Eristavi-Xostaria, Anastasia (1868–1951)

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Eristavi-Xostaria, Anastasia (1868–1951)

Georgian novelist, generally regarded as the most distinguished female novelist in Georgian literary history. Name variations: Anast'asia Eristav-Khosht'aria or Khoshtaria. Born in 1868; died in 1951.

As a result of the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the independent nation of Georgia can once again boast of ancient cultural traditions more than 2,000 years old. The country was converted to Christianity by St. Nino early in the 4th century ce and developed a rich literary tradition. One of the greatest works of medieval Georgia, Shota Rustaveli's The Man in the Panther's Skin, written during the reign of Queen Tamara (r. 1184–1212), has been judged to be one of the great works of world literature (copies of this epic poem are traditionally included in every Georgian bride's dowry). The loss of Georgian independence to tsarist Russia in 1801 led to a period of political and cultural oppression that in turn sparked a spirit of intellectual resistance. By the 1870s, a national renaissance was in full bloom, led by the immensely popular lyric poet Akaki Tsereteli (1840–1915).

Swept along by the national enthusiasm of the Georgian intelligentsia, Anastasia Eristavi-Xostaria grew up in the 1870s and 1880s with the dream of one day becoming a famous writer. To earn her daily bread, she worked as a schoolteacher, but she used her spare time to write or engage in passionate debates over the fine points of literary theory and practice. In the 1890s, Akaki Tsereteli recognized her talent and encouraged her to write a major work. Her first novel Molip'ul gzaze (On the Slippery Path) was published in 1897 to positive reviews. Four years later, in 1901, came Be'lis t'riali (The Wheel of Fate).

Over the next two decades, Eristavi-Xostaria published more novels and short stories that were well received by the Georgian reading public. Her writings follow a general pattern in which a noblewoman must face the turmoil brought on by the collapse of the old economic and moral order in Georgia in the second half of the 19th century. Her protagonists defend their ideals of love and decency in a world that is corrupt and in which few of the male characters exhibit strength of character or basic honor. The heroine of On the Slippery Path, the artist Ketino, decides against marrying a man she does not love, travels abroad in search of new artistic insights, and finally returns to Georgia mortally ill to be united with Paliko, the man she has always truly loved.

In The Wheel of Fate, the idealistic Sidonia is disillusioned by her marriage to Geno, a brute who bullies his peasants and seduces his servants. This novel ends dramatically with the death of Geno, who is lynched by peasants who can bear no more of his acts of humiliation. Despite some stylistic weaknesses that have been noted by literary critics, Eristavi-Xostaria's novels and short stories have been popular in Georgia for over a century. They exhibit, in the judgment of Professor Robert B. Pynsent, the qualities of "narrative drive" and "noble aims."

Although she was a member of the "national bourgeoisie," Anastasia Eristavi-Xostaria remained a major figure in Georgian literary circles after the assumption of power by the Bolshevik Party in 1921. She spent the final decades of her long life as an honored "living classic" of the nation's literary renaissance. While not following a Marxist line, her "social novels" were nevertheless regarded as important documents of a changing national culture. Although Eristavi-Xostaria wrote no major works after the 1920s, she did pen ideologically corrective introductions to the reprint editions of her writings that were regularly published during the Soviet period.


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John Haag , Assistant Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia