Of Beauties and Circles: The Function of Myth in Petruševskaja’s “Svoj krug”

Ljudmila Petruševskaja’s “Svoj krug” offers a unique example of the interaction between mythical and plot texts (using Lotman’s terms). The linear unfolding of the narrator’s story of illness is starkly contrasted with the cyclical nature of the rest of the plot, exemplified in the story’s beginning and end, which are isochronal in their evocation of the clever (“umnaja”) narrator. The structure of the narrative of “Svoj krug” points to a mystical submersion into cyclical time.

In “Svoj krug” a Christian myth (Heaven and Hell) is supplemented by the pagan Nordic myth of the Valkyrie as deliverers of fallen soldiers. Whereas the Biblical myth appears in the story as an embedded narrative, the other is only alluded to with such devices as descriptions of various characters and rituals. My paper traces both Christian myths and pagan myths dealing with transition and loss, in Petruševskaja’s text, in order to illustrate how myth functions in this story. Also important to Petruševskaja is the correlation of spatial images in “Svoj krug” to the geographical lay-out of Moscow, the setting of this story. In her story, Moscow is implicitly connected to Hell through the notion of the structure of circles. This paper shows the relevance of Dante’s Inferno (nine circles of hell and the various sinners present) to Petruševskaja’s representation of Moscow and her inhabitants in “Svoj krug.” My analysis of the use and function of myth in Petruševskaja’s work provides a new interpretation of “Svoj krug.”