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Women writers and Russian schools

March 12, 2018

The “Required Minimum Content of a Secondary (Complete) General Education” established by the Department of Education of the Russian Federation includes 64 writers and poets. Among them are exactly three women: Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova, Akhmadulina. That only 4.5% are women is very sad. It’s just as sad that no prose writers are included. And hardly less sad that all three are from the twentieth century.

In a typical Russian literary curriculum for grades 5-11, I counted 185 male authors, from Homer and Vladimir Monomakh to Nietzsche and Timur Kibirov. Twelve women were allowed into this boys’ club, or 5.8% of the total. Only one of them lived before the twentieth century: Charlotte Bronte, an Englishwoman.

That’s Konstantin Zarubin lamenting the underrepresentation of women in the Russian literary canon. He singles out Elena Gan and her story “The Ideal” (Идеал, 1837) as a gem that Russian high school students miss, especially its provincial ball scene.

I sometimes wonder if choosing to limit this blog to nineteenth-century Russia has made me miss out on Remizov or Proust or a million other writers. But that decision, combined with reading Sarah J. Young and Languagehat, did at least prompt me to read Gan and Iuliia Zhadovskaia and Ol’ga N. and Pavlova-Novinskaia. There’s obviously much more to discover. In a companion post Zarubin, who says he hadn’t read many of these authors until a few years ago either, gives his impressions of Ekaterina Dashkova, Nadezhda Durova, Karolina Pavlova, Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia, Sof’ia Kovalevskaia, Mariia Bashkirtseva, and Elizaveta D’iakonova.

My thanks to Sarah Kapp for letting me know about Zarubin’s column!

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 13, 2018 9:50 am

    That’s wonderful, thanks for sharing Zarubin’s posts! I’m glad he liked «Пансионерка» as much as I did, and I hope he investigates Elena Kube/Veltman (I’m looking forward to reading her historical novel Priklyucheniya korolevicha Gustava Irikovicha, zhenikha tsarevny Ksenii Godunovoi in the next year or two). And now I want to read Dyakonova’s diary.

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