Self-Orientalization in Russian Women's Poetry: The Tempting Feminine Persona

by Professor of Russian Sibelan Forrester

"If you ask a fairly culturally literate person in this country to name some famous Russian women, they're likely to suggest Catherine the Great (who was German) or ballerina Anna Pavlova (who was actually Polish)," Forrester says. "Perhaps they will have heard of the great 20th-century poets, Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetaeva. This lecture presents instead three poets who were amazingly successful in their own lifetimes, but whose tactics of writing as "poetesses" rather than poets led to their later denigration and erasure from the Russian literary canon: Evdokiia Rostopchina (1812-1858), Mirra Lokhvitskaia (1869-1905) and Marietta Shaginian (1888-1982). Each of them wrote at least one poem that deploys 'self-orientalization,' depicting the poem's female speaker in terms of the stereotypes of orientalism adopted from Byron and enthusiastically cultivated by early 19th-century Russian poets such as Pushkin or Lermontov. This lecture includes several stanzas of poetry read in Russian!"