Trivialization

Critics have trivialized Rostopchina's poetry by denying it the status of art. As women poets have frequently been considered incapable of creating personae (see chapter 2), so Rostopchina's critics often describe her poetry as a "diary," assuming that every time she uses the first person or even the third person in a work she refers directly to herself. Thus the introductory essay to a 1986 collection of Rostopchina's work is titled "Evdokiia Rostopchina's Lyric Diary."37 Critics do not similarly deny the status of artist to men poets and writers who use autobiography in their works or who dramatize their lives in poetry (Pushkin, Lermontov, Blok, Thomas Wolfe, James Joyce).38

Several critics triumphantly quote Rostopchina's own words to prove that her writing should not be considered art. Four of them cite Rostopchina's 1841 dedication to the empress: "This is not a book—it is a completely sincere and feminine revelation of the impressions, memories, and enthusiasms of the heart of a young girl and a woman."39 One critic quotes her letter to Viazemsky concerning the 1856 edition of her works: "These are leaves from the secret diary of my heart, which up to this time were hidden and not shown to anyone" (Ranchin, editor's introduction, 9). Still another also "proves" Rostopchina's novel in verse, Dnevnik devushki, to be in fact an autobiography, citing her brother's assertion that some episodes are based on her experiences as a girl (Romanov, editor's introduction, 22-23). It is doubtful that any of these critics would discuss Lermontov's Geroi nashego vremeni (A Hero of Our Time) purely as autobiography. Or consider that Byron's work should not be taken seriously because he self-deprecatingly titled one of his poetry collections Hours of Idleness. Or that Evgenii Onegin should be disregarded because Pushkin referred to it in his dedication as

He6pe»HBin nnofl mohx 3a6aB, EeCCOHHH^ nerKHX BflOXHOBeHHH [. . .]

(The careless fruit of my amusements The light inspiration of my insomnia).

Or, indeed, that they would take literally anything men poets modestly wrote about their work. Rostopchina, however, has been considered incapable of metaphor or topos.40

Critics have further trivialized Rostopchina's work by going to great lengths not to describe it as original or influential, despite evidence to the contrary. Belinsky, for example, criticized Rostopchina for making up the word oblistannyi (unleafed, that is, with fallen leaves) in "Posled-nii tsvetok." One critic described her startlingly modern-sounding poem, "Moia Igrushka," as a "reverse anachronism." Another described her poem "Kholod serdtsa" (The heart's coldness, 1829), which Lermontov probably read and which is echoed in a later poem, as an "anticipation" of the Lermontov poem rather than an influence on it.41

In several cases critics have simultaneously sexualized and trivialized Rostopchina's work by attributing her success in the 1830s and 1840s only to her looks, connections, and social position. This variation on "she slept her way to the top" does not appear in relation to such well-connected men poets as Pushkin, Del'vig, Baratynsky, Zhukovsky, Fet, and others, whom a male network of mentors, editors, and critics helped to achieve literary success:

The verses of a beautiful woman, not to mention one who is well known in high circles for her beauty, magnificence, and con quests, were read and are read without any special compulsion, because there is something in it, ils avaient quelque chose la, undoubtedly there is talent in them. (N. V. Berg, "Grafinia Rostopchina v Moskve" [1893], 693)

Her talent, beauty, affability, and hospitality drew and won everyone over to her side [podkupali v eia pol'zu vsekh]. (Dmitrii Pogodin, "Grafinia E. N. Rostopchina i ee vechera" [1893], 401)

She was young, attractive in appearance and mind, belonged to high society, her circle included many relatives and intimate relations, and she succeeded while still young in making the acquaintance through the Pashkovs with several of our literary luminaries who gave sympathetic attention to the works that were born of her poetic gifts. (Sergei Sushkov, "Biograficheskii ocherk" [1890], 1: vii)

Her immediate success as a writer was due in part to her vivacious personality, because it was at social functions that she met many of the literary lights of the day, Pushkin and Lermontov among them. (Louis Pedrotti, "Scandal of Countess Ros-topchina's Polish-Russian Allegory" [1986], 197)

Still other critics have suggested that Rostopchina's work was widely published only because she accepted little or no money for it.42

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