St. Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jesus: The Radiant Inspiration behind Zinaida Gippius's Siianiia

Sarah Clovis Bishop, Wellesley College

In most studies of Zinaida Gippius, critics have focused on the philosophical and religious foundations of her verse rather than on its formal aspects. This is due not only to the rich content of her poetry, but also to its apparent “stylelessness.” In addition to this emphasis on content over form, critics have maintained that Gippius’s poetry does not evolve, but rather remains consistently distinctive (svoebraznaia) over the course of her poetic career. Aside from a brief flirtation with Nadsonian verse, her early poetry can be considered mature in terms of both content and poetic form. She struggles with the same major themes throughout her poetic career (love, death, and the devil), and this struggle is distinctly marked by paradox—she regularly shifts between moods of ecstatic faith and hopeless despair.

In this paper, I will argue that Gippius's final book Siianiia defies both of these assumptions. While remaining true to the thematics of her earlier work, Gippius provides a new form for her poetry, paying close attention to the structure of her book. For the first time, Gippius chooses an overall thematic title, and she discards the chronological ordering of her previous books. Perhaps most significantly, she provides a single dedication for the entire work. As yet the addressee has not been definitively revealed, yet considerable evidence points to the Catholic saint Thérèse of Lisieux, or St. Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jesus. After first establishing this connection, I will argue that Teresa serves as a spiritual model for Gippius when writing Siiania. In addition to the dedicatory epigraph, I will discuss two poems included later in the book which directly invoke Teresa, "Vtaine" and "St. Thérèse de l'Enfant Jésus," and two which appear to be inspired by Teresa, "Rozhdenie" and "Vechnozhenstvennoe."

Ultimately, I will argue that Teresa's presence throughout Siiania helps to organize and unite Gippius's final book. This sense of unity allows Gippius to break away from her earlier chronologically organized “diaries” and create a final summational book.