Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Women in Exile

Women in Exile: Wives of the Decembrists by Anatole Mazour

Not a very well done history. The circumstances it describes are very interesting--the saga of the wives of early nineteenth century Russian revolutionaries, and why they choose to accompany their husbands into Siberia. The work is far too brief and simplistic, however, overreaching the sources and painting highly broad generalizations of its subject matter. In the whole gender analysis of the events becomes highly problematic, as it portrays a saintly level of personal devotion and self-sacrifice that is ultimately negating to its female subjects.

There's a similar approach to the Political Essay of Cuba--the book isn't good insofar as it objectively describes the past, but it is very useful insofar as it represents certain biases and pre-existing political narratives. Given Women in Exile wasn't written in the nineteenth century I tend to be rather harsher on its general lapses. I try to avoid the progressive narrative to history, the assumption of automatic improvement of modernity over the past, but there should still be a higher standard set to contemporary and near-contemporary historical analysis, and Mazour's piece is sadly lacking on these grounds.

Worse than: Gender Relations in German History edited by Elizabeth Harvey and Lynn Abrams

Better than: ?

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