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’We don’t live here anymore’: The historicity of what was once the deserted house

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  1. Introduction
  2. Sofia's want to own a dress shop where pretty women lounged about in gowns all day
  3. Sofia's friend Natasha's spelling the ?Red Army? as ?Ret Army?
  4. Sofia's experiences: Obviously fabricated
  5. A close attachment between literature and ideology from 1917 to 1953
  6. Bibliography

Historically, women in industrialized societies are placed at a double disadvantage; in addition to occupational workloads and/or the rigor of citizenship, they are also responsible for the daily maintenance of the domestic sphere. In regarding women's experiences in Stalinist-era Soviet Russia, this is a particularly important fact to consider. Life for women was especially bleak, given the harsh political climate that affected both the professional and personal arenas; in a time where more women were entering the workforce, governmental investigation and regulation of people's words and actions led to mass paranoia and tragedy that affected women as workers, wives and mothers. In Lydia Chukovskaya's novel Sofia Petrovna (originally published as The Deserted House), we follow the titular character as she attempts to navigate her way through an increasingly perilous cultural climate. Sofia, a top-tier worker and single mother, loses her job, friends and son in Stalin's purges. The novel focuses on her transformation from proud mother to frightened self-preservationist, and we see how at every turn Sofia is thwarted by seemingly absurd beaurocracy. It becomes clear that in this confusing climate, women were particularly challenged due to the convergence of several ideological, social and economic structures wherein women held very specific roles for an equally specific purpose (to raise conscientious citizens, to fulfill quotas, to garner support for particular parties). Chukovskaya's novel makes this abundantly clear, and in doing so shows us the confusion of everyday life during this particularly tumultuous era; the absurdity of Sofia's experiences makes the reader question the reality of what we're witnessing ? putting us in Sofia's shoes, as she wonders the same.

[...] It was dangerous to keep it in the drawer of my desk, but I couldn't bring myself to burn it. I regarded it not so much as a story but as a piece of evidence, which it would be dishonorable to destroy Additionally, in closing, she tells us that not for me to judge its artistic value, but the value of accurate testimony is indisputable" (Chukovskaya 111). The author wants to make it clear that, while this is a piece of fiction, it is also an historical text, in that it makes public the despair and confusion that she personally felt as a prominent citizen (the daughter of a beloved children's author) who lost a husband during this tumultuous time. [...]

[...] However, the business of literature was becoming increasingly regulated by the state, making it harder for most writers to get published. Additionally, rigorous censorship and the fear of recrimination kept many from writing: Throughout the period from 1917 to 1953, there was a close attachment between literature and ideology, ensured on the one hand by a censorship still more rigid than that of Tsarist days, and on the other by economic centralization and nationalization, so that the cultural establishment was progressively brought under state control . [...]

[...] While she begins to comprehend the reality of the situation, she still has faith that the entire event is simply a misunderstanding that all the stories in the papers explain everyone else's crimes but her Kolya is certainly innocent (Chukovskaya 60). When Sofia's friend Natasha misspells the Army? as Army? in an assignment, she is accused of ?criminal relaxation of political vigilance? and subsequently fired (Chukovskaya 66). Still, as she waits in line to defend her son to the local prosecutor, Sofia asserts that those found guilty, and those who are being punished, must truly be criminals if the state says so after she is told that her son has been found guilty of a vague crime, she begins to think that perhaps he is (Chukovskaya 79). [...]

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