n Slavic Almanac : The South African Journal for Slavic, Central and Eastern European Studies - Love versus sex. Gender relationships in post-Soviet prose and the literary tradition

Volume 15, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1025-3386


While love is generally accepted as one of the central topics of fictional literature, the question to what extent it may include the depiction and problematisation of sexuality remains controversial - especially in the case of post-Soviet literature, which inherits the complicated (anti)Soviet discourse about gender relationships, distinguished through a number of taboos and taboo-breakings. In my article, I analyse the texts of three contemporary Russian writers - Svetlana Vasilenko, Ludmila Petrushevskaja and Igor Sharapov - and show how, in reflections on love and sexuality, they inscribe themselves in the literary tradition and at the same time create new ways to approach these topics. I begin with a short historical review exposing the evolution of the love theme in the Russian literature since Stalin : While in Stalinist fiction the gender relationships had to be set within the larger ideological frame, the "everyday prose" of the 1960-70s rediscovered the private dimension of love in search of a more realistic account. At the same time, alternative, unofficial prose was trying to make use of the subversive potential of blatantly depicted sexuality, in order to combat the restrictions of the official gender discourse. In contrast, contemporary prose, arising after Perestroika, no longer regards sexuality as an instrument for liberation. Rather, it explores the restricting mechanisms inherent to the nature of sexual desire, and questions the very possibility of separating sexual and romantic experiences.

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