How Women Must Write

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4095-0

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4094-3

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4093-6
Publication Date
October 2019
Page Count
248 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

How Women Must Write

Inventing the Russian Woman Poet
Olga Peters Hasty

How Women Must Write studies how women who write poems were invented in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Russia by women poets themselves, readers who derived poets of their own design from women’s poems, and male poets who fabricated women and wrote poems on their behalf. These distinct vantage points on how the Russian woman poet is constituted foreground the complex interactions between writing women and their readers within ever-shifting social, political, and cultural power structures. 

Hasty’s exploration takes us from an emphatically male Romantic age to a modernist period preoccupied with women’s creativity but also its containment. Each chapter studies an episode from Russian cultural history. The first part explores the successes and vulnerabilities of Karolina Pavlova and Evdokiia Rostopchina, who lay the groundwork for women writing after them. The second part examines two women invented by men: Cherubina de Gabriak and Briusov’s Nelli, who reflect the establishment’s efforts to retain command over women’s writing in the Silver Age. Last, Hasty examines Marina Tsvetaeva’s and Anna Akhmatova’s challenges to male authority. 

Illuminating these writers and characters not as passive victims of gender-driven limitations and disincentives but rather as purposeful actors realizing themselves creatively and advancing the woman poet’s cause, How Women Must Write will appeal to the general reader as well as to specialists in Russian literature, women’s studies, and cultural history. 

About the Author

OLGA PETERS HASTY is a professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University. She is the author of Pushkin’s Tatiana and Tsvetaeva’s Orphic Journeys in the Worlds of the Word

“This stimulating, valuable new book asks us to rethink the Russian tradition in light of its remarkable women poets and the stories of how they were invented. The case studies are well chosen and varied. Concepts like reader-imposed censorship and the masquerades of gender suggest new vantage points on many other poets as well. The rereading of Tsvetaeva’s gendered poetics and the analysis of Briusov’s Nelli are especially strong, as is the splendid work on the dynamics of competition and connection between women poets.” —Stephanie Sandler, coauthor of History of Russian Literature

“Hasty eloquently describes the impediments that nineteenth- and twentieth-century women poets encountered in their attempts to gain admission to the Russian poetic tradition on equal terms with men. Her case studies, revealing the strategies that women poets developed to resist the gender norms, expectations, and male fantasies of the tradition’s gatekeepers, add an important, previously overlooked aspect to the history of Russian poetry.” —Diana Greene, author of Reinventing Romantic Poetry: Russian Women Poets of the Mid-Nineteenth Century

“Olga Peters Hasty weaves a new and compelling argument about strategies used by women poets against the male bastion of Russian poetry. As she investigates the opposition mounted by Pavlova and Rostopchina, the impersonations of the fictional poets Cherubina de Gabriak and Nelli, and the resistance of Tsvetaeva and Akhmatova, Hasty gives us new perspectives on the development and subversion of literary tradition.” —Sarah Pratt, author of Russian Metaphysical Romanticism: The Poetry of Tiutchev and Boratynskii

“Olga Hasty’s thoughtful, deeply researched book traces in detail the work of three pairs of women poets and their relationships with earlier or contemporary women writers, as well as their context and reactions to manipulation by male literary gatekeepers. How Women Must Write uncovers their subversive potential: it is brilliant reading for anyone with an interest in women’s writing, Russian literature, poetry, or gender studies.” —Sibelan Forrester, editor of A Companion to Marina Cvetaeva

". . . Hasty pioneers her own theoretical paradigm, drawing on reader response theory. She is interested in the reception environment for women's poetry, ranging from reviews by male 'authorities' to the notional average reader of their work, and in how women poets strategically positioned themselves to anticipate and counter these normative responses. She also makes use of and revises Lev Loseff's notion of Aesopian poetry as designed to elude statist censor but reach sympathetic readers. She argues that women poets could not count on readers to catch their meaning, which often violated gender norms . . . Hasty takes a risk in this book in claiming that, with her own enabling rereadings, she grasps the deep meaning—the feminist significance—of this poetry more fully and truthfully than earlier readers. In my opinion, this was a risk work taking because the payoff is large—a smart, sympathetic, thoroughly elaborated account of the strategies women poets developed to counter gender prejudice." —Catherine Ciepiela, The Russian Review