The Tasks of a Literary Memoirist: Xodasevich's Nekropol'

Julia Zarankin, Princeton University

This paper aims to read Xodasevich's Nekropol' as a reconsideration of the memoirist's role as a (relatively) objective observer and recorder of events. In his review of Zinaida Gippius' memoir Zhivye lica, Xodasevich defines the ideal memoirist as "one who is able to provide the most precise information about the greatest number of facts." However, his demands of a memoirist become problematic, when, in the same article he also compares the reading experience of a memoir to that of a carefully crafted novel with memorable characters.

Xodasevich is perhaps uniquely suited to write a memoir that centers around leading (as well as more obscure) Symbolist poets and literary figures. As he states in an essay "On Symbolism," he knew the movement "from memories" and had "breathed in its air." Despite the desire to provide an objective testament of his literary circle, when writing of the past, and especially of his personal past in conjunction with the Symbolists, Xodasevich cannot escape the pull of the novelesque, which results in ultimately structuring the memoir as a "book" and relying on plot and denouement to draw the reader in. This paper will use Xodasevich's own definitions of memoir as a starting point to illuminate a central tension in Nekropol' between the "literary" and the "documentary."

The coexistence of the literary and the documentary (or, to translate it into Symbolist terms, of life and art) creates a plethora of voices in the memoir: Xodasevich is at once a biographer, a literary historian, a necrologist, a literary critic, an intimate friend. Xodasevich's recollections necessarily become a question of literary form and style. Reading Nekropol' as a structured whole rather than a series of episodic recollections will finally lead to a consideration of the memoir genre as an intrinsically hybrid literary form.