Violence, Madness, and the Female Grotesque in Nina Sadur's Jug and Svetlana Vasilenko's Durochka

Elizabeth Skomp, University College London

This paper will examine violence vis--vis the female protagonist in Sadur's Jug (The South) and Vasilenko's Durochka (Little Fool). Sadur sketches violent scenes in parable form, while Vasilenko presents both brutal and redemptive aspects of human nature through her portrayal of Soviet and post-Soviet life. Each text highlights a journey and obstacles; implicit in this Russian journey is considerable suffering mixed with physical and emotional violence.

Jug chronicles the spiritual journey of Olja, a woman who goes to the south to recover from a mysterious illness but gradually goes mad. She embarks on a mental voyage of memories accompanied by dark and violent images. Shifting narrative perspectives parallel the sea's waves, juxtaposing recurrent violent metafictions and the emergence of the landscape as a violent, destructive element. At the conclusion of Jug, two religious pilgrims find Olja on the beach. They call her Marija, symbolizing her salvation and symbolic rebirth.

In Durochka, the Christian notions and folkloric elements of the central narrative contrast starkly with the hyperbolic nuclear imagery of the frame text. A mute and a saint-martyr figure, the itinerant protagonist Ganna travels through the narrative providing a promise of redemption in various contexts. The numerous episodes of violence in the text are thrown into sharp relief when analyzed against the character of Ganna: it becomes early evident that fools (holy or otherwise) are destined to endure horrific suffering.

Working with Mary Russo's idea of the female grotesque and Julia Kristeva's notion of abjection, I will examine the protagonists Olja and Ganna through the liminal status produced by their itinerancy and madness. In the link between abjection and pain, violence and the grotesque merge. My examination of madness in the texts will draw from the ideas of Freud, Foucault, Ussher, and Gilbert and Gubar. Jug and Durochka provide a feminist perspective on violence and text; my analysis will discuss the links between violence and the idea of the contemporary female martyr.