Marina Cvetaeva’s Construction of Childhood in Time and Space

Dominique Gore, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

In her autobiographical essays of 1934–37, Marina Cvetaeva presents us with an image of the precocious child as always-already the artist. It is an image which defies traditional ideas of development. This is in large part due to the mythologizing nature of her poetic vision, in which each event exists on two planes simultaneously. As Olga Hasty writes in Tsvetaeva’s Orphic Journeys in the Worlds of the Word, Cvetaeva defines the role of poetry in its “capacity to affect translations between the quotidian and the transcendent.” (2) Baxtin’s concept of the chronotope as discussed in his essay Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel can help to unravel the interplay between daily time and space and mythical time and space. Baxtin states that “every entry into the sphere of meanings is accomplished only through the gates of the chronotope.” (258) In this paper, I will use the idea of chronotope to consider the image of childhood constructed in these texts.

In literary depictions, the spaces of Russian middle-class childhood in the nineteenth and early twentieth century are primarily domestic. However, the accounts which defined the original literary form of the Russian childhood were located primarily in the chronotope of the family idyll. Cvetaeva’s depiction of childhood, like those of many modernists, is a far remove from the patriarchal estate life of Old Russia. I will look first at the ways in which Cvetaeva represents the spaces of her childhood, considering such key loci as the piano and Valerija’s room in their house at Three Ponds and the family summer home at Tarusa. I will then consider aspects of her concept of time: both its daily flow and Cvetaeva’s unique concept of development which places all events of significance in early childhood for “čto znaeš′ v detstve—znaeš′ na vsju žizn′, no i čego ne znaeš′ v detstve—ne znaeš′ na vsju žizn′.” (Cvetaeva, “Moj Puškin”)

The second half of this paper is devoted to the essay “Moj Puškin,” in which some of Cvetaeva’s most interesting ideas regarding the significance of childhood events and contacts are developed. She identifies the Puškin monument on Tverskoj bul′var as her first measure of time and space. Thus, the concept “Puškin” is a chronotope in and of itself containing all of the world worth knowing. We can see here her use of mythological time: “ubili, ežednevno, ežečasno, nepreryvno ubivali vse moe mladenčestvo, detstvo, junost′.” Past and present are continuously transformed into the eternal. She considers many Puškins in this essay: the Puškin of the painting in her mother’s bedroom, Pamjatnik-Puškin, the Puškin of her sister’s blue bound book with gold lettering, the “xrestomatijnoe” Puškin offered in the schools and even a theatrical Puškin. Each of these Puškins is shown to have had a determining effect on the child’s consciousness and thus the child-poet partakes of the great poet’s power and destiny.

In conclusion, I consider the appropriateness of the essay form as format for developing this interplay of chronotopes, as opposed to the more traditional biographical unfolding of character through time which dominated nineteenth-century accounts of childhood.