The Trouble with Nadezhda Durova : Historicizing Queer Celebrity in Russia Vaysman, Margarita
The celebrated memoirs of Nadezhda Durova, a female cavalry officer who, disguised as a man, served in the Russian Army during the Napoleonic wars, have been popular with the Russian readers since the moment of their publication in 1836. Published in a leading literary journal at the time, The Notes of the Cavalry Maiden propelled Durova made her a veritable celebrity and a welcome guest in the St Petersburg literary salons. Later on, in the twentieth century, with the inclusion of her work into the school curriculum, the image of a brave female officer was used by the Soviet authorities to promote values of patriotism and service to the homeland. The 1962 Soviet musical Hussar Ballad, transformed the narrative of Durova’s military adventures into a love story and glossed over any controversial issues of gender normativity raised in Durova’s original text. Thanks to the lasting popularity of the film, Durova remains a familiar and curiously de-queered character to the contemporary Russian audiences and is well-known to historians of nineteenth-century Russian culture since two English translations of The Notes were published in 1988. Despite the text’s availability and recent interest in queer history in Russia, the most intriguing aspect of Durova’s queer celebrity – her everlasting presence in the twentieth and twenty-first century Russian popular culture and even the school curriculum remains, with very few exceptions, largely unexplored. This presentation will discuss the most recent instances of revising Durova’s autobiographical narrative in Russia, including the re-publication of her texts, museum exhibitions and commemorative events (dedication of new monuments, etc.). Combining an analysis of recent local history publications produced by Durova’s two literary museums, with an exploration of commercial use of Durova’s image by the Russian tourist and food industry, this talk will approach the problem of the reception Durova’s legacy from the point of view of queer theory and celebrity studies.
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