Evaluation of Khvoshchinskaias Poetry

There can be no meaningful evaluation of Khvoshchinskaia's poetry without reliable versions of her work. Although over the years several scholars have painstakingly compiled increasingly complete bibliographies of Khvoshchinskaia's published poetry, these 85 poems, even when located and collected, cannot be used to draw any valid conclusions about Khvoshchinskaia's art.47 Not only did Zotov rewrite most of them to varying degrees, but also they represent much less than half of

Khvoshchinskaia's poetic corpus—and there is no reason to believe that Zotov chose her best or most representative work to rewrite and publish. We need a scholarly edition of the 205 poems contained in Khvoshchinskaia's two notebooks, as well as whatever other notebooks can be found.

A comparison of twenty-five of the published poems with their autograph versions shows that only two ("Uzh vecher" and "Ne mogu ia priniat'sia za delo") were published as Khvoshchinskaia wrote them, and one ("Kladbishche") with relatively trivial changes. For the rest Zo-tov changed anything from a final line to twenty-three out of the thirty lines of "O daite mne pole." Although these twenty-five poems may not be typical of Khvoshchinskaia's work as a whole, even a preliminary look at their themes—and most contain more than one—shows Khvoshchinskaia's range, originality, and power. Eight poems have social themes: "Byvalo, s sestrami" describes the effects of poverty on a young woman; "Vy ulybaetes'? ..." forced marriages; "Bal detskii" the corrupting effect of balls; "Tri slova," "Mezh tem," and "Svoi razum" the failure of the political revolutions and movements of the 1840s to change society; "Uzhasno skorbnyi den'" and "Mezh tem" the conflict between generations. Seven are love poems, though often with unusual subjects. For example, "Uzh vecher" describes a muse/lover with vampirish overtones; "Ia ne tebe otdam poslednie chasy" the speaker's refusal to think of a lost love at midnight on New Year's Eve; "Dolzhna by ia vchera poplakat'" indifference to the final loss of a lover. Three of them directly address women's lack of freedom in society ("Druz'ia," "Dva-tri doma" ["Dva tri doma" in Zotov's version], "'Vy ulybaetes'? . ..'"). Three are metaphysical ("I dlia menia," "Uzhasno skorbnykh dnei," "Klad-bishche"); three invoke diabolical forces ("Dva-tri doma," "Uzh vecher," "Solntse segodnia").

Of course, we cannot use twenty-five poems to establish how Khvoshchinskaia dealt with the issues, discussed in chapters 2 and 3, that faced the women poets of her generation—poetic self-representation; gender and genre; the poet's relationship with audience, nature, creativity, and cosmology. However, the way Khvoshchinskaia treats some of those issues in these poems does shed light on her subsequent career.

It may be significant that Khvoshchinskaia never represents herself with the word poet in these poems, nor does she often describe writing poetry. In "Shumit osennii dozhd', noch' temnaia niskhodit" (The autumn rain sounds, the dark night falls), the speaker refers to "getting down to insipid, dull work" ("Priniat'sia ... za blednyi, vialyi trud"). Another poem begins, "Ne mogu ia priniat'sia za delo" (I can't get down to the matter [business] at hand, no. 161 in the notebook, published in Za-zdravnyi fial: Al'manakh na 1852 god, 7). Only in "Uzh vecher"—a poem suffused with a sense of guilt and evil—does the speaker actually seem to be engaged in writing poetry. Similar feelings pervade the "dra-maticheskiaia fantaziia" (dramatic fantasy) Dzhulio (Julio, no. 70 in the notebook, published in Panteon 3, no. 5 [May 1850]), which concerns an artist. (As I did not compare the published version with the autograph, I cannot consider this a reliable text.) In this work, written in iambic pentameter, a shepherd who wants to be an artist leaves his fiancée and aged mother—who accuse him of selfishness and insanity—to go to the city and study painting. After five years he returns to his village, a failure as a painter, to find his fiancée married to another and his mother dead.

But while Khvoshchinskaia does not depict herself positively as a poet in any of this material, in several of the twenty-five poems ("Uzhasno," "Mezh tem," "Bal destskii," "Svoi razum," "O esli by iz slov," "Tri slova," "Kladbishche") she assumes the role of social critic. In the largest group of these poems Khvoshchinskaia's implied audience as society in general. Fewer poems appear to be addressed primarily to women ("Byvalo, s sestrami," "Bal detskii," "Solntse segodnia") or to men ("Druz'ia, vam istinno," "'Vy ulybaetes'? . ..'"). As for cosmology, all these poems express a tension between apathy/hopelessness, on the one hand, and the knowledge that work can and must be done in the world, on the other. Depression and even despair predominate in many of these poems: "Bal," "I dlia menia," "Uzhasno," "Druz'ia," "Est' dni," "Net, ia ne navozu," "Dva-tri doma," and "Solntse segodnia." However, implicit in others ("O daite mne pole," "Byvalo, sestrami," and "Kladbishche") is the belief that nature is good and healing, that God intends people to enjoy life, and that one must work to improve society. This poetic orientation, I suggest, explains in part how Khvoshchinskaia was able to make the transition to socially engaged novels and stories.

Let us return, then, to our original questions: Why did Khvoshchinskaia give up writing poetry for prose, and why has her poetry been lost to literary history? From an economic standpoint, it might seem obvious that Khvoshchinskaia stopped writing poetry because she received no money for it, and because after her father's death in 1856 her family depended for its survival on the money she could earn writing prose. While Khvoshchinskaia experienced a great deal of physical and emo tional stress from her responsibilities as breadwinner under difficult circumstances, she also appears to have enjoyed the freedom and respect her position gave her within her family. In addition, writing prose allowed Khvoshchinskaia to free herself from Zotov's literary guardianship and to deal directly with other editors.48

However, Khvoshchinskaia did not give up poetry willingly or easily. Zotov writes that it took him a long time to persuade her to try writing prose, which she felt neither the desire nor the ability to do.49 Along with economic necessity, several literary-historical factors also may have pushed Khvoshchinskaia from poetry to prose. First, poetry had been going out of fashion since the 1830s, making it increasingly difficult to gain recognition as a poet.50 In any case, Khvoshchinskaia's poetry was not widely praised. In 1852 the influential poet and critic Nikolai Nekrasov wrote that in Khvoshchinskaia's poetry "some kind of foggi-ness and vagueness is noticeable both in the expressions and thoughts. In addition, Miss Khvoshchinskaia does not have a completely free command of verse and perhaps too regards rhyme too freely." He gave several rhymes from "'Vy ulybaetes'? ...'" as examples.51 A year later he concluded a review of Khvoshchinskaia's verse tales Derevenskii sluchai (1853) by writing, "We would consider ourselves fortunate if our few remarks assisted the authoress of Derevenskii sluchai to bring herself to renounce verse tales (povesti v stikhakh). She has been given everything necessary to write successfully in prose."52 It is hard to believe that Khvoshchinskaia would have been unaffected by these two reviews, which appeared in the prestigious Sovremennik.

Even her biographers appear to have been unenthusiastic about her poetry. In Russkii biograficheskii slovar' we read, "Several of [her poems], it is true, are somewhat vague and carelessly finished, but their originality and deep thought and feeling produce a deep impression on the reader" (21: 302). Another biographer wrote of Khvoshchinskaia's debut in Literaturnaia gazeta, "Six of these [poems] were printed with her full name in no. 38 of this publication with a kind, even too kind, note from the editor" (Semevskii, "N. D. Khvoshchinskaia-Zaionchkovskaia," 10: 54). A third opined, "In respect to artistry, N. D.'s first [published] poems were weak and distinguished themselves from the mass of published versified trash [khlam] only in their ideological content and genuine feeling" (Karrik, "Iz vospominanii," 12-13). I suspect that much of the vagueness that Khvoshchinskaia's contemporaries complained about can be attributed to Zotov's rewritings and deletions. I certainly found the autograph versions of Khvoshchinskaia's poems much clearer and more understandable than the published versions. Beyond not gaining recognition for her poetry, however, Khvoshchinskaia may have become discouraged by seeing her poems published in mutilated form. Perhaps, like Emily Dickinson, she eventually decided it was not worth publishing them at all.53

As to why Khvoshchinskaia's poetry disappeared from literary history, it seems likely that in addition to the factors already mentioned, her subject matter in several cases made Zotov and other men editors uncomfortable. These editors, in rewriting and repeatedly censoring such poems, eventually destroyed them by making them unintelligible. More generally, men publishers and anthologizers dismissed Khvoshchin-skaia's poetry as they did most of the women's poetry of her generation, because they could neither make sense of its different perspective nor identify with many of the experiences described. They assumed Khvoshchinskaia's poetry to be technically incompetent and her rhymes faulty. I suggest that a closer look will reveal, rather, creative and daring experiments with prosody, as is also the case with Zhadovskaia's poetry, which was similarly criticized.

It is useful to compare Khvoshchinskaia's poetic career with that of Emily Dickinson. These two near-contemporaries—Dickinson was born in 1830, six years after Khvoshchinskaia—faced several common problems but resolved them very differently because of different circumstances. Both women strongly felt their poetic vocation. Both sent their work to conventional, limited men editors who did not understand it and tried to improve it. Both had to make hard choices. Dickinson, despite her ambition and awareness of her poetic gifts, renounced publication and fame, although not easily or happily, to live an entirely domestic life.54 In exchange she gained the freedom to continue writing poetry. She was able to make this choice because she did not have to support herself and her family, and because she was temperamentally and artistically suited to an isolated life; her poetry is inward and spiritual. Khvoshchinskaia, given her temperament and the circumstances of her life, had to choose otherwise. She was able and called upon to support her family, cared about social and political issues, and very much wanted to be in the world. She gladly left provincial Riazan' for Saint Petersburg, where she gained success as a prose writer and critic—but at the cost of her poetry. We can only speculate how high that cost was for Khvoshchinskaia personally and for Russian literature.

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