The New Woman That Was Not: Andrei Platonov’s Moskva Chestnova

Lenka Pankova, University of Pittsburgh

This paper will deal with the central heroine in Andrei Platonov’s unfinished novel Happy Moscow (1932-1936), which was edited by N. V. Kornienko, and for the first time published in Новый мир in 1991. It is a highly fragmentary narrative set in the 1930s Stalinist Moscow, in which young, socially privileged Stakhanovites painfully collide with elements in life, society and nature stubbornly refusing to “become better and more cheerful”. Happy Moscow constitutes an exception in the author’s oeuvre. In contrast to his famous utopias, “built upon the negation, or nonrecognition, of sexual urges” (Naiman: 1988: 319), it overflows with erotic desire. Even more exceptionally, rather than on self-denying male builders of radically ideal societies, it centers on an irresistibly attractive and sexually promiscuous heroine, Moskva Chestnova.
Nevertheless, as Philip Bullock has shown, this departure from what he calls “Platonov’s earlier misogyny” should not be overestimated: “Moskva Ivanovna is in fact less an autonomous and joyously corporeal heroine than a projection of male desire and anxiety” (Bullock: 2005: 138). Moskva’s capacity as a receptacle for intense male desire and anxiety, in my opinion, situates her among literary femmes fatales. Her closeness to this topos is clearly manifested in her disastrous effects on the men in her vicinity. The negative consequences, however, do not stem from Moskva’s evil intentions, but rather from the paradoxical, unsatisfactory nature of human erotic love. Furthermore, her striving to transcend erotic love and to participate in the construction of the new socialist society marks her as an adept of the “new womanhood”. This paper will examine Platonov’s heroine as a nexus of two topoi: the New Woman and the femme fatale.

Works Cited:
Bullock, Philip Ross. The Feminine in the Prose of Andrey Platonov. London: Legenda, 2005.
Naiman, Eric. “Andrej Platonov and the Inadmissibility of Desire.” Russian Literature. 23 (1988): 319-365.