Slot:       30A-5          Dec. 30, 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.                                                

Panel:     Women in Current Russian Culture

Chair:     Helena Goscilo, University of Pittsburgh


Title:       Humor, Crime, and Punishment: Daria Dontsova and the post-Soviet Ironic Detektiv

Author:   Olga Mesropova, Iowa State University

My paper focuses on tropes, intertextual links, cultural myths, and critical responses to the recently-emerged genre of ironicheskii detektiv (ironic detective fiction).  I will focus particularly on works written by one of the most prolific Russian writers of the new millennium, Daria Dontsova.  Dontsova began her publishing career with the EKSMO press in 1999 and, in less than five years, produced over 60 detective best-sellers with a multi-million total print run.  Although received with skepticism by many Russian critics, her books have garnered high rankings on Russian bestseller lists, at times besting such well-established rivals as Alexandra Marinina and Boris Akunin.  Dontsova’s detektivy have received numerous Russian literary prizes and recently have been adapted to Russian prime-time television shows.  I begin my paper with a brief discussion of the role that serialized detective fiction plays in contemporary Russian cultural landscape, while addressing the following issues: (1) Do today’s Russian women’s detective novels represent a consciously feminist attempt to expand the genre’s conventions? (2) Do women detective writers change or challenge the restrictions of the detective formula? 

My paper argues that, while navigating a mixture of signs from Russia’s communist past and nascent capitalist present, Dontsova’s detective world merges and harmonizes two seemingly clashing cultural discourses.  On the one hand, akin to the chernukha of glasnost’ and the early post-Soviet period, ironic detective fiction abounds in dark depictions of Russian byt (thereby offering a plethora of intertextual links to the so-called literatura byta).  On the other hand, firmly grounded in the realia of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, these detective narratives offer their readers an authoritative master-narrative of the “culture of abundance” that advocates enjoyment of the present moment, self-fulfillment, and “New Russian” conspicuous consumption.  While negotiating these two conflicting worlds, Dontsova frames her detective narratives within the paradigms of the fairy-tale, filled with simple values, “positive identifications,” optimism, and pervasive didacticism. I contend that – by juxtaposing dramatic life situations (such as murder and kidnapping) with family chronicles, slapstick humor, and advice literature – Dontsova constructs history, crime, and even the concept of “Russianness” in highly popularized and positive tones, while presenting the new Russian socio-economic situation as an entirely endurable, humorous adventure. 


Title:       Working Mothers in Post-Soviet Popular Culture

Author:   Erin Collopy, Texas Tech University

Ever since Natalia Baranskaia’s short work Nedelia kak nedelia brought the double-burden of full-time employment and domestic responsibilities borne by Soviet women to the attention of western scholars, much has been written on the subject. Little has changed regarding essentialist views on gender roles since the dissolution of the Soviet Union: women are expected to take care of the children and home, while men are expected to provide material support. Yet, in reality, full-time employment for most women remains as much a necessity in today’s Russia as it was during Soviet times, to say nothing of the importance of women’s professional contributions, nor of women’s desire to participate in the public sphere.

Works of popular culture, such as the detective series featuring Anastasia Kamenskaia and the television series Tainy sledstviia, provide different views on how women in today’s Russia are negotiating the difficulties of combining work and family. The first season of Tainy sledstviia is particularly interesting in its portrayal of the hardships the main character Maria Shvetsova faces as she attempts to manage a demanding career and take care of her family, while her husband is less than supportive. However, these hardships are apparently solved by Shetsova’s divorce and remarriage in the following season of the series. Kamenskaia, Aleksandra Marinina’s famous detective, remains childless, but other characters in the series are not, including Marinina’s other alter-ego, the writer and prosecutorial investigator, Tatiana Obraztsova, who is fortunate enough to have a devoted family member willing to care for her infant. My presentation will discuss how these works both challenge and perpetuate gender expectations in Russian society.


Title:       Manifestos and Maternity: The New Amazons as Writers and Mothers

Author:   Elizabeth Skomp, Sewanee: The University of the South

When the writing group "Novye amazonki" (New Amazons) formed in 1988, its members immediately distinguished themselves by claiming to be the only all-female literary collective in Russian history.  The group's self-positioning in a Russian literary context and the presentation of their single-gender composition as a crucial feature suggest a concerted effort to shape the literary scene for women writers current and future.

By drawing from the "manifestos" of the group in Ne pomniashchaia zla (She Who Bears No Ill, 1990) and the eponymous Novye amazonki (1991), I will outline the mission and central concerns of the New Amazons in their own words.  In the process of self-definition as contemporary word-warriors, the New Amazons underscore their sine qua non: motherhood.  I will explore the links between these women writers and motherhood and examine the maternal ambivalence revealed in several of the texts included in the aforementioned volumes.  Nina Gorlanova’s “Istoriia ozera Veselogo” (The Story of Lake Cheerful) and Svetlana Vasilenko’s Shamara exemplify anxieties about reproduction and biological determinism, while Tatiana Tolstaia’s “Noch” (Night) and Marina Vishnevetskaia’s Nachalo (Beginning) respectively exaggerate and literally diminish the mother-role; the destabilization of maternity mirrors uncertainty about impending sociopolitical transitions in the twilight of Soviet rule.  Examining the group and its short trajectory against the backdrop of Russian literary criticism (Pavel Basinskii, Oleg Dark, Marina Abasheva et al.), I will situate the experience of the New Amazons both in the context of Russian women’s writing and within the landscape of late Soviet and post-Soviet literature.