Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia

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While Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia (1824-89) has been recognized for the novels and stories she wrote under the pseudonym V. Krestovsky the wonderful poetry that she wrote under her own name has been forgotten.1 There are many reasons for the disappearance of these works from literary history. First, in the course of her life Khvoshchinskaia herself seemed to lose interest in her poetry: she neither published nor apparently wrote any poems after 1859, nor did she collect her more than eighty published poems, although she published a six-volume edition of her prose works. Second, much of her poetry still remains unpublished in notebooks, which are now in archives. Third, the poems that were published during her lifetime appeared in distorted form and, moreover, did so not in "thick" (tolstye) literary journals, but chiefly in newspapers. Such works are less likely to become part of the literary canon since, like newspapers themselves, they tend to be considered ephemeral. In addition, recovery of such works is not easy, as newspapers are less likely than journals to be preserved. Other more basic factors, however, contributed to the disappearance of Khvoschinskaia's poetry from Russian literary history.

These factors, I suggest, had nothing to do with the quality of Khvosh-chinskaia's poetry—which is well worth recovering—but rather with the gender issues discussed in previous chapters. As we shall see, despite her ability to ignore or overcome the constraints of gender norms in her career, they ultimately affected her reception and reputation as a poet.

Khvoshchinskaia was born in Riazan' in 1824.2 Her father, Dmitrii Ke-sarevich Khvoshchinsky, was a civil servant, first working in the department of horse breeding, then as a surveyor. Her half-Russian, half-Polish mother, Iuliia Vikent'eva, born Drobysheva-Rubets, was well educated and fluent in French, which she taught her children. Khvoshchinskaia had three younger sisters and a brother. One sister died in childhood; the other two, like Khvoshchinskaia, became writers: Sof'ia, under the pseudonym Iv. Vesen'ev, and Praskov'ia, under the pseudonym of S. Zimarov.

Khvoshchinskaia did not have a typical childhood because her family was déclassé. Her sister Praskov'ia recounts that in 1831 their father, falsely accused of embezzling money from the government, lost his position, and to settle the judgment against him was forced to sell all his property. For fourteen years the family lived in poverty—with occasional help from wealthy relatives3—until 1845, when Dmitrii Kesare-vich finally proved his innocence and was reinstated. These events made Khvoshchinskaia aware of social, political, and economic realities from an early age.4

Another factor that made Khvoshchinskaia's childhood atypical for a girl was the encouragement she received from her father to develop her intellectual and artistic powers. Although as a result of her family's financial difficulties, Khvoshchinskaia at about age seven had to leave the pension where she was studying, this did not end her education. She spent more than a year with a Moscow uncle studying Italian, music, and drawing. In addition, she studied Latin with her brother and enjoyed unlimited use of her father's library. Most significantly, in working as her father's secretary—from age nine until his death, according to one biography —Khvoshchinskaia acquired an education in aspects of provincial life, politics, economics, government, and the civil service, unavailable to most women of the time. Within her family Khvoshchin-skaia appears to have enjoyed prerogatives usually reserved for men. Her sister Praskov'ia writes, "N. D. always had the right to express herself [pravo golosa] in our house; she had heated arguments with Father, and she boldly maintained her opinions and views, something we could not allow ourselves."5

In addition, Dmitrii Kesarevich encouraged Khvoshchinskaia to write poetry. On the inside front cover of a notebook of Khvoshchinskaia's poems dating from her twelfth year (1836), now in RGALI, we find his verse inscription:

MepHaa KHHra CBeratix n^en MepHon ro^oBKH fl^epn Moen; Ta^aHT caMoÔHTHHH npH3HaH y» b Hen. nnmn, He .neHHCB, qepHrn He »a.nen, B pa^H B^oxHoBeHHHx BTecHHca CKopen.

(A black book of bright ideas

From the dark little head of my daughter;

With her original talent already acknowledged,

Write, don't be lazy; don't spare the ink,

Thrust yourself quickly into the ranks of the inspired.)6

After Khvoshchinskaia earned her first money as a writer—for the povest' (tale) Anna Mikhailovna (1850)—Praskov'ia Khvoshchinskaia recounts that their father gave Khvoshchinskaia a desk, their mother gave her an inkwell, and they both always provided a corner where she could write undisturbed. In addition, Dmitrii Kesarevich, at the urging of Vladimir Zotov, the editor of Literaturnaia gazeta, in 1852 took Khvoshchinskaia to Saint Petersburg for several weeks to make the literary contacts necessary to advance her career. In the 1850s Khvoshchin-skaia stopped publishing poetry, for reasons that will be discussed below, to concentrate only on prose. She eventually became a highly respected novelist, critic, and translator who, after the deaths of her father and sister Sof'ia, managed with her writing to support her mother, sister, two aunts, two nephews, and husband.

But if Khvoshchinskaia's unusual childhood promoted intellectual self-confidence and the ability to have a successful literary career, it produced less positive social and psychological effects. One suspects that social life for Khvoshchinskaia in Riazan' would have been uncomfortable in any case because of the legal judgment against her father as well as the family's severe financial problems. In addition, one biographer states that Khvoshchinskaia's writing cut her off from conventional female society (Tsebrikova, "Ocherk zhizni," 7), although, as we shall see, she always had many close relationships with women relatives and friends. Khvoshchinskaia herself wrote that her neighbors thought her crazy, while diady generaly, kuziny freiliny (her uncles the generals, and her cousins the ladies-in-waiting) considered her writing, especially the prose, a disgrace to the family.7 Furthermore, Khvoshchinskaia throughout her life struggled with severe depression, at least at one point, after her sister Sof'ia's death, becoming suicidal.8 Some biographies suggest that Khvoshchinskaia often became involved with people who abused her emotionally and/or financially.9

Despite Khvoshchinskaia's unconventional upbringing and its social and psychological costs, however, in at least one respect her life remained typical for a woman of her time: she lived and wrote in a gy-nosocial world. The scholar Ol'ga Demidova compares the Khvoshchin-

sky household with that of the Brontes, because in both cases three sisters, living in provincial isolation, wrote and shared their work with one another.10 The most intense relationship in Khvoshchinskaia's life appears to have been with her sister Sof'ia, her closest friend. Several biographers also mention Khvoshchinskaia's many aunts and women friends—N. E. Fon Vinkler, M. Andreevna, A. G. Karrik, her goddaughter Sonia, and Vera Aleksandrovna Moskaleva, with whom she lived for the last eight years of her life.11 Even Khvoshchinskaia's marriage could be considered an extension of her relationship with a woman: she told an acquaintance that she had married Sof'ia's doctor, Ivan Zaionchkovsky, two months after her sister's death (in 1865) "because I was afraid of loneliness" (Vinitskaia, "Vospominaniia o N.D. Khvoshchinskoi," 152). The marriage was unsuccessful; the couple lived together for only two years, and Zaionchkovsky died abroad in 1872.

It was the atypical and unconventional aspects of Khvoshchinskaia's life, however, that preoccupied her biographers. I suggest that Khvoshchin-skaia's achievements as poet, author, and critic—an implicit challenge to gender assumptions about women—made her contemporaries very uncomfortable. We see this discomfort both in accounts of her life and in the critical reception that led her to abandon poetry and be forgotten as a poet.

Biographers dealt with the "unfeminine" anomaly of Khvoshchin-skaia's success in various ways. The writer A. A. Vinitskaia (1847-1914) concludes an envy-tinged memoir by suggesting that Khvoshchinskaia was a moral monster, that is, not a woman at all: "And [her] heart reflected neither warmth, nor light, nor any joys at all; nothing animated it except her own work and literary successes." In contrast, as we shall see, Mar'ia Tsebrikova (1835-1917), the feminist social critic and publicist, vigorously defended Khvoshchinskaia's femininity. Tsebrikova may well have believed that only in this way could she secure Khvoshchin-skaia a serious hearing as a writer.12 Other biographers (V. Semevsky, Vladimir Zotov) expressed their ambivalence by simultaneously defending Khvoshchinskaia's femininity and suggesting that she was an unnatural woman. These discussions of Khvoshchinskaia's femininity repay attention because they determined both her literary reception and reputation and also show the difficulties she confronted as a woman writer. In addition, the aspects of Khvoshchinskaia's life that interested her biographers—her appearance, personal habits, courting and marriage behavior, modesty, and relationship to money—indicate how fem ininity was constructed at the time. As we shall see, that construction has changed somewhat, indicating, as some scholars have argued, that femininity is at least in part culturally defined and prescribed.13 It should not be surprising, however, that contemporary expectations affected and influenced Khvoshchinskaia.

As in the case of Rostopchina, most biographers and memoirists minutely describe and evaluate Khvoshchinskaia's physical appearance in terms of its attractiveness to men. Unlike Rostopchina, however, Khvoshchinskaia is portrayed as unappealing, possessing only one or two good features:

A girl, not in her first youth, simply dressed, short, dark-complexioned, with crooked features but with large expressive black eyes. (Zotov, "Nadezhda Dmitrievna Khvoshchinskaia," 99)

Her appearance was not effective for balls, although she had an original appeal, especially in her big, intelligent, and kind, black, brilliant eyes. (Tsebrikova, "Ocherk zhizni," 4)

Very swarthy features, beautiful black hair and expressive black eyes. In general, her appearance was very original, sympathetic and piquant, despite her overly big lower lip. ... In the years that she first attended balls, her appearance did not produce a favorable impression. (Semevskii, "N. D. Khvoshchinskaia-Zaionchkovskaia," 10: 55)

As a woman, she produced a very unfavorable impression: short, stooped, with sharp features. . . [H]er sister [Sof'ia] was an ugly woman with an unfeminine, intelligent face, but more shapely and taller, [who] looked like what she was, a middle-aged old maid. N. D. looked more married.14

In regard to the last citation it should be noted that at this time Khvoshchinskaia, who was four years older than Sof'ia and would not marry until after Sof'ia's death, was also a "middle-aged old maid." Her later marriage appears to have retroactively lent her the appearance of a married woman. I have cited these descriptions at length because men's evaluations of the physical attributes of successful women were so pervasive that one can easily stop noticing them. We therefore fail to recognize, much less question, the assumptions implicit in these usually unflattering descriptions: that a woman's achievements are less important than her attractiveness to men; that a woman only becomes an artist because she has failed to attract a man; that it is unnatural for a woman to be an artist.15 Such beliefs may account for the fact that

Khvoshchinskaia's most often republished poem, appearing at least seven times, is "Net, ia ne nazovu obmanom" (No, I will not call it an illusion, 1851), which critics interpret as her humble acceptance of the fact that she will never find happiness because she is unattractive.16

Biographers rarely scrutinize and judge the personal habits of men writers, although no doubt much could be written about those of Gogol, Lermontov, and others. However, virtually all Khvoshchinskaia's biographers noted disapprovingly that she smoked cigars, a violation of gender norms. (Russkii biograficheskii slovar' [1900-1918] more circumspectly referred to Khvoshchinskaia's "masculine habits, acquired from her father.") Those defending Khvoshchinskaia's femininity pointed out that she also loved "women's work."17 The biographer V. Semevsky writes: "Having become tired of working, N. D. would take up the crochet hook and begin to crochet: she loved all kinds of women's work very much" ("N. D. Khvoshchinskaia-Zaionchkovskaia," 142). Semevsky both defends Khvoshchinskaia as feminine and trivializes her writing by redefining her "female" pen as a metaphorical crochet hook. This comparison contrasts with the traditional equation of the "male" pen with a penis, explicated by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar: "In patriarchal Western culture, therefore, the text's author is a father, a progenitor, a procreator, an aesthetic patriarch whose pen is an instrument of generative power like his penis.. .. The pen has been defined as not just accidentally, but essentially a male "tool" and therefore not only inappropriate but actually alien to women" (Madwoman in the Attic, 6-8). Such metaphors as Semevsky's maintain the double standard that valorizes men's writing as art while dismissing women's writing as amateur craft, not to be taken seriously. One thinks of Vissarion Belinsky's similar dismissal of eighteenth-century Russian women poets' work as "the poetic knitting of stockings, rhymed sewing."18

As for gender norms in the realm of courtship and marriage, Khvosh-chinskaia's contemporaries apparently disregarded what we would call sexual/emotional orientation. That is, they did not question Khvosh-chinskaia's femininity on the grounds that she had a series of intense relationships with women and lived with a woman for the last eight years of her life. Indeed, Semevsky, one of Khvoshchinskaia's most judgmental critics, approvingly described that relationship with Vera Aleksan-drovna Moskaleva as "a most tender friendship" (samaia nezhnaia druzhba).19 We find an explanation for these biographers' apparent inability to imagine a lesbian relationship in the work of Michel Foucault and queer theorists, who argue that homosexuality as a "new specification of individuals" (Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1: 42-43) or "category of identification" (Jagose, Queer Theory, 10) only appeared at the end of the nineteenth century, and lesbianism in the first decades of the twentieth.20 Until then, male homosexual acts "were not understood to constitute a certain kind of individual" (Jagose, Queer Theory, 11). As for nineteenth-century women's romantic friendships, they were considered "unremarkable or even praiseworthy" because men's belief that "normal women are blessed by sexual anesthesia" made it impossible for them to perceive such friendships as sexual (Greenberg, Construction of Homosexuality, 379, 378).21 Khvoshchinskaia's short-lived marriage appears to have satisfied patriarchal norms. In any case, compilers of two reference works, D. D. Iazykov and I. F. Masanov, listed Khvoshchinskaia under her husband's name, Zaionchkovskaia, while four biographers and bibliographers, Karrik, Semevsky, Tsebrikova, and Chizhkov, referred to her as Khvoshchinskaia-Zaionchkovskaia, although Khvo-shchinskaia never wrote under any variant of her husband's name.22

Rather, biographers debated the "femininity" of Khvoshchinskaia's sexual behavior either by defending her as submissive to men or by attacking her for appropriating male prerogatives. Tsebrikova, the champion of Khvoshchinskaia's femininity, depicts her as a self-sacrificing, compliant wife, describing at great length the emotional, physical, and financial abuse Khvoshchinskaia endured from Zaionchkovsky. Those attacking Khvoshchinskaia depicted her as a sex-crazed spinster, pointing derisively to the fact that she first married at age forty a man thirteen years her junior, a circumstance that would have gone unnoted had Khvoshchinskaia and Zaionchkovsky's genders been reversed. One clearly uncomfortable memoirist—"the bride had already passed the age allotted for marriage and was much older than the groom"— claimed that Khvoshchinskaia only married Zaionchkovsky at her dying sister Sofia's request (Zotov, "Nadezhda Dmitrievna Khvoshchinskaia," 102). Praskov'ia Khvoshchinskaia specifically denied this story ("Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia," xiii).

Khvoshchinskaia's contemporaries appeared to consider an even more serious violation of gender norms the fact that Khvoshchinskaia appropriated male prerogatives of language and behavior by verbally cross-dressing and by "leading a woman on." Two memoirists describe Khvoshchinskaia's correspondence with a provincial woman who, misled by Khvoshchinskaia's male pseudonym (V. Krestovsky), started a romantic correspondence with her.23 Khvoshchinskaia at first did not disabuse the woman, but when it eventually became necessary to do so, the woman refused to believe she had not been writing to a man.

In the interrelated realms of writing, money, and modesty/ambition, Khvoshchinskaia violated female gender norms by supporting not only herself but also a large family—including her husband. As noted in chapter 1, women who wrote for publication in the mid-nineteenth century were considered to be engaging in sexual display or prostitution. In addition, mid-nineteenth-century domestic ideology consigned "ladies" to the home, where, financially supported by their husbands, they were supposed to establish a haven from the crass commercial world. Ladies were not supposed to support their husbands.24 Several biographers focused obsessively and almost pruriently on how much money Khvoshchinskaia earned from her writing—one calculated her income for each decade of her life.25 We do not find such a preoccupation, for example, among the biographers of Dostoevsky, who also struggled to support many family members with his writing.

Domestic ideology required women to be "modest," that is, to renounce recognition or fame, certainly the fame of publication under their own names.26 Khvoshchinskaia along with her sisters appear to have embraced this aspect of femininity, for which contemporary men biographers praised her.27 All three sisters used male pseudonyms for their prose, separating their feminine "selves" from their masculine-defined activities and careers. Similarly, all three fiercely objected to having their biographies published. Khvoshchinskaia wrote to a would-be biographer: "Pseudonyms have no biographies at all. What is a pseudonym? No one. Then what is there to say about it? Nothing" (Bykov, Siluety dalekogo proshlogo, 187). One is reminded of the Emily Dickinson poem, mentioned in the introduction, which starts:

I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you-Nobody-Too?

Then there's a pair of us!

Don't tell! they'd advertise-you know! ("I'm Nobody!" in Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. T. H. Johnson, 206)

One feels a similar ambivalence in Khvoshchinskaia's and Dickinson's renunciation of public identity.28 In the same letter Khvoshchinskaia wrote admonishingly "The inviolability of a pseudonym is one of the most elementary concepts of good (decent) respectable literary society. It is completely natural in view of the varied causes that can lead a writer to sign an article with an invented name" (Bykov, Siluety dalekogo proshlogo, 186). Khvoshchinskaia tried to prevent articles about her sister Sof'ia from being published after her death, and one surmises from one memoir, she finally broke with her "mentor," Vladimir Zotov, when he published an obituary of Sof'ia against Khvoshchinskaia's expressed wishes.29 In this context, it is significant that Khvoshchinskaia always signed her poetry with her full name and freely used feminine grammatical endings in her poems. Perhaps she felt more identification with her poetry than with her prose, or perhaps she felt it was more acceptable for a woman to write poetry.30 Yet, if the latter is the case, why has her poetry disappeared? I suggest it is because her poetry, too, violated gender norms.

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