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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 Three: Responses to Sentimentalist Gender Conceptions

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Chapter Three Responses to Sentimentalist Gender Conceptions

This chapter discusses responses of Russian women writers to topics in Sentimentalist culture and literature, including displays of modesty as a publication strategy, as reflected, for instance, in the prefaces of women authors. My investigation further argues that some aspects at least of the Sentimentalist focus on the private sphere were beneficial to women writers, making them feel appreciated in their everyday social roles. Once they realised that they were in the spotlight, some women writers embarked on subtle challenges of the social inequalities they were subject to. I will also suggest that Sentimentalist equation of woman with nature provided women authors with poetic metaphors which allowed them to justify their activities as writers. Along with elevated Sentimentalist regard for femininity, some women authors began to revise the ways in which female characters were represented, in particular challenging Sentimentalist notions of female naivety and death.

The obstacles of decency, virtue, and modesty

Women writers found different ways to respond to the topics in Sentimentalist culture and literature. In order to express their opinions, however, they had to overcome several obstacles. If they wished to draw attention to the inequality experienced in the private sphere of the home, for example, they had to transgress the criterion of decency. Although a fundamental feature of Sentimentalist ethics was to shed light on different human experiences, including those of women, only a restricted number of subjects found their...

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