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The Representation of Jewish Women in Pre-Revolutionary Russian Literature

Tooke, CJ; (2012) The Representation of Jewish Women in Pre-Revolutionary Russian Literature. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis analyses the representation of Jewish women in pre-revolutionary Russian literature, focusing on the period 1881–1907. It argues that Jewish women, far from universally marginalized, played a central role in works by a number of Russian writers, embodying and challenging not only stereotypes but also a variety of ideological viewpoints on key socio-political questions in late tsarist Russia. The ambiguous identity of Jewish women, portrayed as outsiders and yet also often as to some degree amenable, rendered them ideal figures through which to explore and test national and gender identities, and tolerance, in the Russian Empire. The thesis is divided into four chapters. Chapter One considers how two major Russian writers, Chekhov and Kuprin, both reproduce and problematize stereotypes relating to Jewish women and Jews as a whole in their construction of the ‘Jewish feminine’. Chapter Two reveals how two writers from opposite ends of the political spectrum, the conservative antisemite Vsevolod Krestovskii and the liberal progressive Evgenii Chirikov, use narratives of Jewish female assimilation into Russian society to condemn the social and political status quo. Chapter Three examines the representation of the ‘demonic’ Jewess in novels concerning an alleged Jewish plot for world domination by two antisemitic writers, Nikolai Vagner and Vera Kryzhanovskaia. Chapter Four analyses the depiction of revolutionary Jewish women in works by two Russian-Jewish writers, David Aizman and Semen An-skii. Whether they portray Jewish women as striving for a just society or for its downfall, the texts use the figure of the Jewess to criticize late tsarist society. Indeed, this thesis concludes that the works, despite the prominence within them of Jewish women, are often less concerned with Jews and Jewesses as such than with the socio-political debates to which they contribute, particularly the question of Russian national identity and character.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The Representation of Jewish Women in Pre-Revolutionary Russian Literature
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > SSEES

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