; the utterly deprived conditions of work and life in the countryside that had been brought by the devastation of agriculture during collectivization; and the struggles of women to bring up children without male partners in a society where concrete help for mothers, as opposed to their decoration with the trumpery medals of (p.252) ‘Hero Mothers of the Soviet Union’, remained inadequate, and where labour-saving devices were non-existent.59

Read in the comfort of a modern Western country, Socialist Realist fictions come across as harmless kitsch: banally reassuring fantasies laced with occasional dollops of unconscious humour (such as the scene in The Motherland in which a character alleges that he forgets the pain caused by his industrial accident as soon as he thinks of Stalin). The intellectual and technical level of these fictions approximates to that of some Western popular genres, such as the hospital romance—save that the importance of work and of emotional attachments is exactly reversed. Like hospital romances, women's Socialist Realist novels deal with manly men and womanly women: resolute, craggy-browed Party organizers, shapely women in high heels, sheer stockings, and discreetly-applied lipstick, and slender but energetic young girls whose delicacy of mind is such that they rinse their mouths out (as a young woman in Panova's The Troop Train actually does) when first kissed by a man.

To apply the analytical tools of literary criticism to such material would be sophistical; it is not the discovery of untold profundities in such fictions which is important, but the discrepancy between their comical literary naivety and the eminently serious campaigns of terror waged in order to ensure their unchallenged place as the central expressions of Soviet literary culture. For official Soviet literary consciousness, this writing was anything but harmless trash. It was literature intended to lay the foundations of a new integrated national-popular and socialist culture, to form a breakwater against, and provide an uplifting alternative to, the tide of decadence which had overwhelmed the countries of the bourgeois West. Karavaeva's work was published in magazines for a worker and peasant audience, yes, but it also appeared regularly in the most prestigious literary journals, and The Motherland trilogy gained its author a Stalin Prize (third class).

But what of the readers? To an even greater extent than with nineteenth-century literature, one wonders who was reading these novels, and what people's private reactions to them were. The question will probably never be answered definitively. Soviet culture of the 1930s and 1940s required no reader surveys or market research: its ideology was both dogmatic and self-reinforcing. Critical reception was simply another branch of official ideology; it expressed views identical, or nearly identical, with those evident in the texts in any case. It is fair enough to suppose, however, that these texts seemed an irritating and even (p.253) disgusting irrelevance to some readers who had an idea of the realities of the Terror. But for many others they probably functioned as an uplifting or consoling vision of a socialist Utopia just round the corner, or as a wish-fulfilling fantasy of a normal, decent life without stress or hardship, a vital counterbalance to the exigencies of actuality.60

And whilst historical accuracy requires that we have an adequate sense of the coercive processes which propelled the Socialist Realist novel to centre stage, it equally demands that we should also not overlook Socialist Realism's links with the traditions of women's writing. In terms of these traditions, much 1920s women's fiction had been in some senses aberrant. Though the ‘class war’ narratives did draw on traditions worked out in the 1890s and 1900s, many of them had overtones of an misogyny more overt and extreme than any evident in women's writing of earlier generations. Given that many texts by male writers of the day expressed a similar, or greater, hostility to women, the obsequious gallantries of the 1930s and 1940s may well have come as something of a relief to women writers and readers. As Vera Panova writes in her memoirs, the resurrection of ‘bourgeois’ family relations had been welcomed by some women, now tired of the tyranny of the silly young men who had branded, say, terms of endearment as ideologically unsound.61 And in her memoirs, Olga Berggolts recorded the inevitable slow erosion of the orderly communes set up in the early Soviet years by the consequences of human nesting:

We were a group of young (very young!) engineers and workers who'd set up [our commune] at the very beginning of the 1930s, pooling our state rations as supplies. It was all part of an all-out fight against the ‘Old domestic order’ (i.e. cooking and nappies). So not one single flat had anywhere you could prepare food, let alone a kitchen. There weren't even lobbies where you could hang clothes—the cloakroom was communal too, and on the same floor, as you came in, was a communal nursery and a communal playroom; we'd decided that all our time should be spent communally. There was to be no individualism …. But not very much later, a couple of years at most, when rationing had come to an end and we had grown up a bit, we discovered that we had rushed into things and made our domestic life so communal that there was no retreat, except for the window-sills. And it was there that the first backsliders started cooking their own private meals.62

Whilst the Socialist Realist novel hardly reflected the slow creeping of (p.254) human disorder that Berggolts describes, its roots may have lain in a similar nostalgia for old-fashioned domesticity. The mid-1930s saw a myth of a woman who was either entirely committed to public life, or else the rightful victim of a proletarian hero, replaced by a sentimentally coloured vision of a woman ‘self-confident in the manner of a woman revolutionary and yet full of feminine gentleness’, as a prophetic phrase from Karavaeva's The Saw Mill had put it (p. 326). There were certainly more people who celebrated the arrival of the latter than who mourned the departure of the former.

But if some of Socialist Realism's roots lay in a response to the repressive habits of thought prevalent in the 1920s, that did not make it less repressive itself. The only stage at which a brief breathing-space from compulsory celebration of static female heroism was allowed was the Second World War. Then, the authors of the ‘home front’, such as the women poets of the Leningrad Blockade, Olga Berggolts and Vera Inber, could write of a world where ‘exceeding one's norm’ meant simply spending the next few days alive:

  • A day like any other,
  • A friend of mine came round.
  • She said to me, dry-eyed,
  • Her only love was buried yesterday.
  • And she and I sat silent till first light.
  • What words could I say.
  • I am a Leningrad widow too.
  • We ate the bread,
  • our ration for the day,
  • (p.255) Sat wrapped together in one scarf.
  • Silent, silent was the town,
  • The only sound a labouring metronome.
The wartime relaxation of the Party line was not the only unpredictable ideological softening that occurred from time to time, even in the high days of Stalinism; but it was the most notable of these.64 Such respites aside, women writers hostile to Socialist Realism could only keep writing without the slightest hope of being published in the foreseeable future, if they did not cease writing altogether. But such cases belong in the second part of this survey.


As well as the writers domiciled in the Soviet Union who shunned what might be termed ‘totalitarian literature’, the group that I term ‘outsider writers’ includes the many writers who actually lived in emigration, outside the borders of Russia. Though political exile was nothing new for Russian writers, including women writers (Zinaida Volkonskaya having been one notable pre-Revolutionary example), the Bolshevik Revolution initiated a diaspora whose scale, accelerated by the final defeat of the White Russian forces in 1921, and the end of the Russian Civil War, rapidly exceeded anything seen before in Russian history. Amongst such émigrés proper, as amongst the ‘internal émigrés’ of Soviet life, women were well represented. Those who took up residence outside their homeland included some of the best-known women writers of pre-Revolutionary Russia, such as Marina Tsvetaeva, Zinaida Gippius, Lyubov Stolitsa, Nadezhda Teffi, and Elizaveta Kuzmina-Kara-vaeva (who was now known as Elizaveta Skobtsova, the surname of her second husband, and who was to adopt the religious name Mother Mariya when she became an Orthodox nun in 1932). All these writers continued to produce work after leaving Russia, a good deal of which was of a quality to belie the received opinion (subscribed to by many Soviet Russians) that writers cannot create when separated from their native land. After 1930 these writers were joined by a new, younger, generation, none of whom had published in Russia itself: notable female members of this included Anna Prismanova, Vera Bulich, Raisa Blokh, Ekaterina Bakunina, Nadezhda Gorodetskaya, and Alia Golovina. Within the Soviet Union, the poets and writers of the other, internal, (p.256) emigration included established figures such as Anna Akhmatova, Adelaida Gertsyk, Anna Barkova, and Sofiya Parnok, besides younger or less prominent writers such as Mariya Shkapskaya, Vera Merkureva, and Lidiya Chukovskaya.65

Both internal and external émigrés had put themselves beyond the bounds of the explicit constraints suffered by those who wrote for official publication in the Soviet Union, at any rate after 1925, when attitudes began to harden, and the Soviet establishment, having previously taken a line that might be summed up as ‘whoever is not against us is with us’ began increasingly to work according to the principle, ‘whoever is not with us is against us’. Outside the Soviet Union, the mechanics of publication were not subject to overt legal control. In every city where émigrés settled (Paris, Berlin, London, Prague, Belgrade, Warsaw, Riga, Tallinn, Helsinki, Harbin, and even Buenos Aires) there was a range of publishing houses, and of journals publishing and reviewing poetry and fiction. All gave space to large numbers of women writers (not to speak of the occasional man writing under a female pseudonym). Economic constraints (the Russian readership for serious literature was not enormous) meant that placing collections might be more difficult, but there was always the possibility of publishing and distributing these privately. This was a method adopted by several women poets, as well as some men. In the 1920s some internal émigrés, too, placed their work abroad; thereafter, opportunities to publish were limited to the circulation of material in manuscript, or through the oral rather than the written medium (which were methods that were so dangerous as to be a rarity). Examples of texts that were circulated in this way, by being read aloud or recited, include the stories of Lidiya Chukovskaya, Akhmatova's poems on the Terror (later to be grouped in the cycle Requiem), and certain of the poems which Olga Berggolts wrote following her arrest in 1937.66

(p.257) Literary Russians abroad were acutely sensitive to cultural events in their homeland; a certain, if necessarily limited, awareness of life in the emigration was also evident amongst at least some writers at home. But at least as important as direct contact in connecting the two groups was their shared alienation from Bolshevik, and later from Stalinist, cultural policy. Both in and outside the Soviet Union, reactions inspired by this alienation might take two directions. On the one hand, the apparent disintegration of pre-Revolutionary Russian cultural tradition provoked the development of new and more genuinely modernist literary ideologies; but Russian émigrés’ sense of loss also provoked, on the other hand, attempts to recover or salvage the threatened past via a consolidation of pre-Revolutionary nationalist values, and a further entrenchment of a neo-Romantic emphasis on the sacred function of art and the hieratic role of the writer.

The second of these two directions, whilst apparently conservative, was in fact quite innovative, since it required the construction of an alternative, non-Bolshevik, myth of national identity, a myth which very often had religio-mystical overtones.67 Like Soviet ideology, this anti-Soviet ideology was based on a centre-periphery dichotomy, with the centre dominated by myths that were invariably gendered as masculine. Governing constructs for the poet as the true voice of Russia and the people were the prophet and the martyr, in the latter case often with allusions to the Passion of Christ. The support and legitimation for this new national-populist ideology was a literary canon of great writers: Blok, Tyutchev, Dostoevsky, and above all Pushkin. Women were not ignored within the national-populist trend in the non-Soviet literary tradition. But they were subordinated within it: as the male worker hero had a female worker consort, so the male martyr or Messiah was paired with or accompanied by persistent metaphors or female mourners or suffering mothers, who stood both for the collective identity of Russian women, and for the Russian motherland as a whole.

Where women's writing was considered the vehicle of individual, rather than collective, insights, another set of equally restrictive assumptions came into play, which were the more powerful for never being questioned or analysed. No doubt because the central vehicle of émigrés criticism was a literary essay whose aesthetic perspective had been heavily influenced by Acmeism, ‘feminine writing’ was understood to be (p.258) characterized by subtlety in the presentation of suitably restrained feeling, by verbal fastidiousness and elegance. In other words, it was a tradition which compensated for narrowness of view and stylistic resource by a perfection equally microscopic. Glorification of this traditional ‘femininity’ increased in proportion to what was seen as its denigration in the Soviet Union; typical was a review of a Soviet art exhibition deriding the portraits of women workers as the representations of ‘sexless robots’.68

These circumstances suggest that the assertion of one recent critic, who has declared that Russian women émigrés writers enjoyed conditions of ‘absolute freedom’, might well be a mite naïve.69 And in fact the restrictive character of émigrés national-populism was enhanced by its cultural dominance. It is true that émigrés writers living in the West were naturally brought into contact with the international modernist movement, and this had profound effects on certain individuals, notably Vladimir Nabokov and Ilya Zdanevich amongst prose writers, Anatoly Shteiger and Boris Poplavsky amongst poets. But by and large the central characteristics of the international modernist movement (among which one might name cultural eclecticism, questioning of what is signified by identity, and interrogation of the notion that literary texts have a single definite and definable meaning) did not develop amongst either émigrés writers or amongst émigrés poets.70

How were these various possibilities represented amongst women writers? Perhaps surprisingly, given the proscriptions just mentioned, the most characteristic directions were ‘feminine prose’ and ‘feminine poetry’ in the rather traditional sense in which émigrés critics understood those terms: the celebration of reticence, modesty, beauty, and frailty. So far as large numbers of women writers were concerned, this tradition was in fact coloured by, and on occasion even fused with, national populism; the most important way in which women writers attempted to rival the (p.259) myth of the martyred male poet was by associating themselves with the traditionally ‘feminine’ role of suffering motherhood, and hence stressing their connection with, and intimate understanding of, the sorrows of Russia. Modernism as such was no commoner amongst women writers than amongst men: though a post-Symbolist multiplicity of different poetic doubles was often in evidence, the majority of women poets and writers were chary of investigating identity in the sense of openly questioning preconceived notions about gender. A more characteristic direction amongst women poets is one which might be described as ‘accidental modernism’. In some cases, the attempt to use an alternative national-populist mask for the poet, and speak in the feminine voice, could set up a hiatus between what was expected of women writers as women on the one hand, what was expected from writers aspiring to the national-populist tradition on the other. This hiatus, though not always fully recognized, could make certain religious and mystical works subversive in effect, if not in intention: the attempt to speak as a feminine figure of authority satisfied the expectation that biological women should write in the feminine voice, yet it also marked a departure from what convention deemed acceptable for that feminine voice.

I intend to survey these various directions and possibilities in turn, and shall begin by looking in detail at ‘feminine poetry and prose’, since this is by far the best represented, and most popular, strand in ‘outsider’ tradition.

Much ‘feminine verse’ written by ‘outsiders’ was characterized by imitation of the paradigms set up in Akhmatova's early collections, Evening and The Rosary. A similarly distraite heroine finds herself in a similar urban setting; the tone is, with depressing regularity, submissively haughty or haughtily submissive. Few such women poets would have taken issue with Berberova's jingle in declaration of female emotional power:

  • Call her Laura, call her Juliet,
  • Or call her Helen: what's in a name?
  • There's no life without love. We all dream,
  • Love never skipped a person yet.71
Another standard motif, again in the Akhmatovian tradition, was that of (p.260) religious repentance for erotic misdemeanour; poems of this kind place the woman speaker or protagonist in a more or less sharply defined ecclesiastical setting, and examine her sensibilities as the ritual unfolds. However, if the manner of émigrés women poets is Akhmatovian, their declared literary references are less frequently to this female predecessor than to the heroines celebrated by male poets, and most especially to Pushkin's Tatiana. Even more than before the Revolution, the celebration of heterosexual involvement as a governing theme entailed the representation of other women only as sexual rivals, and the association of the lyric heroine with a restricted range of subject positions. Motherhood in the individual sense is, for example, an acceptable subject only where it, too, may be integrated with (or subordinated to) the sentiments felt by woman for man. One topos is the heroine who laments the fact that she is a ‘bad mother’ because some illegitimate erotic entanglement is distracting her from her child.72

Like the ‘feminine’ tradition of poetry, the ‘feminine’ tradition of realist prose attracted large numbers of women. There are large numbers of texts dealing with the psychological dilemmas of ordinary lives, especially women's lives. These in many senses perpetuate the traditions of the 1890s and 1900s; the escape plot has vanished, leaving as the central narrative form a melancholy tale of failure, in which domestic minutiae symbolize not only the entrapment of women as women, but also the distress and alienation suffered by Russians come down in the world since their departure from home. One exponent of this genre was the prolific and widely-published author of short stories, Aleksandra Damanskaya.73 Another, more interesting, moulder of such material was Teffi, whose witty and ironic pre-Revolutionary sketches continued to be published in many editions, but who was now, in her new work, taking as her heroes the distressed gentlefolk of émigrés life, and giving a greater emphasis to her role as moralist in her depiction of their desperate predicament.74

(p.261) It was not only Russians abroad who practised the genre of ‘feminine prose’. Perhaps the most impressive examples of this tradition are Lidiya Chukovskaya's two short novels Sofya Fetrovna (1937) and Going Under (1949).75 Both are narrated from the viewpoint of a woman; both are linear narratives dealing not with ‘a day in the life of, but with a few months in the lives of, their heroines. The heroine of the first story is presented to us in third-person indirect narrative; she is an ordinary Soviet woman, whose comfortable, conformist life is shattered when her model Young Communist son is arrested on a charge of industrial sabotage. The reader versed in Russian nineteenth-century literature recognizes this woman immediately as a representative of the complacent meshchanstvo and poshlost’ (petit bourgeois, philistine vulgarity) so often satirized there. The achievement of Chukovskaya's minutely detailed narrative is to turn this unpromising character into a figure of near tragedy, as she finds her own fiction to counteract the monstrous fictions of the system.

Chukovskaya's second novel, Going Under, deals with the second wave of purges, those of the late 1940s, and with their aftermath, but here in terms of intelligentsia life. Once again a woman is the central character. But she is presented more directly, by means of a first-person narrative, and as a woman with an informed intellectual outlook she can be identified more immediately with Chukovskaya than can Sofya Petrovna. The story is Tolstoyan in its concern for truth and sincerity, opposing the plainly expressed views of this decent, morally upright woman to the labyrinthine sophistries and linguistic contortions set up by official cliché.

To achieve its assigned task and lay bare the reality behind Stalinist rhetoric, Chukovskaya's narrative must be absolutely unambiguous. Like the Socialist Realist dogmaticians (though with quite different results), she sets herself the task of ‘reflecting Soviet reality’. This task is to be achieved by means of plain language and the description of one special area of actual Soviet life: the suffering of women whose menfolk have been taken away. Only one alternative form of literary discourse is recognized: official myth; and this appears only in order that it may be debunked. Going Under contains the following vicious, and accurate, parody of a 1940s novel's identikit plot:

Victory over the Fascists has led to an upsurge of unprecedented zeal for work. Peter the coal-face-worker is back from the front to join his wife Fedosya. Fedosya used to work the pit lift, but during the war she, like the millions of (p.262) other Soviet women on whom the economy depended, has developed both professionally and ideologically. […] Whilst Peter was away at the war she went out to work, cared for the children and studied to be an engineer. Now she is battling to get advanced technology installed … (p. 209)

So far, so like Nikolaeva's Harvest or Karavaeva's The Motherland. And the rest of Chukovskaya's parody novel proceeds exactly like its real prototypes: naturally, the marital conflict precipitated by female enlightenment and male backwardness is resolved on the initiative of the Party representative and all live happily ever after.

Building on her original dualism, that between ‘myth’ and ‘reality’, Chukovskaya predicates a secondary and absolute division between the world of official language and lies, controlled by men, and the world of private language and truth, controlled by women. This binary opposition is etched in a number of memorable scenes in both stories. In Sofya Petrovna, monstrously ugly men sit behind desks receiving the female victims of the purges; in Going Under the narrator lies in her therapeutic pine-scented bath, listening to two complacent male authors discussing the success which their conformity has brought them. If the positive female characters, like their Socialist Realist counterparts, are observers and moral regulators, their negative counterparts are venial sinners: petty informers, self-deceiving conformists, and painted wives. Women are numbered neither amongst the executives of the purges, nor amongst the major beneficiaries of Stalinist largesse, which is fair enough, but the exact degree of their complicity with the system is never made clear.

The schematism of Chukovskaya's novel is as marked as is that of official writing: for both, women necessarily take a secondary place, passive before male authority. But the anti-heroic character of Chukovskaya's stories allows her more flexibility of representation than Socialist Realists had at their disposal. She presents a detailed counter-image to the official celebrations of women's lives: here we see women struggling to combine wide-ranging family responsibilities with full-time employment, and to maintain their dignity despite the daily humiliations of life in a communal flat. Her purpose is to delineate the effects of Soviet power structures on women, rather than to analyse the degree of their involvement in the system as a sex; but the delineation is sharply and vividly achieved, and Chukovskaya's prose style has a honed laconicism rather than the lumpish, building-brick simplicity of the Socialist Realist giants.

How insidious conventional notions of the feminine were can be appreciated not only from this overview of texts intended for the public eye, but also from private statements such as letters and journals. An example is Olga Berggolts's recently published private diaries, kept (p.263) during the Blockade.76 On the one hand these are powerfully atmospheric accounts, not only of the physical privations of civilian life during wartime, but of its psychological deprivations, above all the overwhelming boredom of waiting for something to happen. On the other hand they are documents which present a person whose obsession with her own saccharine femininity grates on the reader. Consider, for example, the following account of Berggolts's flirtation with Georgy Makogonenko, who was later to become her lover:

He's very attentive, but it's precisely that attentiveness which is getting me down. It seems he feels no attraction for me as a woman, but he can see what I feel about him and he thinks he can do what he likes, he has only to stretch out a hand and I'll fall to pieces like a nonentity. Incidentally, he's quite right, but I want to show him that I don't depend on him, that I'm totally indifferent to him in a certain regard …. The future reader of my diaries will feel disgust at this point: the heroic defence of Leningrad is in full swing and all she can find to think and write about is how soon a man will make a declaration of love to her or something like that.77

Elsewhere Berggolts wears a mask of sexual coyness which is rather different. In a passage whose bathos is monumental in the most literal sense of the word, she recollects the moment when she said farewell to her husband before his departure for the army:

He was naked and I kissed him, kneeling before him, his feet, his knees, his thighs, all over his glorious, cool body, which might even tomorrow be mutilated or cut to pieces. But now it was beautiful, young and full of strength.

I kissed his thighs, his belly, his shoulders, raising my lips gradually from his knees, and he stood immobile, without embarrassment, because he understood that these were not the kisses of a wife and lover, but the kisses of a woman sending her man into battle (as all women kiss all men going into battle).

I got up and we kissed each other on the lips long and deep. No, we did not desire each other, neither I him nor he me. For this was not the farewell of lovers; it was the farewell of those going into War.78

One does not need to know that in actual fact Berggolts's husband was a middle-aged intellectual, and also seriously ill, to find his transformation into a neo-classical statue of Mars for this patriotic effusion absurd and even distasteful. Even in private, war could not be represented as something that might lead to disillusion with the idea of manly men and womanly women, or to a sense of internal division in individuals; no Russian woman prose writer, either during or after the war, was to (p.264) produce anything remotely comparable to Elizabeth Bowen's novel of wartime paranoia and betrayal, The Heat of the Day (1948).79

The traditions of ‘feminine writing’ as just described were so potent that they often infused themselves into national-populist writing too. The frail victim, the principled non-combatant and the nineteenth-century ideal beloved are all masks which women adopted in order to confer the right upon themselves to speak for the nation or the collective. The way in which women spoke for the collective was intimately connected with the ways in which they might speak as individuals. Olga Berggolts's lyrics written from prison, for example, draw on the tradition of the popular love-song: the incarcerated heroine is both tormented and sustained by the thought of her ‘beloved’ outside the gaol, and dreams of communicating with him. The motif of worship as a comfort in anguish is also evoked (though here without erotic links): the Mother of God's own ‘way to Cavalry’ is a model for that of Berggolts's speaker.80

Very similar patterns are woven into the most famous commemoration of ‘outsider’ national populism, Akhmatova's Requiem.81 But Akhmatova's approach is in various ways more complex than Berggolts's. This complexity is evident compositionally, to begin with: the series of episodes in Requiem is ordered into a narrative which, though not sequential, displays a high degree of symmetrical internal organization.82 In terms of its frame of reference, too, Requiem is more sophisticated than Berggolts's work: like the latter, it draws on the love-song of post-eighteenth-century Westernized folk tradition. But it also directly refers to Western religious culture (as the title suggests), thus creating a nationalism of more than national roots, a populism above the narrow patriotism of Stalinism, with its triumphalist hymns to a heroic Motherland decked in pseudo-folkloric habiliments. However, Akhmatova's text itself distances and mystifies maternity. The text is apophatic: maternity is termed ‘indescribable’, rather than described, its importance conveyed by silence:

  •                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
  • (p. 78)
  • (p.265) No one dared look
  • At the Mother, standing silent …
A visual act of turning away parallels a verbal act of turning away: what cannot be seen is also in a quite fundamental sense what is unsayable.

Akhmatova's representation of the maternal recalls ‘feminine’ conventions both in terms of its abstraction, and because the relation between mother and grown son, as here invoked, in a sense replicates, rather than intruding on, the preferred relation between male and female lovers. By contrast, the poet Mariya Shkapskaya drew on the Russian popular tradition of filial veneration for the earth (‘mother damp earth’) in order to achieve representations of maternity which were both intenser and more physical. In the penultimate poem of her 1921 collection, Mater Dolorosa, the relation between earth and living beings parallels that between infant children and the mother's body. The earth appears as the object of everyone's tactile desire:

  • O, how parched lips everywhere
  • Long for the life you give, ancient one.
The earth ‘feeds one and all with one life-giving | Dew’; and finally, in death, will take them into its ‘silent lap’.

Shkapskaya's poetry also breaks down any simplistic opposition between ‘individual’ and ‘collective’ voices; her work draws on maternity as cultural totem, but at the same time shows how women's voices can speak of maternity in quite diverse ways: as mothers and of their own mothers, as those who nurture and those who seek protection. A remarkable example of her ability to interweave the symbolic and the everyday aspects of motherhood is the long poem ‘No Dream’. The piece is a dramatic narrative depicting an atrocity of the Civil War, but for once this is an atrocity which men perpetrate on a man, not a woman (an officer is hanged in public). The man's wife stands with his two children and watches in the classic mourner pose; but this embodiment of maternity is not easily attractive and reassuring:

  •                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
  • (p.266)                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)84
  • (p. 89)
  • So there she stood under the old acacia,
  • Still,
  • Silent.
  • But her lips were white,
  • Bloodless,
  • And the babe didn't pull at the empty breast.
And this woman, like Hecuba or Clytemnaestra, is not simply a victim: although all she can do is stand and watch, she calls on her children to take vengeance, and utters a challenge to God:
  •                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
  • (p. 91)
  • ‘Remember it all,
  • You hear me—remember.
  • Let this, your father's Passion,
  • be laid on your life, your memory,
  • heavy as a stone slab.’
  • . . . . . . 
  • She whispered, soft in his ear,
  • her eyes staring out.
  • God's powers may not do it,
  • Human powers can do it,
  • The terrible powers of man.
  • (p.267) See those, and those,
  • And those yet again—
  • We shall not forgive them,
  • We shall not forget them.

Shkapskaya's poem, like Requiem, sets up parallels between this political execution and the Crucifixion (the hanged man is suspended for ‘three days’, and the ‘slab’ standing for the children's duty of revenge recalls the stone laid on the sarcophagus in the Gospel accounts of Christ's entombment). But at the end of the piece, the rule of religion, like the ‘terrible powers of man’ is challenged: the most precious icons of Russia come out of the church and lie in the grass at the feet of the gallows, and the crosses on the church fall to the ground, as the woman has commanded that they should; the miracle inspired by vengeance has subordinated the power of the ‘miraculous’ itself.

The collage-like structure of Shkapskaya's poem, with its snatches of popular song, fragments of demotic speech, and political slogans, recalls the compositional pattern of Blok's The Twelve. As in Blok's poem, stretches of dialogue alternate with sections of third-person descriptive narrative; the narrative is more or less undifferentiated, in stylistic terms, from the dialogue, and perspective shifts constantly. As in Blok's text, too, populist material is used, not to support a monolithic alternative myth of nationalism, but to subvert ordinary perceptions of the ‘people’ and of ‘Russia’, replacing these with ambivalent and uncertain entities. ‘No Dream’ has taken us from national populism towards modernism. But Shkapskaya's poem differs from Blok's in its overtly choric and dramatic qualities. Rather than following a protagonist or a central group, she examines the relationship between the actors in the tragedy and the onlookers, showing how events and the perception of events are created collectively, and not only by men, but also by women.

Shkapskaya's elision of any controlling voice of individual authorship evades the tricky question of how that voice should be gendered. A rather similar process can be observed in her Tsa tsa tsa (1923), a collection of seven tiny pieces in rhythmic prose.85 These cover a variety of subjects: some are stories of love, some philosophical reflections which draw moral conclusions from observations of detail. The title refers to the third piece: here the typical 1920s view of art as product is untypically presented through a portrait of a female producer. The tale describes a woman spinning silk, whose work of art, once finished, will be worn by a rich woman, who has never seen the garment's weaver, as the garment's weaver will never see her.

The narratives are preceded by a foreword which gives them an (p.268) invented history. Linguistic and cultural blurring are equated with gender blurring, and various types of possession (of artefacts, of tradition, and sexual possession) are blended:

She was Russian, he Chinese.

They both lived in Paris, and their Russo-Chinese relations were carried on in French dialect.

He knew about Russian snow and polar bears, she drank China tea and collected buddhas.

Neither of them could return home, and so, grieving, she told him Russian fairy-tales; he recited Chinese poetry.

If you want to know what he remembers from those Russian fairy-stories, ask him yourself; but what she remembers of Chinese poetry is recorded here, (p. 125)

Another poet who composed innovative prose texts, but to quite different effect, was Anna Prismanova, who lived and worked in Paris. Her short story On Guard and on Town Gardens’, which probably dates from the mid-1930s, introduces the reader to the comically prosaic life of Amalia Sontag, a German music-teacher living in a small Baltic city.86 Then follows a disclaimer of authorial responsibility:

When heroes fall into the hands of an author with a vivid imagination, he leads them by the nose and arranges a complicated fate for them, full of love-affairs and other things of that kind. But woe betide the heroine who finds herself in the hands of an author with no imagination at all. Instead of leading her in a direction where something interesting might happen, he passively follows her, only describing what really does happen, (p. 192)

Thus the reader is led to believe that Amalia will dictate circumstances, and indeed she at first seems to. The tale follows her through the ‘modest decency’ of her life: visiting the sick (a nephew in the insane asylum), a brief encounter with the piano tuner who is too shy to confess his admiration. This chronicle of tedious uprightness is summed up in the penultimate sentence, in which we are told that no one in the town could ‘cast a stone into her garden’ (i.e. cast aspersions on her virtue). But this triumphantly bathetic conclusion reached, the final sentence switches direction completely. Author and heroine, it transpires, have been in league to deceive the reader about Amalia's activities: ‘However, the stocky market-gardener who lived next door to Fraulein Sontag would often throw a few stones into her garden, as a signal for one of their not infrequent assignations. And at such times one could certainly not have (p.269) said that Fräulein Sontag was on her guard.’ The narrator's sincerity proves to be as double-edged as the heroine's virtue.

But the only way in which Prismanova can execute these subtle manoeuvres is to fade the authorial function into the background, making it seem simply a device; and the only manner in which she can do this is to use the ‘neutral’ (i.e. masculine) form of the noun and pronoun (‘he leads them by the nose … he follows them’). The use of a masculine author figure to indicate that an abstract debate on literariness is to be initiated was general practice in the Russian emigration, as it had been in official Soviet writing of the 1920s and 1930s. Where feminine narrators are used, the effect is to mark the text in rather a different way: to suggest a fallibility which has more to do with conventional views of female irrationality than with an assault on the omniscient narrator of high realism.

In this respect, there is an instructive contrast between two stories in Nina Berberova's 1948 collection, Making Things Easier, ‘The Accompanist’ and ‘Roccanvale’.87 The first story is narrated by two women, and is a ‘frame’ narrative in the manner of the 1830s: the manuscript which makes up the bulk of the story has been discovered in a second-hand shop in Paris along with a ‘lamp which was still in fairly good working order’ and other trivia, ‘everything that is left behind when a woman dies’. The narrator of this manuscript, the story proper, is the ‘Accompanist’ of the title, a naïve young woman perpetually in the shadow of her employer, a singer whose seductive egotism makes the reader think of Chekhov's Madame Arkadina in The Seagull. The story hinges on a melodramatic peripeteia. The singer's perfect marriage proves unexpectedly vulnerable: her husband learns that his wife's ex-lover has returned to Paris, and shoots himself. All ambiguity in the story rests on the ‘untrustworthy’ narrator's simplistic misreading of her employer's marriage, and the fact that she undervalues this plain man's feeling for his wife. Though the frame narrative structure gives this story some connections with the manner of Zhukova or Gan, Berberova does not exploit these: there is no sense of parody, nor even overt intertextuality, in this well-crafted, but plain and conventional narrative of shipwrecked lives.

‘Roccanvale’, by contrast, has a male narrator, and is more adventurous in precisely the senses of parody and intertextuality. The narrator dabbles in poetry and is an active reader. He is a summer visitor to a French château; he himself recognizes that his experiences of living at (p.270) Roccanvale, and of its gallery of eccentrics, are filtered by reading. Though he has no direct memories of Russia, he ‘remembers’ this place:

All the same, one day, reading Tolstoy or Turgenev—or maybe even Chekhov, because it was Russian books above all that my mother taught me to love—reading the description of some fairy-tale country house, I suddenly imagined—at first only in the most general outlines—that drive going up to the house, to the Empire style balcony, to the low jasmines, (p. 126)

The literary nature of his perceptions is the source of anxiety, too: the parasitic flavour of his observations and reminiscences is repeatedly stressed. His emotional attachment to Kira, the granddaughter of the house, proves illusory: when she is called away by her father, her departure leaves both parties indifferent. At the end of the story all the other characters have left, and the narrator is alone. But then another daughter of the house arrives, pregnant and in distress. Her appearance, however, excites idle curiosity rather than fellow-feeling in the narrator, and he remains an impassive recorder of her suffering.

‘Rocanvalle’, the most intelligently constructed and least melodramatic of Berberova's major stories, deals directly with the problem of who controls reminiscence, and of what that reminiscence may be worth when its controller is so obviously fallible. Unlike ‘The Accompanist’, this is no character study, but a neutral debate on textuality and ethics; as such it requires a ‘neutral’ narrator: that is, a male one.

Like their Soviet counterparts, women prose writers of the emigration in any case generally passed over self-consciousness in the form of literary introspection, and favoured other modes of introspection. Here, too, discourses of interiority now acquired a much greater significance. But the dominance of an easy and simplistic polarization between ‘there’ (which is to say, Russia) and ‘here’ (in the West) led to a certain standardization. The classic impressionistic émigré prose narrative is one in which a female drifter recalls her helpless progress through different stages of the historical cataclysm in terms of separation from a man (or men) with whom she has been involved; her only sense of stability is in her exact recollection of physical sensations.88 No émigré writer was to produce anything as imaginative, in gender terms, as the fictional trilogy by Sergei Gedroits which was analysed in detail above.

Nor was the fact that a far greater degree of sexual explicitness was possible in émigré writing much reflected in women's prose, with the notable exceptions of two novels published in the mid-1930s by the Paris (p.271) writer and poet Ekaterina Bakunina, The Body (1933) and Love for Six (1934).89 The relish with which these two texts, both narrated by women, dwelt on anatomical details was to cause something of a scandal in the émigré press. Zinaida Gippius, reviewing Love for Six, asserted that these were particular instances which demonstrated a general rule. ‘The feminine’, she censoriously observed, ‘can only remain the feminine so long as it keeps silent; as soon as it begins to speak, it becomes the prattle of a strumpet.’90 Little as one would wish to endorse Gippius's comment as a generally applicable philosophical truth, her disapproval does illuminate the problems faced by Russian women in finding an appropriate language to describe sexual matters. And Bakunina's books, though they certainly are unusually frank pieces of writing, are also exceptionally silly ones. Of the two novels, much the stronger is The Body, which is so short and intense that it has something of the flavour of a spoken monologue, and which conveys quite powerfully the frustrations of the narrator's failed marriage, and the pleasures of her later adultery. But the central male character, an Englishman with whom the heroine eventually achieves a two-page orgasm in a rowing boat, is the sort of faceless male inflatable doll or walking dildo that peoples the pages of Anaïs Nin, equipped with a mighty organ, but little else. If The Body is at least a true piece of erotica in its overheated banality, Love for Six is both more pretentious and more vacuous. This much longer novel purports to be a letter addressed by the heroine to her lover describing a day spent whilst her family (the other ‘five’ making up the ‘six’ of the title) are absent in the country. In a device which panders to the expected voyeurism of a male reader, rather than ensuring verisimilitude, Bakunina requires us to believe that a woman who sees her lover almost every day would bother to set down a complete record of their relationship in flashback, and to remind him of how often, and in what position, they have engaged in sexual intercourse. We are also expected to derive enlightenment from the narrator's endless details of what she does minute by minute, right down to her morning session of onanism and her defecation according to the Kellogg system. This revelatory logorrhea is occasionally interrupted by painfully funny and embarrassing excursions into a sub-Rozanovian sexual mysticism (‘for monks and nuns, Jesus and Mary are the equivalent of the penis and the clitoris’, and so on and on).

All in all, the ‘alternative’ Russian prose tradition in fact all too often proved to offer women no real alternative at all. The result was that a (p.272) number of émigré women writers made their way into French literature, which offered them rather more expansive and congenial conditions. Nadezhda Gorodetskaya and Elsa Triolet were two writers who made this transition, and who produced more original and more substantial work in their new language. In a series of striking and often bizarre episodes, Gorodetskaya's novel The Children in Exile (1936) narrates the intersecting lives of young second-generation émigré, for whom Russia is identified either with the abstract ideals of socialism, or else the curious and eccentric preoccupations of their elders.91 Triolet, a much better-known and more prolific writer, was to become a central figure in French literary culture. Among her many successful later writings were four stories collected as A Fine of Two Hundred Francs (1945), two of which, ‘The Lovers of Avignon’ and ‘The Notebooks’ display her capacity for a sharp observation of incidental detail and for a luminous depiction of eddying thought which go well beyond those evident in the thematically rather similar traditions of Russian émigré prose.92

In general, then, émigré women writers did not succeed in establishing narrative patterns which at once allowed the representation of femininity at first hand, and were explicitly modernist in form. Their strategies were, rather, to oppose a conventional femininity to an unconventional masculinity, or to sideline the dispute between masculine and feminine, either by adopting a ‘neutral’ narrative voice (and ‘neutral’ in practice, as I have noted, meant ‘masculine’), or by eliding the concept of individual authorship.

Even in the traditionally more personal genre of the lyric, those women poets who gravitated to modernism often adopted an ungendered voice, as if sensing an incompatibility between analytic self-consciousness and the feminine gender. Galina Kuznetsova, Sofiya Pregel, and Raisa Blokh are examples of women poets who adopt a feminine voice in the portrayal of an alienated speaker in a concrete urban or suburban setting, but who express philosophical speculation on identity itself without alluding to gender, often using the present rather than the past tense, or employing impersonal constructions so as to displace the subject.93 Each (p.273) of these poets had her own, distinctive voice: Blokh was a melancholic, neo-classical ‘Petersburg’ poet, whilst Kuznetsova employed innovative stanza forms to depict stereotypically picturesque Mediterranean scenes; Pregel was concerned, especially in her early work, with the perceivable and tangible characteristics of the external world (which unusually here include charcuterie and butchers’ meat, as well as flowers and dresses) rather than with shifting interior sensibilities. Collectively, however, their work represents an identifiably ‘feminine’ direction within émigré poetry.

One way in which the conflict between ‘the feminine’ and ‘the analytical’ might be avoided, and questions of identity synthesized with questions of gender, was through the post-Symbolist method of representation according to which an obviously mythical persona was appropriated to the discussion of artistic practice and status. Amongst poets who chose to appropriate such personae, there was a preference for figures already familiar from pre-Revolutionary Russian Symbolist poetry by men. Masks drawn from the classical tradition, or evoking the street entertainers of cities, now began to make their way into women's writing. Following Vyacheslav Ivanov, women poets wrote of the Sibyls; following Blok, Khodasevich, and Sologub, they decorated their work with gypsies, cabaret singers, street musicians, and circus artistes. If they did not use explicitly feminine personae, women poets might select some traditional masculine construct for the poet, such as Orpheus, and examine it from an explicitly feminine perspective, or else place it alongside an externalized representation of ‘the feminine’ per se.94

Urban popular tradition was preferred by many of the women poets uprooted to the West; mythic treatments of peripatetic and marginal entertainer figures were attractive vehicles for depicting the psychological dislocations and transformations wrought by life abroad. These well-worn poetic constructs were given an explicit gender by allusion to certain key details. Clothing had symbolic importance, for example, since it could suggest an identity adopted, rather than given. Anna Prismanova's ‘soul in heavenly tulle, dancing for too long in tight shoes’ is one striking example of this kind of persona.95 A more sophisticated chain of associations is made in Alia Golovina's collection Swan Roundabout (1935), which uses circus and fairground motifs both as the material of representation and as parallels to the process of representation: (p.274) such motifs are both actual recollections of childhood made manifest in the present, and a metaphor for the selective, aestheticizing manner in which poetry may capture such recollections.96

Often, too, women writers appropriated figures from folklore or popular legend. Alia Golovina, again, reworked the Cinderella motif to suggest a woman's life shipwrecked:

  • In that hall, where sounds sing from the ceiling,
  • Ringing loud as the fresco's paint,
  • Only a bracelet and furs and a necklace
  • Are trusted by the skin of your hand.
  • In that hall, where the silent stepsisters
  • Go invisibly pale by the walls,
  • Solitude, horror, imprisonment,
  • Are clearly explained at last.
  • A senile voice sings in the corridor,
  • A hand has snatched at the bars.
  • ‘Dear prince, I leave a gift for you,
  • My two carpet slippers are yours.’
  • The rats' feet scamper so loudly,
  • The pumpkin hearse thuds along,
  • Who will hear the sorrow, the shot fired
  • Where your grandiose fate belongs?
In Golovina's poem, unaesthetic details such as a ‘senile voice’, the ‘skin of your hand’ undermine the conventional equation between femininity and grace, an equation which is also disrupted by the hideously (p.275) flirtatious tone adopted by the madwoman. But the danger that such decorative motifs might become as tawdry as worn-out theatre costumes, or as twee as china figurines, is not always avoided. They are, perhaps, less successful in lyric poetry than in genres where historical pastiche is an expected element of stylization, and visual spectacle is emphasized. For example, they work well in pieces for the theatre, such as Marina Tsvetaeva's mystery/masque/pantomime The Stone Angel (1919), Sofiya Parnok's opera libretto Gulnara (1929), and the ballet libretti of Vera Bulich.98

Another form of self-consciousness which was much in evidence amongst ‘outsider’ women (a tribute, this time, to the women poets of pre-Revolutionary post-Symbolist tradition rather than to the men) was the use of multiple viewpoint across a collection or cycle. Such diversity of perspective might be constructed in various different ways: by layering literary references, or by using the lyric cycle structure to emphasize the artificialities of composition. If the latter device (used, for example, in Vera Bulich's poetry, to be considered in detail later) often recalls the ‘frame narratives’ of the Romantic era, the former technique is taken to levels of sophistication far beyond those attained in Russian Romanticism. A most striking example is Akhmatova's Poem Without a Hero. As the title suggests, this is not a poema, long poem, in the sense of an epic, or even of a linear narrative. Instead, like Blok's unfinished late poem Retribution, Poem Without a Hero is an exploration of history, biography, and of the lyric biography as genre, through a montage of motifs drawn from the facts of Akhmatova's biography, and from her own lyric poetry. Alongside these motifs are set references to the ‘future’, that is, to the richly detailed perspective offered by hindsight, and to the ‘past’, in other words, to a huge range of literary and cultural parallels collected from Russian and Western tradition; these references are at once parodied, and given a transcendent historical significance. The familiar masks of Symbolist and post-Symbolist poetry veil allusions to friends of Akhmatova's who had died or been removed abroad before the poem was written; but they are also metonyms of a vanished culture, that of the St Petersburg new arts bohemia. Though protesting to Chukovskaya (in the passage cited at the beginning of this chapter) that she was no representative of a historical era, Akhmatova was at the same moment, (p.276) in 1940, composing the drafts of Poem Without a Hero, a text which would turn her into precisely that. The hostility to writing by and for women to which Akhmatova frequently gave vent in her later years here leads her not to ignore convention, but to exploit and undermine it.99

The manipulation of widely accepted and easily recognizable stereotypes or constructs was the preferred means by which émigré women poets addressed the problems of writing poetry as women. Much more unusual was direct confrontation of the implications of modernism in themselves. Few women writers seemed to sense, for example, that the modernist assault on notions of the unified personality might strengthen women's writing by breaking down the sense of emotional division inherent in nineteenth-century views of the ‘feminine’, and especially by assaulting the dichotomy of sensibility and intellect enforced on women since the late eighteenth century. An exception, however, was Anna Prismanova. Many poems in her collection Twins (1946) simply reiterate conventional binary oppositions between emotion and intellect, whose effect is seen to be devastating to their female victim (‘two trees pull me to pieces’).100 But in ‘Granite’, a more unconventional progression takes place: the split between mind and reason creates energy, which itself leads to a further split, from which, in turn, the aestheticizing impulse arises. The poem moves from an idea of the poet as instrument to an idea of the poet as craftsman, from a submissive to a controlling subject. The poet's inner self is repeatedly identified with the stone, but at the same time it is clear that this is no automatic or inevitable identification. In fact, Prismanova's iteration of a connection already established begins to call this connection into question retrospectively. Thus the reader is prepared for the complete change in tone, and the shift in grammatical structure (passive to active), which mark the final stanza, with its sarcastic compliment to an anonymous lover:

  •                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
  • (SS 65)
  • One might suppose that I shall not forget you,
  • but that won't be because I loved you so,
  • (p.277) rather because you chanced to be the fire
  • which I myself employed to hew my soul.
In ‘Liberation’ Prismanova moves in a similar way from a conventional dualism to a relation at once more problematic and more energetic. She sets up an opposition between ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’ language, and, inevitably, places women on the latter side of that dichotomy. But, rather than simply observe this dichotomy, she uses it to achieve the ‘liberation’ of her title: the freeing of women to speech by feeling, and so through self, rather than from self:
  •                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
  • (SS 101–2)
  • A woman will put up her frail defences,
  • admiring her own twists of intellect,
  • but she needs feeling—that is, something simple—
  • to liberate her from herself.
  • The power of feeling is essential for her,
  • that she may forget the impediments of earth,
  • that she may be a path through primal forest,
  • be brought to strength—that she may be, in short!
Prismanova was also one of the very few Russian poets who explicitly acknowledged her affiliation to women's writing in a historical sense. She was directly inspired by the work of Karolina Pavlova, a quotation from whose poetry is used as an epigraph to one of her collections. And in a lyric of 1946, ‘The Brontë Sisters’, she uses Emily and Charlotte (who come out in Russian as ‘Emiliya and Sharlotta’) to symbolize the physical and spiritual dimensions of the feminine. Here again the binary opposition is dissolved, for the third sister, Anne (‘Anna’), is replaced by Prismanova herself. The process of doubling takes the poem in another direction altogether, from philosophical and historical abstraction into real and imaginary autobiography. The elusive figure of the vanished Anne suggests Prismanova's own precarious state, and yet the possibility of that state's resolution:
  •                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
  • (p.278)                       Class War and the Home Front: From the Revolution to the Death of Stalin (1917–1953)
  • (SS 42)
  • Hiding my passions under a frail cover,
  • I too cling to the feather's inky edge;
  • A doctor's daughter, I was once a pastor's,
  • another Brontë sister I once was.
  • Alas for us, our end is our beginning,
  • our joys are bounded by an inner judge;
  • but inspiration, and the taste of suffering,
  • and time will save those whom success eludes.
Through elaborating the myth of the Brontës, Prismanova is able to create her own version of Horace's ‘Exegi monumentum’, a poem which, in Pushkin's imitation, is one of the key texts of Russian poetry.

For other poets working in the generations after the Revolution, contact with modernism could allow questioning of conventional notions of sexuality. We shall see later how the poems of Sofiya Parnok, for example, manipulated tradition in order to liberate depictions of love between women, and forge a genre independent of Romantic stereotypes. But the way in which cultural change might enforce, rather than erode, conservatism is underlined by the fact that, on the whole, interrogation of heterosexuality is less important for the post-Revolutionary generation of poets than it had been in the years just before the Revolution. With the exception of Parnok's lyrics, texts which refer to erotic feeling between women are rare; of those which do exist, a number cast their material in the stereotypes of heterosexual love familiar from the tradition of ‘feminine’ poetry and prose. This is the case, for example, with Marina Tsvetaeva's late story The Tale of Sonechka, detailed commentary on which will follow.101

Because of a general hostility to analysis and self-conscious speculation in the cultural tradition on the one hand, and the tyranny of ‘feminine writing’ on the other, modernism in the Western manner is a relatively insignificant direction in non-Soviet women's writing. But not all non-modernist texts are straightforward or conventional. As mentioned earlier, texts generated in the conflict between two orthodoxies, (p.279) national and feminine, could become modernist by accident. As women strove to find themselves equivalents to the Messianic personae adopted by their male colleagues, they were confronted by the scarcity of such equivalents within Russian tradition, and specifically within Orthodox Christian tradition. Russian Orthodoxy did not have an extensive or well-developed tradition of female spiritual leadership; national models of female heroic sainthood were in rather short supply (the Western warrior saint Joan of Arc has, for example, no Orthodox equivalent), and there was no named tradition of theological or religious writing by women in the Eastern church. As in the Western church, moreover, theological recognition that women were as likely to enjoy salvation as men had not hindered the development of an ecclesiastical hierarchy exclusively composed of men. And so women who wished to allude to an Orthodox heritage of spirituality could only draw either on figures of popular religious authority such as the female holy fool, or on the Virgin Mary in her role as Pokrov, which is to the embodiment of Protection as abstract quality, and wearer of the Protecting Veil as symbol and attribute of her protective powers. Allusions to both these kinds of female authority had adverse reverberations, however. The female holy fool had, historically, inspired as much revulsion as devotion amongst educated believers; the problem with the Protection was, rather, that the more elevated Mary's status was, the less appropriate aspirations to that status on the part of the ordinary Christian were likely to seem.102

Poems by two poets of the post-Revolutionary generation which allude to these religious models indicate the confusions and uncertainties suffered by women poets wishing to write in a literary tradition shaped by Slavophilism and Orthodoxy. Vera Merkureva's poem, ‘The Grandmother of Russian Poetry’ (1918) recognizes the ambiguity of the female holy fool in a series of oxymora; the ‘unnaturalness’ of this role is emphasized by references to ‘barrenness’, and so threatening is the ‘grandmother’ that she must be referred to obliquely in the third person, rather than directly in the first:

  • Fitting her clashing bells to the psalm's sounds
  • She goes on foot to hear the service sung,
  • And wanders to the Zubovo hermitage.
  • But if she says a church is like a circus
  • Then that's the Devil tempting her to sin.
  • . . . . . . . . .
  • She'll gladly put off strict caesura's girdle,
  • And free verse cuts the track of her toboggan,
  • She'll often rhyme you have and halfwit,
  • But since she has no sex or gender,
  • Her no, her not, and half, are barren.
The struggle between contradictory cultural pressures has a resolution that has a strong flavour of self-hatred. Merkureva internalizes intellectual hostility to popular religious tradition, and sees her ‘unsexing’ as an admission of powerlessness, rather than an appropriation of power.

A less emotionally charged, but equally problematic, attempt to confront these pressures is evident in a poem by Elizaveta Skobtsova. Here, adoption of female spiritual authority in imitation of the succouring powers of the Mother of God leads to a conflict with the submission required by male authority; this can only be resolved when forgiveness is requested of that authority:

  • My Lord, my Lord, I am not able
  • To love what is high, even when it is Yours;
  • How can I make what is filled up fuller,
  • How can I pity the blessed beyond words?
  • (p.281) Only where I can surrender myself
  • Can I find joy—though in sorrow and pain.
  • Forgive me, o Lord—for I am a mother
  • And I can love in no other way.
A rather different form of ‘accidental modernism’ is practised in two lyrics which Anna Barkova produced during her incarceration in a Soviet labour camp, ‘In the Barracks’ and ‘Tatar Anguish’. In both pieces, Barkova adopts the persona of a Tatar (or Mongol) princess, as Elizaveta Skobtsova (then Kuzmina-Karavaeva) had in her first collection, Scythian Sherds. But the mask that in Kuzmina-Karavaeva's poem had conveyed a ‘decadent’ transgression of accepted boundaries has here been given a new and tragic significance by the motifs of imprisonment which creep into both poems; at the same time, the association of the protagonist in each text with the enemy of Russian national identity gives her a complex role; she is the perpetrator of oppression, as well as its victim.105

This survey of the non-Soviet literary tradition has already illustrated that ‘conformity’ is not simply a question of whether to write within official literary tradition or not; it is a phenomenon with many different aspects. That the problems of women's writing after 1920 were far from straightforward is suggested also by the history of those women writers who stopped being able to publish. The silence which many women writers imposed on themselves went well beyond the normal use of the word ‘self-censorship’—that is, excision by the author of material which would not be passed by the political censor. By no means all the writers in the USSR who found themselves ‘ideologically unacceptable’ turned to writing for the drawer. Mariya Shkapskaya's grasp of the regulations censoring religious material led her not only to hesitate about republishing her poems, but to cease writing poetry altogether. ‘I have only a dozen or so new poems [i.e. written since 1925], as well as a fragment of a narrative poem, which will never be finished, as I have no intention of going back to poetry,’ she wrote to A. G. Lebedenko in late 1928.106 Her resolution did not waver, and she turned herself into a writer of ocherki, or ‘sketches’; the same course was adopted by other writers, not only poets, but also the prose writers Marietta Shaginyan and Lidiya Seifullina.107

(p.282) There were cases where women not so much could not publish, as did not. For example, when Elizaveta Skobtsova (as Mother Mariya) published her religious diary in verse in 1937, she excluded many of the poems which she had written in the late 1920s and early 1930s.108 The exclusions do not seem to have been made at the direction of any publisher. Scruples about writing might spring from many causes, among them a sense that life was too insignificant for commemoration. This was to stop Shkapskaya, again, from writing a journal. As she wrote to A. G. Gornfeld in 1940:

[Fedin's] memoirs are extremely interesting, anyway. I've always been breathless with admiration at the ability to write memoirs like that. I've begun writing, not a diary exactly, but sort of memoirs like those, several times, but what I wrote always came out very long-winded and anything of significance was lost in a mass of details.109

Besides these conceptual problems, practical matters might intervene. The extreme poverty in which many internal and external émigrés lived was especially disadvantageous to women, since it was they who had to provide food and keep house (and these were matters in which well-bred women born in the 1900s were not necessarily more capable than their male contemporaries). If some fortunate women (Akhmatova, for example) were kept afloat by a support system made up of other women, others, such as Adelaida Gertsyk, who were not, could sink into a condition of such exhaustion and demoralization that writing, and in the end living, became impossible.110

In the last three years, the effective disappearance of publishing censorship in Russia has led to the rediscovery, or in some cases the discovery, of important women writers, as well as to the recovery, for a Russian audience, of material by established authors. With access to archival holdings becoming less difficult, other examples may well come to light. But the social and psychological obstacles which I have outlined here suggest that their number is unlikely to be infinite.

The 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s were years of diversity and experiment, during which Russian women produced some most adventurous and artistically successful texts. Yet these years also saw the institution (p.283) within the Soviet Union of Socialist Realism, an idiom peculiarly hostile to women's writing of quality, and the further entrenchment of some of the more proscriptive nineteenth-century literary traditions outside it. The difficulties which this overview of post-Revolutionary poetry and prose has outlined will be confirmed in detail by the studies of three poets, two of whom emigrated and one of whom stayed, that follow this chapter. But at the same time, these individual studies will give greater weight than the general survey has to the particular advantages which modernism could offer women writers, whether as ‘innovators’ or ‘archaists’, those who broke away from traditional patterns, or those who recast them. (p.284)


(1) On legal changes in the first years of Soviet rule, see Dekrety sovetskoi vlasti (13 vols, and continuing; Moscow, 1957– ); Sistematicheskii sbornik uzakonenii i rasporyazbenii Rabochego i Krest'yanskogo pravitel'stva (Moscow, 1919), especially ‘Konstitutsiya RSFSR’, 91–103, ‘Kodeks zakonov o trude’, 203–4, ‘Dekret o brake i sem'e’, 35–6. A useful guide to legislation after 1921 is M. Bukov (ed.), Okhrana zhenskogo truda: sbornik deistvuyusbchego zakonodatel'stva i rukovo-dyasbchikh ukazanii VTsSPS po prorabote sredi zhenshchin (Moscow, 1926). See also Melanie Ilic, ‘Soviet Protective Labour Legislation and Female Workers in the 1920s and 1930s’, in Marianne Liljeström, Eila Mäntysaari, and Arja Rosenholm (eds.), Gender Restructuring in Russian Studies (Helsinki, 1993). Even in this early phase of Soviet rule, though, one notes that legislative formulae are more inclined to assume the equality of women than to articulate it, and that the duty of women to work was of central importance both in a conceptual sense (it is of primary narrative importance) and in a practical sense (cf. the 1919 decree making it incumbent on all women to sew underwear for the Red Army: Dekrety, xi. 142–4).

(2) On the reaction against feminism which succeeded the granting of suffrage, see e.g. Vera Brittain, The Testament of Youth (1933; London, 1979), 580–92, which also makes it clear, however, that the movement began to pick up again from the early 1920s.

(3) A particularly clear summary of changes in ideology and social policy between 1917 and 1953 is given in Mary Buckley, Women and Ideology in the Soviet Union (Hemel Hempstead, 1989). On the 1920s, see chs. 12. On the limitation of voting rights for those domestically employed, see Sistematicheskii sbornik, 100.

(4) The Bolshevik hostility to housework and child-rearing as demeaning and irrational activities is evident e.g. in Lenin's observations of 1919, quoted in Richard Stites, The Women's Liberation Movement in Russia, (Princeton, NJ, 1978), 378. Cf. (on child-rearing) Eric Naiman, ‘Historectomies: On the Metaphysics of Reproduction’, in Jane Costlow, Stephanie Sandler, and Judith Vowels (eds.), Sexuality in Russian Culture (Stanford, Calif., 1993); (on housework), Ol'ga Berggol'ts’ poem of 1935, ‘Novosel'e’ (The New House), Izbrannye proizvedeniya (Leningrad, 1983), 126, which talks about handing over household items to a (female!) cook as a joyous rite of passage. In visual propaganda of the 1920s, images of women and children were used only in material aimed specifically at women (on health, domestic economy etc.): see Elizabeth Waters, ‘The Female Form in Soviet Political Iconography’, in Barbara Clements, Barbara Engel, and Christine Worobec (eds.), Russia's Women (Berkeley, Calif., 1991), 225–42. On denigratory images of ‘traditional women’ in agitprop theatre of the 1920s, see Catriona Kelly, ‘A Stick with Two Ends: The Puppet Theatre Petrushka as a Case Study of Misogyny in Popular Culture’, in Costlow, Sandler, and Vowles (eds.), Sexuality. As regards the effects of ideological bias, even the ‘adjusted’ statistics given in an official publication of the 1930s, Zhenshchina v SSSR: statisticheskii sbornik (Moscow, 1937), indicate that industrialization had led to a disproportionate representation of women in ‘unskilled’ jobs in heavy industry and in the service industries, besides intensifying their presence in already heavily feminized sectors such as the textile industry.

(5) Dissatisfaction in traditional working-class and peasant quarters to the new marriage legislation is analysed in Stites, Women's Liberation, 367–71; see also Buckley, Women, 40, 128; specifically on peasant objections, Beatrice Farnsworth, Aleksandra Kollontai: Socialism, Feminism and the Bolshevik Revolution (Stanford, Calif., 1980), 340–6.

(6) On differing attitudes to sexual libertarianism, see Stites, Women's Liberation, 346–91; Farnsworth, Aleksandra Kollontai, 246–7, 336–67. Élite marriages based on comradely principles included those of Lenin and Trotsky; the contrasting model is to be seen, however, in the marriage of Pyatnitsky and Sokolova (see her memoir in Vilensky, Dodnes' tyagoteet (Moscow, 1989) and to some extent also in Lunacharsky's marriage to the actress Natal'ya Rozenel' (see N. Lunacharskaya-Rozenel', Pamyat' serdtsa (2nd edn.; Moscow, 1965); this type of marriage was to become increasingly prevalent in the 1930s. Further insight into the persistence of traditional notions of femininity during the 1920s is also offered by Tatiana Strizhenova's fascinating study of the Soviet fashion industry, Soviet Costume and Textiles 1917–1945 (Paris, 1991), which indicates that floaty dresses, high heels, and lipstick were just as fashionable with members of the Soviet élite in the 1920s as with bright young things in the West.

(7) Donald Filtzer, Soviet Workers and Stalinist Industrialisation: The Formation of Modern Soviet Production Relations (New York, 1986), 63–7, summarizes the situation with regard to women's participation and work conditions; see also Buckley, Women, ch. 3. On Germany during the 1930s, see Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family and Nazi Politics (New York, 1987); on Italy, Michel Ostenc, ‘La Conception de la femme fasciste dans l'ltalie mussolinienne’, Risorgimento (1983), 3: 155–74.

(8) On cultural centralization, see Boris Thomson, The Premature Revolution (London, 1970); John and Carol Garrard, Inside the Soviet Writers' Union (London, 1990); M. Dewhirst and J. Farrell, The Soviet Censorship (Metuchen, NJ, 1973); Pervyi s″ezd sovetskikh pisatelei: stenograficheskii otchet (Moscow, 1934); N[ina] P[erlina], ‘Censorship’, in Victor Terras (ed.), A Handbook of Russian Literature (New Haven, Conn., 1985), 74–5. For an extended discussion of the incoherences in Socialist Realism as an aesthetic doctrine in an abstract sense, see Régine Robin, Le Réalisme socialiste: un esthétique impossible (Paris, 1986).

(9) The importance of ‘informal’ publications before 1925 is made clear by A. M. Vitman, Vosem' let russkoi khudozhestvennoi literatury (1917–1925) (Moscow-Leningrad, 1926); cf. also the important anthology of I. S. Ezhov and E. I. Shamurin, Russkaya poeziya XX veka (Moscow, 1925). On Union representation, see the details given in Pervyi s″ezd sovetskikh pisatelei, 700–1. Though according to her own account Anna Karavaeva had an editorial say at Molodaya gvardiya, no major Soviet literary journal was (or is) edited by a woman.

(10) On Barkova's arrest see Irina Ugrimova and Nadezhda Zvezdochetova's brief biography in S. S. Vilensky (ed.), Dodnes' tyagoteet (Moscow, 1989), 335–7. For the very different conditions experienced by two well-known writers during the 1930s and 1940s, Akhmatova and Panova, see Lidiya Chukovskaya's Zapiski ob Anne Akhmatovoi (Paris, 1976–80), and Vera Panova, O moei zhizni, knigakh i chitatelyakh (Leningrad, 1975).

(11) Chukovskaya, Zapiski, i. 62 (8 Feb. 1940).

(12) Class identity in the early Soviet years is a vexed issue, and not all commentators would approve this thumbnail sketch of value changes. For a recent exchange of views on the subject, see Sheila Fitzpatrick and others in Slavic Review, 47/4 (Winter 1988), 599–626. On workers’ identification with the Bolshevik emphasis on Bolshevik privileging of economic over civil rights, see also S. A. Smith, ‘Workers and Civil Rights, 1899–1917’ in Olga Crisp and Linda Edmondson (eds.), Civil Rights in Imperial Russia (Oxford, 1989), 168–9. For Stalin's views on the leadership of the intelligentsia, see his speech of 18 Apr. 1929, quoted in ‘Stalin o kul'ture’, KN (1939), 12:11. An early attack on the literary intelligentsia is M. Reisner, ‘Bogema i kul'turnaya revolyutsiya’, Pechat’ i revolyutsiya (1928), 5: 81–96. On Karavaeva's background, see her ‘lz vospominanii starogo “ognelyuba”’, Po dorogam zhizni (Moscow, 1957), 697–719; Lidiya Nikolaeva, ‘Avtobiografiya’, O literature (Moscow, 1958), 27–34; on Polonskaya's, see her introduction to Izbrannoe (Moscow, 1966), 7–14; on Berggol'ts, see her Dnevnye zvezdy (Moscow, 1972).

(13) On Vera Inber, see L. Gendlin, Perebiraya starye bloknoty (Amsterdam, 1986), 188–97; on Kollontai, Farnsworth, Aleksandra Kollontai, 378–404.

(14) V. Lenin o Tolstom (Moscow, 1928), 81; the inadequacies of Bolshevik gender theory are noted in Buckley, Women, chs. 12; see also Elizabeth Wood, ‘Prostitution Unbound: Representations of Sexual and Political Anxieties in Post-Revolutionary Russia’, in Costlow, Sandler, and Vowles (eds.), Sexuality; Lev Trotsky, Literatura i revolyutsiya, i. 34–5; Bryusov, ‘Vchera, segodnya i zavtra v russkoi poezii’ (1922), Sobranie sochinenii, vi. 493–543.

(15) On women's language, cf. Bryusov and Trotsky above; Mandel'shtam, ‘Zametki’; on the neglect of women in ‘proletarian art’ projects, cf. Lynn Mally, Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia (Berkeley, Calif., 1990), 178–81; on the belated call for recognition of women proletarian writers, see Pervyi s″ezd sovetskikh pisatelei, 209–11.

(16) V. Mayakovsky, Pro eto, Sochineniya v 3-kh tomakh (Moscow, 1978), iii. 160; Mandel'shtam, ‘Masteritsa vinovatykh vzorov’, Stikhotvoreniya (Leningrad, 1979), 173–4. Idealized craftsmen appear in numerous prose tales written between 1920 and 1940, including V. Kaverin's collection Mastera i podmaster'ya (Moscow-Petersburg, 1923); a distant connection with the tradition can be seen also in Bulgakov's use of a guild name for his writer cypher in The Master and Margarita.

(17) The two exceptions to this generalization on women's involvement in the avant-garde are the painters Varvara Stepanova and Ol'ga Rozanova, both of whom produced transrational work on the border between visual arts and poetry. (See M. A. Yablonskaya, Women Artists of Russia's New Age (London, 1990), 141–2.) When unable to exhibit in the 1930s, the painter Antonina Sofronova began writing poetry rather in the Surrealist manner: ibid. 179.

(18) Marietta Shaginyan, KiK, Sobranie sochinenii v 9 tomakh (Moscow, 1971–5), ii. 494–613. On Shaginyan, see David Shepherd, ‘Canon Fodder? Problems in the Reading of a Soviet Production Novel’, in Catriona Kelly, Michael Makin, and David Shepherd (eds.), Discontinuous Discourses in Modern Russian Literature (London, 1989), 39–59; David Shepherd, Beyond Metafiction: Self-Consciousness in Soviet Literature (Oxford, 1992), 64–89.

(19) Ol'ga Forsh, Sumassbedsbii korabl' (Leningrad, 1988).

(20) Forsh, Lektor-zamestitel', Sobranie sochinenii v 8 tomakh, vii (Moscow, 1962), 331–51. (See also The Substitute Lecturer in Anthology.)

(21) Sergei Gedroits, Kaftanchik (Leningrad, 1930); Lyakh (Leningrad, 1931); Otryv (Leningrad, 1931).

(22) K. A. Fedin, ‘Otzyv o predstavlennoi v Izd-vo Pisatelei povesti Gedroitsa Sergeya “Kaftan-chik”’, 22 Aug. 1929, Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library Manuscript Section f. 709 Sobr. avt. sovetskikh pisatelei i kritikov op. 1 N.56. An indication of changing attitudes is a review of a first-person narrative published not long after Gedroits's text, which criticizes ‘unhealthy moods’, ‘impressionist tendencies’, and ‘elements of the literary tendency known as decadence’ (T. Nikolaeva, ‘T. Velednitskaya, Povest' moei zhizni’ KN (1931), 5–6: 241–2). The use of first-person ‘impressionism’ continued, however, to be permissible in ‘minor genres’ such as the lyric poem and even the short story—see e.g. A. Krachkovskaya, ‘Lavanda’, Molodaya gvardiya (1939), 9: 90–5.

(23) 1920s texts which celebrate the working-class woman and denigrate the bourgeoise or peasant woman include, besides those cited below, L. Seifullina, ‘V budnii den'’, KN (1928), 7: 23–36; Tat'yana Igumnova, ‘Ledokhod’, Pereval, 3 (1925), 90–101; V. Gerasimova, ‘Nedorogie kovry’, Pereval, 1 (1925), 168–84; M. Chistyakova, ‘Chetyre dnya’, KN (1923), 7; 73–88; cf. the following text by a man: Nikolai Aseev, ‘Tri Anny’, Sobranie sochinenii v 5 tomakh (Moscow, 1963), ii. 155–8.

(24) N. Chertova, ‘Novye galoshi’, Pereval, 3 (1925), 176–87.

(25) Anna Karavaeva, Lesozavod (1927): citations to Moscow, 1935 edn.; Lidiya Seifullina, ‘Peregnoi’ (1922), citations to Pravonarushiteli. Peregnoi (Moscow, 1929). Xenia Gasiorowska, Women in Soviet Literature 1917–1964 (Madison, Wis., 1968), expresses an approbatory view of ‘Peregnoi’, but in doing so also adopts a total identification with the masculine viewpoint, glossing the plot thus: ‘The hero's utter dedication to the Soviet cause … is overcome by his tragic, lustful infatuation with a foolish little schoolteacher’ (p. 18).

(26) N. Karatygina, ‘Cherez borozdy’, Pereval, 1 (1925), 83–114.

(27) Blok, Dvenadtsat', SS iii. 347–59.

(28) Khlebnikov, ‘Nochnoi obysk’, Tvoreniya (Moscow, 1988), 321.

(29) Ronald Hingley, Russian Writers in Soviet Society (London, 1979), 175.

(30) Bulgakov, Belaya gvardiya (1924), in Belaya gvardiya. Teatral'nyi roman. Master i Margarita (Moscow, 1973), 13–271; see esp. the scene in the morgue, p. 247; Isaak Babel', Konarmiya (Moscow, 1928); see also Joe Andrew, ‘“Spoil the Purest of Ladies”: Male and Female in Isaak Babel's Konarmiya’ EP 14/2 (1989), 1–27.

(31) Seifullina, Virineya, in her Sobranie sochinenii, iii (Moscow, 1926).

(32) Anna Barkova, Nastas'ya Koster: dramaticheskie stseny (Moscow-Petrograd, 1923).

(33) Barkova, Zhenshchina (Petrograd, 1922).

(34) See e.g. the work of N. Kugusheva, published in Golgofa strof: stikhi (Ryazan, 1920).

(35) Ek[aterina] Strogova, ‘Baby: fabrichnye ocherki’, Pereval, 5 (1927), 175–97. See also ‘Womenfolk’ in Anthology.

(36) Seifullina, Pravonarushiteli, in Peregnoi, Pravonarusheteli (Moscow, 1929). (Trans, as ‘The Lawbreakers’ in G. Reavey and M. Slonim (eds.), Soviet Literature (New York, 1934).)

(37) Aleksandra Kollontai, Lyubov' trudovykh pchel (Moscow-Petrograd, 1923). (Available with other writings by Kollontai in Selected Writings, ed. and trans. Alix Holt (London, 1977).)

(38) Pervyi s″ezd sovetskikh pisatelei, 62, 73, 395.

(39) Seifullina, ‘O zhenskom obraze’, O literature, 27–34.

(40) Karavaeva, Rodina (Moscow, 1951): a trilogy consisting of three novels earlier published separately, Ogni (Moscow, 1944), Razbeg (Moscow, 1947), Rodnoi dom (Moscow, 1950); Panova, Sputniki (Moscow, 1947) (trans, as The Train (Moscow, 1977)).

(41) Katerina Clark, The Soviet Novel: History as Ritual (Chicago, 1981).

(42) Panova, Kruzhilikha (Moscow, 1948).

(43) Both Karavaeva's The Motherland and Galina Nikolaeva's novel Zhatva (Moscow, 1950), represent minor female characters who manage to better themselves: in both cases the transition is achieved without problems so far as these women themselves are concerned. In the case of Nikolaeva's novel, the difficulties of men in adjusting to the change provide more narrative interest.

(44) Tales of Soviet war heroines, whether those fighting on the front line or those keeping the furnaces of the munitions factory going, are collected e.g. in Soviet Women in the War against Hitlerism (Moscow, 1942.); Soviet War Stories (London, 1944); Zhenshchiny goroda Lenina: ocherki o zhenshchinakh Leningrada v dni blokady (Leningrad, 1944); see also Aliger's celebration of the partisan heroine Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, ‘Zoya’ (1942), Sobranie sochinenii v 3 tomakh (Moscow, 1984), i. 277–321.

(45) For particular commendations of Gorky's Mother see Pervyi s″ezd sovetskikh pisatelei, 62, 366.

(46) Tat'yana Tess, ‘Materinstvo’, KN (1935), 8: 156–60.

(47) For a reproduction of the Gaponenko picture, see Igor Golomstock, Totalitarian Art (London, 1990), 192. Margarita Aliger, ‘Zhena’, ‘Burya’, Sobranie sochinenii v 3-kh tomakh, i. 29–31, 22–4.

(48) Karavaeva, ‘Rozan moi, rozan’, KN (1940), 7–8: 27–43.

(49) Tat'yana Volgina, ‘Pridanoe’, KN (1941), 3: 89.

(50) See O. Kurganov, ‘Motherhood’, Soviet Women in the War Against Hitlerism, 42.

(51) On motherhood in painting and statuary, see Golomstock, Totalitarian Art; Alison Hilton, ‘Women in Soviet Art’, in Liljeström, Mäntysaari, and Rosenholm (eds.), Gender Restructuring.

(52) A war-widow mother in Karavaeva's Rodina e.g. is restored to proper status when her husband is rediscovered. Nikolaeva's sketch ‘Zhivye golosa’, Sobranie sochinenii v 3 tomakh (Moscow, 1973), iii. 308–26, which refers to an unmarried mother, is based on material collected in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but was not published until 1957.

(53) See Soviet Woman (the English version of Sovetskaya zhenshchina) (1947), 3:31.

(54) Apart from Soviet Woman/Sovetskaya zhenshchina, such material also appeared in Rabotnitsa and Krest'yanka.

(55) Among characters who produce sons more or less inside the factory is Tanya in Karavaeva's The Motherland; symbolic marriages include that between Ol'ga and the party organizer Plastunov in this novel, and between Nonna the engineer and Listopad the manager in Panova's Kruzhilikha.

(56) Nikolaeva, Zhatva (for publication details see n. 43 above).

(57) B. A. Arkhangel'sky and G. N. Speransky, Mat' i ditya: shkola molodykh materei (Moscow, 1951), 12.

(58) Ibid. 33. Though the authors go on to state that ‘pain-killers are available’, they give no details, and the battlefield analogy is hardly confidence-inspiring on this point.

(59) It is probably memoir literature which gives the best view of 1940s realities: see e.g. Evgeniya Kiseleva's memoirs, ‘Kishmareva, Kiseleva, Tyuricheva’, NM (1991), 2: 9–27.

(60) On the wish-fulfilling character of 1940s literature, see particularly Vera Dunham, In Stalin's Time: Middle-Class Values in Soviet Fiction (Cambridge, 1976); the bourgeois values of the time are also given a balanced analysis in Zernova's story ‘Elizabet Arden’ (see ch. 13 n. 63).

(61) Panova, O moei zhizni, 129.

(62) Berggol'ts, Dnevnye zvezdy, 67.

(63) Berggol'ts, Izbrannye proizvedeniya (Leningrad, 1983), 225. On the war poetry of Berggol'ts and other women poets, see Katharine Hodgson, ‘Russian Soviet War Poetry 1941–45’, Ph.D. thesis (Cambridge University, 1991), 216–68.

(64) Another period of relative relaxation was 1940, during which Anna Akhmatova was wooed by two official publishing houses at once for the rights to her new collection. (See Chukhovskaya, records for 1940 in Zapiski, vol. i.)

(65) The fullest survey of general cultural aspects of the Russian diaspora is Marc Raeff, Russia Abroad: A Cultural History of the Russian Emigration, 1919–1939 (Oxford, 1990); Gleb Struve's Russkaya literatura v izgnanii (2nd edn.; Paris, 1984) is still the most informative general study of literary matters. See also L. Fleishman, R. Khyuz [Hughes], O. Raevskaya-Khyuz, Russkii Berlin (Paris, 1983); Georges Nivat (ed.), Odna ili due russkikh literatury (Geneva, 1981). The memoirs of émigrés writers, whilst not invariably accurate in a factual sense, are valuable guides to the mentality of the emigration: see e.g. Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory (1951; London, 1986); Nina Berberova, Kursiv moi (Munich, 1972) (trans. Philippe Radley as The Italics are Mine (London, 1969)); Irina Odoevtseva, Na beregu Seny (Paris, 1983). There is still no general history of the ‘internal emigration’; materials of relevance are cited under individual authors below.

(66) Summaries of émigrés publishing history are given in Raeff, Russia Abroad, 75–94; see also T[emira] P[achmuss], ‘Émigrés Literature’, in Terras, Handbook, 119–24. One man who published in émigrés journals under a female disguise was Konstantin Bal'mont, who used the pseudonym Aglaya Gamayun for poems published in the Riga journal Perezvony. On the circulation of Akhmatova and Chukovskaya, see Chukovskaya, Zapiski; on the circulation of Berggol'ts, Efim Etkind's introduction to Berggol'ts, ‘Bezumstvo predannosti’, Vremya i my, 57 (1980), 271.

(67) On the importance of ‘Messianic’ motifs in writing by men after the Revolution, see e.g. Gregory Freidin, A Coat of Many Colors: Osip Mandelstam's Mythologies of Self-Transformation (Berkeley, Calif., 1988); on the prehistory of such motifs, see George Ivask, ‘Russian Modernist Poets and the Mystic Sectarians’, in George Gibian and H. W. Tjalsma (eds.), Russian Modernism: Culture and the Avant-Garde 1900–1930 (Ithaca, NY, 1976), 85–106.

(68) The remark about ‘sexless robots’ comes from an exhibition note published in Zhurnal sodruzhestva (1934), 2: 35. Indicative reviews of ‘feminine’ poetry and prose are: Vladislav Khodasevich, ‘“Zhenskie” stikhi’ (1935), Koleblemyi treugol'nik (Moscow, 1991), 577–80, which contrasts the ‘human’ and ‘the feminine’; P. Bitsilli, ‘Galina Kuznetsova. Prolog: Roman’, SOZ 53 (1933), 453–4, which describes the ‘feminine principle’ as that of unanalytical zest and joy in life; Georgy Adamovich, ‘Literaturnye zametki’, PN, 24 Jan. 1935, 2, which describes Akhmatova as having brought the ‘feminine as an essential, natural force’ into Russian poetry, and praises the ‘childishness’ of Golovina's verse.

(69) See Marina Ledkovsky(-Astman)'s otherwise balanced and informative article, ‘Russian Women Writers: An Overview. Post-Revolutionary Dispersal and Adjustment’, in Linda Edmondson (ed.), Women and Society in Russia (cf. 376 n. 76.) (Cambridge, 1992), 145–59.

(70) See e.g. Il'ya Zdanevich [‘Iliazd’], Pis'mo/La Lettre, illus. Picasso (1948; repr. Paris, 1990); idem, Prigovor bez molvy I Sentence sans paroles, illus. Braque and Giacometti (1961; repr. Paris, 1990); Vladimir Nabokov, Priglashenie na kazn' (Paris, 1938); Boris Poplavsky, Sobranie sochinenii (3 vols.; Berkeley, Calif., 1980–1); Anatoly Shteiger, 2 × 2 = 4: Stikhi (New York, 1982).

(71) Nina Berberova, Stikhi (New York, 1984), 85. Apart from Berberova, other conventional love poets are Irina Odoevtseva (see e.g. ‘Proshchan'e na vokzale’, SOZ 57 (1935), 235; Mariya Karamzina, Kovcheg (Tallin, 1939); Lidiya Chervinskaya, Rassvety (Paris, 1937); poets who wrote conventional love poems, though not limited to such a repertoire, included Natal'ya Krandievskaya: see e.g. ‘Lift, podnimayas’ …’, Doroga: stikhotvoreniya (Moscow, 1985), 100; Ekaterina Tauber, ‘Prostaya radost' bytiya’, SOZ 67 (1938), 156; Raisa Blokh, ‘Pust' nebo chernoe’, Chisla, 2/3; 13; and Tat'yana Klimenko-Rapgauz: see many of the poems in Vsya moya zhizn': stikhotvoreniya i vospominaniya ob otse (Riga, 1987).

(72) The motif of repentance occurs e.g. in the work of Ekaterina Bakunina, Stikhi (Paris, 1931); Natal'ya Krandievskaya, ‘Takoe yabloko’, Doroga: stikhotvorenii (Moscow, 1985), 81; and Vera Bulich (see Ch. 12 below); Tatiana and Onegin references are made e.g. by Chervinskaya, Rassvety, 39; Vera Bulich; Anna Prismanova's Pis'mo clings to the stereotype although denying its value: ‘I am not Tatiana, and I know that you are not Onegin’, see Sobranie sochinenii, ed. Petra Couve'e (The Hague, 1990), 61–2; the motif of sexual rivalry occurs e.g. in Alia Golovina's ‘Net sil usnut'’, Gorodskoi angel (Brussels, 1989), 83; the ‘bad mother’ motif is extensively developed by Ekaterina Bakunina, Stikhi; on the child as reflection of the father, see e.g. Emiliya Chegrintseva, ‘Nasledstvo’, SOZ 69 (1939), 213; conversely, the lover is seen as a reflection of the child in Raisa Blokh's ‘Ya tebya lyublyu, kak babushka vnuchenka’: see Blokh and Mikhail Gorlin, Izbrannye stikhi (Paris, 1959), 38.

(73) See e.g. A. Damanskaya, ‘Plonzher’, Perezvony, 1 (1925), 76–81.

(74) Teffi, Gorodok (Paris, 1927); on Teffi's later prose, see also the observations in Ch. 7 above.

(75) Both Chukovskaya's stories are now available in a convenient recent edition, Dve povesti (Moscow, 1988). English edns. are available as Sofia Petrovna, trans. David Floyd (London, 1989) and Going Under, trans. Peter Weston (New York, 1972).

(76) Berggol'ts, ‘Bezumstvo predannosti’; ‘Dnevnye zvezdy’, Ogonek, 5 May 1990, 15–16.

(77) Berggol'ts, ‘Bezumstvo predannosti’, 296.

(78) Berggol'ts, ‘Dnevnye zvezdy’, 15.

(79) Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day (1948; London, 1986).

(80) The fullest selection of Berggol'ts's prison poetry is that in ‘Bezumstvo predannosti’.

(81) Akhmatova, ‘Rekviem’, Neva (1987), 6: 74–9. The version printed in Akhmatova, Sochineniya, i (Munich, 1965), 361–70 is slightly inferior in a textological sense.

(82) On the problematics of Rekviem, see Michael Basker, ‘Dislocation and Relocation in Akhmatova's Requiem’, in Rosslyn (ed.), The Speech of Unknown Eyes, i. 5–25; on its structure, see Anna Lise Crone; ‘Antimetabole in Rekviem: the Structual Disparity of Themes and Motifs’, ibid. 27–43. Most interesting analyses of Requiem and Poem Without a Hero also appear in Susan Amert, In a Shattered Mirror: The Later Poetry of Anna Akhmatova (Stanford, Calif., 1992).

(83) Mariya Shkapskaya, Stikhi (London, 1971), 68. (References to this edn. henceforth in text.) On Shkapskaya and maternity see also Barbara Heldt, ‘Motherhood in a Cold Climate: The Poetry and Career of Mariia Shkapskaia’, Russian Review, 51/2 (1992), 160–71.

(84) Shkapskaya, ‘Yav’, Stikhi, 88–93. See also ‘No Dream’ in Anthology.

(85) Shkapskaya, ‘Tsa-tsa-tsa’, Stikhi, 125–34.

(86) Prismanova, ‘O gorode i ogorode’, Sobranie sochinenii, 192–3. See also ‘On Guard and on Town Gardens’ in Anthology.

(87) Berberova, ‘Akkompanersha’, ‘Rokkanval'’, Oblegchenie uchasti: 6 povestei (Paris, 1948). (See also The Accompanist, trans. Marian Schwartz (London, 1987); Three Novels, trans, eadem (London, 1990).)

(88) See e.g. Nadezhda Gorodetskaya, Neskvoznaya nit' (Paris, 1929); eadem, ‘Belye kryl'ya’, Volya Rossii (1929), 3: 3–24; Galina Kuznetsova, Utro: rasskazy (Paris, 1934); Alia Golovina, ‘Dva rasskaza’, SOZ 68 (1939), 114–24.

(89) Ekaterina Bakunina, Telo (Paris, 1933); Lyubov' k shesterym (Paris, 1934).

(90) Zinaida Gippius, ‘E. Bakunina, Lyubov' k sbesterym’, SOZ 58 (1936), 478–9.

(91) Gorodetskaya, L'Exil des enfants (Paris, 1936).

(92) Elsa Triolet, Le premier accroc coûte deux cents francs (1945; repr. Paris, 1983; trans, anon, as A Fine of Two Hundred Francs: 2nd edn.; London, 1986). On Triolet see also Elizabeth Klosty Beaujour, Alien Voices: Bilingual Russian Writers of the ‘First’ Emigration (Ithaca, NY, 1989); Lachlan Mackinnon, The Lives of Elsa Triolet (London, 1992).

(93) Where Raisa Blokh uses a gendered first person, this is linked with an erotic motif: see e.g. ‘Pust’ nebo chernoe’ (see above, n. 70) and contrast ‘Naletaet veter’, Chisla, 6 (1932), 8; see also ‘Zaidi syuda’ and other poems, Roshcha: vtoroi sbornik berlinskikh poetov (Berlin, 1932), 10–14; Moi gorod (Paris, 1928); Galina Kuznetsova, ‘Kogda dlya dnya’, Perezvony, 43 (1927), 1150; Olivkovyi sad: stikhi 1923–1929 (Paris, 1933); Sofiya Pregel', Razgovor s pamyat'yu (Paris, 1935); Solnechnyi proizvol (Paris, 1937); Polden': tret'ya kniga stikhov (Paris, 1939).

(94) References to Orpheus occur e.g. in the work of Marina Tsvetaeva (see Ch. n below) and Anna Prismanova, ‘Yad’, SS 56; to classical heroines in Vera Merkur'eva: see Vera Merkur'eva, ‘Iz literaturnogo naslediya’, ed. M. L. Gasparov, Oktyabr' (1989), 5: 149–59; to street musicians in Tsvetaeva, Prismanova (‘Sharmanka’, ‘Tsyganka’, SS 15, 17); a variant here is Tatiana Klimenko-Rapgauz's use of the cabaret singer as alter ego (see ‘Mona Liza’, Vsya moya zhizn': stikhotvoreniya i vospominaniya ob otse (Riga, 1987)).

(95) Prismanova, ‘Dusha v nebesnom tyule’, SS 10.

(96) Alia Golovina, Lebedinaya karusel' (Paris, 1935).

(97) Alia Golovina, Gorodskoi angel, 97.

(98) Tsvetaeva, Kamennyi angel, Neizdannoe: stikhi, teatr, proza (Paris, 1976), 135–201; Bulich's ballet libretti ‘Solnechnyi prints’ (The Sun Prince, 1934) and ‘Son poeta’ (The Poet's Dream, c.1934–5), are pieces about living statues and natural forces personified: the influences are, evidently, the work of the Ballets Russes and of the painter Konstantin Somov. (These libretti are held in the Bulich Archive: see introductory note to Ch. 12 below.) Cf. also Sofiya Parnok's opera libretto, Almast, SS 261–87.

(99) It is impossible to do justice to Poema bez geroya in a survey of the present scope. Interpretative material on the text is now extensive, but there is no one definitive study. However, good introductory guidance is given by Elizabeth von Erdmann-Pandzic's variorum edition, Poema bez geroja von Anna A. Achmatova: Variatenedition und Interpretation von Symbolstrukturen (Vienna, 1987); see also the relevant contributions in Rosslyn, The Speech of Unknown Eyes and the bibliography to Amert, In a Shattered Mirror, for hints on further reading.

(100) Anna Prismanova, Bliznetsy (Paris, 1946): repr. in SS 38–96.

(101) On The Tale of Sonechka, see Ch. 11 below. Compare Tsvetaeva's later French text, addressed to Nathalie Barney, Mon frère féminin: lettre ὰ L'Amazone (1939; Paris, 1979) which not only represents lesbian sexuality as proto-masculine, but also argues that women's psychological need to produce sons (sic) dooms lesbian relationships from the beginning.

(102) For more detailed analysis of the background to religious poetry by Russian women after 1917, see Catriona Kelly, ‘Writing an Orthodox Text: Religious Poetry by Russian Women, 1917–1939’, in Joe Andrew (ed.), Poetics of the Text (Amsterdam, 1992), 153–70.

(103) Vera Merkur'eva, ‘Babushka russkoi poezii’, Gasparov (ed.), ‘Vera Merkur'eva’, 153; see also ‘The Grandmother of Russian Poetry’ in Anthology.

(104) Elizaveta Skobtsova, ‘V lyudyakh lyubit’; see [‘Neizdannye stikhi Mated Marii’], ed. B. Plyukhanov, Vestnik russkogo khrist'yanskogo dvizheniya, 161 (1991), 155; Kelly, ‘Writing an Orthodox Text’, 163.

(105) Barkova, ‘V barake’, ‘Toska tatarskaya’, Vilensky, Dodnes', 341, 344.

(106) Shkapskaya, letter to A. G. Lebedenko, 3 Nov. 1920: Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library, Manuscript Section, f. 1077, arkh. A. G. Lebedenko, ed. khr. 652.

(107) Shkapskaya, Sama po sebe: ocherki (Leningrad, 1940); Marietta Shaginyan, Po dorogam pyatiletki (Moscow, 1947). Lack of space precludes detailed consideration of sketches, or of another genre to which women writers of post-Revolutionary Russia had recourse, children's writing. Both deserve extensive specialized treatment.

(108) See Mat' Mariya [Kuz'mina-Karavaeva-Skobtsova], Stikhi (Berlin, 1937).

(109) Shkapskaya, letter to A. G. Gornfel'd, 15 Mar. 1940, Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library, f. 211, arkh. A. G. Gornfel'da, no. 1104.

(110) On Akhmatova's support network, see particularly Chukovskaya, Zapiski; on Tsvetaeva's, the most illuminating source is Véronique Lossky, Marina Tsvetaeva v zhizni: neizdannye vospominaniya sovremennikov (Tenafly, NJ, 1989). Cf. the observations on Anna Prismanova by Petra Couvée in her introduction to SS p. xiv.