This article considers the Club of Bulgarian Women Writers as a case study on the interrupted feminisation of twentieth-century Bulgarian belles-lettres and culture. It argues that the modernisation project of Bulgarian intellectuals in the interwar years led to an environment propitious for the emergence of a cohort of women literati who furthered women's emancipation, and generated an original and popular textual tradition. The Club, which existed between 1930 and 1949, was emblematic of the wide acceptance of women intellectuals in patriarchal monarchical Bulgaria, and their subsequent marginalisation in the post-war socialist republic. Having declared gender equality fulfilled, the communist regime considered literary interest in womanhood or the individual hostile to its social and political agenda. Interwar women intellectuals, whose very worldview demanded an unrestrained confluence of personal, female and intellectual identities, lost their social importance. Likewise, the Club and its members were excised from cultural and public memory until the 1990s.
This article focuses on Bulgarian women writers’ activities, their reception, and their problematic existence in the context of the modernizing and emancipatory trends in Bulgarian society after the Liberation (1878–1944). The analysis is based on the concept of the (intellectual) hierarchy of genders and mechanisms of gender tutelage, traced in the specifics of women’s literary texts, their critical and public resonance, and the authors’ complicated relation with the Bulgarian literary canon. The question is topical, given the noticeable absence of women writers in the corpus of Bulgarian authors/ literary texts, thought and among those considered representative in terms of national identity and culture. The study is based on primary source materials such as works by Bulgarian women writers, the periodical press from the period, various archival materials, and scholarly publications relevant to the topic.
Albena Vacheva, V periferiata na kanona. Bulgarskite pisatelki prez purvata polovina na 20 vek (In the periphery of the canon. Bulgarian women writers in the first half of the twentieth century), Sofia: Prosveta, 2014, 372 pp., 17.00 BGN (pb), ISBN 978-9-54012-831-3.
Milena Kirova, ed., Neslucheniat kanon: Bulgarski pisatelki ot 1944 godina do nashi dni (The canon that did not happen: Bulgarian writers from 1944 to the present day), Sofia: Altera, 2014, 512 pp., 18.00 BGN (pb), ISBN 978-9-54975-792-7.
Gender Trouble in Bulgarian Culture Today
Milena Kirova, Literaturniat kanon. Predizvikatelstva (The literary canon. Challenges) (Sofia: Sofia University Press, 2009), 287 pp., 15 BGN (hb), ISBN 978-954-07-2811-7.
Milena Kirova, ed., Neslucheniat kanon. Bulgarski pisatelki ot Vuzrazhdaneto do Vtorata svetovna voina (The canon that did not happen. Bulgarian women writers from the Bulgarian national revival period to World War II) (Sofia: Altera, 2009), 430 pp., 18 BGN (pb), ISBN 978-954-975-732-3.
Milena Kirova and Kornelia Slavova, eds., Identichnosti v prehod: rod, medii i populiarna kultura v Bulgaria sled 1989 g. (Gender identities in transition: Media and popular cul- ture in Bulgaria a er 1989) (Sofia: Polis Publishers, 2010), 256 pp., 12 BGN (pb), ISBN 978-954-796-032-9.
Being a Man in Balkan Travel Writing
Much modern Western travel writing presents Eastern Europe, and especially the Balkans, as a sort of museum of masculinity: an area where men, whether revolutionaries, politicians or workers, are depicted as behaving in ways that are seen as almost exaggeratedly masculine according to the standards of the traveller. Physical toughness and violence, sexual conquest and the subordination of women, guns, strong drink and moustaches feature heavily. This is a region where men are men - and sometimes so are the women, whether 'sworn virgins' living their lives as honorary men, heroic female partisans or, in more derisive accounts, alarmingly muscular and hirsute athletes, stewardesses and waitresses. But the notion of a characteristically masculine Balkans is not limited to outsiders. It can appear in travel accounts from the region as well, ranging from Aleko Konstantinov's emblematic fictional Bulgarian traveller, Bai Ganyo Balkanski, with his boorish disregard of European norms of behaviour (Konstantinov 1895/1966), to more polished travel writers who nonetheless find it useful to contrast a 'Balkan' model to Western versions of manliness.