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Disrupted Idylls

Nature, Equality, and the Feminine in Sentimentalist Russian Women’s Writing (Mariia Pospelova, Mariia Bolotnikova, and Anna Naumova) – With translations by Emily Lygo

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Ursula Stohler

The study provides a close analysis of literary works by women in late-18th- and early-19th-century Russia, with a focus on Anna Naumova, Mariia Pospelova, and Mariia Bolotnikova. Political, social and feminist theories are applied to examine restrictions imposed on women. Women authors in particular were fettered by a culture of feminisation strongly influenced by the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As Sentimentalism and its aesthetics began to give way to Romantic ideals, some provincial Russian women writers saw an opportunity to claim social equality, and to challenge traditional concepts of authorship and a view of women as mute and passive.
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Chapter One: Sentimentalist Gender Concepts: Their Western Socio-Political Origins and Their Reception in Russia

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Chapter One Sentimentalist Gender Concepts: Their Western Socio-Political Origins and Their Reception in Russia

This chapter provides some context to prevailing Sentimentalist socio-political assumptions, in particular the division of society into a public and a private sphere. It addresses the concept of civil society, and investigates its relationship to notions on gender, exploring to what extent they shaped representations of fate as a female element of disorder. Initially, the focus will be on Western Europe, in particular on France, with frequent reference to the writings of the philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), which were of crucial importance in this context. This will be followed by a look at Russian culture and how the Sentimentalist concepts affected it. Finally, differences between the Russian version of Sentimentalist gender concepts and their Western European and French counterparts will be highlighted.

Women’s exclusion from the republican order

A fundamental feature of Sentimentalist socio-political thinking was the notion that the state should be structured along democratic principles. In 18th-century Western Europe, Rousseau was among the chief proponents of the Republican concept and, in his 1762 treatise Du contrat social (The Social Contract), outlined the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism, describing the creation of a civil society through a social contract which protects individuals both from each other and from external danger. Collectively, individuals are the authors of the law. Therefore, by coming together in a civil society,...

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