Men without Women

Masculinity and Revolution in Russian Fiction, 1917–1929

Men without Women

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: Published: January 2001

European Studies > Eastern Europe and Russia, Gender and Sexuality, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

In Men without Women Eliot Borenstein examines the literature of the early Soviet period to shed new light on the iconic Russian concept of comradeship. By analyzing a variety of Russian writers who span the ideological spectrum, Borenstein provides an illuminating reading of the construction of masculinity in Soviet culture. In each example he identifies the replacement of blood ties with ideology and the creation of a social order in which the family has been supplanted by the collective.
In such works as Red Cavalry by Isaac Babel, Envy by Yuri Olesha, and Chevengur by Andrei Platonov women are either absent or transformed into bodiless abstractions. Their absence, claims Borenstein, reflects the masculine values that are hallmarks of the post-revolutionary era: production rather than reproduction, participation in history rather than domestic ahistoricity, heavy industry, construction, and struggle. He identifies in this literature groups of “men without women” replacing the family, even while the metaphor of family is used as an organizing feature of their recurring revolutionary missions. With the passage of time, these characters’ relationships—just as those in the Soviet culture of the time—begin to resemble the family structure that was originally rejected and destroyed, with one important exception: the new “families” had no place for women. According to Borenstein, this masculinist myth found its most congenial audience during the early period of communism, but its hostility to women and family ties could not survive into the Stalinist era when women, home, and family were no longer seen as antithetical to socialism.
Drawing on the theory and writings of Levi-Strauss, Girard, Sedgwick, and others, Men Without Women will be of interest to students and scholars of Slavic literature and history as well as specialists in literary theory and gender studies.


“[A] solid piece of research. Recommended. . . .” — V. D. Barooshian , Choice

“Borenstein’s book is a worthy successor to the classics of the genre . . . . A brief review cannot do justice to the variety of Borenstein’s text, with its wealth of commentary on every aspect of the question, each subtopic marked off by a subtitle. The notes are extensive, almost constituting an essay on the relevant literature. . . . [T]his book is indispensable for specialists who study the literature and culture of the early Soviet period. it covers familiar ground but casts a new light on the period, bringing important features into relief that may have been slighted or unnoticed in earlier studies.” — Patricia Carden , Slavic Review

“Eliot Borenstein’s extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking study . . . does an excellent job of excavating the rhetoric of masculinity from a number of well-known works of Russian fiction from the 1920s . . . . Borenstein’s illuminating study . . . is truly a pleasure to read; it is intelligently conceptualized, smoothly written, and convincingly argued. And, most importantly, it is solidly grounded in the social and cultural discourse of that tumultuous, experimental period in Soviet history. Handsomely adorned with a cover design that alters Vera Mukhina’s famous statue in a revealing way (the collective-farm woman is eliminated, while the male industrial worker is quadrupled), Men without Women is destined to become . . . a seminal work for scholars interested in issues of gender, ideology, literature, and culture in early Soviet Russia.” — Ronald D. LeBlanc , Russian Review

"Borenstein’s knowledge of Soviet literature allows the reader to enjoy his thoroughly insightful analysis of communist imagery in the early Soviet prose. . . . [V]ivid. . . ."

— Andrei Sinelnikov , Men and Masculinities

"This creative new monograph is an insightful contribution to the emerging literature on masculinity and male social roles in Russia. . . . The rich incisiveness of Borenstein’s text is merely outlined here. . . . [I]t is a tribute to Borenstein’s creative accomplishment that anyone interested in gender roles in the Soviet state will find much to consider here."

— Laura L. Phillips , Canadian Slavonic Papers

"This study of gender in early Soviet literature should enjoy a lively reception. From the title alone, anyone familiar with the field will appreciate the topic’s importance. . . ."

— Rolf Hellebust , Slavic and East European Journal

“Teeming with insights, tightly argued, and written with stylish verve, Men without Women is a splendid study of three key figures in the context of early Soviet prose: Platonov, Babel, and Olesha. By taking gender into meaningful account Borenstein deftly constructs a nuanced and original perspective, nicely grounded in the era’s history and ideology, from which to read Russian fiction and society of the 1920s. In addition to being a ‘must’ for Slavists, this seductive volume abounds in pleasures of the text.” — Helena Goscilo, University of Pittsburgh

“Well versed in theory and thoroughly knowledgeable about Russian political and cultural life, Borenstein provides an excellent contribution to the burgeoning field of gender studies in Russian and Soviet literatures.” — Adele Barker, University of Arizona


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eliot Borenstein is Assistant Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Note on Translations and Translitereation xiii

Introduction: Brothers and Comrades 1

Chapter One
The LadyKillers: Bolshevik Chivalry, Female Sacrifice and the End of the Marriage Plot 43

Chapter Two
Isaak Babel: Dead Fathers and Songs 73

Chapter Three
The Family Men of Yuri Olesha 125

Chapter Four
The Object of Ency: Androgyny, Love Triangles, and the Uses of Women 162

Chapter Five
Puritans and Proletarians: Andrei Platonov's Asexual Revolution, 1919-1923 191

Chapter Six
Chevengur: Buried in the Family Plot 225

Fathers and Furies 264

Notes 277

Works Cited 327

Index 341
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Winner, 2001 Best Book in Literary/Cultural Studies, Association of Women in Slavic Studies (AATSEEL)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2592-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2578-9
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