Epic Poema Ballada

The epic was the most prestigious of all neoclassical kinds of literature; many critics also consider it the source of both the poema (verse epic) and the ballada (ballad).10 For these reasons the gender norms of the epic, which applied to both authors and characters, exerted particular influence.

Various definitions of the epic describe it as a male-gendered genre, written by men, about men, and for men. One scholar writes that the epic gives voice to "the commonly shared values and aspirations of a large group of men in a certain place and age. ... [T]he action concerns some crucial episode in the history of a nation or other homogenous group" (Wilkie, Romantic Poets and Epic Tradition, 7-9). Ezra Pound called it "the speech of a nation through the mouth of one man" (quoted in S. Friedman, "Gender and Genre Anxiety," 204). Mikhail Kheraskov (17331807), who wrote the first Russian poema Rossiada (The Russiad, 1779), similarly described the genre as containing "some important memorable, famous event ... or ... an event [that] ... serves the whole nation's glory" (quoted in Terras, Handbook of Russian Literature, 344). The scholar Susan Friedman argues that because epic norms, like norms of masculinity, are "public, objective, universal, heroic," women find it particularly difficult to write epics: "For male poets, writing within the epic tradition has been an extension of a culturally granted masculine authority to generate philosophical, universal, cosmic, and heroic discourse. For women, no such cultural authority has existed. .. . Their very marginality as women writing has made it impossible to narrate 'the tale of the tribe'" ("Gender and Genre Anxiety" 205). The few women who have attempted epics, she demonstrates, do so with "anxiety of poetic genre" (203).11 In the nineteenth century such anxiety would have been increased by men writers' tendency to cast themselves as epic heroes—something women could not do because of the gender norms governing characters in epics.12

The protagonist, the epic hero, has virtually always been male. One critic describes these heroes as "champions of man's ambitions" who seek to "win as far as possible a self-sufficient manhood" (S. Friedman, "Gender and Genre Anxiety," quoting C. M. Bowra, 204). Another describes the archetypal epic hero as "not merely a representative man but a national leader.. .. He epitomizes his culture as warrior, as imperialist, and as explorer of the unknown" (Curran, Poetic Form, 173). A third critic writes, "No poem can be an epic unless it presents a portrait, either composite or individual, express or implied, of the perfect man" (Wilkie, Romantic Poets, 20). The same critic mentions women characters only as part of what he calls the Dido-and-Aeneas convention, which "sees woman as an obstacle to duty" (13). This is a device, he adds complacently, "that appears with varying emphases in all the great literary epics from Virgil on [and] is part of the pattern of heroic renunciation recognized by any culture whose values have risen above purely martial ones One of the most interesting things about the Romantic epics is their obsession with the Dido-and-Aeneas convention" (22). Friedman observes, "In the epic women have mainly existed at the symbolic peripheries as static rewards or temptations, as allies or antagonists, as inspirations or nemeses" ("Gender and Genre Anxiety" 205).13

In England the national epic remained a vital genre throughout the Romantic period. In Russia, however, the poema evolved through three more or less successive stages: first, the klassicheskaia poema or geroich-eskaia epopeia (classical or heroic verse epic)—for example, Kheraskov's

Rossiada—along with its mock-epic parodies, for example, Vasilii Maikov's Elisei ili razdrazhennyi Vakkh (Elisei or Bacchus Furioso, 1771), and Pushkin's Ruslan i Liudmila (1817-20). Next appeared poemy inspired by the Decembrist movement that culminated in the abortive uprising of 1825; these poemy, which, like the classical kind, focused on national destiny, also served as covert calls to overthrow Russian autocracy—for example, Kondraty Ryleev's Voinarovsky (1823-25) and Nalivaiko (182325). Finally, the Romantic poema, the kind that concerns us here, was introduced by Pushkin—for example, Bakhchisaraiskii fontan (The fountain of Bakhchisarai, 1822) and Tysgany (The gypsies, 1824). Pushkin's first Romantic poemy showed the strong influence of Byron's Eastern Tales ("The Giaour" [1813], "The Bride of Abydos" [1813], "The Corsair" [1814]), which, as the Soviet scholar V. A. Zhirmunsky has shown, included elements of the ballad and the lyric, as well as the epic. The Romantic poema, however, despite significant generic differences from the classical epic—and these include a rejection of "public, objective, universal and heroic" norms—nonetheless inherited from the epic several of its central characteristics.14

First, the Romantic poema continued the epic's focus on national destiny, but with a very different ideology. Poets replaced the epic's glorification of empire building or the founding of a nation with an implied approval of revolutionary politics. Byron's literary influence on the poema cannot be separated from his political influence as a well-known supporter of revolutionary causes. Contemporary readers thus understood in a broader political context one of the central conventions of the Romantic poema—the hero's seemingly personal quest for freedom expressed in his rebellion against authority. Another source for the revolutionary ideology of the Romantic poema may have been the Decembrist poema. In any case, Pushkin's open return to the theme of national destiny in his last poema, Mednyi vsadnik (The Bronze Horseman, 1833), suggests that this theme was always potentially present in the genre.

Second, like the epic, the Romantic poema remained a very prestigious form. V. A. Zhirmunsky maintains that the new genre of Romantic poema had the same significance that the heroic epic did for the neoclassical eighteenth century. One scholar writes that in Pushkin's time, "It became almost obligatory for a poet of the new tendency [Romanticism] to write a Romantic poema. It was, in its way, the final exam of poetic maturity."15

Finally, the Romantic poema inherited from the epic its gender norms, both for authors and for characters. Russian women poets appear to have experienced as much "genre anxiety" in relation to the Romantic poema as did their Western counterparts in relation to the epic. While four out of the seven canonical men poets we have been considering (Pushkin, Baratynsky, Lermontov, Iazykov) and four of the noncanoni-cal ones (Maikov, Khomiakov, Guber, Miller) wrote at least one work that they titled or referred to as poema, not one of the fourteen women did so.16 At a time when writing a poema was considered essential to be taken seriously as a poet, the gender norms of the genre made it almost impossible for women write one.

Some clarifications are necessary. V. M. Zhirmunsky notes that the term romanticheskaia poema was not used consistently by poets and that only at the end of the 1820s did the term begin to be used in its present-day meaning. Perhaps for this reason, Zhirmunsky, in his study of Byron's influence on Pushkin and Pushkin's imitators, treats the subtitle poema as interchangeable with povest' (tale), turetskaia povest' (Turkish tale), finliand-skaia povest' (Finnish tale), and so on. He considers Kavkazskii plennik— which Pushkin subtitled povest', corresponding to Byron's subtitle of "a tale" for "The Corsair"—to be the first romanticheskaia poema (Bairon i Pushkin, 238-39, 28). Nonetheless, it does seem significant that none of these women poets used the term poema as a generic subtitle, whereas several of the men did. Even Pushkin, whose Kavkazskii plennik: povest' introduced the genre of Byron's Eastern Tales to Russia, apparently liked the prestige of the term poema. In 1827, he referred to selections from Bakhchisaraiskii fontan—certainly as much an Eastern tale as Kavkazskii plennik—as "Otryvki iz poemy, Bakhchisaraiskii fontan" (Excerpts from the poema The fountain at Bakhchisaray). And although Pushkin originally published chapter 1 of Evgenii Onegin in 1825 with the generic subtitle roman v stikhakh (novel in verse), in 1824 and 1826 parts of chapter 2 appeared as "Otryvki iz Evgeniia Onegina: Poema" before Pushkin changed it back to roman v stikhakh in 1827. Excerpts from Tsygany also appeared with the generic subtitle poema in 1826, although as stikhotvore-nie in 1827 and as part of Poemy i povesti Aleksandra Pushkina in 1835.17

Baratynsky used the generic subtitle poema for Tsena iz poemy Vera i neverie (1835) (Scene from the poema Faith and lack of faith), Nalozh-nitsa (The concubine, 1831), and Piry: Opisatel'naia poema (Feasts: A descriptive poema, 1820), although the last is not a poema in the sense discussed earlier. It would appear that for Baratynsky such generic subtitles as povest' v stikhakh (verse tale) were matters of style rather than declarations of genre—such subtitles did not keep him from thinking of these works as poemy. For example, Baratynsky wrote to N. V. Putiate of Bal (The ball, 1828), which he published as povest' v stikhakh, that he was writing "novuiu poemu" (a new poema). In addition, extracts from Bal appeared in Moskovskii telegraf under the title "Otryvok iz poemy," and in Severnye Tsvety under the title "Otryvok iz poemy Bal'nyi vecher" (Excerpt from the poema Evening of the ball). Extracts from Eda (1826), subtitled finliandskaia povest', appeared in Mnemosiia in 1825 under the title "Otryvki iz poemy: Eda" (Excerpts from the poema Eda).18

I should add that it is important to distinguish between the way poets themselves titled or referred to their works (my focus here) and the way critics or scholars later labeled them. For example, the Ler-montovskaia entsiklopediia states that Lermontov wrote thirty poemy (Manuilov, 438), while B. M. Eikhenbaum in the 1948 edition of Ler-montov's Polnoe sobranie sochinenii describes twenty-one of Lermontov's works as poemy and iunosheskie poemy. In fact, according to Eikhenbaum's excellent notes for that same edition, Lermontov himself only used the term poema for five works. Similarly Karolina Pavlova's Dvoinaia zhizn', which is half prose, half poetry, was referred to as a poema during her lifetime and appeared in a section headed poemy in the 1964 Polnoe sobranie stikhotvorenii (Complete poetic works). Pavlova herself, however, subtitled the work ocherk (sketch).19 Fowler writes that in the nineteenth century in particular, generic subtitles constituted an important literary convention, which authors "used rather exquisitely or disingenuously to suggest unobvious generic ingredients" (Kinds of Literature, 98). The generic subtitle that an author chooses, along with that author's other references to the genre of the work, therefore, must be considered a significant part of the work.

Among the women poets we are considering, only Aleksandra Fuks wrote anything resembling romanticheskie poemy, and those, not surprisingly, differ significantly from Zhirmunsky's prototype. Within the genre as Zhirmunsky discusses it—works variously subtitled poema, povest', turetskaia povest', and so on—gender norms for women characters were as circumscribed as in the epic. Zhirmunsky, hardly a feminist critic, describes the narrowness of those norms, basing his conclusions on 120 Romantic poemy and eighty "excerpts from poemy," a kind in itself, that appeared in Russia between 1821 and 1842. The romanticheskaia poema, according to Zhirmunsky, invariably features a male, disillusioned (razocharovannyi), and complicated protagonist and his female love object, the krasavitsa geroinia (heroine-beauty), whose essential trait, as her name implies, is her appearance. Like her Byronic prototype, she is either a dark-eyed, dark-haired, "passionate harem beauty"—a vos-tochnaia zhenshchina (Eastern woman)—or a blue-eyed, golden-curled, "ideally chaste Christian"—a severianka (Northern woman). In either case, Zhirmunsky notes, unlike the hero, her "psychological life is never described, even in those cases when the story's tragic outcome is motivated by [her] action" (304-7).

Monika Greenleaf further analyzes the Eastern woman in the Romantic poema as an example of the "literary orientalism" that Pushkin inherited from Byron and Enlightenment Europe. Literary orientalism contrasted the supposedly "rational, active, dynamically male" West to an "irrational, passive, decadent" East, a binary opposition similar to the more general male and female dichotomy (Pushkin and Romantic Fashion, 104). Writers depicted all Eastern people as the Other, and Eastern women—"oriental" and female—as doubly so. Greenleaf notes that in the Romantic poema "it appears to be of utmost importance that the object of love be a non-native speaker of the (male) erotic discourse" (113). This principle, she concludes, even extends to Pushkin's Tatiana, who writes her love letter to Onegin in French, rather than in Russian (254).20 But if these women poets generally did not write romanticheskie po-emy, several told women's stories in narrative poems and fragments or wrote povesti v stikhakh (verse tales).21 In 1828 Baratynsky and Pushkin first used the term when they jointly published Baratynsky's Bal and Pushkin's Graf Nulin under the title "Dve povesti v stikhakh." Russian literary historians subsequently have distinguished this genre from the romanticheskaia poema as more realistic, contemporary, and ironic. Women poets may have found the povest' v stikhakh less intimidating and more hospitable to their stories and experiences because of its lack of classical resonances—for example, Pushkin's allusions to Ovid in his romanticheskaia povest' Tsygany. Furthermore, in contrast to the obligatory "exotic" settings of the romanticheskaia poema, the povest' v stikhakh was generally set in Russia, an advantage to women poets, who had fewer opportunities to travel.22

I suggest that several of these women poets, despite genre anxiety in relation to the poema and even the povest' v stikhakh, attempted to redesign these male-centered genres to accommodate women's stories, that is, stories with women protagonists. In the process they rejected the "distilled" and "clarified" male-centered myths and conventions of the poema, producing works that ranged from the "formless," "inexpe rienced," and ambivalent, to works of great originality and freshness. Even the formless and inexperienced works, however, are worth considering because of what they tell us about the aesthetic problems women faced.23

Aleksandra Fuks, in her two povesti v stikhakh, Osnovanie goroda Kazani (The founding of the city of Kazan', 1837) and Kniazhna Khabiba (Princess Khabiba, 1841), struggled with the gender norms of the romanticheskaia poema. Both works have women-centered plots and strong women protagonists whose motives are clearly described. Princess Khabiba rebels against the femininity and domesticity her clothes-conscious mother would force on her, eventually disguising herself as a man to run away to her lover. Fatima, the wise and brave heroine of Osnovanie goroda Kazani, urges the tsar to move the city because its distance from the river creates a hardship for the women who have to carry the water. Like Joan of Arc, she refuses to renounce her convictions, even when threatened with death, declaring her willingness to die for her people (although, unlike Joan of Arc, in the end she marries the tsar's son, who is in love with her). In contrast to the usual disposable, generally abandoned or murdered heroines we find in men's works, both of Fuks's heroines completely dominate the emotions of their men. This female power fantasy may have appealed to Fuks's women readers as much as the "love them and leave them" fantasy apparently did to men readers. However, in these works Fuks continues to privilege the male-centered literary conventions of the genre. Khabiba, an "Eastern" woman in Greenleaf's terms, is punished for assuming male privileges of dress and sexual choice. Fatima, a virtuous "Northern"-type woman, is domesticated by marrying the khan's son.24 Thanks to Fuks's detailed knowledge of Tatar culture and history, the result of her ethnographic research, she is able to create the required "exotic" settings. She depicts much less convincingly, however, the conversations between men characters, battles, and army life scenes that she seems to feel obliged to include. These povesti v stikhakh remain awkward and unbalanced amalgams of male- and female-based conventions.

Perhaps the clearest example of genre anxiety in relation to the povest' v stikhakh is Pavlova's Kadril' (Quadrille), a narrative poem consisting of a frame and four stories told by women. It was first published in full in 1858, although sections of it appeared in 1844 and 1851. Despite her considerable poetic powers and great artistic sophistication, Pavlova was unable to define for her readers or even apparently for herself the genre of this work. An excerpt appeared in 1844 in the journal Moskvitianin under the title "Otryvok iz romana" (Excerpt of a novel), a possible allusion to Pushkin's novel in verse, although Pavlova's work consists of four stories. In 1851 another section, "Rasskaz Lizy," appeared in the literary collection (al'manakh) Raut, under a confusing note that described it successively as otryvok, povest' v stikhakh, poema, and rasskaz: "This excerpt (otryvok) from a tale in verse (povest' v stikhakh) is not an excerpt, but an entire poema written in trochaic pentameter, something one rarely meets among us, especially in an entire piece. In this tale (povest'), four ladies meeting at a masquerade recount to one another some events from their lives. Each story (rasskaz) is written in a different meter."25 Although the publisher of Raut, N. V. Sushkov, signed the note, one suspects that it reflects Pavlova's own indecision. In 1859 Kadril appeared in full in the journal Russkii vestnik without any generic subtitle.

Pavlova further expresses nervousness about her undertaking in her invocation to the dead Pushkin, whom she describes as the "specter of the bogatyr' (epic hero) of singers" (prizrak pevtsa-bogatyria). She depicts Pushkin as a kind of antimuse who, instead of helping her, sternly condemns her for daring to enter with her "childish verse" the "cherished world" of his Tatiana, that is, for daring to compete with his poetic skill and to dispute his depiction of women.

3aqeM, Ka^aa ronoBoro, TaK CTporo Ha Mem CMOTpa, 3aqeM CTonrnt nepe^o MHOK npH3paK neB^-6oraTtipa? y»enn ayM MOHX o6Mami YBne^B flep3HyT MOH fleTCKHH CTHX B 3aBeTHLIH MHp TBoeH TaTMHBI?

(Why, shaking your head,

Looking at me so sternly,

Why do you stand before me,

Specter of the bogatyr1 of singers?

Can it be that my thoughts' deceptions

Dare entice my childish verse

Into the cherished world of your Tatiana?)26

Pavlova's genre anxiety in Kadril' may have been heightened further by her polemics with Evgenii Baratynsky, whom she considered her mentor. In 1842 she had written to him in "E. A. Baratynskomu" (To E. A. Baratynsky)

MeHa bh Ha3Ba^n n03T0M,

Tor^a noBepma b ce6a.

(You called me a poet

Then believed in myself.)

Pavlova dedicated Kadril' to Baratynsky, who died in 1844, the year the first excerpt from the work appeared in print. It seems likely that Pavlova intended it to be a response to Baratynsky's povest' v stikhakh, Bal, which rather dramatically recounts the suicide of the femme fatale Nina after she meets her lover and his new love at a ball. Kadril', set just before a ball, tells of more realistic and sympathetic women who suffer at the hands of unsympathetic men. I shall discuss Kadril' at greater length in chapter 6.

In contrast to Pavlova, Khvoshchinskaia does not seem to have suffered from generic subtitle anxiety—she clearly subtitled her seven-chapter narrative poem, Derevenskii sluchai (A country incident, 1853), "povest' v stikhakh." But this work, too, represents an uncomfortable compromise between androcentric form and gynocentric content, in this case the result of Khvoshchinskaia's ambivalence about telling women's stories. Supposedly, the protagonist is Nikolai, a young Saint Petersburg civil servant. However, the story often threatens to veer off toward his far more interesting sister, Liza. Another site of tension is Khvoshchin-skaia's unexplained female-voiced digressions, which, in contrast to Pushkin's in Evgenii Onegin, speculate about parents' unconscious cruelty to children or directly address women readers on the subject of their experiences in pensions. Khvoshchinskaia is far more successful in her shorter, untitled narrative poem in which a woman tells a stranger about the forced marriage of a relative that took place in the 1730s ("'Vy ulybaetes'? ... Razdum'e ne meshaet'" [You are smiling? . .. My pen-siveness doesn't prevent me, 1852]). This work (discussed in chapter 5), while more fragmentary, powerfully focuses on a woman's story.27

Elisaveta Shakhova also chose the term povesti v stikhakh for three works that focus more directly on women than does Khvoshchinskaia's Derevenskii sluchai. Shakhova solved the problem of how to tell women's stories in a genre that defined women as Other by combining the povest' v stikhakh with a second genre in which women's stories could be told—

the Gothic tale. The result, however, is an awkward combination of stylistic effects, plot, and characters seemingly from Pushkin, Lermontov, and Ann Radcliffe. Lidiia, in Perst Bozhii (The finger of God), dies on her wedding day as the result of a family curse. Elena in Strashnyi krasavets (The frightening handsome man) is pursued by a diabolical Greek. In Izgnannik (The exile), a story with incestuous overtones, Ida falls in love with her sister's fiancé. She sacrifices herself for him by marrying his evil old miserly uncle, who would otherwise forbid the match. Although Shakhova's experiments were not successful—and she was not nearly as good a poet as Pavlova and Khvoshchinskaia—she recognized the importance of combining the androcentric povest' v stikhakh with a gyno-centric genre.28

Iuliia Zhadovskaia, while working on a much smaller scale than either Pavlova or Khvoshchinskaia, wrote two successful women-centered narrative poems. Like Shakhova, Zhadovskaia combined her povest' v stikhakh with other narrative genres more open to women's stories: the green world fantasy—which Annis Pratt (Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction) describes as an archetype in narratives of women's development—and also the svetskaia povest' (society tale). In the green-world fantasy the female protagonist lives in an ideal natural world until she becomes "marriageable," at which point she is forced into the constraints of society. This archetype appears in Zhadovskaia's "Otryvki iz neokonchennogo rasskaza" (Excerpts from an unfinished story 1859). Nadezhda, the protagonist, enjoys an idyllic life in the country reading good books with her adoring widowed mother, listening to her nanny's fairy tales, taking long walks alone at night, and swimming in the moonlight. This idyll is shattered when a neighbor insists on taking Nadezhda to a ball. On the way the neighbor berates Nadezhda for her reluctance to go into society and makes fun of her pensiveness. The excerpt breaks off here.29

The second work, "Poseshchenie" (The visit, 1849), has no generic subtitle but resembles the povest' v stikhakh in its contemporary Russian setting and ironic narration. Zhadovskaia tells of a young woman who is not at home to receive a visit from the man she loves. He, upon learning she is to be married, leaves town before he can receive her note begging him to save her from the marriage being forced on her by her family. Here, as Pavlova would in Kadril', Zhadovskaia makes use of the svetskaia povest', or society tale, a prose genre of the 1830s and 1840s in which upper-class writers often called attention to women's disadvantaged position in society. While, unlike the svetskaia povest', Zhadovskaia's story takes place in the country, like the svetskaia povest' it depicts the world as hostile to true feelings, presents marriage as a calculated economic transaction, revolves around an unhappy love triangle, and protests "woman's lot."30

The most successful recasting of the povest' v stikhakh to accommodate women's stories is Mordovtseva's Staraia skazka (An old fairy tale, see appendix), a thinly-veiled autobiographical work that bears comparison to Wordsworth's "personal epic," The Prelude. Judging from internal biographical evidence, Staraia skazka probably dates from the late 1840s or early 1850s. Mordovtseva probably wrote it around 1848, when she left her first husband, or shortly thereafter. Nina, the protagonist, is married off by her family to a much older man, who abuses her. He takes Nina from the country to Saint Petersburg, where she has a one-sided romance with a younger man. When her husband also begins to abuse their five children, Nina escapes with them back to the country. The works ends with Nina's journal, which is composed of philosophical poems—a device that anticipates Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago. Staraia skazka, despite the genre anxiety indicated in its self-deprecating or ironic title (An old fairy tale), is a very powerful work, particularly in its subtle descriptions of Nina's intellectual development and moods. This work deserves further study.31

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