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Charskaya, Lydia Alexeyevna

CHARSKAYA, LYDIA ALEXEYEVNA

(18751937); pseudonym of Lydia Alexeyevna Churilova; Russian novelist, poet, and actress.

Lydia Charskaya worked as an actress at the Alexandrinsky Theater from 1898 to 1924. Between 1901 and 1916 she published about eighty books, several of which became bestsellers, the most popular of which was Princess Dzhavakha (Knyazhna Dzhavakha, 1903).

The novels fall into four general categories: "institute" stories that take place in boarding schools for elite girls; historical novels about women; "autobiographical" novels that follow the heroine from boarding school to a career; and detective and adventure stories. The main theme throughout most of these stories is friendship among girls; the heroines generally are independent girls and women who seek adventure or some sort of diversion from the routine of everyday life. Later critics have commented that these characteristics account in large part for the books' wide popularity among young girls in early twentieth-century Russia.

Charskaya's reputation began to fade after 1912 when the critic Kornei Chukovsky published an article in which he wrote that her books were formulaic, repetitious, and excessive with respect to female emotions. She ceased publishing in 1916, and in 1920 Narkompros (People's Commissariat of Enlightenment) included her work on the list of "banned" books. From 1924 until her death in 1937 she lived in poverty, supported mostly by loyal friends. Throughout the Soviet period her work was regarded with disdain, although ample evidence exists that young girls continued secretly to read her books, at least through the 1930s. During the late 1980s and 1990s Charskaya's work enjoyed a revival in Russia, as several of her books appeared in new editions.

See also: chukovsky, kornei ivanovich

bibliography

Holmgren, Beth. (1995). "Why Russian Girls Loved Charskaia." Russian Review 54(1):91106.

Zernova, Ruth, and Putilova, Evgeniia. (1994). "Charskaia, Lidiia Alekseevna." In Dictionary of Russian Women Writers, ed. Marina Ledkovsky, Charlotte Rosenthal, Mary Zirin. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Elizabeth Jones Hemenway

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