Slavic R5A, Section 2: Rewriting Russia: Twentieth-Century Women Writers and the Slavic Cultural Imagination

TuTh 9:30-11, Hearst Gym 245. Instructor: Karina McCorkle.

Units: 4

Class description and texts subject to change.

Have you ever wondered what Russian women thought of Anna Karenina? Or who the Russian equivalents to writers like Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath were? Two of the Nobel Prize winners in literature in the past four years have been women from Russia and Poland respectively, but women writers are rarely what we think of when we think of classic Russian literature. This course aims to show students that Russia has a fascinating tradition of women’s writing that ranges from moving realist narratives and documentary prose to topsy-turvy fairy tales, magical realism, the gothic, and fantasy. We will move through the entire twentieth-century, learning Russian and Soviet history along the way! The course will begin with Lidia Zinovieva-Annibal’s novel The Tragic Menagerie, which narrates a rebellious young girl’s experience growing up in the Russian countryside at the turn of the century, and end with excerpts from Nobel prize winner Svetlana Alexievich’s book The Unwomanly Face of War, which synthesizes interviews Alexievich did with hundreds of women about their experience in World War II. In between, we will look at works composed by women during the Soviet Union, both novels that depict it as vehicle of positive change for women (Alexandra Kollontai, Natalia Baranskaya) and ones that show the tragedy of things like Stalin’s purges and the gulag (Lidia Chukovskaya, Anna Akhmatova). We will also read a number of fantastic short stories and novellas from the time surrounding the fall of the Soviet Union in the late eighties and early nineties, in which a number of women writers like Tatyana Tolstaya, Lyudmilla Petrushevskaya, and Svetlana Vasilenko suddenly found themselves launched into popularity when they were able to publish work previously considered too “weird” or even too “graphic” for Soviet readers. Through our essays and discussions, we will try to answer questions like: How did these women writers understand Russian womanhood, and how did that understanding change during the many upheavals of the Russian twentieth-century? How do these texts rewrite the understandings of women found in classic works of Russian literature like Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky? Are any of these texts “feminist,” and what does that mean, given that both Russia and the Soviet Union rejected feminism as legitimate? We will come to our own conclusions about these debates and others, all while developing skills for critical analysis and college-level writing.

Most of the readings for this course will be provided in a reader, but the following novels should be purchased:

The Tragic Menagerie, Lidia Zinovieva-Annibal, ISBN: 978-0810114838

The Unwomanly Face of War, Svetlana Alexeivich, ISBN: 978-0399588747

Sofia Petrovna, Lidia Chukovskaya ISBN: 978-0810111509

The Time: Night, Lyudmilla Petrushevskaya, ISBN: 978-0810118003

Due to the high demand for R&C courses we monitor attendance very carefully. Attendance is mandatory the first two weeks of classes, this includes all enrolled and wait listed students. If you do not attend all classes the first two weeks you may be dropped. If you are attempting to add into this class during weeks 1 and 2 and did not attend the first day, you will be expected to attend all class meetings thereafter and, if space permits, you may be enrolled from the wait list.