Radical Sentimentalism or Sentimental Radicalism? A Feminist Approach to Eighteenth-Century Russian Literature

  • Joe Andrew


Since its re-emergence as an important cultural and political force in the late 1960s, feminism has presented ‘incontestably the most important challenge’1 in recent years to accepted academic approaches to literary studies. In the course of the last two decades several ‘feminisms’, indeed, have emerged, but each in its own way may be said to have the aim of radically reinterpreting established literary practices, strategies and analyses. The purpose of this present study fits into this tendency, namely, to reinterpret three influential texts from late eighteenth-century Russian literature from a feminist perspective. Central to this enterprise will be the notion that literary texts have an impact on contemporary and later audiences’ perceptions about the perceived world, including such matters as the roles of women in society. This impact occurs irrespective of the author’s intentions. By re-reading the ‘classics’ in this way we achieve two things: we see the image of women in a particular culture, and we derive a new perspective on the world of the work concerned and, consequently, on the effect it had, and has, on women’s roles, expectations and so on.


Female Character Narrative Structure Feminist Approach Russian Literature Sexual Politics 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    K. K. Ruthven, Feminist Literary Studies: An Introduction, Cambridge, 1984, p. 7. See this work passim for a general discussion of the developments in feminist literary criticism.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    S. de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, London, 1972, p. 162. The relevance and power of a feminist analysis is admirably conveyed by Ruthven: ‘To read a canonical text in a feminist way is to force that text to reveal its hidden sexual ideology which… tends not to be mentioned in non-feminist criticism’ (p. 31).Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    The best analyses of the origins and theory of patriarchal hegemony are probably still those of J. S. Mill and Engels: J. S. Mill, On the Subjugation of Women, London, 1869,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. and F. Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, London, 1972. See also de Beauvoir.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    L. Althusser, ‘Ideology and State Apparatuses’, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, London, 1977, pp. 121–73.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    An excellent, and personal account of this process is given by Rachel M. Brownstein in Becoming a Heroine: Reading about Women in Novels, Harmondsworth, 1984. A powerful account of the problems involved for young ladies reading novels is presented in the Russian context in Pushkin’s Evgenii Onegin.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    J. V. Femia, Gramsci’s Political Thought: Hegemony, Consciousness, and the Revolutionary Process, Oxford, 1981, p. 24.Google Scholar
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    See L. M. O’Toole, Structure, Style and Interpretation in the Russian Short Story, New Haven, London, 1982, and The Structural Analysis of Russian Narrative Fiction (Essays in Poetics Publications, 1), ed. J. Andrew, Keele, 1984.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of this period and its culture, see The Eighteenth Century in Russia, ed. J. Garrard, Oxford, 1973,Google Scholar
  10. and H. Rogger, National Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Russia, Cambridge, Mass., 1960.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 12.
    For a discussion of these two terms, see H. M. Nebel, N. M. Karamzin: A Russian Sentimentalist, The Hague, 1967,Google Scholar
  12. and G. S. Smith, ‘Sentimentalism and Pre-Romanticism as Terms and Concepts’, in Russian Literature in the Age of Catherine the Great, ed. A. G. Cross, Oxford, 1976, pp. 173–89.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    All references to this work are taken from D. I. Fonvizin, Nedorosl’, in Sobranie sochinenii v dvukh tomakh, vol. 1, ed. G. P. Makogonenko, Moscow, Leningrad, 1959, pp. 105–78. Page references are given in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar
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    See D. J. Welsh, Russian Comedy: 1765–1823, The Hague, 1966.Google Scholar
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    See N. K. Miller, The Heroine’s Text: Readings in the French and English Novel, 1722–1782, New York, 1980, p. xi, for an excellent discussion of the vulnerability of the traditional heroine.Google Scholar
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    See J. Gallop, Feminism and Psychoanalysis: The Daughter’s Seduction, London, 1982, pp. 74–5, for a discussion of the symbolic and psychoanalytical interpretation of the Father and his ‘Law’.Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    See p. 140 of the text for a description of Prostakova’s family background. The theme of the benighted, brutal family in rural Russia was to prove enduring: see, for example, A. N. Ostrovskii’s The Thunderstorm (1859)Google Scholar
  18. and Chekhov’s The Peasants (1897).Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of this model of female relationships, see S. M. Okin, Women in Western Political Thought, London, 1980, pp. 43–4.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    See M. Ellmann, Thinking About Women, New York, 1968, p. 74ff.Google Scholar
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    M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, New York, 1977, p. 27.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of labelling in literature, see T. Tanner, Adultery in the Novel: Contract and Transgression, Baltimore, London, 1979, pp. 346–54,Google Scholar
  23. and M. Daly, God the Father, Boston, 1973, p. 47.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    All references to this work are taken from A. N. Radishchev, Puteshestvie iz Peterburga v Moskvu, in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, Moscow, Leningrad, 1938; reprinted, ed. I. K. Lupol et al., Vaduz, 1969, pp. 225–392. Page references are given in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar
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    Pushkin, ‘Alexander Radishchev’, in Pushkin on Literature, trans. and ed. T. Woolf, London, 1971, p. 390.Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of the depiction of women in de Sade, see A. Carter, The Sadeian Woman, London, 1979.Google Scholar
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    A. G. Cross, N. M. Karamzin, Carbondale, 1971, p. 103.Google Scholar
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    All references to this work are taken from N. M. Karamzin, Bednaya Liza, in Izbrannye sochineniya v dvukh tomakh, vol. 1, ed. P. Berkov, Moscow, Leningrad, 1964, pp. 605–21. Page references are given in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar
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    Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, Princeton, 1977, p. 117. Showalter is referring to Jane Eyre.Google Scholar
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    Pechorin, an unreconstructed rake, makes the following illuminating comment about his relations with women: ‘But surely there is a boundless pleasure in the possession of a young, scarcely burgeoned soul! It is like a flower whose finest aroma evaporates at the first ray of sunlight; one must pick it at this moment, and, breathing in to one’s fill, cast it on the road: perhaps someone will pick it up.’ (M. Yu. Lermontov, Geroi nashego vremeni, in Sochineniya, vol. 4, Leningrad, 1962, p. 401.)Google Scholar
  32. 44.
    E. G. Belotti, Little Girls, London, 1975, p. 102, quoted in A. Oakley, Subject Women, London, 1982, p. 109.Google Scholar
  33. 45.
    For an extended discussion of this interconnection, see L. Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, New York, 1960.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Catriona Helen Moncrieff Kelly, Michael Laurence Makin and David George Shepherd 1989

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  • Joe Andrew

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