Sexualization

Not only Rostopchina's life but also her work have been sexualized by both positive and negative criticism. The "positive" earlier reviews condescendingly but dismissively praised her work for its "femininity" or leeringly pointed to its revelations of feminine secrets. The negative reviews condemned Rostopchina for being banal and boring (too feminine) and/or immoral or indecently sexual (not feminine enough):

Definitely the best verse that has ever fluttered down to paper from sweet, ladylike little fingers. (critic Aleksandr Nikitenko, reviewing her 1841 collection, cited in Romanov, editor's introduction, 17)

Here are ten years of a woman in full bloom, here is the story of a most beautiful creature in its most beautiful period [Rostopchina's poems were dated 1829-39, that is, from her seventeenth to twenty-seventh year]. (Konstantin Aksakov, 1841 review)35

A woman of high society; in whom all the best gifts of nature and fate are crowned by the star of a poetic gift, gives us her secrets, her intimate thoughts. (Stepan Shevyrev, 1841 review, "Kritika," 171)

A coquette, generally speaking, can only be a woman with a dry, evil heart and an empty head. And if a woman can become a coquette, she will remain a coquette to the end of her life. . . . Now judge whether the persona that Countess Rostopchina favors [in her poetry] belongs to the usual woman of society. . . . She has found all her happiness only at balls . . . in the course of the last twelve years. (Nikolai Chernyshevsky "Stikhotvoreniia grafini Rostopchinoi" [1856], 6-7)

A girl from the gentry, a lady—these are the images that first and foremost arise before us in the biography of the poetess. . . . Ros-topchina's life, so ordinary and so touching in its banality, is all the same, somehow more prominent than her poetry. (Vladislav Khodasevich, "Grafinia E. P. Rostopchina" [1916], 35)

Her collected poetry is a woman's motley diary. (Boris Romanov, editor's introduction [1986], 24)

Of course, the author of such a lyrical novel [Neizvestnyi roman] could only be a woman—"a woman in the full meaning of the word" (as she herself recommended herself). (V. Kiselev-Sergenin, "Taina grafini E. P. Rostopchinoi" [1994], 284)

Some critics, abandoning any pretense of evaluation, simply use Ros-topchina's work to titillate or shock readers by suggesting that it pro vided the details of her sex life. Chernyshevsky claims that Rostopchina wrote poetry in order to seduce men.36 Another, citing a passage from Neizvestnyi roman (An unknown romance, 1857), writes, "Here is how the secret meetings went between Andrei Karamzin and his beloved [i.e., Rostopchina] according to Neizvestnyi roman" (Kiselev-Sergenin, "Taina grafini E. P. Rostopchinoi," 277). Other critics sexualize Rostopchina's work by suggesting that she became a poet only because of her sexually unfulfilling marriage:

By nature she was created chiefly for happy connubial love and a peaceful family life, but fate refused her just this happiness. (Sergei Sushkov, "Biograficheskii ocherk" [1890], 1: xlv)

The subject of much of Dodo's later poetry and prose is the life of a neglected and misunderstood wife. (Louis Pedrotti, "Scandal of Countess Rostopcina's Polish-Russian Allegory" [1985], 197)

The marriage turned out to be unsuccessful. Evdokiia's unrealized expectations and dreams and undissipated feelings found release in poetry. (V. V. Uchenova, Tsaritsy muz [1989], 418)

No one has ever suggested that Pushkin (or any other man poet) only became a writer because of his inability to find a woman who could sexually satisfy him.

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