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The Prose of Life

Russian Women Writers from Khrushchev to Putin

Benjamin M. Sutcliffe

Publication Year: 2009

Both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyday life and the domestic sphere served as an ideological battleground, simultaneously threatening Stalinist control and challenging traditional Russian gender norms that had been shaken by the Second World War. The Prose of Life examines how six female authors employed images of daily life to depict women’s experience in Russian culture from the 1960s to the present. Byt, a term connoting both the everyday and its many petty problems, is an enduring yet neglected theme in Russian literature: its very ordinariness causes many critics to ignore it. Benjamin Sutcliffe’s study is the first sustained examination of how and why everyday life as a literary and philosophical category catalyzed the development of post-Stalinist Russian women’s prose, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    A focus on the representation of everyday life in women’s prose reveals that a first generation of female writers (Natal’ia Baranskaia, Irina Grekova) both legitimated and limited their successors (Liudmila Petrushevskaia, Tat’iana Tolstaia, Liudmila Ulitskaia, and Svetlana Vasilenko) in their choice of literary topics. The Prose of Life traces the development, and intriguing ruptures, of recent Russian women’s prose, becoming a must-read for readers interested in Russian literature and gender studies.

2009 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. vii


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pp. ix-xi

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Introduction: Engendering Byt in Soviet Culture

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pp. 3-23

In 1962, during Nikita Khrushchev's tentative Thaw reforms, two authors sent their manuscripts to Aleksandr Tvardovskii, the daring editor of the liberal journal Novyi mir.1 One had written a scathing fictional depiction of dictator Joseph Stalin’s prison system; the other had penned a...

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1. Documenting Women's Byt during the Thaw and Stagnation: Natal'ia Baranskaia and I. Grekova

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pp. 24-57

In 1966 the deputy director of the Pushkin Memorial Museum in Moscow abruptly retired after officials criticized her for inviting dissident poet Joseph Brodsky to an exhibit featuring the photographs of the poet Anna Akhmatova and her family, all of whom had suffered under Stalin.1 ...

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2. Perestroika and the Emergence of Women's Prose: Liudmila Petrushevskaia, Tat'iana Tolstaia, and Women's Anthologies

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pp. 58-98

On a rainy Moscow afternoon in May 1988 author Svetlana Vasilenko happened to meet Larisa Vaneeva, another prose writer. As the two women talked, they compared their lives—a series of menial jobs, no opportunities for publishing—and realized they knew many women writers who...

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3. The Artistry of Everyday Life: Liudmila Ulitskaia, Svetlana Vasilenko, and Post-Soviet Women's Anthologies

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pp. 99-129

During the Brezhnev years one of the young workers in a Moscow genetics laboratory was discovered reading and retyping underground literature. Fearful that the entire lab would be closed, her superiors fired her, citing the need for a reduction in staff. The woman, who had...

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Conclusion: Cultural Divides and the Future of Women's Prose

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pp. 130-135

Women's writing after Stalinism coalesced around the quotidian, first moving from select illustration to broadened critique and then acceptance of the everyday as an artistic resource valuable in its own right. Emphases on documenting byt and, by extension, gender combined...


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pp. 137-179


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pp. 181-202

Index [Includes Back Cover]

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pp. 203-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780299232030
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299232047

Page Count: 211
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 431996029
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Prose of Life

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Subject Headings

  • Women authors, Russian -- 21st century -- Biography.
  • Women authors, Russian -- 20th century -- Biography.
  • Russian prose literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Home in literature.
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