As I wrote here, I’ve been reading Anastasia Marchenko’s 1847 collection Путевые заметки (“Travel notes”); having finished the two stories in that first edition, Три варьяции на старую тему (“Three variations on an old [in the 1853 edition, одну ‘one’] theme”) and Гувернантка (“The governess”), I’m ready to add her to the ranks of the unjustly forgotten. I am glad to see that Belinsky, who calls it (in his last article, a review of Russian literature for 1847) the most remarkable literary book published separately that year, agrees with me that the first is the prize of the pair. The narrator is a woman recalling the great adventure of her life, an on-again-off-again sort-of-romance with a man whom she met when she was twenty and he fifteen; the first chapter is called “Lyolya” (the diminutive by which he was then known), the second “Alexis” (the Frenchified form he used as a cocky young man with a European education), and the third “Aleksei Petrovich,” his official name (to match his by then official personality), and it’s told with a winning brio that promises well for the author’s career — it’s astonishing that she was a teenager when she wrote and published it (in Odessa). It brought to my mind Lermontov’s lines “Герой известен, и не нов предмет;/ Тем лучше: устарело все, что́ ново!” (“The hero’s known, the subject isn’t new; so much the better — all that’s new’s grown old!” from a poem she quotes several times for chapter epigraphs, along with Pushkin and — God save the mark! — Bulwer-Lytton). The other story, while decently written (if overlong), is basically just another society tale of the sort that had been so popular in the 1830s, full of balls and card tables, confessions and renunciations, flaming cheeks and rosy lips; the novelty was that the narrator was a governess (a profession the author tried briefly). Either would make a good entry in an anthology of women’s writing from tsarist Russia, but it’s the first that makes me want to read more of her. Olga Demidova says of her in Dictionary of Russian Women Writers:
Her main themes were love and marriage. In all of her writings, Marchenko propagated George Sand’s message that a woman should be free to love whomever she chooses and that the first freedom was to be found in an equal relationship and marriage. Thus, Marchenko was addressing the “woman question” as early as the 1840s although, as was later noted, “her experience gave her a broader perspective on work and on the necessity of enjoying life than that expressed by strict followers of the theory of emancipation” […]
Many of Marchenko’s stories are in the then popular form of a woman’s diary (zapiski), with the narrator-observer always present. As was typical of women’s literature of the period, Marchenko has constant recourse to lyrical digressions, pouring out the complaints, dissatisfactions, and emotions flooding her soul. Consequently, not all of her writings are of equal quality: among her numerous stories and novels “Around and About” (Vokrug da okolo, 1855), “Hills” (Gory, 1856), “The Salamander” (Salamandra, 1859), and Soap Bubbles (Myl’nye puzyri, 1858) are considered her best. […]
Marchenko remained one of the most popular women writers from 1847 through the mid-1850s, when she married a man named Kiriakov and followed him first to St. Petersburg and then to Kherson, interrupting her literary career.
A man, of course, didn’t have to interrupt his literary career when he got married.