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Kikimora Publications Series A 3

Arja Rosenholm:

Gendering Awakening. Femininity and the Russian Woman Question of the 1860s

Kikimora Publications : Series A3. 1999
ISBN 951-45-8892-4
659 p.

15 EUR + VAT 10 %


Who is the hero-subject, who the object to be awakened? What ordeals must the hero suffer to become a New Man? Will the New Women awake and speak? What is woman´s symbolic place? How is it constructed? What happens to the sexual difference in the evolutionary Utopia of the 'new' dawn with woman as a rational subject? How do women define the «new» femininity?

These are questions, that Gendering Awakening, the dissertation of Arja Rosenholm, the Academic Assistant at the Slavonic Department at the University of Tampere deals with. The great modernization process in Russia in the 1860s is recast by the work through the disourse of gender. Finally the 'woman question', that has been told as a story of women´s 'awakening' into new knowledge, as equal to men, turns out to be a 'man question': In the writings of M. L. Mihailov Woman serves as a mirror for the narrative of the 'awakener', the New Man, who speaks in the name of women and uses woman to his own purposes to strengthen the new male Self.

Arja Rosenholm claims, that the new concept of realism, construed by the rhetorics of evolution and equality, strenghtened the male union of literature and masculinity. The 'new realism' was, in fact, gendered, and almost anti-female. It broke down the line of women´s literature that had started in the beginning of the century: realism was thought to have exceeded the inferior (romantic) phase; it was feminized, and thus a number of women writers denigrated and retroactively marginalized. The psychological and philosophical self-understanding of women writes did not correspond to the ideals of the 'committed literature' of the 'middle class' realism, since most of the women writers were already older and of aristocratic origins. The ambiguous position, in which the women of the 1860s define the 'new' femininity – under the sign of the equality concept with its implicit patronizing judgements of women´s cultural traditions – is shifted into the gender topography of their short stories: 'New Woman' 'awakes', but refuses to grow up, or to get old or mature.

The central subject of the work is the «woman question» cast by women´s texts, as Marya Vernadskaya´s economical essays, prose, and also by their plain dress. Arja Rosenholm´s dissertation recasts our understanding of the New Woman of 1860s as the agent and the symbol of the transition.