Deconstruction of Traditional Plots in Ljudmila Petrushevskaja's Nastojashchie skazki

Victoria Sevastianova, Vassar College

In the 1970s and 1980s, Ljudmila Petrushevskaja's prose and plays involved characters who battled everyday problems of the contemporary Russia—apartment shortage, divorce, infidelity, terminal illness, alcoholism, abortion, to name just a few. Until 1990, her fiction remained profoundly realistic, if not naturalistic. Yet, rather recently, a new dimension has been added to Petrushevskjia's traditional style. In 1990, she published the collection Pesni vostochnyx slavjan, which contains stories that are, in essence, fictionalized urban legends. As the nineties continued, folkloric and supernatural elements became increasingly more important in her work. After a series of collections of stories that dealt with the existence of the other world and with the visitations from dead relatives (V sadax drugix vozmozhnostej, 1993; Rekviemy, 1988–1994), Petrushevskaja began to publish literary "folk" tales: Dikie zhivotnye skazki, Nechelovecheskie skazki, and Nastojashchie skazki (serialized 1993–1996), and she continues to add to these collections to this day.

This shift from reality to fantasy may be evidence of the author's search for alternative ways of expression and for a positive resolution for her suffering characters: her tales, unlike her short stories, rarely have negative outcomes. In her "folk" tales, contemporary reality and the magic world merge—note the title, these are "tales," yet they are "real" tales. Just as in her experiments with contemporary urban legends, Petrushevskaja adopts traditional formulas and patterns and gives them new meaning. She builds on traditional tale types by introducing elements of contemporary reality and elements of other genres, such as myth and contemporary prose. Traditional folktale heroes are accompanied by contemporary and mythological personages alike. Everyday objects acquire magical properties, and traditional plots are infused with contemporary meaning.

In this paper, I plan to analyze this unique synthesis that Petrushevskaja has created out of elements of the folk, the fantastic, and the "real." I will outline the nature of deconstruction of traditional formulas in several of her tales and analyze the changes and the additions made in terms of plot, characters, and the overall message. An attempt will be made to analyze the reasons and the goals of Petrushevskaja's approach to the traditional folktale genre.