Innovations to the Pseudo-Autobiographical Tradition in Jurij Trifonov’s The House on the Embankment

Juliette Petion, College of the Holy Cross

In this paper, Jurij Trifonov’s The House on the Embankment is analyzed from the standpoint of pseudo-autobiography. Andrew Baruch Wachtel, in his study The Battle for Childhood: Creation of a Russian Myth, was the first to identify the genre of pseudo-autobiography in Russian literature and, accordingly, a brief summary of his definition is provided in my paper.

Next, it is demonstrated that The House on the Embankment satisfies Wachtel’s conditions in both form and content. Trifonov, however, experiments with the genre. Whereas the traditional pseudo-autobiography is narrated in the first person, Trifonov’s novel contains alternating sections of first- and third-person narration, which gives the reader two perspectives of the narrated events.

Wachtel stipulates that a pseudo-autobiography must be based on autobiographical material. The House on the Embankment presents an interesting case with regard to this condition, as well. While the first-person sections have an autobiographical basis, the third-person narrative about Glebov is mainly fictional. However, in contradiction to Fiona Björling’s claim that each of the two narratives belongs to its own genre (the third-person narrative to fiction, and the first-person insertions to autobiography), one can see that there is some cross-fertilization between the two. (See Bj&öuml;ling’s article “Jurij Trifonov’s The House on the Embankment: Fiction or Autobiography?” in Autobiographical Statements in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, ed. Jane Gary Harris.) Furthermore, although a number of similarities between the author and the first-person narrator can be discerned, the two are not identical—which is the third component of Wachtel’s definition.

Lastly, the complex voice structure (of author, narrator, and child) may also be discerned in The House on the Embankment, though Trifonov complicates the matter by adding the voice of the third-person narrator. But the role of the authorial voice is diminished in Trifonov’s text, as compared to the earlier pseudo-autobiographies analyzed by Wachtel. The absence of a strong authorial position suggests that Trifonov’s intention is not to provide readers with explicit moral judgments but rather to give us different points of view and let us draw our own conclusions.