Life Story, Narrative Voice, and Community in Nadezhda Durova's "Igra sud'by" and Evgenija Tur's "Antonina": Subversive Strategies in Women's Prose Fiction under Nicholas I

Sonja Kerby, University of California, Berkeley

Published in 1836 as the short story "Elena, T-skaja krasavica" and reappearing with minor changes in the Povesti i rasskazy of 1839 under the title of "Igra sud'by, ili Protivozakonnaja ljubov'. Istinnoe proisshestvie, sluchivsheesja na rodine avtora," Durova's first published fictional tale uniquely blends first- and third-person narration, evades the distinction between truth and invention, and defies easy generic categorization. Similarly, in the tale "Antonina," first published separately in the almanac Kometa in 1851 and later that same year included as the third part of the four-part novel Plemjannica, Evgenija Tur experiments with narrative stance and genre. Both works blend elements of sentimentalism, Romanticism, the Gothic, the society tale, the provincial tale (as described by Catriona Kelly), and autobiography, yet evince an attention to detail, a conception of character, and a preoccupation with social issues that prefigure Russian realist traditions.

"Igra sud'by" and "Antonina" are notable for their successful depiction of oppression in an era during which censorship was strict. Each of these works provides criticism of the patriarchal organization of Russian society, not by means of direct censure, but through a unique set of intratextual relations. Using methodological strategies from feminist, Baxtinian, and Iserian reader-response criticism, the interplay of life story and narrative voice will be analyzed in this paper. Each of the two works to be examined presents the tragic "life story" of the female protagonist as told by a narrator or narrators who invoke the pathos associated with the oppression and victimization that the protagonist suffers. In "Igra sud'by" various female narrators, not the least among them the fictional persona of the author herself, "relate" the victimization of the exceptionally beautiful heroine with varying degrees of sympathy and compassion. In "Antonina" the eponymous heroine herself "tells" her tale of woe to the receptive audience represented in the third-person segments of the novella. Analyzing "narrative voice" will involve determining not only the identity constructed for each narrator but also the attitude she is depicted as taking toward the story she is relating. In examining the interplay of life story and narrative voice, we will uncover the subversive intratextual relations among author, narrator, reader, and text and perceive a view of woman and community that defies the prevailing patriarchal view.