By the time Lidiia Chukovskaia began keeping "Notes on Anna Akhmatova" in 1938, she had happily embraced the maintenance of literature as her Vocation. She felt inspired and fulfilled by her first job as apprentice editor in the children's literature section of the "Leningrad State Publishing House".1 It characteristic that she was driven from this post by outside persecution, not by any urge to abandon editing for more explicitly creative endeavors.
Throughout most of her life, in fact, Chukovskaia overtly pursued a career of enthusiastic deference to others, discovering and celebrating their superior talents and good works.2 She makes this pattern of service, self-effacement, and hero worship autobiographically definitive in "Pamiati detstva" ("To the Memory of Childhood") (1970-83). Here Chukovskaia outlines the core truths of her personal and professional self-perception through a portrait of her father, the famous literary critic and children's writer, Kornei Tvanovich Chukovskii.* Begun as an extended eulogy to her parent, "To the Memory of Childhood" nonetheless offers her closest approximation of a childhood memoir, a curiously other-directed narrative of her own formation.3 If we are to understand Chukovskaia's genesis as a writer and an artist, therefore, we must first read the daughter as she chooses to write her early self - in absolute, enabling connection with her father.
Magnifying and exploring this connection in "To the Memory of Childhood", Chukovskaia expresses what some critics identify as a characteristic of women's autobiography in Western European traditions: She attempts self-definition through important relationships rather than progressive separations and, specifically, through her bond with an empowering, endorsing male figure.4 In Chukovskaia's case, self-definition may even be beside the point, for she never highlights the importance of her own development. With her unwavering focus on Kornei Ivanovich and her careful reference to his writings, Chukovskaia would seem to be substituting biography for autobiography. She reviews her memories to enforce his impact; she pledges her life story as a confirmation of her father's legend, as a daughter's irrefutable proof of her father's ability to play cultural parent for all Russian children.
Writing to serve and connect, eschewing self-reflection for deferential tribute, Chukovskaia echoes a common orientation and practice of other women authors. Yet within the closer context of Russian women's autobiographies (particularly of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) her text is quite distinctive - both in its oblique focus on the author's self and its representation of the father. For the most part these autobiographers - educated women of the aristocracy and the intelligentsia - convey their childhood as a lonely, disorienting period, a painful catalyst to self-awareness. Often deprived of a close bond with either parent, raised by servants, discouraged by their limited prospects as women, these writers claim an acute self-consciousness from an early age and express a great longing for close relationships and positive role models. Of all the members of their distanced families, their fathers are frequently portrayed as the most remote - ranging in type from inaccessible tyrant to a kind of benign cipher. The famous mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaia (1850-1890), characterizing her childhood on a provincial estate, remembered her father as a disgruntled, bewildered patriarch. The great modernist poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941), overwhelmed by her musical mother, mentioned her father as an incidental, unconnected, and unhearing figure. Even Nadezhda Durova (1783-1866), who emulated her beloved father when she ran off to join the tsarist cavalry, admitted that she was raised by a military adjutant; her closest childhood companion was her horse.5
In apparently positive contrast, Chukovskaia's life story takes shape from very different familial, psychological, and social conditions. She spent her formative years in a close family circle, in the cloistered environment of Kuokkala, a Finnish community where Russians built their summer homes and her father chose to live and work year-round. Parents, children (Lidiia and her two brothers),6 and servants formed a harmonious, self-reliant household. Their happy home, in turn, served as a center for visiting artists and friends, a modest domestic retreat from the nearby cultural capital of Saint Petersburg. In Lidiia's memory, Kuokkala functions as a sort of arcadia, a first blessed place of family happiness and natural beauty. At its center she locates her father; he was its founder and general master of ceremonies, a man who discovered "his spiritual homeland" in Kuokkala and came to energize and direct its social life.7 Within his own household he emerged as an engaging, active, creative, primary parent. Working mainly at home, Chukovskii truly presided over his children's lives, supervising and supplementing their education, training them to help him in household tasks, and devising regular family outings. He even contrived a professional bond with his children: Lidiia and her brothers became firsthand sourses for his writings about children, the first “readers” of his writings for them.8
If we accept her testimony, it is understandable, perhaps, that Chukovskaia would renounce self-analysis for a loving evocation of this wonderful (and forever lost) childhood world.9 As she explains it, even her focus on Chukovskii depends on the touchstone of her Kuokkala childhood: "I am not writing Kornei Ivanovich’s biography. I am writing about my childhood, and he was its creator. He and my childhood - no matter how old he was or I was-were inseparable" (121). Nevertheless, it is the portrait of the involved creator that overwhelms her narrative; her father looms large as the first, most important, most powerful artist of her life, the Prospero of her childhood paradise. As she depicts her formative years, Chukovskaia does not create herself, but inherits herself as her father's creation. “To the Memory of Childhood” thus aims to reveal and analyze the author of her text, to write autobiography as a kind of critical study of her creator-parent.
Yet in naming her father sole "creator," Chukovskaia implies some alarming limitations. Can a father "create" a daughter's childhood without restricting or distorting her - even in the harmonious environment of Kuokkala? How can a daughter benefit from a paternal role model which, inadvertently or otherwise, might echo larger social prejudices and relegate women to a secondary status, to a belittled or silenced difference? And what does this "creation" imply about the bonds between mother and daughter? In the case of this father-daughter relationship, such questions elicit a particularly complex accounting of restrictions and benefits. Given the focus of her text, the restrictions appear to be categorical: Chukovskaia effaces any identification with her mother. In his daughter's view, Chukovskii simply eclipses his wife, assuming what would traditionally be the maternal duties of cultural and spiritual instruction in the home.10 From the opening pages of the text, Lidiia emphasizes her father's figurative and literal prominence: She names him as the very measure of the natural world, judging the ocean to be twelve "papas" deep, a tall pine tree to be ten "papas" high (1). Her mother Mariia Borisovna, on the other hand, hovers in the unlit background, intimated by all the domestic chores her husband "cannot" perform, unobtrusively maintaining the comforts of home (along with a female servant, Nanny Tonia), endeavoring - in her rare speaking appearances - to facilitate her husband's work or rest. It is only when her husband acts most irresponsibly and "childishly" that she merits a distinct maternal presence in the text. Chukovskii takes his own and other neighborhood children out boating in bad weather, and after a near disaster, they return to find the anxious mothers "clinging together on the beach and weeping in the darkness" (44). Even here Mariia Borisovna appears in a symbolic configuration of unspeaking, passively suffering women. 11
Whatever the reasons for this focus (and Chukovskaia volunteers none), the mother's absence tends to enhance and intensify the father-daughter bond in the text and suggests a dangerous conformity in the daughter's development. Chukovskaia's few specific reflections on being a girl intimate that this indeed may be the case. As she recalls parenthetically:
“(Before our move to Petrograd I didn’t have a single girl friend. Kornei Ivanovich told me that until I was three I talked about myself like Kolya, in the masculine: himself, he ate. With my dolls, I'd usually conscientiously sit them up in the morning in chairs, telling them that, "Mama was going to the city on business," and then not touch them again for the rest of the day. . . )” (125)
In both role-playing and language, the young Lidiia casts herself as male, unconsciously renouncing the social signs of her sex for what she perceives as the masculine norm.12 Offered dolls (which, she notes, were not family gifts, but presents from unknowing acquaintances), she substitutes absence for the playing out of any sort of maternal role. In much the same way, Lidiia senses no support for her occasionally "girlish" preferences in reading. She remarks that her father tolerates, but does not really approve of her penchant for books like “The Little Princess” and “Little Women” (96-97). As reflected in his daughter's testimony, Chukovskii's presumably "objective" model of childrearing may in fact be too unconsciously male-centered to encourage a daughter's different tastes. Perhaps in consequence, Chukovskaia reports that she longed to be an accepted, undifferentiated member of her father's exclusive group - to be one of those lucky enough to be "invited along" with him (10). She seems to accept and approve his generic devotion to all children, explaining that Kornei Ivanovich - unlike most "mamas, papas, and uncles" - never expressed his love through ostentatious caresses, indulgent gifts, or favoritism (even for his own offspring). (127-28)
These restrictions are significant ones; they indicate how Chukovskaia absorbed a worldview that privileges father over mother and explicitly dismisses notions of valued female difference.13 Yet the specific contents of her paternal inheritance also afford her some surprising accommodations - especially in the context of her times. First of all, the very conformity that Chukovskii instilled constituted a progressive upbringing in fin-de-siecle Russian society. In the early 1900s educated young men and women still tended to espouse the goals the nihilists proclaimed in the 1860s: an absolute and undifferentiated social, political, and economic equality, regardless of women's particular needs. Chukovskii, in fact, proved to be more discerning than many of his contemporaries when he focused on the specific interests of children. With his efforts to compile or create quality reading for children, his instructions for their literary development, and his common treatment of boys and girls, Chukovskii was aiming to realize a most advanced ideal - an excellent, standardized "poetic education" for all young people, whatever their sex or class.
In her own mind and according to the standards of her Russian contemporaries, therefore, Chukovskaia received a most equitable education. Secondly, our full assessment of her "creation," like her account of her childhood, necessarily hinges on the remarkable person of her "creator." Although Chukovskaia establishes her father as the dominant authority in her world, she does not portray him as a conventional patriarch. Under his influence, her upbringing was intensely emotional, physical, familial - an unmediated interaction with her father as both subject and object.14 Indeed, her portrait reveals some surprising advantages; in effect, she reads in Kornei Ivanovich an unusual synthetis of traditional gender roles and qualities - a synthesis that in certain ways validates her well-rounded, creative child and a female literary professional.
What emerges first in Chukovskaia's text is her awed physical depiction of her father - his great height, huge feet, and outsize actions. Evoked from a child's pernpective, Chukovskii strides into the text like a benevolent fairy-tale giant “expressly designed 'for younger children' and produced in a special one-of-a-kind edition" (2). Kornei Ivanovich allowed children to use him as a marvelous “toy”; they could walk under him, climb up him, jump from him, ride on his shoulders. He would sit for hours in his study, immersed in his writing, but he spent his free time actively, physically, in projects that did not distinguish work from play and invariably enlisted his eager children. In the process Chukovskii taught them how to use their bodies (specifically for "rough, manual labor" ) and initiated them into the natural world. His daughter portrays him as a Russian version of a Renaissance man - as intellectual and outdoorsman, accomplished writer and skilled laborer, bibliophile and nature lover. Her portrait of her father thus resists the traditional problematic split between spirit and flesh; in the absence of a close mother-daughter relationship, he performed the important .service of approving and encouraging his daughter's physical nature - at least as a sexually immature child. He also trained her to find emotional comfort and renewal in the physical world, to indulge in nature as a healthy, ever-available therapy. It is significant that Chukovskaia very often renders her father's complex influence as a physical effect, a sensory impression of his power and goodness. Perhaps most of all, she locates his multiple powers in the synecdoche of his beautiful hands - the hands of a laborer, writer, and father:
“You can trust his hands completely. They always catch you in time, never drop you or hurt you. . . . Flying or felling, don't be afraid; they will always catch you and hold you. . . . Those big, reliable hands, full of fun, with their round, shining clean nails. And even in the coldest weather, hot as can be”. (4)
Just as her father's model enabled Chukovskaia a positive connection with the physical world, so his behavior encouraged her, in an unprecedented way, to value her childish experience and, consequently, her "fundamental" creative ability. Kornei Ivanovich did play the role of exacting parent, setting standards and enforcing rules, but his daughter generally depicts him in a less formidable (and more childish) guise - as "our leader, the commander of our games, our studies, our work, our captain of seagoing excursions" (2),15 Kornei Ivanovich, she notes, was temperamentally closest to children; she cites his diary to prove that he felt most natural, renewed, and "in love" when he was playing with them (129). Among children Chukovskii conducted his greatest scholarly and artistic experiment, analyzing them and creating from them. As a child, therefore, his daughter enjoyed a most privileged status - as her father's kindred spirit, preferred companion, and the source of his artistic and intellectual inspiration. Applying his own conclusions, she could value herself as a member of an innately creative, artistically sensitive group. And this conception of herself as typically gifted, a sample product of her father's farsighted experiment, came to fuel all of her writing endeavors.16
As a professional woman, however, Chukovskaia probably benefitted most directly from her father's painful sense of his own difference. It seems that although Lidiia instinctively played boy to be admitted to his children's games, she did not need to play man (at least overtly) to follow in his adult footsteps. As she gradually discloses, her father's professional and familial roles evolved, on the one hand, from what he perceived as his marginal status and class inferiority and, on the other, from the most positive figure in his childhood - his mother. In fact, his peculiar development partly reenacted the dilemma and adaptive strategies of growing up female in tsarist patriarchal society and, as such, outfitted his daughter with a surprisingly usable sense of self-esteem and vocation.
Chukovskaia underscores her father's difference early in the text. In terms of class and family, he was doubly outcast: He and his younger sister were the illegitimate children of a student (presumably from the gentry) and a peasant woman. Chukovskii literally had to work his way from the ranks of the lower middle class into the intelligentsia, training himself by reading and supporting himself by writing:
“He saw the people who despised his mother, his sister and himself; the world which took pleasure in excluding "cook's children" from gymnasium education, the world which he (its antipath as one young Odessa Miss called him), a stoop-shouldered, clumsy, unfortunate, fatherless boy in worn boots and tattered student cap with its insignia torn off, had left forever for a life of work, literature, and poetry, for Tyutchev and Walt Whitman”. (22)
Chukovskii's self-education (and the individuals who helped him learn) necessarily replaced the institutions that refused to accept and qualify him. His literary aspirations saved him from being absorbed into the petty bourgeoisie of his native Odessa - what he deplored as "the philistine factory." By dint of personal effort, Chukovskii eventually secured the position of literator (a man of letters) but was forever scarred and driven by a sense of his own unworthy status as a self-made intellectual. Even while consorting with great artists, he consistently denied his talent and pledged his writing as mere service (58). In his initial confinement and extreme dedication, then, Chukovskii presents an intriguing parallel to the many Russian women who left home in the latter half of the nineteenth century to pursue otherwise forbidden educational opportunities or to join the political underground. Like these women, he was deemed undeserving of educational and professional training. Like these women, he overcame conservative family and social restrictions, found acceptance in oppositional circles (in his case, among artistic rather than political groups), and devoted himself utterly to the cause.17 Yet, in contrast, Chukovskii's revolt eventually could conclude in a return to the family where he, as a man, could assume uncontested authority. It was the family - not the political cell or the literary salon - that provided the base for his unorthodox operations.
Returning to her father's difference in a later chapter, Chukovskaia posits its formative influence on his writing and parenting:
“And he, the sort of person he was and the kind of childhood he created for us, was created by his own abandonment. ... It was a fundamental aspect of the way he related to children, his own and others', the source of his insatiable desire to enrich children, to endow them so that they would never, under any circumstances, become "poor, poor." ... It inspired his constant efforts to insure that we grew up surrounded by culture, not cut oft from it. English, poetry, skiing, books. Everything he had been deprived of as a child, he bestowed upon his children when he became a father”. (121-22)
According to his daughter's analysis of his life and work, Chukovskii was motivated by the "insatiable" need for emotional compensation and reparation. He set himself the recuperative goal of correcting his father's negative example, molding himself as a parent who is present and involved. 18 Yet Chukovskii's notion of fathering was not strictly his own invention. His one positive family role model (and the only female figure highlighted in Chukovskaia's text) was his handsome, vigorous, and likewise deprived mother.19 Ostracized by a patriarchal society, "robbed" and "spat upon," he repelled his father "as an enemy" and felt the greatest tenderness for his mother - a wronged peasant woman, the ultimate victim in tsarist Russia. 20 Chukovskii, therefore, manifested a maternal attachment that his daughter does not see or inscribe in her own case: He endorsed his mother's particular virtues and reembodied them as both father and writer. Chukovskaia confirms the legacy of industriousness, energy, solicitude, and adoring love that passed from mother to son (123-24). Next in succession, the daughter thus inherits from her father a rather encouraging model - that of a man who, although degraded and nearly silenced by his marginal status, managed to achieve legitimacy in a less conventional world and continued to cherish and apply the skills and values he received from his mother.21
Perhaps most notably, his mother's orthodox piety (respected but not practiced in his home) was reincarnated in Chukovskii's fervent devotion to culture. In “To the Memory of Childhood”, Chukovskaia identifies and elaborates her father's "religion":
“He believed that art could not only forge a new soul, not only endow a person with happiness, it could also renew the physical self. ... He believed that the happiness bestowed by art was contagious, that this happiness could and should be shared with other people, that it could make the lame to walk, and the blind to see. . . . He believed in the omnipotence of literature as others believe in the omnipotence of religion”. (81)
Chukovskii’s articles of faith, recapitulated by his daughter, echoed general Christian concepts – the notion of the soul, a belief that faith can renew the spirit and actually heal the body. His religion, too, depended on the power of sacred texts, although his scriptures were authored by any person with the "halo" of talent and could dispense an unspecific, nonprescriptive godliness. Yet however diffuse the content of his revered art, Chukovskii proved most strict in his religious observance. His daughter notes his high standards for reading, studying, and writing about art and his related criteria for salvation (aesthetic sensitivity) and damnation (obtuseness, tastelessness) (91). At rare moments, he even punished those who showed insufficient respect - by interrupting a poetry recitation or breaking the silence crucial for his own meditations on art.22 Above all, Chukovskii enforced the worship of art (mainly through reading and recitation) as daily practice, a ritual to be observed by his entire household.
Chukovskaia also provides examples of his "religious instruction" - most particularly, their "game of games" when Kornei Ivanovich took the children out rowing on the Gulf of Finland. Cast off from shore, they eagerly waited for their father to begin reciting:
“At sea, he allowed himself free rein. The rhythm of the waves and of the rowing naturally called forth a rhythmic response.
I have never heard poetry recited more beguilingly. It was as if, at these moments, every aspect of his being was concentrated in voice, inflection, lips, and sounds, sounds seeming to cling to lips, and lips to sounds. As a little girl, I first noticed how beautiful his hands were one day when I was listening to him recite poetry at sea. . . .
There was a kind of sorcery in his voice when he read great poetry which bewitched both him and us. He often wrote that from childhood on he was accustomed to "get drunk" on poetry. Ecstasy was contagious. We undoubtedly grew drunk listening to him grow drunk on what he was reciting. And all the poetry I ever learned later, on my own, without him, the sound of any sort of poetic line, no matter who recited it, was always connected in my mind to my childhood and his voice”. (29)
The scene is paradigmatic: In the enraptured perception of his daughter, Chukovskii permanently binds together an inspiring nature, the happy community of Chukovskaia's childhood, the "intoxication" of poetry, and his own beloved person. Chukovskaia credits her father with devising a "poetic education" that makes poetry a means of connecting with the physical world, a sensible delight rather than an academic subject. She reports little or no alienation from the symbolic order of the text which, according to some psychoanalytic theories, proves to be an obstacle in girls' development.23 In fact, associating poetry at an early age with her father's presence and recitation, Chukovskaia initially presumed its existence as a natural phenomenon. She highlights yet another important revelation when her father shows her an original manuscript. He stages a reverent approach - leading her "the way one would lead a small child to a lighted Christmas tree" to a desk which is "more a pulpit or a shrine" (73). There she is allowed to see a yellowed manuscript of Nekrasov's poetry and she vividly remembers the shock of recognition:
“But strangest of all was the discovery that verses I’d heard recited and read in books had actually been composed and written down first! A discovery? Of course I didn’t really understand it until that moment. Kornei Ivanovich named some year – some mythically long ago time, which I instantly forgot; the date was crowded out by the thought, that, necessarily, before the date; the poem did not exist, had simply never existed, in the same way that Boba, say, had not existed before June 1910. Unlike the sea, the sand and the stars, these verses hadn’t always been on earth; a human being, Nikolai Alexeevich Nekrasov, had written them”. (73-74).
For the first time, Chukovskaia learns to distinguish literature from nature, to analyze what her father had fused into a single experience. Yet her memories
surrounding this first sacred text still resist disembodiment; they emphasize, instead, the human touch. She describes her father's "long, suntanned fingers" on the yellow pages and recalls his explanation that a blank manuscript sheet could not be thrown away because Nekrasov "touched it, looked at it" (74). Even after her ‘fall’ into knowledge, her notions of the text seem firmly bound to its human making and use - its feel, sight, sound, and emotional impact. Just as important - her admission into a world of made texts and read poetry seems neither to strain her enjoyment nor diminish her ability, systematically exercised by her father, to use poetry as an oral art form.24
Her father's example conditions her further initiation into this literary world. In a fascinating sequence, she depicts herself acquiring a sudden emotional maturity and conditional power when she learns to read. The opening sentences in chapter 12 herald this development: "I learned to read uncommonly early. This chance circumstance played a large role in my life and a not unimportant role in the Kuokkala part of my father's life" (85). Chukovskaia recalls that she taught herself to read at the age of four, during a period when she was ill and her father was away on a brief lecture tour. Her accomplishment is potentially rich in significance: She competes successfully with her older brother; she first asserts her autonomy; she gains access to the most precious possession in their household. But she mainly values her achievement because of the service she could now provide her father. Chukovskaia devotes two chapters of her memoir to the treatment of her father's insomnia by reading aloud - a task that she mainly performed in Kuokkala between the ages of six and ten. Although many others assumed this responsibility in Chukovskii's lifetime, Lidiia, because of her age and position, was perhaps most cognizant of and affected by her role.
In chapter 13, she reenacts a typical session of what she dubs her "favorite game." As with all the activities orchestrated by and around Chukovskii (and remembered from a child's viewpoint), this game observes a prescribed, ritualized pattern, Lidiia ascends the stairs, waits for her father's summons, and marks its beginning with a rhyme recited to the household. Yet once admitted to his study and faced with the critical task of ensuring her father his rest, Lidiia must play the game in earnest. The usual relationship between father and daughter is upset, recast. Although Chukovskii still attempts to impose himself as teacher, correcting Lidiia's mispronounced words, restoring the rhythm sacrificed by her hurried reading, he depends terribly on her help and submits, under a playful guise, to her authority. For a brief time, Lidiia becomes the most important, most powerful member of her family:
“Our mama, Maria Borisovna, was too nervous a woman to calm his agitation. Kolya could not hide his yawns, and Kornei Ivanovich would soon send him off to bed. I not only loved reading out loud, but was ready to appear wide awake the whole night through if it would let him sleep. This also was a game, and what a game: first, it was just between him and me, no one else; secondly, it wasn't really a game, but the most important of all jobs - I was putting Papa to sleep!; and thirdly, I was his commander, not he mine. I was putting my own father to bed, the way other little girls put their dolls to bed. I played "doll-mother" with him, and not only that, he listened when I gave him orders. That was very flattering”. (89-90)
Through the act of reading for her father, Chukovskaia develops, in an unusually intense way, a maternal role she has dismissed elsewhere. Her father, the primary parent, not only legitimizes certain maternal functions and responses in his own behavior, but enables and authorizes her own attempt at mothering - as long as this involves specifically literary service. In her attempts to nurse her insomniac father with books, Lidiia performs most admirably, even teaching herself to read (or improvise reading) in the dark (104). And it is significant that when she chooses a happy ending for her reenactment, Chukovskaia cites this exchange with her mother:
“The lamp which hangs over the dining room table shines brightly. Boba and Kolya have long ago gone to bed.
"He's asleep!" I say in answer to Mama's questioning look”. (105)
Lidiia reports in response to her still silent mother that she has successfully replaced her in this duty, that she can do what her mother wants to but cannot. She has absorbed a potent lesson: She first positively distinguishes herself as female in her role as literary mother, a girl who earns a kind of caretaking power through her service to her "mock-son" father and her facility with literary texts. In this case, her father does not directly train her for her future role but elicits her own more deferential version of his cultural parenting.
Through her father's example and influence, Chukovskaia was thus raised to perceive and engage with the literary text as religious practice, family devotion, and a way to complex emotional fulfillment. Conditioned by her father's judgments on the talented and the obtuse, a devotee of his cult of the great artist, a witness of his practice, Chukovskaia also learns to equate talent with virtue and believes that each text manifests its author's spiritual and ethical nature.25 Her interpretation of great literature, in consequence, unfolds as a procession of (largely) great men, with her father leading the way. In “To the Memory of Childhood" she narrates his life and works as a seamless whole: His literature for children reflected his unabating love for them; the good cheer and kindness of his work expressed his basic character; the vast scope of his writings demonstrated his enormous appetite for he new, the ‘diversity of [his] interests and attachments’. She matches praise for his literary service with proof of his good deeds.
Chukovskaia also finds in her father a model for professing this worship of great men:
“He thought of himself as a natural-born critic, an instrument created to respond to art and in fact he was such an instrument, responding as it were to poetry and prose, both classical and modern, not only with eye and ear, but with the tips of his fingers and every inch of his skin. He was a fanatic about literary work. He was obsessed by art”. (132)
Once again, Chukovskaia depicts her father's involvement as physical, even sensuous, implying an absolute link between profession and person. As reconstructed by his daughter, Chukovskii naturally possessed the responsive, facilitating traits most often presumed and cultivated to exist in women. Although he took for granted the primary importance of his work at home and easily assumed the function of writer (Lidiia remembers the times when "papa was not to be disturbed in his study"), he conceived of his professional status as secondly. Departing from the traditional assignations of male creative genius and female helpmate, Chukovskii perceived and represented himself as the willing assistant of great artists - as their admirer, interpreter, and conservator. He not only threw himself into the supporting roles of critic, translator, editor, literary historian, textologist, and portraitist, but systematically promoted this service with semi-scholarly monographs-works on the principles of translation (“The Art of Translation” and “The Lofty Art”) and children's acquisition of language and literature (“From Two to Five”). Chukovskii pursued the caretaking and sharing of literature as a respectable, essential profession.
Perhaps even more important, the daughter infers creative value in this service, declaring her father to be "an artist." In the last chapters of her memoir, she defines the interactive character of his art, asserting that his critical articles were composed like "poetry" and "were intended to be read in a strong voice in an auditorium full of people who, hearing them, were not for one minute to grow bored, yawn, or whisper to their neighbor" (133). She interprets his critical function as fundamentally re-creative of the life that makes the text and quotes his letters in support: "I understood (maybe too late) that the foundation of my calling is description, literary portraits, and I was happy working on them." For father (and consequently for daughter), critical analysis necessarily involves biography and both are enhanced by art in an attempt to recover the true image of the artist. Biographical sketches, contemporary portraits - these were the forms Chukovskii wrote to convey his devotion most powerfully and "infectiously."26
Despite the professional opportunities Chukovskii approved for himself and his children, it is important to remember that he was able to excel in his supporting roles by relying on the unnamed support of others - mainly, during the Kuokkala period, his wife and domestic help. (In later years, Chukovskaia herself figured as one of his female caretakers).27 The women of his wife's generation were only beginning to enjoy the fruits of their mothers' labors - the acceptance of women's equality among most members of the intelligentsia reforms of women's education, limited admission of women into various professions - but it was his daughter's generation that moved, on a massive scale, out of the home into the workplace.28 As never before in Russian history, a daughter was more or less free to pursue her father's career.
As a work of biographical criticism, “To the Memory of Childhood” clearly realizes this father-daughter legacy, but it offers very little information about Chukovskaia's professional life. The daughter's adult career must be traced elsewhere - in a composite of her other works of tribute, service, and oblique self-reference. After formal studies in literature at the Institute for the History of the Arts, she took her first job in the Children's Section of the "Leningrad State Publishing House" in 1927 and apprenticed, under the caring tutelage of Samuil Marshak, to be an editor of children's books. To a striking degree, Marshak - a poet, editor, occasional writer for children and friend of her father - reinforced Chukovskii's poetic education in the professional sphere Marshak functioned as paternal mentor to his staff, seeking to infect others with his love for the classics of Russian literature and cultivating in them his sensitivity and industry. Ever the dutiful daughter, Chukovskaia repays him with a written testimonial - chapters in her own book of training essays “V laboratoii redaktora” (“In the editor's workshop”) (1960). Slimming up his work, she implies the same fusion of domestic, professional, and spiritual practice that enriched her childhood:
“According to Marshak, the publishing house was to become a home where there took place - again and again - the fruitful meeting of new material and tradition. . . .
And in [our] daily work together he instilled in his assistants these views and taste and sensitivity; with time his assistants developed into fellow believers (edinomyshtenniki) and the master, the editor-in-chief, could entrust only them not cultural co-workers, but fellow believers and comrades-in-arms - with the study and selection of submitted manuscripts”. (224, 226)
The purges of the 1930s literally destroyed Chukovskaia's professional and private homes. Her section was shut down and most of her co-workers arrested; her second husband, Matvei Petrovich Bronshtein, an astrophysicist and author of science books for children, was arrested in August 1937 and summarily executed in February 1938 (although Chukovskaia was not officially informed of his fate until 1957).29 She herself managed to escape arrest twice - in 1938 when she was to be implicated in her husband's "case" and in 1941 when the police had learned of her "criminal" writing. Along with her daughter Elena (1931*-) and her daughters nanny, Chukovskaya more or less maintained a house-hold in Leningrad until the World War II blockade forced their evacuation to Centra Asia. Yet the combined horrors of war and political terror did not dispossess her of her inheritance. From the 1930s until the early 1970s she continued to devote much of her critical and editorial expertise to the cause of children’s literature, carrying on her father's campaign to provide children with an appropriate, enduring "poetic education." In the name of children, she fought for standards then denied all official Soviet literature - intellectual rigor, a natural language, a respect for the truth. This specialization, moreover, sanctioned her own first efforts at biography; she was unveiling wholesome models for children lo admire. During Stalin's lifetime, she tended toward subjects safely ensconced in the nineteenth century and representative of many of the values her father upheld: creative ability, a great intellectual curiosity, an extraordinary work ethic, an abiding commitment to freedom and justice, a life that reflected a consonance of belief and action. In particular, she located in the exiled Decembrists - the Borisov brothers and Nikolai Bestuzhev - both appropriate models and an encouraging paradigm for the intelligentsia under Stalinist siege. Persecuted by the tsar-tyrant Nicholas I (who "was distinguished by an innate, crude, narrow-minded [skalozubovskii] disrespect for talent"),30 these aristocrats ("the intellectual flower of the nation" ) devoted their lives in Siberian exile to scientific research, creative work, and the instruction of indigenous peoples. In her sketches of the Decembrists, Chukovskaia seemed to be claiming her ideal forefathers:
“However, the exiles - even when they were separated from each other and east to remote corners of Siberia or fettered by constant police surveillance - proved stronger than the authorities. In both penal servitude and exile, they did not cease their educational and pedagogical activity for a single day”.31
A bibliography of Chukovskaia's other official writing lists a series of similar instructive tributes: critical introductions to “The Collected Works of Turns Shevchenko” (1946) and the diaries of the nineteenth-century Russian explorer Nikolai Miklukho-Maklai (1947); "critical-biographical sketches" of children's writers Susanna Georgievskaia and Boris Zhitkov (a persecuted friend of her father). Her consideration of Aleksandr Herzen's memoir “My Past and Thoughts” (1968) represents perhaps her best and most elaborate critical effort in the series. Here, in great measure, she follows her father's guidelines, divining the particular art of an essayist like Herzen, analyzing his text, and amplifying its meaning through individual and cultural biography. Reflecting on the genre of Herzen's voluminous memoir, she eventually conflates author and work, reasserting what her father had shown time and again:
“Very likely “My Past and Thoughts” is no less a self-portrait than an autobiography. Here is the complete Herzen - revolutionary, thinker, man. Here is the whole man – full of love, indignation, and oppressive thoughts; mocking, sorrowful, and angry; shown with his own voice, laugh, and walk, This work not only describes his spiritual personality as a fighter and thinker but presents him in the flesh, with all the power of his charm”.32
Even after her expulsion from the Union of Soviet Writers in 1974 (the culminating "punishment" for her writings and actions in defense of dissidents like Joseph Brodskii, Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn), Chukovskaia continued in the role of morally enlightening literary critic and caretaker, a champion of the great good men (and sometimes women) she had read or met.33 That is, throughout her writing life, Chukovskaia adhered to the self-perception, core values, and professional practice that she delineates in her father's example in “To the Memory of Childhood”. Both memoir and self-conception thus developed through her subtly nuanced re-creation of her father's presumed "creation." Narrating a portrait of "her" artist from his years as a young father up until his death, Chukovskaia reinscribes Kornei Chukovskii as a model rooted in important connections - of the physical and the intellectual, the child and the adult, the realm of literature and the natural world, the making of an artistic text and the spiritual conduct of a life, even (to a more limited extent) paternal and maternal lines of inheritance. She lays out the tenets and practices of his own acquired faith in art and artist - a faith in which he raises his children. Beyond the creation of her childhood, she implies his role in facilitating her professional development and thereby smoothing her particular passage from childhood to adulthood. Socially restricted as a poor "cook's child," Chukovskii fulfilled a quest for emotional compensation, social legitimacy, and professional standing through a career of diligent literary service. If she kept to the path her father had blazed for his children, Chukovskaia could become a literator while remaining a good and dutiful daughter.34
According to his daughter's testimony, Chukovskii exerted a remarkably constructive influence on her development. As a self-made intellectual - a member of a cultural intelligentsia that rebelled against the political repression and social conventions of the tsarist state - he outfitted her with a fundamentally positive socio-political and psychological orientation, a strategy for resisting injustice and maintaining a basic (if sexually undifferentiated) sense of self-worth. This father-daughter connection, more or less effective in opposing one tyrannical patriarchy, proved most durable against the ravages of Stalinism. Her childhood remained for her that unassailable "spiritual homeland," a domestic paradise that provided her with a first sanctuary and a lifelong spiritual resource. Formed in this context, Chukovskaia learned to define her worldview in terms of an extended family structure and to heed a benevolent "unofficial" paternal authority over all. In comparison with the many other Russian writers who sought spiritual sustainance in their art, Chukovskaia derived perhaps surer support from the well-developed "religion" her father practiced; her artistic convictions, severely tested under Stalinism, were founded not only on personal need, but family loyalty and "religious" tradition.
On the debit side, however, Chukovskaia assumed definite limitations and hazards in her father's model. Abiding by his values and tastes, she never allowed herself to posit her own difference as a reader and a critic. “To the Memory Childhood” demonstrates why she obligingly replaced her gendered subject position with the adoring "generic" formulations of "he" and "we." As her father absorbed the mother, grandmother, and even the child into himself, Chukovskaia read his model as already heterogeneous, universal, and absolute, encompassing both sexes and all classes, and she could dismiss what lay outside of it. In him she adopted an evaluative framework that masked the influence of wilder on writing and reading and that encouraged, with its insistence on the moral and political virtues of the artist, a puritanical and sometimes self-righteous critical approach. Far more hazardous, perhaps, was an inherited deprecation of her creative ability. Impressed by her father's general theories about literary development and his complex self-perception (his presumed lack of talent), Chukovskaia seemed conditioned to pursue a secondary role as a writer. If she was a bright, creative child, she inferred that she was no different from all other children cultivated by her father's methods; if her prodigiously gifted parent was a willing helpmate, then she could aspire no further. The every child-creation could not exceed the father-creator; the father, it seems, both enabled and confined his daughter's writing life.35 Yet, as I will consider in the next chapter, what is most intriguing in Chukovskaia's case is that, without questioning or defying her paternal inheritance, she eventually was compelled by circumstances to assert a distinctive authorship, to venture into different expressive modes and creative interactions. Her father may have been the Prospero of her childhood, but he could not divert the tragedy of her adult world. In spite of her sense of deference and to her own astonishment, the forces of history transfigured the dutiful, self-effacing daughter into an eloquent heroine.
(pages 29 - 43)
* Kornei Ivanovich Chukovskii, pseudonym for Nikolai Vasil'evich Komeichukov (1882-1969), was an enormously versatile artist - poet, critic, literary historian, editor, and translator. He first established himself as a literary critic and publicist in the prerevolutionary period, when he began composing the keen analyses of contemporary literature and portraits of contemporary writers that became his trademark. Yet he is most renowned as a writer of works for and about children; these include famous verse tales like "The Crocodile" (1917) and "The Telephone" (1926) as well as a seminal study of children’s linguistic and literary development “From Two To Five” (1928). On the basis of his writings and active work among children, Chukovskii has long been heeded as an authority in children’s literature and even a kind of cultural parent for generations of Soviet boys and girls. For a fine account of Chukovskii’s contribution to children’s literature, see Elena Sokol’s “Russian Poetry for Children” (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press; 1984).
1. See her account of this experience in her collection of essays, “V laboratorii redaktora” (“In the editor's workshop”), 2d ed. (Moscow: "Iskusstvo," 1963).
2. For a systematic summarization of the contents of Chukovskaia's works, see “Lydia
Korneevna Chukovakaija: A Tribute by Bella Hirshon” (Melbourne: University of
3. See this passage in the "Afterword" of “To the Memory of Childhood”, translated by
Eliza Kellogg Klose (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988): "But there was
one more thing I had to do: write my reminiscences of him. After all, there aren't many
people still alive who remember him as a young man. He'd four children. I am the sole
survivor. I remember our childhood and his young years. It was up to me to write. I set
to work on my reminiscences. I conceived of them in three parts, but felt I must write
first of all about the time almost no one else could recall: Kornei Chukovskii's life in
Finland, in Kuokkala (now the village of Repino), between 1912 and 1917" (146).
4. Susan Stanford Friedman argues this distinction most extensively. Citing the
psychological findings of theorists like Rowbotham and Chodorow, she posits that the
feminine personality is fundamentally defined in relationships - either with another
individual or a group. See her "Women's Autobiographical Selves: Theory and Practice," in the “Private Self Theory and Practice of Women's Autobiographical Writings”, edited by Shari Benstock (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 34-62. In her “A Poetic of Women's Autobiography” (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), Sidonie Smith asserts that woman's " 'natural' story shapes itself not around the public, heroic life but around the fluid, circumstantial, contingent responsiveness to others that, according to patriarchal ideology, characterizes the life of woman but not autobiography". (50). See also Estelle Jelinek's historical generalizations in “The Tradition of Women's
Autobiography: From Antiquity to the Present" (Boston: Twayne, 1986), 44.
5. Sofia Kovalevskaia, “A Russian Childhood”, translated and introduced by Beatrice Stihman (New York: Springer-Verlag, 1978); Marina Tsvetaeva's autobiographical essays are included in “A Captive Spirit: Selected Prose”, edited and translated by J. Marin King (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1980); Nadezhda Durova, “The Cavalry Maiden: Journals of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars”, translation, introduction, and notes by Mary Fleming Zirin (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989).
6. Lidiia had two brothers and one sister; her younger brother, Boba, perished in
action in World War II and her sister Mura, thirteen years her junior, died of
tuberculosis at the age of eleven. It is interesting that both Lidiia and her older brother Nikolai chose to pursue literary careers. Nikolai Korneevich Chukovskii (1904-65) made his reputation as a writer of short stories and novels (“Uiroslavl”, “Baltiiskoe nebo”) and a translator of authors ranging from Jack London to Sandor Petofi.
7. Lydia Chukovskaya, “To the Memory of Childhood”, translated by Eliza Kellogg Klose (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 142. All subsequent quotations refer to this text.
8. "Incidentally, although he had not yet written children's books, he was already
composing whimsical children's rhymes, just for domestic consumption, easily, on the
spur of the moment" (2).
9. It is also essential to remember that Chukovskaia wrote “To the Memory of
Childhood” after the death of her father and, in part, with the knowledge that her work would be harshly censored. See her "Afterword" in the English translation of “To the Memory of Childhood”, 143-49.
10. Analyzing mother-child relationships in the Russian noble family, Jessica Tovrov
identifies the strong pedagogical role a mother was expected to play in her son's early
years and throughout her daughter's pre-marriage life. "Mother-Child Relationships
among the Russian Nobility," in “The Family in Imperial Russia: New Lines of Historical
Research”, edited by David L. Ransel (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 15-43.
For a discussion of how this role was officially implemented, see Carol S. Nash,
"Educating New Mothers: Women and the Enlightenment in Russia," “History of Education Quarterly” (Fall 1981): 301-16. In “Mothers and Daughters: Women of the Intelligentsia in Nineteenth-Century Russia”, Engel asserts that in the memoirs of women in the intelligentsia the mother most often appears as the most positive, beloved parent (13).
11. In her tribute to Chukovskaia, Hirshon cites a letter from T. Litvinova that
confirms this dim portrait. Litvinova only became acquainted with Mariia Borisovna when
the latter was old and sick, and at that time "it was difficult to discern the features of her
12. Wendy Martyna suggests the psychological implications of this sort of language use
in her article "Psychology of the Generic Masculine," in ‘Women and Language in
Literature and Society”, edited by Sally McConnell-Ginet, Ruth Borker, and Nelly Furman (New York: Praeger, 1980), 69-78.
13. In the anthology “Balancing Acts: Contemporary Stories by Russian Women”
(Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989), Helena Goscilo opens her introduction
with a provocative statement attributed to Chukovskaia: "What does 'women's literature'
mean? You can have a women's sauna, but literature?" (xiii).
14. Chukovskaia presents her institutional education as irrelevant - i.e., a matter of
indifference to her father (19). In her most extensive description of her formal schooling,
she tells of how Kornei Ivanovich withdrew her and her brother from the gymnasium
after she saw the director beating a boy (50-51).
15. Reflecting on the question of her father's love for children, Chukovskaia answers
with a simple character description: "The child in him never died" (125).
16. See this characteristic passage in Chukovskii's book on children's literary
development - “From Two to Five”, revised edition, translated and edited by Miriam
Morton, with a foreword by Frances Clarke Savers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968): "In almost every kindergarten and every child center, in every school, I met promising children who, under different circumstances, could be developed into good writers; but their giftedness withered in the nonliterary environment in which found themselves" (73).
17. See the fourth chapter of Engel's “Mothers and Daughters” for a discussion -
phenomenon. She offers a preliminary sketch as well in "Mothers and Daughters: Family
Patterns and the Female Intelligentsia," in “The Family in Imperial Russia”. 44-59
18. Lidiia reports that when her grandfather finally visits them in an attempt for reconciliation, her father throws him out (125).
19. As Chukovskaia comments: "Of all our close relatives the only one we knew and loved was Papa's mother, Ekaterina Osipovna" (123).
20. In an interesting contrast, Chukovskaia reports that when she visited her grandmother, Ekaterina Osipovna seemed unperturbed by her situation (she had never remarried) and insisted that Kornei's father was " 'a very, very good man' " (126).
21. In this connection, too, Chukovskii recalls the example of many radical you
women who re-applied the values of their religious mothers - most often, their moral
purity and extreme dedication -to revolutionary work. Engel, “Mothers and Daughter”
22. In illustration, Chukovskaia recalls an almost allegorical scene: she forgets to remove her glove when shaking hands with the famous artist Repin, and her father is outraged by her thoughtlessness. Although she admits he was unjust, she expresses her belated gratitude "for that instructive anger with which he exploded when he thought I
did not show enough respect for the hand held out to me by art!" (77).
23. For an elaboration of this argument and its consequences for male and female
modes of expression, see the first chapter "Representation, Reproduction and Women's
Place in Language," in Margaret Homans' “Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing”(Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1986), 1-39. Homan summarizes that for men the symbolic order - language and figurative representation - is acquired when the natural bond to the mother must be repressed; language and literature come to function as substitutes for the loss of the mother
and the natural world she embodies and extends. Women, on the other hand, communicate both within and outside this symbolic order because they need not renounce that earliest bond. Their memory of a presymbolic "language" may be conveyed as a preference for the literal or an emphasis on the aural-emotional quality of words.
24. Chukovskaia's experience would seem to testify to the success of her father's
pedagogical approach with its concern for cultivating an enduring love of poetry. See
especially chapter 3 of the English-language abridged version of Chukovskii's “From Two to Five”, 61-88. Here he observes children's innate appreciation for and production of
poetry - first as impromptu oral games associated with movement, new impressions,
etc., and then, after a brief chaotic period of transition, as emulation and appropriation
of existing texts.
25. See her own interpretation of the meaning of style in her professional "textbook"
“V laboratorii redaktora” (“In the editor's workshop”): "Yes, the style of the work, its form reflects everything - the honesty or falsehood of the writer; the passion or apathy of his temperament; the degree to which he is absorbed in the idea which informs his book; the depth of his understanding of his subject; his love, his hate and his indifference" (109).
26. Also note Chukovskii's criticism of the Formalists. His daughter quotes from his
letter to Gor'kii. where he claims that these critics "insist upon formal method, demand
that numbers, weights and measures be applied to literary work, but they stop there; I
think it's necessary to go further, that on the basis of the formal study of the material, it's
necessary to reconstruct what used to be called the soul of the poet. . . . Criticism ought
to be universal, scholarly discoveries ought to lead to emotion. Critical analysis ought to
culminate in synthesis: while the critic analyzes, he's a scholar, but when he turns to
synthesis, he's an artist, creating an artistic image of a man from small and accidentally
observed details" (134).
27. See, for example, chapters 14 and 16 of her text.
28. Stites provides an extensive report on the state of women during this period (1881-
1917). “Women's Liberation in Russia”, 157-90.
29. Chukovskaia tells of Bronshtein's fate in one of the appendixes to the first volume of “Zapiski ob Anne Akhmatovoi”. In the relatively liberal period of the 1960s, she manages a brief commemoration of her husband's work in “V lahoratorii redaktora” (“In the editor's workshop”) (293); she later writes an extensive memoir that focuses on their life together, but remains -of her own volition -unpublished. Chukovskaia's first husband, Tsezar Volpe, (by whom she had her daughter Elena), was also involved with literature, emerging as a prominent critic and editor in the 1920s.
30. Lidiia Chukovskaia, “Dekabrist Nikolai Bestuzhev: issledovatei Buriatii” (“Decembrist Nikolai Bestuzhev: Explorer of Buriatiia”) (Moscow: Geografgiz, 1950), 15.
31. Lidiia Chukovskaia, “Dekabristy: Issledovateli Sibiri” (“The Decembrists: Explorers of Siberia”), Moscow: Geografgiz, 1951) 109.
32. Lidiia Chukovskaia, "Byloe i Dumy" Gertsena” (Herzen's "My Past and Thoughts"), Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1966), 143-44.
33. See her collection of samizdat essays, “Otkrytoe slovo” (“The open word”) (New York: "Khronika," 1976). Chukovskaia's stewardship included maintaining her father's Peredelkino dacha as a museum dedicated to his life and work.
34. Within the special dynamics of this father-daughter relationship, then, the daughter deeply submerges the "anxiety of authorship" that Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar identify in the case of many women writers who anticipate a battle with their male precursors. See Gilbert and Gubar's “The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writerand the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), 48 - 49. Chukovskaia's "anxiety of authorship" is far too blasphemous to recognize; break with her empowering, sanctifying father would not mean a bid for greater professional and creative independence, but an expulsion from paradise, a betrayal of the
most valued moral cause.
35. Compare Chukovskaia's creative development, for example, with that of her contemporary, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva. In her autobiographical sketch, "Mother and Music”, Tsvetaeva portrays her mother as yet another overwhelming, highly talented parent; in this case, however, the daughter demonstrates how she formed herself as a poet in opposition to her mother's extreme efforts to raise her as a musician. Afraid of being subsumed by her mother, Tsvetaeva chooses the alternative of contrary self-creation. Chukovskaia, for whatever reason - gender distinction, a likeness in interest and ability - senses no such threat in her relationship with her father and instead develops a talent which is profoundly conservative.