Through a Crooked Mirror: Documenting Everyday Life in the Prose of Grekova and Baranskaja

Benjamin Sutcliffe, University of Pittsburgh

Russian and Western literary history commonly dates women’s writing as developing in the late 1980s-early 1990s. However, during the Thaw and Stagnation I. Grekova and Natal’ja Baranskaja established the thematic precedent for glasnost’-era successors such as Ljudmila Petruševskaja and Tat’jana Tolstaja. Documenting everyday experiences, Grekova and Baranskaja envision women as valued Soviet citizens facing various gender-specific problems (the “double burden,” insufficient social services, and so forth). Even before Nedelja kak nedelja (1969), Baranskaja’s “Provody” (1968) and Grekova’s Damskij master (1963) focused on issues similar to those in Baranskaja’s later povest’.

As Susan Reid, Oleg Xarxordin, and Deborah Field note, post-1953 everyday experience reflected Soviet culture’s shift away from the Stalinist public sphere to a more nebulous private realm. Within this context, focusing on everyday life allowed Baranskaja and Grekova to discuss potentially taboo topics such as male violence and alcoholism.

Byt also became a leitmotif for critical responses to these authors: 1960s-1970s discussion of the quotidian often was a coded reference for critiquing writing by women. (In the 1980s-1990s such critiques were explicitly labeled as responses to women’s writing in the articles of Pavel Basinskij, Oleg Dark, and others). Thaw and Stagnation critics characterize byt as a problematic stepping stone, potentially hindering literature’s movement from the mundane and ephemeral to the sublime and enduring. These debates reflect long-standing Russian characterizations of everyday life, which range from the neutral (Jurij Lotman) to the apocalyptic (Roman Jakobson). While not reflecting the “full-fledged” feminist agendas often ascribed by Western critics, Baranskaja and Grekova nonetheless use byt to represent female experience within the parameters of mainstream Soviet literature.