We have looked at some differences in the way these women poets approached the most characteristic Romantic poetic genres: the poema, the ballad, the elegy and the lyric. How did such differences affect the reception of their work? As mentioned in the introduction, it seems likely that men literary gatekeepers—publishers, critics, editors—ignored women's poetry or found it irrelevant or meaningless because they had no knowledge of the experience it evoked. For example, as mentioned in the introduction, Belinsky pronounced Teplova's poem "Sestre" (To my sister) rebiacheskii (puerile), one suspects because canonical men poets generally did not write poems to family members, although all fourteen of the women poets did.64 In addition, the debate about women's writing (discussed in chapter 1) appears to have fostered a condescending or hostile attitude among men reviewers toward women poets.

Contemporary reviewers, as I have shown elsewhere, reduced several of these women poets to then-current female stereotypes: Kul'man to a virgin martyr, Zhadovskaia to an object of pornographic fantasy, Teplova to a wallflower, Pavlova to a masculine woman, and Rostopchina to a whore.65 And, as discussed in chapter 1, it would appear that at least some negative nineteenth-century attitudes toward women writers persisted into the twentieth century, continuing to affect the critical evaluation of these poets.

Is it possible to expand the definition of Romanticism—which, as we saw in chapter 1, has been considered a male institution—to include the work of women writers? Romanticism has been described as encouraging "revolutionary political ideas" (Harmon and Holman, Handbook to Literature, 452), expressing "an extreme assertion of the self" (Drabble,

Oxford Companion to English Literature, 842), championing "absolute creative freedom" (Preminger, Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 718), and as having for its fundamental tenets liberty and individualism. Although many women found Romantic ideology inspiring, their relationship to it was necessarily more ambivalent than men's, since it was never intended for them. In revolutionary France, Olympe de Gouges, who answered the Declaration of the Rights of Man with her "Declaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne" (1791), was guillotined in 1793 for "having forgotten the virtues which belong to her sex."66 Also in 1793, the same year that the French revolutionary government granted universal male suffrage, it denied women the right of public assembly and of citizenship—along with the demented, minors, and criminals. In the United States, John Adams found it amusing when his wife, Abigail, asked him during the Second Continental Congress of 1776 to "remember the ladies" in the future U.S. law code.67 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose name in Russia was synonymous with revolutionary thought up to the second half of the nineteenth century, wrote in Emile (1763), his highly influential treatise on education: "Woman is made to please and to be subjugated.. .. Thus the whole education of women ought to relate to men. To please men, to be useful to them, to make herself loved and honored by them, to raise them when young, to care for them when grown, to counsel them, to console them, to make their lives agreeable and sweet—these are the duties of women at all times and they ought to be taught from childhood" (Emile or on Education, 358, 365X68 In Russia, the "men of the forties" (Nikolai Stankevich, Vissarion Belin-sky, Mikhail Bakunin, and others), who immersed themselves in German philosophy, imposed the "hierarchical binary oppositions" of German Romantic gender ideology on real women, producing, in Ginzburg's words, "inevitable emotional catastrophes" (O lirike, 141).69 It is not surprising, then, that both European and Russian women's poetry differs from that of their male contemporaries by focusing on women's often restricted experience, as well as by referring less frequently to the philosophical concepts in vogue with men.

If we wish to expand the concept of Romanticism to include women, we must focus on the elements that women's and men's poetry shared. For example, one gender-neutral definition of the Romantic lyric describes it as expressing sensuality feelings, and mysticism.70 While these women poets did not write poems of overt sensuality, they wrote many poems that verbalized feeling and mysticism, poems that could be compared fruitfully with those of their male contemporaries. Such compar isons might give us a more complete and three-dimensional view of Romanticism.

These first chapters have analyzed the commonalties among these women poets: historical and social circumstances, literary conventions, practices, and genres. In the next three chapters we shall change our focus to consider the individual achievements of three of the most significant of these women poets—Rostopchina, Khvoshchinskaia, and Pavlova—and shall examine the varied and pervasive effects of gender ideology on their lives, work, and literary reputations.

0 0

Post a comment