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Before you read this, guess what year the first bibliography of Russian women writers came out

April 26, 2013

There are people – like Mary Zirin and Catriona Kelly and Joe Andrew – who want to rediscover, republish, and translate Russian women writers for what I take to be feminist reasons: talented women have been neglected because they were women, and even second-tier women writers show us the world from a different angle than any-tier men.

Then there are people – say, Tatyana Voltskaya and Aleksei Alekhin, whom Jamie Olson quotes here – who reject “women writers” as a category and would rather publish women and men in the same anthologies and treat them all as writers.

And there were and probably still are people who separate out women writers out of mechanical, patronizing gallantry.

What I hadn’t realized is that several bibliographies of women writers were assembled by Russian men in the nineteenth century.

A reference book called Bibliograficheskii slovar’ russkikh pisatel’nits by Prince N. N. Golitsyn (St. Petersburg, 1889) has 1,286 entries. They have nowhere near as much detail as the 1994 Dictionary of Russian Women Writers, which covers 448 writers. The publishers of that volume (not the authors, who phrase it more carefully, and frequently and properly cite their predecessors) call it “the first reference work in any language devoted to Russian women writers,” but that’s off by 168 years, since S. V. Russov published a Bibliograficheskii katalog rossiiskim pisatel’nitsam in St. Petersburg in 1826, already with 97 authors. Golitsyn, who also mentions efforts by M. N. Makarov in 1830-33 (65 entries) and I. I. Bilevich in 1847, apparently worked on his bibliography for over thirty years. He published several versions, reacting to critics and soliciting information from living authors, some of whom were “indifferent and even unsympathetic” to his project, “not wanting to reveal their pseudonyms.”

To judge by Golitsyn’s introduction, he was more excited about the rapidly progressing science of bibliography than about women writers, but I can’t imagine anyone working that long on something if they thought the underlying subject was trivial.

This is one of those moments when I start to realize the depths of my ignorance. I knew I didn’t know many nineteenth-century Russian women writers, but I’m astounded just how much I didn’t know. When I started the post on pseudonyms, I could only come up with eight writers before I had to cheat and turn to the internet.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 26, 2013 4:46 pm

    And Ivan Kireevsky published «О русских писательницах» in 1834, which surprised me to learn. The past is a stranger place than we think!

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