I’ve been slowly working my way through the anthology Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture, and with the worst of my exams over I had some time this weekend to finish it off. It’s such a rich and rewarding book; the sort that, when I found it, seemed too good to be true; the sort that I had always wanted but didn’t know I could have. I can’t even remember how I came across it – if I had heard of it somewhere and set out to find it, or just came across it on the shelves while I was after something else – but how glad I am that I did.
One of my favourites from the collection is Svetlana Boym’s essay Loving in Bad Taste: Eroticism and Literary Excess in Marina Tsvetaeva’s ‘The Tale of Sonechka’. There are so many urgent and important things she touches upon, but one of the first things she speaks of is the way in which women’s writing is dismissed and derided, and just why:
Why is it that “women in love” produce what has been often conceived as “bad writing,” or writing in bad taste? What are the aesthetic preconceptions that turn a female lover’s discourse into something akin to kitsch?
We could long think of answers to these (though perhaps there’s no need; Boym answers them excellently herself!), but these questions most of all give me questions of my own: namely, what can being in love add to our writing? In what ways is it enriched?
In some ways we are always associating women with their emotions – women’s writing so often being seen as something sentimental, something silly – but so often do these associations seem to be negative. Writing while in love, or about love, is seen to take away from our work rather than add to it. I think Chekhov is at his best when he writes about love, for example, but for me to say the same thing about a female writer – what would that invite? What image would that create of both the writer and of me, as the reader?
What if women’s take on love were appreciated instead? What if men as well as women looked to women’s writing on the matter to find insight and comfort and be guided?
As usual these are questions I don’t have answers for; all this would be another way of being, an alternate world, and we don’t know it.