Hellman Ben. Fairy Tales and True Stories. The History of Russian Literature for Children and Young People (1574-2010) (Page 106-111)

[106] Towards the end of the century many women writers wrote about their childhood and youth, partly spent within the family, partly in boarding schools. These works, often written in a nostalgic vein, combined traits of family novels and school stories. The heroines of works by Sysoeva, Zhelikhovskaya and Kondrashova are adolescent girls from rich families, fortunate to grow up in a harmonious world. <…>

The History of a Little Girl (Istoriya malenkoy devochki, 1875-70) by Ekaterina Sysoeva (1829-93) is a simple and delightful book with an obvious autobiographical basis. Its first part was translated into French as LEnfance de Katia and published in Paris in 1895. The story is told from the point of view of a grownup, recalling her formative years in the 1840s, between the ages of six and sixteen. After the death of her mother in the novels opening scene, the girl grows up a loner, without parental warmth and care. For many years she lives with her aunt in Moscow, separated from her father and his new family. Still, the novel does not dwell upon negative feelings. It is tilled with lively scenes of name days, Christmas holidays, church visits, friends and guests, games, picnics and travels, studies and exams, minor moral conflicts. The description of the setting from the country estate to a boarding school is excellent. After the death of her aunt, the girl joins her fathers new family, but even here no conflict arises, as she comes to adore her stepmother. The History of a Little Girl ends with the heroine aged sixteen, ready to leave home.

Sysoeva, who started as a childrens writer in the magazine Family Evenings in 1869, took her profession seriously. She wanted to serve young people, to foster love for work and ones fellow human beings through [107] idealised characters. An annoying lack of creative imagination, however, led to mostly disappointing results. The writers intentions are all too often immediately clear to the reader. The tales in A Present for Kind Children (Podarok milym detyam, 1882) are overtly sentimental, as when the best Christmas present is showing mercy to ones fellow by offering shelter to a freezing, homeless girl from the street (“Rozhdestvensky podarok”). Goodness and mercy are needed in a world where the children are divided into rich and poor, the satisfied and the hungry, the warm and the frozen.

Like Tur, Sysoeva took an interest in ancient Rome and the trials of the first Christians. The heroine of her superficial and naive novel Aktéa (1883) is a Greek girl from the time of the Emperor Nero. An unswerving Christian, she is thrown to the wild beasts at the Coliseum, but to everybodys surprise the tiger refuses to touch the saintly girl.

During the last ten years of her life, right up to her death in 1893, Sysoeva edited the childrens magazine The Spring (Rodnik). Her own contributions were mainly biographies and translations from English and French.

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[107] One of the most popular and productive writers of the period was Vera Zhelikhovskaya (1835-96). After the early death of her mother, the writer Elena Gan (Hahn), she was brought up in the Saratov house of her grandmother, an eminent natural scientist. Zhelikhovskaya turned to literature in the 1870s at the age of around forty and she did so, in her own words, solely for the amusement of my own children”. 31 [31 Russkie pisateli 1800-1917: Bibliograficheskii slovar. Vol. 2 (M., 1992), 262.]

The Caucasus is the setting of many of Zhelikhovskaya’s juvenile books. Part of her childhood had been spent in Georgia, and after the death of her first husband she returned to Tiflis (Tbilisi). With solid knowledge she [108] portrayed local customs, ethnographic details and natural scenery, often from the point of view of a Russian outsider. The plots of her Caucasian tales are dramatic, especially when enacted in the troubled decade of the 1840s. The conflict often rises from cross-cultural relations. Even if Zhelikhovskaya does show sympathy for the indigenous population, she never forgets to point out her understanding of the Russian mission in the Caucasus, which was to soften manners and teach Christian morality. For her, the conflict was ultimately a struggle between Christianity and Islam.

In Out for Adventures (Za prikliucheniyami), published in Tiflis in 1878, four boys set out for a summer holiday adventure during a week of [108] freedom. In spite of the promising opening, exceptional for its time, most of the dramatic incidents are given in the form of inserted monologues. The journey offers the boys, who represent four different nationalities, a chance to examine their prejudices and learn to accept differences. The culmination is an ecstatic religious experience in an ancient, ruined Georgian church. The Russian boy, who has read Cardinal Wisemans Fabiola, learns that Christians have given their lives for their faith on Caucasian soil, too.

The hero of Prince Iliko, Little Prisoner of the Caucasus (Knyaz Iliko, malenky kavkazsky plennik, 1888) is a Georgian boy who is kidnapped during an assault by hostile mountain-dwellers, the Lezghins. Many years later he is found by a Russian family, who, attracted by his good nature, decide to take care of him. With the help of a birthmark, Ilikos father, a Georgian Prince, recognises his son, but the boy prefers to stay with his Russian benefactors, a resolution that reveals the racially biased attitude of the author. Iliko’s choice is partly motivated by his Christian upbringing, a legacy of his late Russian mother. The critic in A Survey of Childrens Literature in 1889 mercilessly dismissed the novel as “flabby, boring, lifeless and predicted that no reader would get further than the first few pages.32 [32 Obzor detskoi literatury za 1885-1888 g.g. (M., 1889), 23.] The disheartening conclusion was that here is a writer who has turned to childrens literature because she is not talented enough for an adult audience.

Zhelikhovskaya investigated the submissive position of Muslim women in the novel In a Remote Tartar Corner (V tatarskom zakholuste, 1888). During a summer spent in a small Tartar town, the Tiflis girl Olga becomes acquainted with Gyulli, daughter of a local Prince. Defying the prejudices of the grownups, Olga and Gyulli secretly seek each others company. Gyulli, a captive of her family and religion, lives a restricted life, being denied education and the right to choose a husband. Olga sets out to liberate Gyulli from the Muslim sphere of influence. The Tartar girl is drawn to the Russians, who offer her the possibility to receive an education and to acquaint herself with the Gospels and their message of love for ones enemies. A happy ending is impossible in this divided world, but Zhelikhovskaya consoles her readers by letting Gyulli die a Christian.

The same task of liberation from spiritual captivity can be found in From Darkness to Light: the Story of a Molokan Bоу (Iz tmy k svetu: [109] Istoriya malchika-molokana, 1882). The life style and beliefs of the Molokans, a group of sectarians whom the Tsarist regime had deported to the Caucasus, are equated with darkness. Through the interference of an Orthodox family, the gifted orphan Dmitry is saved for a new, sensible, bright life.

In Zhelikhovskayas prose the figure of the renegade often occupies the meeting ground between the Christian and the Muslim world. This is the motif of the noble savage, familiar from books about American Indians. The unavoidable Russian reference, a literary intertext, is Pushkins Prisoner of the Caucasus. The problematic friendship between the enemy and a Russian girl is depicted in Mamed Selim, a short story from Caucasian Tales (Kavkazskie rasskazy, 1895). In Kunak Ragim from the same volume, a Russian girl shows mercy to a wounded Azbek, and he, in his turn, saves her life by offering her shelter when she travels without a convoy outside the town. In the eyes of his own people, Ragim is a traitor and as such he is doomed to a cruel death. His fate serves to illustrate Zhelikhovskayas view of two different worlds. The Russians of her books wage an honourable war: they do not kill women and children and they do not mistreat prisoners.

After the death of her second husband, Zhelikhovskaya moved to St Petersburg. Responsible for bringing up five children on her own, she devoted herself totally to literature, publishing mostly in Family and School (Semya i shkola) and Family Evenings (Semeynye vechera). For Leisure and Work (Dosug i delo), a monthly magazine for soldiers, she wrote non-fiction texts about the conquest of the Caucasus, portraying military heroes, from General Aleksey Ermolov down to anonymous officers and soldiers. Many of these publications with their official patriotism were later collected in separate volumes, not explicitly addressing juvenile readers, but plausibly of some interest to them. The stories of Caucasian Legends (Kavkazskie legendy, 1901) deal with the introduction of Christianity to the Caucasus. A Christian spirit is set against cupidity, jealousy and vindictiveness.

Zhelikhovskayas sentimental and melodramatic family novels were popular. Young love set in high society, dreams of the future, the power of music, art and poetry, love for nature, and alarming foreboding are all recurring components of these tensely structured juvenile books. Olga and Aleksandr in On the Threshold of Spring (Na vesenney zare, 1904) are an ideal young couple. Their love grows during one summer, but dreams of a common future are crushed when Aleksandr, thirsting for heroic [110] deeds, joins the war against the Turks, a just and holy war. His death on the battlefield marks the end of Olgas spring, but she is consoled by the thought that summer happiness must still be ahead.

The title of Truth Makes Love Stronger (Lyubov pravdoy krepka, 1888) refers to a well kept secret in Baron Krügers family: his daughter Tamara is an adopted child who has a biological brother. The girls anguish, as she realises that some important truth is being withheld from her, threatens to split the family. The conflict is complicated by the fact that her brother, a Georgian prince, has been adopted into a family of simpler background. Through her education and upbringing, Tamara is, furthermore, a Russian foreigner. Eventually, descent and religion turn out to be more important than cultural background, and truth only serves to strengthen the bonds of love between these family members.

The Blade of Grass is Small but Hardy (Mala bylinka, da vynosliva, 1897) opens with a graveyard scene on the shore of the Black Sea. After the death of their parents, the children have fallen into an economically difficult situation. The oldest sister struggles to keep the circle of brothers and sisters together and make ends meet. In this story of survival, it is nevertheless more through a chance meeting with the Benefactor, an old family friend, than through their own endeavours that the children can move towards a truer, full happiness. Another conflict portrayed is between class prejudices and a democratic disposition. The false ideals of the high aristocracy are rejected, as the youngest sister is saved from being adopted by rich, narrow-minded relatives.

For small children, Zhelikhovskaya wrote fairy tales. Shrunk by an evil sorcerer, the little girl in The Little Rose (Rozanchik, 1882) faces adventures in a suddenly strange world of insects, birds and animals. She must perform three heroic deeds to return to the human world. The positive moral message is that love and kindness are stronger than brute force. Little Stars (Zvyozdochki, 1898) spreads the joyful message of Christmas as a time of giving and forgiving. Zhelikhovskaya could not avoid sentimentality as she wrote about spoilt children from well-off families who make poor children happy by giving away toys from their well-stocked nursery or about a barin who gives a poor young man a chance to study.

Zhelikhovskayas main works, What I Was Like As a Child (Как ya byla malenkoy, 1891) and its sequel, My Adolescence (Moyo otrochestvo, 1892-1893), are based on the authors diaries. Written fluidly, these autobiographical books tell the story of the early years of the girl Elena. Keeping close to the childs own perspective, Zhelikhovskaya depicts small episodes from the everyday life of a well-off provincial family during the first half [111] of the nineteenth century. Idealising the past, Zhelikhovskaya portrays a sensitive child surrounded by a happy and loving family. What Elena still has to learn is to respect her elders and to overcome her fears.

What I Was Like As a Child covers life from the childs first impressions to the death of her mother, who, like Zhelikhovskayas own mother, is also a writer. These are the early, happy years of golden childhood. The sequel, My Adolescence, tells of the 1840s, when the now seven-year-old Elena goes to stay with her grandmother in Saratov and later travel to the Caucasus. She feels the loss of her mother deeply but finds her again in the books she wrote. The social perspective broadens through meetings with common people, while the psychological portrait of a dreamer with a creative imagination deepens. The main task is to learn tolerance, but also to experience happiness from doing your duty. This is in fact the life credo of the heroine: An outer, casual happiness is changeable! But there is a true, unfailing happiness, which is completely dependent on oneself: this happiness consists of fulfilling ones duty! It can never betray us; in life and when dying, the consciousness of having honestly fulfilled ones duty brings great bliss! To the critic in On Childrens Books (1908) this was too much, and he protested: Such an idealization of life in general and especially of the epoch of serfdom can have a harmful effect on older children!33 33[O detskikh knigakh (M., 1908), 54.]

In What I Was Like As a Child and My Adolescence, we also see glimpses of Zhelikhovskayas sister, the future Theosophist Madame Blavatsky. It was in tact her sisters first name, Elena, that Zhelikhovskaya used for her heroine. Without abandoning her Orthodox faith, Zhelikhovskaya also showed some interest in spiritualism and strange phenomena, as can be seen from her Fantastic Tales (Fantasticheskie rasskazy, 1896). However, it must be added, in her works for children this side was never explicitly expressed.

Zhelikhovskaya had a following in France, where not only her autobiographical works but also four other volumes appeared in translation. In Russia, What I Was Like As a Child and My Adolescence sold tens of thousand of copies to intelligentsia families. Many of her magazine publications were posthumously republished in book form. Even after the Revolution, the publishing house Devrien, now located in Berlin, went on publishing Zhelikhovskaya for Russian émigré children.

[106] Ближе к концу века многие женщины-писательницы писали о своём детстве и юности, частью проведённом в семье, частью в пансионах. Эти произведения, часто написанные в ностальгических тонах, сочетали черты “семейных романов” и школьных рассказов. Героини произведений Сысоевой, Желиховской и Кондрашовой — девочки-подростки из богатых семей, которым посчастливилось вырасти в гармоничном мире. <…>

[107] Одной из самых популярных и плодотворных писательниц этого периода [1860-1890] была Вера Желиховская (1835-96). После последовавшей ранней смерти матери, писательницы Елены Ган (Хан), она воспитывалась в саратовском доме своей бабушки, выдающейся естествоиспытательницы. Желиховская обратилась к литературе в 1870-е годы, в возрасте около сорока лет, и сделала это, по её собственным словам, “единственно для удовольствия своих детей”. [1]

Кавказ является местом действия многих подростковых книг Желиховской. Часть своего детства она провела в Грузии, а после смерти своего первого мужа вернулась в Тифлис (Тбилиси). С глубокими знаниями она изображала местные обычаи, этнографические детали и природные пейзажи, часто с точки зрения стороннего русского наблюдателя. Сюжеты её кавказских сказок драматичны, особенно когда они разыгрываются в беспокойное десятилетие 1840-х годов. Конфликт часто возникает на почве взаимоотношений разных культур. Даже если Желиховская и проявляет симпатию к коренному населению, она никогда не забывает указать на свое понимание русской миссии на Кавказе, которая должна была смягчить нравы и научить христианской морали. Для неё конфликт был в конечном счёте противостоянием между христианством и исламом.

В рассказе “За приключениями”, опубликованном в Тифлисе в 1878 году, четверо мальчиков отправились на летние каникулы на неделю независимой жизни. Несмотря на многообещающее открытие, исключительное для своего времени, большинство драматических происшествий даются в виде вставных монологов. Путешествие предлагает мальчикам, представляющим четыре различных национальности, шанс изучить свои предрассудки и научиться принимать различия. Кульминацией является экстатический религиозный опыт в древней, разрушенной грузинской церкви. Русский мальчик, прочитавший Фабиолу[2] кардинала Уайзмэна [3], узнаёт, что христиане отдали свои жизни за веру и на кавказской земле.

Герой рассказа Князь Илико, маленький кавказский пленник(1888) — грузинский мальчик, похищенный во время нападения враждебных горцев лезгин. Много лет спустя его находит русская семья, которая, привлеченная его добродушием, решает позаботиться о нём. С помощью родимого пятна отец Илико, грузинский князь, узнаёт своего сына, но мальчик предпочитает оставаться со своими российскими покровителями, что свидетельствует о расово предвзятом отношении автора. [4] Выбор Илико частично продиктован его христианским воспитанием унаследованным от его покойной русской матери. Критик в Обзоре детской литературы 1889 года жестоко отверг рассказ как вялый, скучный, безжизненный [5] и предсказал, что ни один читатель не продвинется далее первых нескольких страниц. [6] Обескураживающим выводом было то, что вот де писательница, которая обратилась к детской литературе, потому что она недостаточно талантлива для взрослой аудитории.

В повести В татарском захолустье (1888) Желиховская исследовала подчинённое положение мусульманских женщин. В течении лета проведённого в небольшом татарском городке тифлисская девушка Оля знакомится с Гюлли, дочерью местного князя. Презрев предрассудки взрослых, Ольга и Гюлли тайно искали компании друг друга. Гюлли, узница своей семьи и религии, живёт ограниченной жизнью, лишённая образования и права выбора мужа. Ольга намеревается освободить Гюлли от мусульманского влияния. Татарскую девушку тянет к русским, которые дают ей возможность получить образование и познакомиться с Евангелиями и их посланием любви к своим врагам. В этом разделённом мире счастливый конец невозможен, но Желиховская утешая своих читателей позволяет Гюлли умерть христианкой.

Ту же самую задачу освобождения из духовного плена можно найти и в повести Из тьмы к свету: История мальчика молокана (1882). Образ жизни и верования молокан, группы сектантов, которых царский режим депортировал на Кавказ, приравниваются к темноте. Благодаря вмешательству православной семьи одаренный сирота Дмитрий спасен для “новой, осмысленной, светлой жизни”.

В прозе Желиховской фигура отщепенца часто занимает место встреч между христианским и мусульманским миром. Это мотив благородного дикаря, знакомый по книгам об американских индейцах. [7] Неизбежная русская отсылка, литературный интертекст — пушкинский кавказский пленник. Проблематичная дружба между врагом и русской девушкой изображена в короткой истории “Мамед-Селим” из кавказских рассказов (“Кавказские рассказы”, 1895). В рассказе “Кунак-Рагим” из того же сборника русская девушка проявляет милосердие к раненому Азбеку, а он, в свою очередь, спасает ей жизнь, предлагая убежище, когда она без конвоя выезжает за пределы города. В глазах своего народа Рагим — изменник, и как таковой он обречен на жестокую смерть. Его судьба иллюстрирует взгляд Желиховской на два разных мира. Русские её книги ведут честную войну: они не убивают женщин и детей и не издеваются над пленными.

После смерти своего второго мужа, Желиховская переехала в Санкт-Петербург. Самостоятельно воспитывая пятерых детей она полностью посвятила себя литературе, издаваясь в основном в журналах “Семья и Школа” и “Семейные Вечера”. Для ежемесячного журнала для солдат “Досуг и дело” она писала документальные истории о покорении Кавказа, изображая военных героев начиная от генерала Алексея Ермолова неизвестных офицеров и солдат. Многие из этих изданий с их “официальным патриотизмом” позже были собраны в отдельные тома, не адресованные непосредственно юным читателям, но представляющие для них определённый интерес. Истории “Кавказские легенды” (1901) относятся к введению христианства на Кавказе. Христианский дух против алчности, зависти и мстительности.