Samizdat Romance.

Another quote from Reading for Entertainment in Contemporary Russia (see this post), this time from Mariia Cherniak’s chapter “Russian Romantic Fiction”; in the course of explaining that unlike other genres, “romantic fiction was an entirely new arrival in post-Soviet Russia,” she points out that prerevolutionary prejudices about women’s writing “were shared by the masters of Soviet culture, who also had a whole set of reasons of their own to object to romance and melodrama”:

It was not quite the case that love had no place in publicly disseminated Soviet culture. In the socialist realist novel, girls met boys as well as tractors. Soviet cinema, especially in the 1970s and early 1980s, served up a few emotionally fulfilling love stories. But the kind of romantic women’s culture that almost invariably accompanied modernity in Western Europe was absent — at least in the public domain. This is not to say that Soviet women did not feel the romantic urge. When Western-style romances finally hit the bookstalls in the early 1990s, they met a huge pent-up demand. In the absence of published romantic fiction, Soviet teenage girls from the late 1950s onwards had made do with home-made love stories. These were a little-known form of Soviet samizdat that circulated very widely in the subculture of young females. The handwritten stories of the 1960s and 1970s ranged from the romantic to the erotic, their endings might be tragic or happy, but they tended to fit a first-love narrative formula. They changed hands frequently and were taken down by their latest readers; at each new copying new details (ranging from the weather to names of characters) might be added. These stories met cathartic and educational needs that were not catered for adequately in Soviet culture. Girls had no other authoritative way to learn how to fall in love and how to behave with the opposite sex.

[The paragraph is footnoted to Sergei Borisov's "Прозаические жанры девичьих альбомов" (Новое литературное обозрение, 1996, № 22. pp. 362-366).]

I continue to be amazed and impressed by the lengths to which people will go for their favored entertainment if driven to it; compare the factory workers who learned Polish so they could read detective novels mentioned in the post linked above.

Comments

  1. The second sentence of that passage is absolutely wonderful.

  2. Trond Engen says:

    Indeed. When I read it aloud to my wife, I heard my daughter laughing from the other room.

  3. I’m struggling to remember any Socialist Realism book where the girls met boys and tractors. The author might have confused it with a vintage chastushka (an oral account of what happened between the three)? (Warning: graphic stuff)

  4. I think she’s riffing on Sheila Fitzpatrick’s line that “several of the most popular [socialist realist works] were set in idealized and wildly unrealistic collective farms (the ‘boy meets girl meets tractor’ genre”; Fitzpatrick specifically references the 1939 movie Traktoristki.

  5. Yeah, I imagine a romance novel set in a realistic collective farm. Good luck :)

    There is no shortage of American romance novels where girls meet guys and tractors BTW.
    Trucks Driving Woman, by Elizabeth August
    Trick My Truck But Don’t Mess With My Heart, by LuAnn McLane
    The Bumpy Road of Trucking and Romance, by Helmer Bjerkebek
    Big Truck, Tender Heart, by Liz MacClintock and Tom Q. MacClintock

    and scores more, and even, as in Traktoriski, romance books where she’s at the wheel (“Payback” and others from the Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels )

  6. PS: a different kind of a romance, a classic folk song about one of my most beloved Siberian roads, where she drove a Ford truck, and he drove a domestic-issue AMO. With a bonus video shot from the truck cabin. Very interesting archaic Turkic languages along this highway, btw.

  7. I walked the dogs in driving rain (la lluvia sutil que llora el tiempo sobre aquello que quiso el corazón, take it as an urge to remember the romantic things of the past) so I tried to catalog all the typewritten samizdat of my school years, and to figure out if any of them could be assigned to “love” category.
    I got exactly two. One was Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (with unfilled blank spots where the Spanish words were supposed to be in the original – a task much complicated by lack of Latin characters on the typewriter, so all Spanish needed to be added in longhand, except they weren’t – the unknown typist left a note explaining the blanks, making me think that they were mostly unprintable obscenities – so for years on, I kept wondering why the girl called him some bad word all the time, till I discovered that it was Ingles). The other circulated in school, not to be brought home ever, for it was porn. I thought it was a translation too, because the settings and the names seemed to be foreign, and the vocabulary was strangely tame / archaic without a single expletive (похоть or член galore). With just three words which floated in my memory, I was able to google it tonight, “Memoirs of a Young Woman” by an unknown author, set apparently in Sweden. Now I think that it wasn’t a translation but rather a domestic job, and perhaps a small-circulation one. But I dislike the genre too much to study it in any better detail…

  8. des von bladet says:

    I can find no evidence of tractors in the Amazon blurb or reviews of Trick My Truck But Don’t Mess With My Heart, by LuAnn McLane. A truck – even a “pick-up truck” – is not a tractor in British English; do Americans do this differently?

    (There aren’t even any actual tractors in A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, which is also not in Ukrainian. The tractor-lover’s literary life is a stony field to plough, for sure.)

  9. I tried to catalog all the typewritten samizdat of my school years, and to figure out if any of them could be assigned to “love” category.

    Since you are (presumably) male, you would (presumably) not have been exposed to whatever samizdat romance was passed around among the girls.

    A truck – even a “pick-up truck” – is not a tractor in British English; do Americans do this differently?

    No, a truck is definitely not a tractor.

  10. Des: Tractor is the technical term in AmE for the detachable portion of a truck containing the engine and the driver’s cab; the cargo compartment is the trailer.

  11. The tractor-lover’s literary life is a stony field to plough

    I’ll say. Try ploughing through the English captions here.

  12. @John Cowan: I would only think of that meaning when it was specifically in the phrase “tractor and trailer” (or something similar, mentioning both parts). Then again, I don’t have anything to do with big rigs. But in any case, “tractor” on its own means the piece of farm equipment (or something structurally similar).

  13. JC: Des: Tractor is the technical term in AmE for the detachable portion of a truck containing the engine and the driver’s cab; the cargo compartment is the trailer.

    Not quite. Large highway rigs commonly have two major components: a tractor and a semi-trailer. The tractor’s main components are a cab for the driver, front axle and steering assembly, a power train (engine, transmission and drive axles), and a “fifth wheel,” the large, roundish horizontal plate that hooks up to the semi-trailer. The towed element is called a semi-trailer because nominally half its weight is borne by the tractor via the fifth wheel, while the other half is borne by the axle(s) mounted near its end. Backing up is tricky but possible; if the towed element is a full trailer, backing up is just about impossible. Because of the maneuvering issue, even the heaviest trucks that deliver animal feed to farms or that pick up fresh milk are invariably “straights,” i.e., an all-in-one rig where the freight-carrying component is permanently mounted to the truck’s chassis. The term “tractor” is never used to describe them.

    Road trains are something else altogether, the backing up of which I’m sure would severely test the infallibility of the pope.

  14. :) OK, glad to see that both lines of comments I envisioned are here: questioning my experience as a young female, and questioning the romance potential similarities between tractor trailers, tractor beams, and farm tractors

    It’s true that I’ve never been a schoolgirl in the old USSR, although I must tell that I got both of my (very different) illicit love books from the female benefactors. For an unscientific quiz, I asked my half; her only grade-school age illicit love story was a handwritten (!) copy, also heavy on porn and incest, and seemed to have belonged to a male, whatever you make of it. Nobody commented on experiences with typewritten or longhand of even xeroxed-text porn in the West, which leaves me wondering if it was a uniquely Russian phenomenon, or if it just went into disuse in the Western world decades sooner, owing to changed technology?

  15. her only grade-school age illicit love story was a handwritten (!) copy

    If you read the quoted passage again, you’ll see Cherniak is talking specifically about handwritten copies (how would schoolgirls have gotten hold of typewriters for the required length of time, let alone Xerox machines, in the dearly departed Союз нерушимый?). And since she presumably was a schoolgirl in the old USSR, I’m content to take her word for these things.

  16. I also never had a romantic relation with a trucker, but I strongly suspect that the love-potential of a 14-wheeler doesn’t owe to the technical specification of the machinery, but rather to the distances covered and consequently, opportunities to meet strangers. A farm tractor in the West doesn’t typically cover distances beyond the farm, and doesn’t give its driver a good chance to meet someone they don’t already know.

    The comparison isn’t valid at all for the early collective farm era of the USSR. There were no farm tractors, as the newly cobbled together collective farms didn’t have funds or credits or in fact any expertise, so the govt. put all the equipment to regional Machinery-Tractor Stations (MTS) manned by city lads and some of the more technically gifted villagers from the wider local area. The tractors were sent to a farm from a station sometimes tens kilometers away on a multi-day assigment, not unlike today’s long-haul trucker’s run. So a tractorist wouldn’t be your next-door neighbor in those early days. Not to mention that they were exceptionally well off.

    My high school summers were spent in a first tractorist’s house in a Kostroma village 20 miles from the nearest paved road. It was the biggest log-house in the whole village, with three izba‘s (two heated ones and a svetyolka), attached cattle-shed the size of three-car garage, hay loft, and a sauna under the main roof, plus more sheds and a beehive storage dugout behind. Mr. Myasoedov the tractor-driver commissioned it in winter 1930, and the oldtimers were still wistful almost 50 years later. Gramps Myasoedov was twice lucky, they’d say. First he’s become an MTS tractorist when this line of work still paid so well. But he also got the money to pay for the construction when the famed River Kus’ carpenters were still in business. These hereditary loghouse-builders from the wood country 100 miles to the North-East farmed by the summer and built in winters, and by 1931 construction season they were all gone to anti-kulak exile. “Nowadays they don’t know how to build log-houses well, – the villagers would say. – Look around, these houses are 20 years and already infested by shushel’ fungus. Now look at Myasoedov’s, coming to its 50 years and not a single yellow spot! These guys from Kus’ knew their business like nobody knows now”

  17. Cherniak is talking specifically about handwritten copies

    Yes, that’s why I put the exclamation mark there – to note my surprise that this element of Cherniak’s story rang true, as well as her memory of a surprise of seeing the longest longhand tract she’s ever seen in her life. But other aspects do not line up, because it wasn’t as much romance as porn, with abundant body parts and incestuous liaisons (same kind of a genre like I described, rather than anything Cherniakian).

  18. Since no one’s posted it yet, Kenny Chesney, She Thinks my Tractor’s Sexy
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWu4aynBK7E

    I have no doubt a little more searching could find english-language romance novels involving farm equipment, but I don’t particularly want to do it.

  19. Dmitry Pruss (aka MOCKBA): Wow, that comment about MTS and Mr. Myasoedov the tractor-driver made my day — many thanks!

    I have no doubt a little more searching could find english-language romance novels involving farm equipment

    Rule 34.

  20. In 1977, Playboy published a self-parody, ostensibly a Soviet version of itself. The playmate of the month was named “Olga”. After several pages of a naked girl posing on and next to a tractor, one reached the centerfold featuring Olga, the tractor, by her glorious self.

  21. des von bladet says:

    The Wurzels, oddly, were never exiled.

  22. No, they were mangled instead.

  23. I also never had a romantic relation with a trucker, but I strongly suspect that the love-potential of a 14-wheeler doesn’t owe to the technical specification of the machinery, but rather to the distances covered and consequently, opportunities to meet strangers.

    Yes indeed. As I heard Country Joe Diffie sing many years ago:

    Well I got my first truck when I was three,
    Drove a hundred thousand miles on my knees
    Hauled marbles and rocks, and thought twice before
    I hauled a Barbie Doll bed for the girl next door.
    She tried to pay me with a kiss, I began to understand
    There’s just something women like about a pickup man.

    You can set my truck on fire, and roll it down a hill
    But I still wouldn’t trade it for a Coupe DeVille
    I’ve got an eight foot bed that never has to be made
    You know if it weren’t for trucks we wouldn’t have tailgates
    I met all my wives in traffic jams,
    There’s just something women like about a pickup man.

    Darker and stronger emotions, meanwhile, lurk around the humble concrete mixer.
    http://www.ellf.ru/2006/06/26/npp_1993.html

  24. Since no one’s posted it yet, Kenny Chesney, She Thinks my Tractor’s Sexy
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWu4aynBK7E

    The Wash Post just reported that it is the official phone hold music in the US Senate :/

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