Russian Girl Power: Female Heroines in Pre- and Post-Revolutionary Magazines

Lora Wheeler, University of Southern California

While heroic traits may be typically associated with men, from the Western tradition emerge two types of female heroines that seem almost allergic to each other: the active heroine such as Joan of Arc or Psyche; and the passive heroine depicted by a Cinderella or Snow White. This second type of heroine represents the traditional (and Disney-fied) role played by women: that of mother, wife, mistress and muse. These heroines are ultimately “rewarded” for a passive and docile endurance. The first type of heroine is a woman who takes upon herself attributes that are associated with male heroes.

The first aim of my paper is to examine heroines as depicted in children’s magazines in late Imperial and early Soviet Russia. Many invariant motifs pervade both pre- and post-Revolutionary magazines for children, and my reading is therefore intended to go against the grain of the traditional Soviet scholarship that regards these two periods as disparate. I will conduct a close reading of several children’s stories with female protagonists from both periods in order to ascertain the extent to which the time period from 1900–1930 can be viewed as a continuum and on its own literary terms: those of Russian children’s literature. Two exemplary stories are Lidija Čarskaja’s novel Knjažna Džavaxa that ran serially for fifty-two weeks in 1903 in the magazine Zaduševnoe slovo dlja staršix detej, and Marija Morozova’s Kara-Kol which appeared in September 1928 in the magazine Znanie-sila.

Attention to the role of female heroes in children’s literature raises a number of gender issues regarding this period, specifically the role of the female author in the creation of heroines, and the changing role of women and young girls in this turbulent period of Russian history. While woman authors of course wrote for children both before and after the revolution, there was a distinct change in the number of women writers and their influence over the creative process. Before the revolution it was primarily women authors, such as Lidija Čarskaja—whose girl-powered novels reached cult proportions—whose work graced the pages of children’s magazines. After the revolution, women continued to be heavily involved in the production of children’s literature but an increasingly important legislative power was reserved for men; and it was male critics, editors and patrons (such as Maršak and Čukovskij) who played a more prominent role in establishing the criteria for literary taste in Soviet Russia.