Slot:       29A-2          Dec. 29, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                                                

Panel:     Gender and Identity in Russian Literature

Chair:     Eugenia Kapsomera Amditis, Dickinson College


Title:       Intertextuality and Gender in Zinaida Gippius’ Play Sacred Blood

Author:   Tatiana Osipovich, Lewis and Clark College

The well-known Symbolist author Zinaida Gippius (1869-1945) published her first piece for the theatre, a short play titled Sacred Blood (Sviataia krov’), in the spring of 1901. Criticized for its unorthodox religious ideas and lack of aesthetic value, the play was not staged and its text was soon forgotten. Only recently, in connection with the re-evaluation of Russian women writers, have two English translations and a few critical papers about the play appeared in print. One of these papers (C. Schuler: 1995) calls Sacred Blood a feminist text because it presents an allegory of a woman whom modern society views as a “soulless other” and because it contains the message that this female “other” has the right to be a “chelovek” with her own unique and immortal soul. Without disputing Schuler's feminist reading of Gippius’ text, I want to examine gender aspects of the play from another angle. My claim is that Sacred Blood reflects Gippius’ inner conflicts at the time she was working on the play: namely, her intense search for religious meaning and her homosexual relationship with Elizabeth Overbeck.  I am most interested in comparing Gippius’ play about a little water-nymph with its major literary source, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (1837), so I can draw important differences between the two authors in regard to the gender issues of their respective eras and the homosexual desires they both struggled with at the time that they wrote their stories. I hope that the intersection of my psychological and intertextual readings of the play Sacred Blood will allow me to shed light not only on this little-known work of early Russian Symbolism, but also on the life of its author, whose personality still puzzles and fascinates readers and scholars.


Title:       The Lioness with a Lion’s Mane: Boris Pasternak’s “Bisexual” Writing in “Detstvo Ljuvers”

Author:   Meghan Vicks, University of Colorado, Boulder

In “Detstvo Ljuvers” Pasternak places his own artistic sensibility in an adolescent girl, and therefore creates an “inter-relationship between the themes of poetic vision and womanly sensitivity […]” (Layton 163).  This affinity between Pasternak and Zhenya is based on poetics, on their shared artistic vision and acuity to the metonymies and metaphors that shape their world; they share a communion with the other, with artistic consciousness.  Together they embody the masculine and the feminine, they come together in a relationship that does not annihilate one or the other but rather embraces both sexes; thus, it is in this masculine and feminine union that art is created.  As such, this union of Pasternak and Zhenya into an imaginative consciousness exemplifies the bisexual artist advocated in the theories of Hélène Cixous.  To analyze, then, the awakening of Zhenya and her continual growth is to witness the coming to awareness of the artist, the portrait of an artist as a young woman.

Thus, I explore the relationship between Pasternak’s femininity and Cixous’ theories of bisexuality.  Specifically, I focus on “Detstvo Ljuvers,” and how this work embodies simultaneously the feminine and the masculine, thus falling in the line of bisexual writing that Cixous applauds.  I begin with a brief discussion of Cixous’ theories, and my understanding of the implications of her ideas.  I then turn to “Detstvo Ljuvers,” and explore how the plot’s structure and the heroine of the story embody and exhibit both feminine and masculine natures.  Finally, throughout the course of this paper I highlight the bond between the feminine and the artist, and particularly how knowledge of this relationship enriches our understanding of Pasternak’s “Detstvo Ljuvers.”


Layton, Susan.  “Poetic Vision in Pasternak’s ‘The Childhood of Luvers.’”  The Slavic and East European Journal.  22.2 (Summer, 1978): 163-174.


Title:       The Vision-Adventure of Elena Shvarts's Lavinia

Author:   Sarah Clovis Bishop, Wellesley College

Elena Shvarts coined the generic term визьён-приключения (vision-adventures) to describe a verse structure over which the poet no longer has complete control (Polukhina 207).  A "complicated baroque form" inspired by a supernatural force, it takes on a life of its own.  At the outset, the poet herself does not know the final destination of the vision, and the lyrics themselves are better off without her.

Shvarts's 1987 book of poetry Труды и дни Лавинии, монахини из ордена обрезания сердца [The Works and Days of Lavinia, a Nun of the Order of the Circumcision of the Heart] serves as the fullest example of a визьён-приключение in Shvarts's work.  Her longest poetic cycle, Lavinia consists of seventy-eight short poems written from the perspective of a fictional nun, at times deeply religious, at times heretical.  Shvarts has produced a number of other poetic cycles where she takes on the voice of a fictional poetic persona, but Lavinia remains the most important to her (Shvarts 1996: 108).  Distinguishing it from her "small poemas" and collections of poetry, she has described it as a "novel in verse, perhaps" (Shvarts 1996:  108). 

This paper will address the nature of Shvarts's "perhaps" to explicate more fully the formal qualities of the book.  Particular attention will be paid to the book's title, which provides the ecumenical mission of Lavinia's convent (Circumcision of the Heart), and to the subtitle, "От Рождества до Пасхи" ["From Christmas to Easter"], a literal and spiritual timeframe which Lavinia's poetry follows.  The paper will conclude with a discussion of the book's final poem, "Скит," which provides a resolution to the many seemingly disjointed threads of the book. 



Shvarts, Elena.  Mundus imaginalis:  Kniga otvetvlenii.  Saint Petersburg:  EZRO/Utkonos, 1996.

-------.  Opredelenie v durnuiu pogodu.  Saint Petersburg:  Pushkinskii fond, 1997.

Polukhina, Valentina, ed.  Brodsky through the Eyes of his Contemporaries.  Saint Petersburg:  Zvezda, 1997.