Who Is the Cute Little Redhead? A Literary Conversation

David J. Birnbaum, University of Pittsburgh and Karin Sarsenov, Lund University

Nina Sadur’s (1950-) “Milen’kij, ryžen’kij,” one of ten stories in the 1990 “Pronikšie” cycle, clearly presents a coded representation of the acquisition of sexual maturity by the protagonist, Nataška Solov’eva, a trade-school student and friend of the narrator. Although the general meaning of the story is not controversial, the specific significance of several details is engagingly ambiguous, and the two authors, both of whom have either taught or written about Sadur for many years, have elaborated a literary conversation in which they present and debate their partially convergent and partially divergent interpretations of these details.

The textual moments that serve as the primary focus of our analyses are Nataška’s strongly sexualized encounters with her two nocturnal visitors, Murzik (her landlady’s cat) and the eponymous Cute Little Redhead. The theoretical and contextual issues we discuss include the landlady’s connection to Baba Jaga (cf. Propp 1946, Johns 1998), Murzik’s status as a domovoj figure (cf. Ivanits 1989), Murzik as an “animal groom” (cf. “The Snotty Goat” from the Afanas’ev collection; Warner 1994), sleep as sexual latency (cf. Bettelheim 1989), initiation rites (cf. Propp 1946, Eliade 1959), Sadur’s text as a revision of the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden (cf. Goscilo, 1996 on allusions to this biblical myth elsewhere in “Pronikšie”), and the specific role of phallic sexuality in the narrative (cf. Bordo 1999). Other Sadurian texts introduced for comparative purposes are “Červivyj synok” (also from “Pronikšie”), Sadur’s 1992 radioplay adaptation of “Milen’kij, ryžen’kij,” and “Veter okrain” (1994).