“Fallen but charming creatures”: The demimondaine in Russian literature and visual culture of the 1860s

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Abstract

This article examines the portrayal of the demimondaine in Russian literature and visual culture of the 1860s. Often referred to as kamelii (camellias) after Alexandre Dumas fils’ La Dame Aux Camelias (1848), such “fallen women” entered the cultural imagination through works of art and fiction that associated the demimondaine with pleasure and leisure. Taking the work of Vsevolod Krestovsky (1840-95) as case study, I compare the author’s short story “Pogibshee, no miloe sozdanie” (“A Fallen but Charming Creature,” 1861) with a virtually unknown album of salacious lithographs for which Krestovsky provided prurient captions. Titled Pogibshie no milye sozdaniia (Fallen but Charming Creatures, 1862-63) in reference to his earlier tale, the album glorifies the demimondaine as a new kind of urban woman who possesses sexual and financial agency. Analyzing the depiction of kamelii in these two works--one fiction, the other visual--shows that although they differ in focus, both the story and album commodify the demimondaine for mass circulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-121
Number of pages19
JournalRussian Review
Volume78
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory

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