The University of Wisconsin Press

Russian & Slavic Studies / Literature & Criticism / Women’s Studies


The Prose of Life
Russian Women Writers from Khrushchev
to Putin

Benjamin M. Sutcliffe

Voted one of the Outstanding Academic Titles of 2009 by Choice magazine

“Sutcliffe lifts women’s writing out of a category to which it was long consigned and shows how their works, grounded in everyday life, address larger issues in Soviet and post-Soviet society that transcend the gender divisions within Russian and Soviet literature.”
—Adele Barker, University of Arizona

Both before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, everyday life and the domestic sphere served as an ideological battleground, simultaneously threatening Stalinist control and challenging traditional Russian gender norms that had been shaken by the Second World War. The Prose of Life examines how six female authors employed images of daily life to depict women’s experience in Russian culture from the 1960s to the present. Byt, a term connoting both the everyday and its many petty problems, is an enduring yet neglected theme in Russian literature: its very ordinariness causes many critics to ignore it. Benjamin Sutcliffe’s study is the first sustained examination of how and why everyday life as a literary and philosophical category catalyzed the development of post-Stalinist Russian women’s prose, particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A focus on the representation of everyday life in women’s prose reveals that a first generation of female writers (Natal’ia Baranskaia, Irina Grekova) both legitimized and limited their successors (Liudmila Petrushevskaia, Tat’iana Tolstaia, Liudmila Ulitskaia, and Svetlana Vasilenko) in their choice of literary topics. The Prose of Life traces the development, and intriguing ruptures, of recent Russian women’s prose, becoming a must-read for readers interested in Russian literature and gender studies.

Benjamin M. Sutcliffe is assistant professor of Russian at Miami University, Ohio.



“Sutcliffe approaches his topic with a thorough and richly informative grounding in the texts. . . . The Prose of Life will appeal to a wide range of Russian and Soviet specialists, and to anyone with an interest in twentieth-century literature and society, especially historians who use works of literature in teaching undergraduates. This is the first volume in the Mellon Slavic Studies Initiative, and its quality speaks well for that initiative and its potential contributions to the advancement of knowledge on our field.”
—Sibelan Forrester, Canadian Slavonic Papers

“A serious contribution to the study of women’s prose which will be of interest to scholars and students of literature, cultural studies, and gender studies alike.”
—Marilena Ruscica, Slavic and East European Journal

“Incisive and informative. . . . The Prose of Life is a welcome addition to the growing field that takes the best of the two worlds of literary and cultural studies. Sutcliffe’s inquiry into the everyday and its literary representation, into how byt turns, or fails to turn, into bytie, provides insight into one of the most interesting and contentious aspects of Russian culture.”
—Lyudmila Parts, Slavic Review

“Sutcliffe's graceful prose, extensive notes, and bibliography render this volume a must for anyone interested in gender studies and Russian literature. Essential.”

“A significant contribution to Slavic women’s studies. Sutcliffe’s nuanced chronological overview is unmatched for this topic, and his excellent close readings yield many valuable insights.”
—Natasha Kolchevska, University of New Mexico

A Mellon Slavic Studies Initiative Book
This book is the first to appear in a five-year initiative for publishing first books by scholars in the fields of Slavic and Eastern European Studies, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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"An entirely new and highly productive approach to the study of Symbolist mythologies."—Catherine Ciepiela, author of The Same Solitude: Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva

The Prose of Life

April 2009

LC: 2008039543 PG
224 pp.  6 x 9

Paper $26.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-23204-7
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