Woman on the Cross(roads): Female Masochism in the Works of Anna Mar

Shannon White, University of Michigan

Anna Mar (1887-1917), a Petersburg-born writer of prose, screenplays, and plays, is best known for her 1916 novel Zhenshchina na kreste. In this novel, as well as in her shorter works, most notably the 1914 novella, Tebe edinomu sogreshila and the short stories ("Cartes Postales") of her 1916 collection Krov' i kol'ca, a main set of images centers on female sexual masochism. This masochism, partnered most often with a force of male sadism, is allowed to achieve fulfillment; the female characters of Mar's works, such as Zhenshchina na kreste's Alina, enter into sadistic-masochistic relationships in which they often find both sexual and spiritual happiness.

Mar's own religious conversion to Catholicism is also evident in these works; filled with religious imagery as well as sexual, Mar's prose often uses the tropes and images of Catholic martyr stories as a base. This can be seen in the religious imagery in both Zhenshchina na kreste and Tebe edinomu sogreshila. But this paper will argue that the masochism in Anna Mar's works is more than just a reiteration of Catholic martyr tales, or simply her own retelling of some of the Decadent, sexually charged fiction coming from the West. While Mar, of course, does touch upon these both, she also draws upon her sense of Russianness (such as her fascination with the Domostroj), and her own sexual desires to create intimate portraits of women caught between the modern world of "New Women" and the worlds of their masochistic sexual desires.

This paper will examine how Mar constructs female masochism in her works, and how this masochism informs the overall structures of the worksas a whole. In addition, it will examine the particulars of Mar's portrayal of masochism, to show how it relates to and differs from both Western European and male texts of masochism. This portrayal will be examined using a combined set of theoretical approaches (moving on from Freud to Deleuze and beyond) that have recently been widely applied to an examination of male, Western European turn-of-the-century masochism (see, for example, Suzanne Stewart's 1998 study, Sublime Surrender: Male Masochism at the Fin-de-si╦cle). In doing so, this paper will examine the overall nature and literary function of female masochism as presented in Anna Mar's prose works, most notably Zhenshchina na kreste.