The Sonya Question: On the Forgotten Intelligent Woman of Tolstoy’s War and Peace

This paper was written for RUS 294: Russia and Ukraine (War and Peace) as my final research paper on War and Peace.

Tolstoy’s relationships to his female characters are complex, evolving over the course of his career. Despite his willingness to discuss the lives of women in his work, which was not often done by his male contemporaries, Edwina Cruise notes that “His bluntness on the subject of women became a Tolstoy trademark. There is no shortage of evidence in the ninety-volume edition of Tolstoy’s works to persuade even the most dispassionate reader that he espoused a tightly corseted view of appropriate roles for women.”1 This noted bluntness becomes apparent late in War and Peace when Tolstoy explains his dichotomy between “real” and “intelligent” women: “intelligent women, […] when they listen, try either to memorize what they are told in order to enrich their minds and on occasion retell the same thing, or else to adjust what is being told to themselves and quickly say something intelligent of their own, worked out in their small intellectual domain,” whereas “real women [are] endowed with the ability to select and absorb all the best of what a man has to show.”2

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Nabokov’s Juvenilia as Ineffective Art: Speak Memory and Nabokov’s Discovery of Poetry

This paper was written for RUS 372: Nabokov & Global Literature as a response to the prompt “What are Nabokov’s thoughts on the nature of art and of literature in particular?”

Every poet, and artist in general, goes through a phase early in his career in which his work is classified as juvenilia. This work acts as a predecessor to themes and motifs that become more fully developed in the artist’s later work, but is not as sophisticated in terms of content and style. In his memoir Speak Memory, the infamous literary giant Vladimir Nabokov reflects upon his initial discovery of writing and the poems that he produced in his teenage years. Through his assessment of this early work and his negation of it as art, we begin to uncover his view of the true function of art: to serve, not as an accurate reflection of one’s individual reality, but as the rationalization and combination of many separate realities that, together, transcend the individual human experience.

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Deconstructing Home: An Analysis of Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sestina”

This paper was written for ENG 220: Literary Analysis, and was our final paper for the class in which we could write on any text that we had read during the semester, incorporating both secondary sources and our own analysis.

Home typically signifies warmth, love, and consistency. The image of a childhood home often evokes nostalgia and pleasant memories, and the opportunity to create new homes as adults gives many people a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Nevertheless, this overgeneralized positive façade of home is not universal or straightforward. In her poem “Sestina,” Elizabeth Bishop deconstructs the traditional closeness and warmth of the home in order to reveal that isolation and grief are inevitable parts of home and family life, as well.

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Love as a Broken Art: An Examination of Mina Loy’s “Songs to Joannes”

This paper was written for ENG 373: Terrible Beauty, Yeats and Modern Poetry, and was intended to be an informed argument about a topic of our choice, situating ourselves in the critical conversation and making a claim of our own.

In traditional love poetry, poets often idealize and idolize the object of the speaker’s love and the love itself. Take this section of William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 65” for example: “O, none, unless this miracle have might, / That in black ink my love may still shine bright” (Shakespeare, lines 13-14). In the context of the sonnet, the speaker is proclaiming that, despite the horrors of the world and the tyranny of time, this declaration of his love will persevere and shine through the endless darkness. He clearly exaggerates the power of love, as it cannot recapture time and innocence lost in reality, but these embellished sentiments mark oft quoted, beloved love poems and songs. However, Mina Loy, as the ideal modern woman at the turn of the twentieth century—having numerous love affairs, perpetually traveling internationally, and writing controversial poems—subverts these traditional tropes and expectations of love poems throughout her work.

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From Deeply Personal to Aggressively Aesthetic: The Transformation of Yeats’s “When You Are Old”

This short paper was written for ENG 373: Terrible Beauty, Yeats and Modern Poetry, and was intended to be a Materialist/Historicist Analysis of the poem of our choice.

Since its composition in the late nineteenth century to woo a love interest to its status as the title poem of a collection of Yeats’s work, “When You Are Old” has drastically transformed in representation and intention over the course of its existence in print. Yeats first composed his iconic poem in 1891 for an informal manuscript volume that he gave to Maud Gonne as a token of his affection.  He titled this volume “The Flame of the Spirit.” It had a vellum cover with the title pressed in gold onto the front and originally contained seven poems, with “When You Are Old” as the final poem in the collection (Gould and Toomey, 124-25).

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Stolen Histories: Anatoly and Queer Narratives in Russia

This paper was written for WRI 101: Undesirables, Otherness & Belonging, and was the final paper for that class in which we were encouraged to synthesize a variety of source material and themes that we had discussed throughout the semester.

In June of 2013, The Russian legislature passed the now infamous “gay propaganda law,” which banned the expression of non-traditional (non-heterosexual) identities to minors and has resulted in significant oppression of the queer population in Russia.1 The law, passed under the guise of protecting youth, was enacted shortly before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, drawing international attention and outrage. But it is only the most recent manifestation of a long history of queer oppression in Russia. In this paper, I seek to explore how persistent, systematic otherness has buried queer Russian histories and examine the steps some queer Russians are taking to reclaim these histories as their own.

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