The Female Canon.

Полка ( — see this 2018 post) became concerned that they had so few women writers in their list of 108 important Russian books, so they decided to put together a female canon, from Catherine the Great to Elena Fanailova (they stopped in the year 2000, having decided that the 21st century needs its own list). I thought I had delved pretty deeply into women writers in Russian, but I found both writers and books I was unaware of, from Alexandra Zrazhevskaya’s 1842 Зверинец [The menagerie], “one of the first examples of feminist criticism,” to Olga Komarova’s 1999 Грузия [Georgia], a posthumous collection of a dozen stories, the only remaining legacy of a woman who steeped herself in an extreme form of Russian Orthodoxy, burned her writings, and asked that none of her stories, originally published in samizdat, be reprinted after her death (which came in a car crash in 1995). Thanks, as always, to Lev Oborin for his work on Polka and for posting about it on Facebook where I can keep up with it.


  1. I was surprised to find almost all of the 20th century names on the list somewhat familiar, although I can’t claim familiarity with all the books (and I read verse poem by poem usually rather than book by book). I only wonder why they didn’t include anything by Anna Radlova. A glaring omission.

  2. January First-of-May says

    I was personally surprised by the absence of all the (what I thought were) big names of mid-to-late 20th century children’s literature – no Irina Tokmakova, no Yunna Moritz, no Agniya Barto.
    (Also no Max Frei, though I have to admit that her fame mostly postdates 2000.)

    To an extent, this might be because the list seemed to have been mainly focused on marginalized authors (while Barto was often the one doing the marginalizing), but I didn’t notice any children’s literature there in general, anyway.

  3. Yeah, I was about to complain about lack of female SF authors, but you beat me.

    Women’s crime fiction gets a mention, but not SF.

    PS. Instead of Max Fry I would include Yulia Latynina. She was very good SF writer (check the Wei Empire saga) before she became mediocre political columnist.

    What a waste of talent.

  4. January First-of-May says

    Yeah, I was about to complain about lack of female SF authors

    I couldn’t think of any pre-2000 Russian female SF authors offhand, aside from Max Frei. In particular, can’t recall having ever heard of Yulia Latynina before.

    As for women’s crime fiction, I was under the impression that it wouldn’t have gotten a mention (despite its ongoing popularity since the 1990s) except that (in the opinion of the essay’s authors) Marinina was just that good.
    But it’s also possible that they wanted some token representative of what was so obviously a major genre with a huge female representation. I suspect that if I look sufficiently carefully at the list I might end up finding the same thing for children’s literature and/or SF.

    In general, it’s hard to look at this list (except, to an extent, the very earliest parts, where they had so few options that they were forced to include everyone remotely appropriate) and not see a general impression of “marginalized authors and/or marginalized characters” (to the detriment of anyone, such as Agniya Barto, who didn’t really fit into that description).

  5. They definitely had strong genre filters. While some great and relatively obscure memoirists and one psychedelic prosaic are there, such influential poets without whom I simply can’t imagine my XX century as Вероника Долина or Вероника Тушнова aren’t.

  6. Keep those omitted names coming!

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    Here’s the website for the first and only female accordion artiste to ever be nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Polka Album” category: (The Grammy poohbahs regrettably discontinued the category about a decade ago, making future canon-revision more challenging.)

  8. You know, LH, that I’m partial to unpublished / samizdat / oral tradition verse (case in point, tango). In hindsight it may make sense that they are not in the canon, because their authors may have never published a complete book of their own? One of the poems I remember from the early (late 1950s?) Samizdat I was never able to locate. The only google link is to my own question about it. Perhaps I can add it here & hope for clues. It appeared in a typewritten almanac which came out of the Moscow University circles, and had many authors, and also contained several Gumilev’s poems and one poem dedicated to Natalia Gorbanevskaya (who is listed in the polka compendium).

    Мой неприветливый, серый, безрадостный вечер
    Смотрится в грязные лужи…
    Лучше тебя все равно никого не встречу,
    Ну а зачем мне – хуже?

    Если бы знал ты, как мне сейчас одиноко,
    Знал бы, какая тоска,
    Когда нахлынет, смяв очертания окон,
    Воспоминаний каскад!

    Мой неприкаянный, грустный, заплаканный вечер
    Тает снежинкою в луже
    Такого, как ты, все равно никогда не встречу,
    Ну а другой мне не нужен

    One of the principal authors of the Samizdat book of my memory was Vladimir Beletsky, an esteemed rocket scientist and the 1950s Moscow State graduate. I have no clue who the others may have been 🙁

  9. I hope you get some answers!

  10. I don’t really have much hope. I’ve been posting snippets for years (once at rio Wang which you’ve just mentioned) and nobody ever came up with an answer. I’m afraid that the book existed in exactly 4 or 5 copies a typewriter could produce, and that of the handful of people who read it, I was the only one with a photographic memory for poetry 🙁


  1. […] been translated into English, including several from the “female canon,” also via LH. This also had lots of things I’ve heard of, many that were entirely new to me, and a handful […]

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