Women with a Thirst for Destruction
The Bad Mother in Russian Culture
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
Winner, 2014 AWSS Best Book in Slavic/East European/Eurasian Women's Studies
In Russian culture, the archetypal mother is noble and self-sacrificing. In Women with a Thirst for Destruction, however, Jenny Kaminer shows how this image is destabilized during periods of dramatic rupture in Russian society, examining in detail the aftermath of three key moments in the country’s history: the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the fall of the Communist regime in 1991. She explores works both familiar and relatively unexamined: Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin’s The Golovlev Family, Fyodor Gladkov’s Cement, and Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s The Time: Night, as well as a late Soviet film (Vyacheslav Krishtofovich’s Adam’s Rib, 1990) and media coverage of the Chechen conflict. Kaminer’s book speaks broadly to the mutability of seemingly established cultural norms in the face of political and social upheaval.
“… why, given the reverence for motherhood, [is] the bad mother is a recurrent figure in Russian culture? What is the purpose of the bad-mother image? Does it debunk the ideal mother or reaffirm the persistence of the myth? Kaminer’s satisfying answer to this question spans three chapters, each of which focuses on a period directly following a national crisis: the emancipation of the serfs, the Russian revolution, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.” —Slavic Review
"The originality of Kaminer’s work lies in her masterful use of popular texts to inform her analyses of more canonical ones. She is a sensitive and nuanced critic, and her study is informed by thorough knowledge of the secondary literature. . .this study helps crystallize and clarify many of the issues surrounding motherhood and its portrayal in Russian culture. It is the first of its kind and will be valuable for students and scholars of Russian gender studies and
those interested in the historical transformation of cultural myths. " —Slavic Review
"The image of the mother is important for Russian culture, but, as Kaminer deftly demonstrates in her first monograph, its symbolism impacts not just literary studies, but also has wide-reaching resonance politically, economically, and socially. Similarly, Kaminer’s study adds a new dimension to European motherhood studies, which historically have largely focused on Western European traditions. This book will be of value to those who are interested in Russian literature, but also family studies, the role of women in society, childhood studies, or the historical transformation of cultural myths.” —Journal of Soviet & Post-Soviet Politics & Society
"Jenny Kaminer’s provocative study exposes gaps in the Russian myth of motherhood in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature and film. Who is “the bad mother” in Russian culture? When, why, and how does she emerge? What does her appearance tell us about the larger cultural shift in Russia’s maternal mythology and historical reality? These questions are at the core of Kaminer’s investigation, which not only offers a detailed analysis of destructive mothers, but also places them in a greater context of political and social changes in late Imperial, early Soviet, and early post-Soviet Russia."
—Slavic and East European Journal