Book Reviews

in Aspasia

Hülya Adak, Halide Edib ve siyasal Şiddet: Ermeni kırımı, diktatörlük ve Şiddetsizlik (Halide Edib and political violence: Armenian massacre, dictatorship, and nonviolence), Istanbul: Istanbul Bilgi University, 2016, 206 pp., TRY 20 (paperback), ISBN: 978-6-05399-365-0.

Book Review by Ayşe Durakbaşa

Marmara University, Istanbul

This book is a breakthrough in the scholarship on Halide Edib in Turkish, with the mastery and innovative reading of various texts written by Halide Edib, as well as by commentators on Halide Edib, with references to the related historical-political literature about modern Turkey. Informed by the entanglement of myth and history in history writing in the aftermath of the Turkish Republic in the twentieth century, Hülya Adak tries to provide possible interpretations of Halide Edib’s texts for the writing of alternative histories, with a critical distance to the mainstream historiography that has provided the sources for the hegemonic official ideology of the republic for many years. The references to the author’s articles in English1 on the same subject also make it accessible to international scholars and readers.

Halide Edib Adivar is a well-known Turkish writer to the historians of modern Turkey and modern Turkish literature in the Muslim world, as well as the Western world. Her memoirs, published first in English (Memoirs of Halide Edib, 1926; The Turkish Ordeal, 1928), have been a topic of interest to many scholars and to readers from nonacademic backgrounds interested in the Turkish Revolution and the foundation of the Kemalist Republic in 1923. Halide Edib’s memoirs, speeches, political writings, and commentaries on Western and Eastern cultures have attracted new attention from students of feminist studies, women’s history, and women’s literature, as well as interdisciplinary, comparative studies in the field of cultural criticism. Apart from the numerous doctoral theses on Halide Edib written in Turkish in Turkish universities, there are quite a remarkable number of such dissertations defended in universities abroad, mostly in the West. Halide Edib’s memoirs were recently republished with a preface written by Hülya Adak,2 who is now considered a specialist on Halide Edib with her continued interest in Halide Edib’s works in various genres after her doctoral study,3 which was also focused on the same writer. Adak’s scholarship is remarkable in her creative interpretation of texts in relation to each other with their historical significance in particular contexts, as well as in relation to contemporary social and political concerns and current critical theory. This is shown in her published articles, which address an international public.4

As Adak indicates in the introduction, her aim is to introduce Edib’s work written and published in English—namely, Turkey Faces West,5 Conflict of East and West in Turkey,6 and Inside India7—to Turkish readers. The book is composed of sections that focus on the political writings of Halide Edib, mainly those that have been included in the aforementioned collections and that have mostly escaped scholarly notice. The topics include the Armenian question, political violence and nonviolence as exemplified by Gandhism, and her recollections and commentaries about India based on her 1935 lecture tour to Jamia Millia. There is also a section about absurd drama and a challenging interpretation of the allegorical play entitled Masks or Souls8 in juxtaposition to such dystopic plays by Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett. Adak’s knowledge of comparative literature and her creative use of intertextuality in her interpretation opens up possibilities for multiple layers of meaning to be unfolded in a single text. Hence, Halide Edib’s play is read, both as a piece of literary work and as a political allegory, together with the outright political works of the same author, which provide fruitful perspectives for the critical evaluation(s) of the Kemalist Revolution and the type of dictatorship exercised by Kemal Atatürk from 1923 to 1938.

The book, organized into four sections, gives the reader an opportunity to deconstruct the image of Halide Edib as a core political figure in the history of Turkish modernization, either idealized as a national heroine who took part in the Turkish War of Independence as Corporal Halide or sanctioned as a member of the political camp favoring the American mandate and forced to live in exile during the early years of the Turkish Republic by Kemal Atatürk. In the introduction to these four chapters, the author gives background information about the life story of Halide Edib and provides valuable information about her important works and the publication and reception of her works in English and in Turkish, with up-to-date references to the studies about Halide Edib and current scholarship on Halide Edib, which has been encouraged by the announcement of 2014 as the commemoration year dedicated to her name by UNESCO. Adak’s mastery of the texts written by Halide Edib in Turkish and English, as well as various translations, enables her to develop arguments about the differing positions of authorship that Halide Edib takes according to the different reading publics in different historical, cultural, and political contexts. The first section about Halide Edib’s political views about the Armenian question is especially pathbreaking for the Turkish audience, who are inclined to think of Halide Edib as a spokeswoman of Turkish nationalism. Adak develops an innovative argument that traces Halide Edib’s political commentaries that condemn the policies of the Union and Progress Party of the Young Turk period as “genocide” toward a milder interpretation of the deportation of the Armenians more as an event of reciprocal political violence, one taken by the state against the attacks of the Armenian militia against the Muslim inhabitants, in her later writings after World War I. According to Adak, Halide Edib moved away from her highly critical approach to the Unionist government policies toward Ottoman Armenians from 1909 to 1916 to a defensive argument about Turkish nationalism against the stereotypical depiction of the “barbaric Turk” in Western media of the time.

The second section focuses on the Indian independence movement as told by Halide Edib in Inside India, including the Khilafet Movement of the Muslims in India. It is very interesting to read about the reaction of the Indian Muslims to the Kemalist Revolution in Turkey and their frustration about the abolition of the caliphate in 1924. Reading this part, one can see how Halide Edib builds a superior position in relation to the colonized nations by representing Turkey as an example of successful liberation from Western powers, as an example to the colonized India and their liberation movement. Adak’s discussion awakens us to the novel ways of interpretation of these early twentieth-century writings in the light of contemporary discussions in postcolonial cultural theory.

The third and fourth sections are about Masks or Souls as a piece of absurd drama. The discussion about Halide Edib’s views about totalitarian regimes and the attempt to read them in parallel to Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism is interesting. However, from the political sociological point of view, it lacks depth and perhaps it reads too much into the texts of Halide Edib. The author herself is aware of this deficiency and contends with a humble position of only pointing to Arendt as a possible reinventing of Halide Edib’s political views.

The fifth section, entitled “Gender in the Works of Halide Edib and Feminist Politics,” could have been developed to include more of Halide Edib’s works. However, the writer narrows her focus to the mentioned works and concludes that Halide Edib led not a feminist political path but rather a nationalist and more individualist defense of history based on her own experience.

The most striking feature of this book is, I think, the new paths opened by the author to read more of Halide Edib’s works, especially those that are left aside and have not appeared as part of any public discussion and academic concern in Turkey. Hülya Adak challenges the mainstream scholarship that put aside Halide Edib as a political thinker, somebody who could herself move in between languages and cultures and who could address different cultural audiences as a public intellectual. The book is written with an awareness of another such in-between space of cultural interpretation and criticism, by an author who owes most of her scholarship to similar experiences of intercultural education, readership, and authorship celebrated by the idea of cultural dialogue in the field of cultural studies.


Hülya Adak, “Beyond the Catastrophic Divide: Walking with Halide Edib (The Turkish Jeanne d’Arc) Through the Ambiguous Terrains of World War I,” in Selbztzeugnis und Person: Transkulturelle Perspektiven, ed. Claudia Ulbrich, Hans Medick, and Angelika Schaser (Vienna: Böhlau, 2012), 357–379; Hülya Adak, “Suffragettes of the Empire, Daughters of the Republic: Women Auto/biographers Narrate National History (1918–1935),” in “Literature and the Nation,” special issue, New Perspectives on Turkey 36 (May 2007): 24–51; Hülya Adak, “National Myths and Self-Na(rra)tions: Mustafa Kemal’s Nutuk and Halide Edib’s Memoirs and The Turkish Ordeal,” The South Atlantic Quarterly 102, nos. 2–3 (2003): 509–528.


Hülya Adak, “An Epic for Peace (Introduction to Halide Edib’s Memoirs),” Memoirs of Halide Edib (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2004), 5–28.


Hülya Adak, “Intersubjectivity: Halide Edib (1882–1964) or the ‘Ottoman/Turkish (Women)’ as the Subject of Knowledge,” PhD diss., University of Chicago, 2001.


“The Independence Struggle of Turkey (1919-1922) and the Ordeal for Freedom: Introduction to The Turkish Ordeal,” Halide Edib Page: Cultures in Dialogue, ed. Reina Lewis and Teresa Heffernan,


Halide Edib’s lectures at Williamstown Political Institute in 1928, where she was invited as the first woman lecturer to the institute, were published with the title Turkey Faces West in 1930.


These are the lectures at Jamia Millia Islamic University in New Delhi, India, published in 1935 under the title Conflict of East and West in Turkey and republished in Delhi by Oxford University Press, 2002.


The book Inside India contains Halide Edib’s travel essays about India, including the portraits of political figures, women and men, active in Indian nationalism led by Gandhi against British colonialism.


Halide Edib Adivar, Masks or Souls? (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1953).

Catherine Baker, Gender in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe and the USSR, London: Palgrave, 2017, xiv, 259 pp., $33.78 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-137-52802-5.

Book Review by Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild

Brandeis and Harvard Universities, USA

Women’s and gender studies scholars confront a double burden, different from the classic representation of the dilemma of women living under socialism. The scholars’ burden involves addressing the invisibility of the “second world” in most women’s and gender transnational narratives, and the invisibility of women and gender in most standard histories of the “second world.”

Catherine Baker confronts this conundrum in this edited volume. In her introduction, she provides a comprehensive survey of major themes necessary to address “second world” invisibility. She also includes a very helpful bibliography for those unfamiliar with key elements of English-language scholarship in this area. Baker is thorough in elucidating the key issues of a historiography that does take into account “second world” similarities and differences with “first” and “third world” conditions. Her survey is comprehensive, including LGBT history as part of her overview, and she is to be commended for consciously addressing the invisibility of lesbian, gay, and transgender issues in too many other works in the field of women’s and gender studies.

This is a rich and rewarding collection, inclusive and provocative. Baker has organized the chapters into four parts, chronologically dividing the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first centuries, but mostly focusing on continuity and change in the application of state socialism in the countries of the Eastern bloc. In the first part, “Between the Fin-de-Siécle and the Interwar Period,” Cynthia Paces analyzes “Czech Motherhood and Fin-de-Siécle Visual Culture,” demonstrating the ways in which at a time of flux, “the mother stood at the centre of national iconography, as she would do in many other gender regimes throughout the 20th century” (25). At a time when the placement and purpose of monuments is especially fraught, reading Paces’s chapter makes the gendered aspect of Prague’s venerable public art particularly insightful. Paces’s discussion of Czech concepts of scientific motherhood shows the particularity in the transnational women’s health movement of an earlier day. Olga Dimitrijević with Catherine Baker uncover “British-Yugoslav Lesbian Networks during and after the Great War.” They provide a little-researched example of the transformative impact of World War I, inquire into national differences in archiving and preserving lesbian history, and discuss the transnational relationship between the Croatian painter Nasta Rojc and the British suffragist and Scottish Women’s Hospitals ambulance driver Vera “Jack” Holmes. Such relationships challenge the boundaries between private and public, and enrich our understanding of “sapphic modernities.” The long-term relationship between Rojc and Alexandra Onslow, they argue, “was not only social; it was a resource that stimulated the progress of Yugoslav feminist and women’s art” (58).

The final chapter in this section, “Creating ‘New Soviet Women’ in Armenia? Gender and Tradition in the Early Soviet South Caucasus” by Jo Laycock and Jeremy Johnson, focuses on Armenia but argues that the issues raised reflect “questions pertinent to the broader region” (65). Extrapolating from the experiences of socialist transformation in Russia or central Asia ignores the particular history of Armenia and especially the impact of the Armenian genocide. The status of women may have been a barometer of social change, but they caution against exaggerating the impact of sweeping socialist policies, arguing for the importance of researching the local context: “the representation of transformation of women may in fact be more powerful than transformation itself” (75; emphasis in original).

Part 2 addresses “Gender Regimes of Revolution and War.” Jenny Kaminer analyzes “Mothers of a New World: Maternity and Culture in the Soviet Period.” In terms of family and intimate life, the relationship between mother and child, she argues, was most profoundly transformed by the Bolshevik Revolution. Kaminer shows how early Soviet experiments in communal child-rearing gave way, especially under Stalin, to state intrusion into motherhood, based on the “suspicion that women’s backwardness rendered them incapable of properly raising the citizens needed to construct the new society” (84).

The next two chapters address World War II. Katherine R. Jolluck’s “Life and Fate: Race, Nationality, Class and Gender in Wartime Poland” surveys the devastating impact of war on what was a diverse population, which “endured occupation by two different ideologically driven regimes bent on complete domination” (96). The Nazis used racial categories to unleash total genocide against Jews, and the Roma and Sinta; the Soviets sought to eliminate class enemies, especially the Polish intelligentsia. Jolluck is especially strong in discussing the uses of sexual abuse and violence against Jews and other Poles. She rightly argues that “a more comprehensive gender history of Europe at war must take into account the gendered use of and reaction to unparalleled violence” (108). Kerstin Bischl’s “Female Red Army Soldiers in World War II and Beyond” interrogates the heroic depictions of Soviet women soldiers. She notes the work of those like Anna Krylova, who characterize the generation that emerged in the 1930s as the first that was raised with an egalitarian ideology, challenging the notion of a “gender backlash” in that period. Bischl traces the differences in how female soldiers viewed themselves, their personal hygiene, their responses to male soldiers, and how they remembered their experiences after the war, in Soviet and post-Soviet times. As she argues, postwar interviews of female soldiers “should be interpreted as strategies that interviewees used in order to be perceived in a particular way” (122). The women, at first hailed as heroes, over time had to combat accusations of so-called unfemininity, sexual promiscuity, vulgarity, and even insanity.

The final chapter in part 2 is Erica L. Fraser’s “Soviet Masculinities and Revolution.” Moving through time and space, Fraser compares the revolutionary masculinity of the Russian Revolution with that of the French and especially Latin American revolutionary masculinity with its machismo. She argues that Soviet revolutionary masculinity “forged a path apart. Its ideology largely included women and de-emphasized ‘brotherhood’ labels in favour of a workers’ collective; personal charismatic appeal was not always fostered; and Bolshevik masculinity mostly ignored sexuality” (137).

Part 3—“Gender Politics and State Socialist Power”—contains three chapters. Ivan Simić, in “Gender and Youth Work Actions in Post-War Yugoslavia,” uses the nation’s youth outreach to show that although Yugoslavia broke with the USSR in 1948, Soviet models were commonly applied well beyond that date and were used to develop gender policies. He argues that “of all the east European countries, Yugoslavia can offer the best insights into how Stalinist gender policies were transferred, domesticated and applied” (143). Focusing on youth work, Simić shows how Soviet models of gender equality were applied across the multiple religious and ethnic identities of Yugoslavia, where they were effective and where traditional notions of gender difference and femininity persisted. Judit Takács, in her “Listing Homosexuals since the 1920s and under State Socialism in Hungary,” focuses on continuity in the regulation of and monitoring of homosexuals in Hungary, from the Habsburgs through the Horthy regime, to the communists and the relatively liberal “goulash communism” of János Kádár. Although Kádár ended aggressive prosecution, “the long tradition of specialized state surveillance of homosexuality was still able to continue after 1961” (158).

Maria Bucur’s “Everyday: Intimate Politics under Communism in Romania” is a pathbreaking linkage of the quotidian in Romania with deliberate state policies aimed at control of the most minute aspects of individual life. Weaving aspects of her own experience with the insights of historians, the Alltagsgeschichte school, ethnographic research and collections, cultural anthropologists, and feminist scholarship, Bucur shows how women’s informal networks served as a significant buffer against state predations. In the postcommunist period, she argues that these networks have seriously diminished: “Everyday citizenship has become a globalized, virtualized identity, with links across the world, but often lacking in connection to the local community from which many try to escape through the computer screen or various handheld devices” (179).

Part 4, the final section, addresses “Gender During and After the Collapse of Communism.” Anna Muller analyzes “Masculinity and Dissidence in Eastern Europe in the 1980s.” She focuses largely on Poland, the prison experience of Polish male dissidents, effects on concepts of their own masculinity, and the gender and class nature of their relationships with other prisoners and with the women in their lives. Muller notes that in Poland, dissidence became a rite of passage for men: “It allowed men to be who they were supposed to be, meaning ‘real men,’ while excluding women. But this was not something that suddenly happened with the fall of Communism; rather, the opposition of the 1980s was already embracing, and even reinforcing, traditional understandings of femininity and female gender roles” (196).

Compared to Poland’s peaceful transition from communism, Yugoslavia experienced several violent national conflicts. Adriana Zaharijevic asks, “What Is Political in Post-Yugoslav Feminist Activism?” Her answer is to argue for the particularities of the postsocialist experience in each of the countries that experienced this transition. In the case of Yugoslavia, “women’s position did not automatically improve with the collapse of state socialism, as exposure to the nation-building citizenship regime weakened their social and intimate autonomy in comparison to the socialist past” (208). While it is important to recognize the differences in the post-Yugoslav experience, the similarities of most women’s disappointing and devastating experiences of the transition from socialism throughout the Eastern bloc is shown in many of the chapters in this book.

Maria Adamson and Erika Kispeter provide another comparative perspective in their “Gender and Professional Work in Russia and Hungary.” They note the different histories of Soviet Russia and Hungary, with the Soviets moving from early revolutionary idealism and commitment to gender equality, to the massive increase in the number of women doing paid work, the tremendous wartime losses, and postwar gender imbalance, to more traditional narratives of female domesticity in the late Soviet and post-Soviet times. Hungary had a shorter period of socialism, also marked by the 1956 revolution and the reforms of the Kádár period, making the country the “happiest barrack” of the Soviet bloc (216). The authors show how Soviet policies attacking the professions opened doors to women in ways that the structure of Hungarian professions did not. Hungarian professions managed to maintain more autonomy, allowing them to resist more effectively mandated gender equality. In both countries, “since socialist gender ideology constructed women as workers and mothers, professional work was a good ‘match’ because it allowed women to balance the two roles” (223). In sum, they argue convincingly for the importance of investigating the experience of gender in the different socialist and postsocialist states of the Eastern bloc.

The final chapter in this collection is Catherine Baker’s “Transnational ‘LGBT’ Politics after the Cold War and Implications for Gender History.” Baker observes that the issue of LGBT rights is a marker for Europeanization and modernization across Europe. The narrative becomes, as Baker notes, “that the East was ‘lagging behind,’ or needed to catch up with the West on LGBT rights” (237). Certainly, the backlash against LGBT rights in the former Eastern bloc, epitomized by Russian antigay laws and the banning of pride marches, is part of an anti-Western narrative. Baker is careful to include discussion of transgender history as a particularly difficult subject to research in the former socialist countries. For the LGBT community, “patriarchal and religious forms of nationalism replaced the public silence (and covert state surveillance) of sexual and gender minorities under state socialism with public opposition and sometimes violence” (242).

Overall, this collection is remarkable, comprehensive, and provocative. There are a few caveats, however. More could be done with the discussion of women in the military. Representations of the Red Army in World War II in terms of women and gender, while acknowledging the widespread sexual violence committed by male soldiers, should explore other gendered aspects of the Red Army’s role in this massive conflict. Twenty-seven million Soviet citizens lost their lives in the struggle, much more than the losses of any other combatant country. Without minimizing the importance of making visible issues of sexual violence, the focus on the Red Army’s rapes or sexual harassment of female soldiers can create a false equivalence with the genocidal atrocities committed by the invading German forces and their allies, which the Soviet armed forces saw as they recaptured the eastern front and liberated the death camps. There are not “many sides” to this issue. Eight hundred thousand women fought in some capacity in the Red Army. What did they do aside from fending off the advances of the men who fought alongside them?

While it is very important to note the transnational nature of current battles about LGBT rights, a longer historical perspective would be useful in discussing this subject. Russian law under the tsars was relatively liberal about homosexuality. After the October Revolution, the Soviet government decriminalized homosexuality in Russia. In an earlier transnational moment, Bolshevik delegates to various world sexual congresses in the 1920s condemned bourgeois sexual attitudes, declaring the Soviet Union to be in the vanguard of sexual liberation. To use one Western example, English law “lagged behind” that of Russia and the early Soviet Union: same-sex sexual activity was punishable by death and only decriminalized in England in 1967. This evidence of differences and similarities with Western attitudes toward homosexuality, as well as legal differentiations between lesbians and gay men, should be more completely acknowledged.

These concerns aside, Catherine Baker and all the contributors to this volume deserve high praise for their contributions to deepening and complicating the scholarship on women and gender in the former socialist space. Read this book!

Marina Blagojević Hjuson, Sutra je bilo juče: Prilog društvenoj istoriji žena u drugoj polovini 20. veka u Jugoslaviji (Tomorrow was yesterday: Contribution to social history of women in Yugoslavia in the second half of the twentieth century), Novi Sad: Zavod za ravnopravnost polova, 2015, 232 pp. (paperback), ISBN 978-8-68625-920-2.

Book Review by Ana Pajvančić-Cizelj

University of Novi Sad, Serbia

“Intergenerational dialogue among women is a basic condition for getting out of the closed circle of starting things from the beginning over and over again. There is no coincidence in the renewal of constant misunderstandings between the women and the constant ‘forgetting’ of women’s history” (5). In this book, Marina Blagojevic Hjuson, a sociologist and gender scholar, reinterprets the findings of her own pioneering feminist research on women professionals (experts and scientists) that she conducted in the second half of the 1980s in socialist Yugoslavia. It is a continuation of her long and fruitful research on issues related to women and gender in connection to social and economic stratification and development.

The book begins with the author’s personal reflection on the problems she encountered in raising the topic of women professionals in Yugoslavia. She challenged the then dominant opinion that socialism would inevitably lead to the disappearance of inequalities between men and women and started searching for their deeper, structural causes. As there was a “knowledge gap” in that regard, the author had to make the methodology and theoretical framework of the study “from scratch.” Insisting on gender as a functional part of society that frames its economic, demographic, legal, political, and cultural subsystems and an important dimension of social stratification, the author “engendered” fundamental sociological concepts (social status, social roles, power, and prestige) and introduced, for the first time in Yugoslav sociology, a theoretical framework for empirical research on women professionals. The most original contribution that followed was the concept of systemic inhibition, which was related to obstacles to women’s upward mobility and defined as “a set of social mechanisms that influence quantitative misrepresentation and qualitative degradation of women’s activities and their overall social position” (45). Social inhibition simultaneously takes place in the areas of work, socialization, education, profession, creativity, and family life. Manifestations of the systemic inhibition in each of these areas are analyzed in the first part of the book. The second part consists of statistical data on women experts and scientists in Yugoslavia, their share in the labor force, their education, and main societal characteristics. Research was situated in a dynamic context, and the positions of women in the professions were analyzed in relation to the overall development of Yugoslav society. Formulating the concept of systemic inhibition, the author has built a unique theoretical framework for explaining the different forms of obstacles faced by women in their professional advancement, which was a major shift in the sociological and public discourse of that time, in Yugoslavia and beyond.

But why look back at the study after almost forty years? The author states that her primary motive is activist: she is aiming to foster intergenerational dialogue between women and their collective self-understanding in order to improve collective capacities for the articulation of women’s political interests. In this regard, this book is a valuable contribution to the otherwise fragile collective memory of women’s emancipation in the region. The second reason is the acknowledgment of feminist issues that have been raised in former Yugoslav society, in a feminist code, even years before they were recognized as important in Western European societies. The objective scientific contribution of the book, however, exceeds the activist goals and goes beyond the feminist framework, since it represents a theoretical contribution to the explanation of the linkage between gender, social stratification, and socioeconomic development.

The look back at the study is done not as a simple review but through the innovative, intellectually challenging, and complex methodological investigation of the previous research, then prevailing social conditions, and dominant social actors. The history is not “judged” from the present standpoint; its socialist legacy is neither uncritically glorified nor abandoned. The author is trying to open the dialogue between the present and the past by creating the link between its discourses and actors. Commenting on the previous research, the author “reads the history from inside,” aiming to establish continuity with its emancipatory impulses and use it to “reconstruct the horizon of hope” in the conditions of contemporary neoliberal capitalism. The author recognizes that the socialist ideals of equality did support the establishment of egalitarian relationships between men and women but were not enough to overcome the systemic inhibition rooted in the patriarchal structure of the Yugoslav society. The book points to the fact that women’s resources, especially their unpaid domestic work, were crucial for economic development both in the former socialist, as well as contemporary capitalist, society.

The book shifts the traditional sociological interest from social problems and social margins to the social potentials concentrated at the top. The author’s focus on upward mobility and most educated women at the time (including scientists and artists) allows her to examine systemic inhibition where it is most thoroughly represented but also where it can be challenged. As the result of this book, strategies that women professionals in Yugoslavia built opposing the systemic inhibition were articulated and recorded as pathways through which younger generations of women professionals can build and develop their own strategies in the long process of the creation of an equal society. The book will also be of great interest to scholars working on the issues of women professionals in sociological and historical perspective.

Sophia Denissi, Anichnevontas tin “aorati” grafi : Gynaikes kai grafi sta chronia tou ellinikou diafotismou-romantismou (Tracing the “invisible” writing: Women and writing in the years of Greek Enlightenment-Romanticism), Athens: Nefeli, 2014, 554 pp., €28 (paperback), ISBN: 978-9-60504-070-3.

Book review by Evgenia Sifaki

University of Thessaly, Greece

Feminist theory and criticism may have grown increasingly elaborate and diverse, but certain feminist demands are as urgent and forceful today as when they were first articulated, constituting an unwavering theoretical premise for feminist scholarship: Virginia Woolf’s call to the historian, in A Room of One’s Own, for the recovery of the suppressed history of women was taken on in the 1970s and produced a wealth of research and findings, but the process is still fruitfully ongoing. Sophia Denissi, in her recent book, Anichnevontas tin “aorati” grafi: Gynaikes kai grafi sta chronia tou ellinikou diafotismou-romantismou (Tracing the “invisible” writing: Women and writing in the years of Greek Enlightenment-Romanticism) (2014), believes that women’s writings do form a tradition of their own, albeit often obscured, and its mapping out inevitably counters and reforms the established androcentric literary canon.

Denissi is an associate professor of history and literary criticism in the School of Fine Arts at the University of Athens. Her previous publications include a monograph titled To elliniko istoriko mythistorima kai o Sir Walter Scott 1830–1880 (The Greek historical novel and Sir Walter Scott) (1994), as both her undergraduate and postgraduate studies in English literature have led her to a comparative approach to literary studies. Her systematic engagement with second-wave Anglo-American feminist criticism, she explains, initially stimulated her project of discovering all the Greek women writers of the period from the turn of the nineteenth century to 1880. She had already located the first woman novelist of the Romantic period, Maria Michanidou, but she seemed to be an exceptional case. Apart from Michanidou and a few figures who were more well known, the nineteenth century seemed rather poor with respect to women’s writing—but maybe “that was a false impression of reality, due to the simple fact that no one had ever had the interest to investigate the state of women’s writing in the period. [Maybe] … there existed pioneer women of Greek letters waiting patiently for someone to take an interest in their work” (26). This was the beginning of a formidable project of systematic, scholarly research in libraries and archives, which lasted fifteen years and produced the impressive results presented in Tracing the “Invisible” Writing. Indeed, the book explores, in chronological order, literally hundreds of texts by nineteenth-century women, most of them hitherto unknown: essays (among them an impressive amount of treatises on girls’ education), poetry, drama, and translations of fiction and nonfiction. This way, there emerges a rich and illuminating picture of women’s literary production, which also provides a sound basis for future research—this book will certainly inspire new editions of old literary works and further study. At the same time, Tracing the “Invisible” Writing engages profitably with other scholars in the fields of nineteenth-century history and literature, and guides effectively its readers through the relevant secondary bibliography. A chapter is devoted to the history of girls’ education, which usefully places it in the context of related debates in other European countries. Additionally and most importantly, while engaging with fascinating case studies, Denissi asks key questions regarding the formation of women’s subjectivity in the period under investigation (Greek Enlightenment and Romanticism), with respect to factors such as nation and class.

The examined texts are divided into independent publications and contributions to literary magazines. Notably, mainstream literary magazines published very few women’s texts, apparently because of the fear that too many women’s names in their publications would damage circulation. Yet numerous women’s magazines appeared at the time (the first dates from 1840), and some are explicitly feminist. Especially important is the journal Evridiki (Eurydice) (1870–1873) because it encourages its readers, and “generally the sisterhood of women” (291; emphasis mine), to dare and write and contribute with their own articles to the periodical. Indeed, the readers’ response was impressive, “even though most of them did not dare sign their contributions with their full name” (291).

Given that the period in question is precisely the time of emergence and establishment of the modern Greek nation-state, it is imperative to investigate (as Denissi does) the formation of gendered identity in relation to the heated discussions of the time regarding national identity. Many of the presented writers explicitly devote their work to the progress of the Greek people. Those writing before or at the time of the Greek national revolution represent the aristocratic and cosmopolitan class of the so-called Fanariotes in Constantinople (who were celebrated translators, among other things) or have supportive male relatives and friends who, based in, or in systematic contact with, the capitals of Europe, partake in the development of Enlightenment thought. It is worth mentioning a few examples, like Ekaterini Soutsou’s translation of French texts about women’s education, among them the Entretiene de Phocion sur le rapport de la morale avec la politic (Phodon’s conversations: Or, the relation between morality and politics) (1763) by Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, who “supported human equality not only before the law but also what he called equality with respect to human needs … Mably considered the education of women a task of huge strategic importance for his vision of a [democratic] transformation of society” (121). Soutsou’s choice is thus an early example of the link between the contested status of women and the debate regarding the new nation’s potential character and social organization; this link pervades the intellectual production of the century, though it is by no means always as politically progressive or feminist.

Translations of essays and works of drama from European languages or from the ancient Greeks are generally a central preoccupation of the first Greek women writers. Among them is the emblematic Evanthia Kairi, very active in the cause of Greek independence, a severe critic of contemporary politics, and a dramatist. Denissi explores her work refreshingly and in detail while placing it in the contexts of feminist history and critique. The sister of cleric and scholar Theophilos Kairis and friend of the major figure of Greek Enlightenment, Adamandios Koraes, Evanthia Kairi’s development as a writer was simultaneously enabled and constrained by these men’s support and influence; indicatively, the brother responsible for her education, who actually “created” the phenomenon Kairi, was simultaneously extremely hesitant in allowing her to publish her work. Similarly dependent on her male relatives for her work’s entry into the public sphere, Elissavet Moutzan Martinengou’s masterful Aftoviografia (Autobiography) (a work that, according to Denissi, accounts for the development of Elissavet as a writer) was published by her son long after her death, and only after he had censored it severely and destroyed the parts he considered “unpublishable.”

After the 1830s and the foundation of the Greek state, there emerge women teachers and writers of the middle class, empowered by the project of the newly founded nation to educate its citizens into becoming, precisely, citizens of a European nation. Educated women aspire to the role of “mothers of the nation.” Also, Greek women, according to the dominant discourse of the period, must overcome the customs of the East that the Ottoman regime had imposed on them (women’s subjection, illiteracy, and indeed “slavery” are attributed to Ottoman rule) and achieve the degree of education and liberty that is proper to a European woman. In Denissi’s words, “the first fifty years of the Greek kingdom, though post-revolutionary, must have been truly revolutionary regarding the place of women in Greek society” (79). It is worth mentioning the special influence of French culture and literature in this period, which produced controversies: according to several critics and satirists, too much French education produced “lax morals” and superficial, pleasure-seeking, and vain creatures, and this is also why the genre of the novel was actually comparatively unpopular with women writers. Yet, in this context, Denissi reminds us of the pervasive, across nations and cultures, ideological hounding of patriarchy—namely, the preempting association of women’s entry into the public sphere with “immorality”—and discusses the emergent question of the effective strategies that would provide women with agency and public voice while safeguarding their moral reputation and social status.

One solution was represented by prominent educators of the period, among them the towering figure of Sappho Leontias, who insisted that women, like all Greeks, should see themselves both as the inheritors of classical Greek language and culture and as good Christians. Girls would be trained to be modest and strict Christians but also would learn to read and write ancient Greek and study Greek letters in depth. Leontias fought hard against those who believed girls’ education should be narrowed down to basic literacy and certain practical skills and aspired to produce strong, influential women; under her influence, several middle- and upper-class Greek women acquired a robust classical education, unlike their European counterparts. However, her project involved the suppression of desire and sexuality. Other important educators similarly insisted on the awkward conjunction of Christianity and Greek (pagan) letters, while educated women continued to face and fight against charges of frivolity with the banner of a strict Christian ethos.

Only much later, in the 1870s, when arranged marriages were still absolutely dominant, do women writers dare express erotic desire. Standing out is the important poet Foteini Economidou, who makes the radical move of writing a series of poems about the illicit desire for a married man.

But we should stop here. It is impossible even to try to sum up the plethora of different stories of women and texts that this book contains. Still, before closing, it is important to mention one more particularly attractive characteristic of Denissi’s project: the fact that it constitutes a generous labor of love; it celebrates women’s achievements and the women themselves, who, both major and minor with respect to literary achievement, are vividly depicted and all together form a thickly woven net, “the missing link in the chain uniting one generation with the next” (438) and leading to the important writers of our time. So while this book is first of all an invaluable source of data for scholars in the fields of both history and literature in nineteenth-century Greece, its writing style is personal, in that it is marked by concern and compassion for the women of the past and their fortunes; as a result, it also constitutes an appealing narrative for anyone who wishes to attain insight into the historical period that is explored and the lives and writings of the women who inhabited it.

Glafki Gotsi, Androniki Dialeti, and Eleni Fournaraki, To fylostin historia: Apotimiseis kai paradeigmata (Gender in history: Historiographical accounts and case studies), Athens: Asini, 2015, 374 pp., €21 (paperback), ISBN 978-6-18808-729-3.

Book Review by Maria Repoussi and Emilia Salvanou

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece

It has been thirty-two years since Joan Scott introduced gender as a fundamental category of historical analysis.1 Thus, she shifted the center of critical thinking toward questions related to the social construction of womanhood and manhood and to the political implication of feminism, as well as the gendered construction and evolution of societies. She also contributed to considering gender as a basic aspect of reading and understanding power relations. Gender was therefore increasingly introduced as an analytical category in social sciences and history, opening new pathways of thinking about dominant narratives and well-established categories, such as patriarchy, colonialism, interculturality, power, and resistance. Gender studies, both in social anthropology and in history, have thrived ever since, with numerous publications, especially from the 1990s onward. Nevertheless, shifting political and social contexts and how they were translated into research agendas have revealed the fluidity in the content ascribed to core concepts, such as gender, women, men, equity, and the like, and called for a reflexive and critical approach. In response to the aforementioned need for reflexivity, the group Historians for the Research of the History of Women and Gender2 organized an international conference under the theme “Gender in History: Historiographical Accounts and Case Studies,” held in Athens on 12 November 2011. The papers presented at the conference provided critical insights into topics touching on the interrelations between gender, as an analytical category, and history. Most of the chapters included in this book originate from the papers of that conference. Nevertheless, new contributions are included as well, as the editors’ aim was to produce a thorough overview of entanglement of gender and history rather than just the proceedings of the conference. The aforementioned problematization is thoroughly developed in the theoretically and empirically well-founded introduction of the volume.

The book consists of eleven chapters and an introduction that sets forth the theoretical questions to which the chapters respond. The task that connects the chapters is the effort to historicize the category of gender. In other words, it aims to bring to the fore the idea that gender is not only a social category but a historical one as well. Furthermore, as opposed to the mainstream equation between gender and women, the contributions to this book focus on both female and male identities and how they developed within various social and political frames, primarily education, labor, the public and domestic spheres, nationalism, and patriarchy.

Seven chapters are dedicated to the construction of womanhood during the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Approaching the subject from different aspects, Katerina Dalakoura, Leda Papastefanaki, Maria Preka, Dimitra Samiou, Efi Kanner, Dimitra Vassiliadou, and Eleni Fournaraki explore not only what womanhood meant or how it was translated into practice, but also how it was constructed through dynamic interaction with different discourses regarding education, citizenship, family, labor, nationalism, and middle-class identities. Education has been a preferential field for gender studies in Greek historiography. On the other hand, gender studies were usually perceived as women’s studies and have therefore been regarded as a partial and rather specialized historiographical field. In their contributions, Dalakoura, Preka, and Kanner undertake the task of historicizing gender identities shaped and diffused by education, and propose new approaches that can revitalize current historiography. In this way, education is conceived as a state institution, within which different discourses interact, shaping gender, social, and political identities alike. Nevertheless, the scope of these chapters exceeds education. If education has been regarded as a preferential field for studying “the history of women,” citizenry (Samiou), waged labor (Papastefanaki), family (Vassiliadou), and athletics (Fournaraki) are equally important aspects of women’s experience. The authors propose important conclusions concerning the social dynamics of the period under consideration and how gendered identities interacted with nationalism, thereby transforming both of them. Agency and technologization of the self, transethnic and transnational networks, social class, domination, and resistance are all aspects of the analysis adopted by the aforementioned chapters in a way that shows the importance of contextualizing gender studies not at the margins of historiography, but as an important analytical category at its core.

Four chapters (Dialeti, Giannitsiotis, Gotsi, and Avdela) focus on male identities, challenging the perception that male identities are “not gendered.” Although female identities remain important, they show how masculine identities are culturally constructed and that elements of masculinity attributed to them change over time. Tracing the historiographical construction of masculinity back to the Middle Ages and following it to the era of capitalism, Dialeti argues that gender is a valid analytical category in social sciences even in the conditions where women seem not to be relevant (such as in medieval war or the church). Gotsi and Giannitsiotis, starting from different points, explore gender identities through interdisciplinary approaches. Gotsi draws from psychoanalytic and feminist approaches to understand how masculine desire is represented in art, specifically in the representations of the nude male body in different historical periods. The chapter argues that heterocanonical male identities are culturally constructed and that the notions implied in the representations of the nude male body change drastically over time and should therefore be historicized. The importance of incorporating the critical approaches of the spatial turn in gender studies is argued by Giannitsiotis. In his chapter, he underlines that space is socially and culturally constructed, and that it should be therefore taken into account when exploring gendered and sexual identities, and not just as a frame for such identities but as part of their production. The last chapter, by Avdela, focuses on the case of Greece during the 1950s and 1960s, a period during which the violence connected to the civil war had become a structural part of the society, and explores how violence continued to be essential to the cultural construction of masculine identities. Its most important theoretical contribution is that in the process of the cultural construction of gendered identities, not only should the perceived dichotomy between male and female be taken into account, but how different masculine and/or female identities rival one another and the political connotations of such antagonisms should as well.

Overall, the edited volume is a very important addition to the existing scholarship in gender history. It succeeds in contextualizing the specific cases presented in each chapter in the broader theoretical discussion, and at the same time making very valid contributions toward a much-needed paradigm shift in the study of gender and underlining the continued importance of gender as an analytical category in history.


Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (1986): 1053–1075.


The group was founded in 2007 and is the Greek branch of the International Federation for Research in Women’s History ( The committee of the Greek branch includes Eleni Fournaraki and Glafki Gotsi.

Christian Imdorf, Kristinn Hegna, and Liza Reisel, Gender Segregation in Vocational Education Comparative Social Research 31, Emerald Group Publishing, 2015, 320 pp., $74.96 (hardback); $92.03 (Kindle), ISBN: 978-1-78560-347-1; eISBN: 978-1-78560-346-4.

Book Review by Tatyana Kotzeva

Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia

Starting from the idea that educational institutions are “sorting machines”1 in terms of placing students in different occupational and educational settings based on their socioeconomic background and on the institutional arrangements of the labor market, the contributors to Gender Segregation in Vocational Education elaborate on the question of if expanding vocational education and training (VET) fosters gender segregation later on entry in the labor market. On the one hand, all over the world, pronounced trends toward an increasing proportion of women and declining gender segregation in tertiary education have been observed, while on the other, vocational education programs keep preserving gender segregation, thus situating women predominantly in health and social subjects while men concentrate mainly in technical subjects and crafts.

There is an enormous body of knowledge on horizontal and vertical labor market segregation, but the interrelation between vocational education segregation and gender inequalities in the labor market is still a neglected topic in the research. In the introduction, Liza Reisel, Kristinn Hegna, and Christian Imdorf point out several important reasons to study why female and male students make different educational choices and follow different occupational paths (4). The first reason deals with the extreme underrepresentation of one’s own gender in particular professions, which inhibits young men and women from choosing a job in line with their inclinations. Second, male-dominated VET programs are usually considered as providing better paid and career-oriented jobs compared to female-oriented vocational programs that offer lower-status jobs and worse salaries. Third, choices made more evenly between the female and male pool of candidates in such fields as health, teaching, and technical crafts would increase the options to hire people with better abilities and work motivation.

The volume is made up of ten chapters in which the authors discuss different patterns of vocational education across national contexts and individual life course. The contributors—prominent researchers in the field of education and gender inequalities studies, comparative education, labor market research, and quantitative methods—base their investigations on solid empirical evidence obtained from cross-national, panel, and large-size surveys. The large-scale studies allow data analysis with methods of advanced statistics. An extreme asset of the quantitative studies is that they illuminate the complex links between different vocational education models, particularly features like size of vocational or applied education among general education, types of skills acquired (general or industry/market specific), vocational orientation, tracking, vocational specificity, occupational domains, and the level of gender segregation in expectations, choices, and labor market outcomes.

In his macro level analysis of the twenty-two European countries on links between the occupational expectations of secondary school students and occupational gender segregation in the labor market, Steffen Hillmert finds a weak correlation that he interprets as coercion on youths to adapt later when they enter the labor market. Christian Imdorf, Kristinn Hegna, Verena Eberhard, and Pierre Doray, in their comparative study including Germany, Norway, and Canada, prove that vocational programs are more gender segregated compared to university programs. Germany ranks as the country with the highest degree of gender segregation in education, while Canada is the lowest. The authors find that males who do not have high scores for entering a university demonstrate a higher likelihood of being placed in male-typed VET programs.

In another chapter, Moris Triventi, Jan Skopek, Yuliya Kosyakova, Sandra Buchholz, and Hans-Peter Blossfeld explore gender differences over the whole life course and especially during the transition from school to first job. They base their analysis on thirteen in-depth country cases of educational careers from the eduLife project, and they draw the conclusion that even when women start their first jobs with better occupational positions, “the female advantage vanishes and probably even reverses when comparing men and women sharing similar characteristics” (46). Their findings are also in line with the recent results from other surveys on the “welfare state paradox” that refers to women’s segregation into “female ghettos” in Scandinavian countries despite their high rates of female employment and women’s reentry to work after childbirth. In another contribution, Emer Smyth and Stephanie Steinmetz underline the protective role of VET qualifications against non-employment, especially for men. Using European Social Survey data for twenty European countries, they reveal that the VET system matters more strongly for occupational outcomes among men. The findings from the aforementioned studies lead to the conclusion that “a high degree of vocational orientation of an upper secondary school system contributes to the gendering of education and occupational trajectories for men, but less so for women” (11). A profound vision of regional gender differences in secondary vocational education can be found in Petya Ilieva-Trichkova, Rumiana Stoilova, and Pepka Boyadjieva’s chapter on Bulgaria. The country stands out as one with a moderate labor market gender differentiation and the highest share (28.5 percent) of women among computing professionals in the European Union. One of the main findings suggests that a better-developed industry sector at a district level directs women toward engineering programs as a source for better job opportunities.

Alongside the analyses of impact of institutional level mechanisms on gender segregation in vocational education, some of the volume contributions provide comprehensive knowledge about individual-level factors within a life course perspective. It is argued that women and men acquire different values and inclinations during socialization such that women are more adequate for professions with a greater focus on communication skills while men are more valuable for professions requiring technical abilities. In her study on young Australians’ educational and professional choices, Joanna Sikora demonstrates serious gender divides in secondary and postsecondary education. She proves that occupational expectations, science self-concept, and parental employment in science are predictors for male and female choices to enroll in science-related VET programs. In another life course study, Ashley Pullman and Lesley Andres explore gender stratification in applied and general higher education in Canada. They reveal a high degree of mobility between the two types of study, thus concluding that women do not necessarily take a general studies path, a conclusion that is very much in line with the main findings from Ilieva-Trichkova and colleagues’ chapter.

Identity theory is referred to as another explanatory mechanism in educational and occupational choices; moreover, men, compared to women, more often are not heavily sanctioned when they make gender atypical educational choices. Along these lines, Katarzyna Haverkamp and Petrik Runst, in their study of the growth of female apprentices in skilled crafts training in Germany, explain this trend as a result of not an increased entry of young women but rather a disproportionate reduction of male students in selected occupations. Finally, Verena Eberhard, Stephanie Matthes, and Joachim Gerd Ulrich hypothesize that young people in Germany may expect negative social approval from their environment when they choose a gender-atypical profession. Their analysis confirms their hypothesis, and they additionally state that this trend matters more for people with a lower educational background.

In conclusion, Gender Segregation in Vocational Education is a profound collection of contributions that enhance scientific knowledge on contradictory trends related to gender segregation in vocational education and training. The volume’s chapters create valuable underpinnings for further academic research on the impact of VET systems in (re)producing gender inequalities in employment and in the labor market. It is a good read for everyone interested in the sociology of education, comparative educational studies, vocational training, gender (in)equalities, and labor market research.


Alan C. Kerckhoff, “Institutional Arrangements and Stratification Processes in Industrial Societies,” Annual Review of Sociology 21 (1995): 323–347, doi:10.2307/2083414; Joel H. Spring, The Sorting Machine: National Educational Policy since 1945 (New York: McKay, 1976).

Oksana Kis, Ukrainski zhinky v hornyli modernizatsii (Ukrainian women in a crucible of modernization), Kharkiv: Klub Simeynogo Dozvillya, 2017, 303 pp., UAH 112 (hardback), ISBN 978-6-17123-177-1.

Book Review by Tamara Zlobina

PhD in philosophy and editor of Gender in Detail web portal, Ukraine

Modernization radically transformed the lives of Ukrainian women in the first half of the twentieth century. The political and social changes were rapid and dramatic. Ukrainian women were not only the subjects of gender emancipation; they were confronted by stunning historical events like revolutions, the struggle for national independence, two world wars, forced collectivization and the Great Famine in Soviet Ukraine, the underground war in western Ukraine, and political repressions. As representatives of a stateless nation, Ukrainian women were forced to combine (and often sacrifice) their own aspirations toward equal rights for the sake of a national struggle for self-determination and state independence.

The metaphor of a crucible, used by the authors of this collective volume, works well for the historical processes described above. It is important to note that before World War I, Ukrainian territories were under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires; different political systems, social traditions, legislations, and the ethnic composition of the population affected the lives of Ukrainian women in the two empires. Late in the twentieth century, these differences were swept away altogether with the century-long traditions of Ukrainian peasants, the early modern class structure of Ukrainian cities, and ethnic diversity. After World War II, all Ukrainian territories were united in Soviet Ukraine so that only one—approved by the Communist Party—vision of past and present was possible. Different narratives of women’s history were silenced for more than fifty years.

This silencing was twofold (or even threefold). Not only were the gendered experiences of women not discussed, but any research on the national history of Ukrainian women and the class history of Ukrainian peasants and intelligentsia was forbidden as well. Historical studies in independent Ukraine after 1991 did not change much because of the domination of the grand nationalist narrative and the persisting dependence of historical research on state historical politics.

As a result, contemporary Ukrainian women know little (if anything) about the lives of their predecessors, and are not acquainted with all their losses and victories, struggles and aspirations. This volume, written by professional historians—members of the Ukrainian Association for Research in Women’s History-explores women’s gendered experiences in the context of rapid modernization and historical cataclysms. The popular history genre chosen for the volume works well to deliver the authors’ findings about the lives and historical experiences of Ukrainian women during the twentieth century.

The volume consists of eleven chapters dedicated to different topics. The concept of “Ukrainian women” is not generalized in the book; on the contrary, particular studies discover the activities of women from different classes who lived in villages or cities, and under various political regimes. The common feature of all the experiences is a profound importance of female gender for women’s destiny. At the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries, the roles of wife and mother were seen as the only option for women. Despite continuous efforts to include education, professional self-realization, and political activity into socially acceptable women’s activities, the traditional stereotypes prevailed and influenced the experiences of women during all the historical cataclysms to come.

The volume demonstrates the crucial ambiguity of gender. During times of social transformation, gender roles were perceived as outdated and limiting; emancipated women were actively questioning and changing them. Ivanna Cherchovych, Kateryna Kobchenko, Olga Bezhuk, Maryana Baydak, and Myroslava Dyadyuk discuss such cases in their studies of the educational, military, civic, and political activities of women. In critical circumstances, femininity appeared to be a resource of survival. In addition to the possibility of exchanging sexuality for food and life, Oksana Kis discovers how the female role of those responsible for feeding children allowed peasant women to actively resist the forced dispossessions of food and property before and during the great famine from 1932 to 1933 (known as babii bunty) and to avoid harsh punishment for that.

This ambiguity strikes again and again across the book. Marta Havryshko examines how a patriarchal concept of femininity hardened women’s experiences in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (military nationalist movement) in the 1940s and 1950s (from the derogatory attitude from fellow male combatants to sexual violence and even murdering female partisans as unnecessary “ballast”). Nevertheless, in the dehumanizing regime of the gulag camps, the former female insurgents (now political prisoners) used markers of traditional femininity (neatness, cleaning, embroidery, decoration, and caring and cheering for men) as important resources that allowed them to preserve their major social identities, human dignity, and mental health.

It is worthwhile to notice the limited agency Ukrainian women had in a traditional society. Oksana Kis, in her chapter “Marital Relations in a Ukrainian Peasant Family at the End of the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century,” describes the unique tradition of property ownership and inheritance among women only (materyzna): Ukrainian family structure (a married couple with children living separately from other relatives) and gendered division of labor allowed women some economic competence, and the customary law permitted certain forms of divorce.

The general idea of the subordinate and dependent position of women in relation to men defined the possibilities women had in their activities outside the home. Ivanna Cherchovych and Kateryna Kobchenko explore public discourses on and opportunities for women’s education in the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. Professional education gave women the possibility to earn a living in the case of the death of their husband or if they did not marry at all. Despite obvious practical advantages, the prospect of economic independence for women provoked strong social disapproval. Women’s education was limited to serving ideological goals—first of all, to produce well-educated wives and mothers who then would influence their kids with “proper” ideas. Cherchovych’s chapter shows the hypocrisy of such an attitude, using western Ukrainian society as an example. On the one hand, the nationally oriented intelligentsia supported education and patriotic civic activities of their women and ridiculed other women who were too “feminine” and unable to support a meaningful conversation. Nevertheless, in 1912, women activists were not allowed to participate in a secret meeting of Ukrainian political parties because of the “lack of seriousness typical to their sex.” Leaders of the women’s movement had to enter the meeting room by force.

The challenges of World War I opened more options for women’s self-fulfillment. Mariana Baydak and Olha Bezhuk discuss a new phenomenon: women’s military service as soldiers. Women from higher classes contributed substantially to charity initiatives, medical services, and social care for children and widows. They provided food, information, legal assistance, and education to those in need. Working-class women obtained some new possibilities of jobs such as office workers, craftswomen, and sellers.

The next decades brought more possibilities for women, and more losses. In the 1920s and 1930s, western Ukraine was under the rule of Poland. Myroslava Dyadyuk explores the rise and political activities of the Soyuz Ukrainok (Union of Ukrainian Women). The organization included Ukrainian women of all age groups and social classes, and grew into a ramified network of local branches all over Galicia. The union’s activities aimed to help women in personal, economic, and educational spheres, but its leaders also aspired to make women active in political life and contributed greatly to the general emancipation of women.

In the Soviet part of Ukraine, Bolsheviks tried to appropriate all the achievements of liberal feminism (first of all, political rights that women gained and realized a few months before the Bolshevik revolt in 1917). Maryna Voronina, in her thorough chapters, “Bolshevik’s Experiment in Emancipation in the 1920s” and “‘A New Soviet Woman’: Gender Policy of Soviet Regime in the 1930s,” examines the ambiguous engagements of women with the economy and politics. On the one hand, gender equality was proclaimed, marriage and divorce were liberalized, communal childcare services were promised, and women were actively invited to take part in the industrialization, collectivization, and productive competition movement (sotssorevnovania). Communist propaganda among women was an important task of women’s departments (zhenotdel) in the Bolshevik party, and political quotas for women were introduced. On the other hand, some basic needs and demands of women were not satisfied, slogans on gender equality were rather of declarative and populist character, and women of all classes suffered from repressions, poverty, sexual violence, and derogatory patriarchal attitudes.

Olena Styazhkina discusses women’s experiences of occupation during World War II. Her chapter presents the multitude of strategies of survival hidden behind a heroic narrative of men-warriors and their dedicated wives waiting at home. Styazhkina’s article presents wartime history as a story of the everyday sustenance of life rather than a chain of outstanding events. This attitude (common to all authors of the book) shifts the main question of historical science from “What were the major events?” to “How did women live through those events?” The multitude of details and examples, quotations from personal memories and oral testimonies of witnesses, and close attention to what was said and what was omitted allow the authors to narrate a history as a vibrant and controversial coexistence of millions of lives rather than an ideologically constructed chain of achievements.

The book discovers the multitude of challenges women were forced to deal with on a daily basis. The simplest tasks, from ensuring one’s safety in marital relations to gaining education and professional recognition, all were a matter of a stubborn fight against social prejudices and historical circumstances, and even in defiance of one’s family’s disapproval. This volume offers comprehensive and verified information about the lives and invisible everyday heroism of Ukrainian women. It also highlights the significant roles women played in the great historical changes of modernization.

Mihaela Miroiu, Cu mintea mea de femeie (With my woman’s mind), Bucharest: Cartea românească, 2017, 248 pp., RON 29 (paperback), ISBN 978-9-7323-316-0.

Book Review by Maria Bucur

Indiana University, USA

Mihaela Miroiu is a prominent Romanian feminist philosopher who established the first graduate program in feminist political science and is the author of dozens of important books and articles.1 Her recent autobiographical volume, Cu mintea mea de femeie (With my woman’s mind), is a collection of sixty vignettes focusing on everyday events and the author’s intellectual journey from a squarely feminist perspective. The stories are grouped into six sections, overall corresponding to a linear chronology from her earliest memories until the present: “The Kid,” “The Girl,” “Youth,” “Je Chante avec Toi, Liberté!,” “Life, Pure and Simple,” and “The Century of Women.”

Most of these vignettes have appeared in an online magazine and have garnered an impressive readership. By organizing them in chronological fashion and adding some new stories, the author has given a more definite shape to the overarching narrative. The themes that tie together these autobiographical fragments are closely connected to the lived experience of gender norms and the author’s questioning, upending, and paving a path of her own as a scholar and woman living in a communist and eventually postcommunist society.

The first part, “The Kid,” depicts a simultaneously bucolic and somewhat harsh childhood in the countryside, where her grandmother was the primary influence. Children dwelled among so many other life-forms, so Miroiu’s sense of purpose and gender identity were often guided more by observing the animals than by the adults around the village. Her grandmother’s deep religious faith guided the moral upbringing of the author, who focuses on the gendered aspects of Orthodox Christianity in several stories. Her reflections are critical at times, especially when describing the limitations imposed on girls and women in having an active role in the parish. Yet Miroiu also offers a more appreciative perspective of religion, seen from the purely subjective perspective of individual faith rather than as an institution.

The second part focuses on the enlarged world of the school years growing up in Hunedoara, the most formative time of her life under communism. We have very few autobiographies of women authors from this period in Romania’s history, and even fewer that focus on cities other than Bucharest. Given the growth of Hunedoara from a small town to a major industrial center during the same time as Miroiu’s school years (1962–1974), these stories provide unique insights into what the communist regime in Romania meant at that time. The author explores several themes across moments in time: the education policies of the communist regime; censorship; parenting and gender roles; homosexuality under communism; and everyday life as an adolescent.

“Youth” moves from the world of Hunedoara and the familiar to Miroiu’s discovery of Bucharest, college, and her years as a high school teacher until the fall of communism. In many ways, this is the most remarkable period of the author’s life. Moving from Hunedoara to Bucharest opened up many possibilities for intellectual and professional development. But it was also a foreign world that she needed to make her own. Such narratives of discovery are rarely found in autobiographies from this period; the author’s comparisons between the two communities, something that continues for the rest of the book, is a useful vantage point for anyone who has no experience of such different urban environments.

Just as fascinating are the descriptions of the intellectual, political, and affective experiences in college. Miroiu attended the University of Bucharest at a pivotal moment, when the Nicolae Ceauşescu regime decided to radically upend higher education in the social sciences and philosophy, her major. Her recollections become a window into this significant reshaping of knowledge making in Romania and offer insights worthy of further historical research into the intellectual history of this period.

Along the way, we become acquainted with some of the more overlooked and less researched aspects of gender roles under communism: sexual violence. Miroiu retells several episodes of rape, attempted rape, and sexual harassment that are meant to reveal a pattern of behavior among men with institutional power, such as professors and secret police officers. These stories are hard to read, but they are a necessary corrective to the deafening silence about such issues, movies like Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days (2008) notwithstanding.

Finally, by narrating what it meant to try to build an authentic life of the mind through reading, writing, and teaching, Miroiu provides a powerful depiction of the infinite grayness of the communist experiment. This theme continues as a study in contrasts over the following section, “Je Chante avec Toi, Liberté!” The tone of the stories in this section moves from the somewhat nostalgic and bittersweet period of “bonsai” cultivation of ideas before 1989 to the breathlessly enthusiastic discovery of freedom and the intellectual world beyond Romania’s borders. Several episodes focus on travels and encounters with scholars and ideas in Britain and the United States, the most memorable being the weekend Miroiu spent with the radical feminist theologian Mary Daly in 1998. For anyone interested in understanding the deep intellectual influences on Mihaela Miroiu’s writings and feminism as a philosopher, this section offers important clues.

With the last two sections of the book, we near the present. As the author confessed to me in a conversation a few years ago, she looked forward to leaving behind the stories about the communist period and even the early years of the transition. They felt like a heavy weight: the stories needed to be told, and by putting them on paper, she liberated herself from their psychological burden. The last eleven stories in the volume offer themes for contemplation that are more philosophical, rather than historical vignettes or lessons, as the previous stories often read. The author reflects on illness, blindness, death, faith, Queen Marie of Romania, women’s publications in contemporary Romania, friendship, and her own feminism. These autobiographical fragments focused on the recent past will warrant rereading in a few years, as companions to what the author will publish during the intervening time.

While anchored clearly and precisely in time and place, Mihaela Miroiu’s stories are enchanting. A natural storyteller, the author transports us to the fields where she used to roam as a child, the library where she spent much of her college years, the classrooms where she taught, and the many places she has visited since 1990. Her details bring to life the harsh realities of everyday life under communism, but they also make it possible to understand how one came to live, love, hope, and build friendships under this regime. Most importantly, they clarify in powerful, granular specifics what it meant to be a woman of great intellectual capacities and with professional ambition in a communist and postcommunist country between 1954 and today. For anyone trying to understand how gender norms evolved in Eastern Europe over this period, this book is an illuminating read.


Among her influential pieces, see “Communism Was a State Patriarchy, Not State Feminism,” Aspasia 1 (2007): 197-202.

Keely Stauter-Halsted, The Devil’s Chain: Prostitution and Social Control in Partitioned Poland Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2015, 392 pp., $39.95 (hardback), ISBN: 978-0-80145-419-6.

Book Review by Anna Muller

University of Michigan, USA

The devil seems to be one of the reoccurring metaphors in The Devil’s Chain: Prostitution and Social Control in Partitioned Poland by Keely Stauter-Halsted. The image and the metaphor are enticing, sexy, but also puzzling. What does the titular devil’s chain refer to? Is it a spiral whirlwind that pulls women in while leaving them no choice but to sell their bodies? And if so, what constitutes that whirlwind? Who is the victim and who is the culprit? The very evocative cover of the book invites some questions. It is a reproduction of a painting by Wojciech Weiss, Devil in a Café, which shows a woman and a man sitting in an empty café. In an act of desperation, the woman lays her head on a table. She is well dressed and probably comes from a well-situated bourgeois family. The man looks at her with an ironic smile while leaning on his chair and playing with a cigarette. The relationship between the woman and the man is almost exaggerated in its obviousness. But there is more than the image suggests. His reddish hair and spiky beard betrays a stereotypical Jew. Here the culprit is identified and the devil is personified. Throughout the book, Stauter-Halsted unpacks the image: the multifaceted nature of the dependencies between women who sell sex and various segments of society—pimps, activists, and physicians—and the complex ways in which various modern anxieties are projected onto the interpretations of what prostitution is. Prostitution ceases to be a story about “fallen women” and becomes a story of societal dynamics at moments of change.

The Devil’s Chain is a story in ten acts (chapters). It starts with a discussion of the spatial transformation of modern cities and the emergence of open spaces, such as city parks, where the “ladies of the night” could appear. Prostitution was a long-standing phenomenon, but the socioeconomic changes at the end of the nineteenth century made it more visible. With the exposure of prostitutes (underclasses) to the middle class grew the perception that prostitution represents a social problem. Yet the evaluation of the significance of this problem was changing. Stauter-Halsted continues with a discussion of the narratives of entrapment and sex trafficking, which tapped into anxieties related to migration. It is here where the figure of a powerful Jew appears. As the author summarizes, “The melodramatic projection of Polish anxieties about these social ills onto sinister Jewish protagonist had that added effect of replicating a familiar pattern in Polish national discourse” (195). The image of a Jew as the main culprit only heightened ethnic and confessional tensions. Further, she discusses yet another dimension of prostitution. At the turn of the twentieth century, and specifically after the turmoil of 1905, in anticipation of Polish independence, prostitution became interpreted as a vice that threatened the Polish nation itself. While the hopes for Polish independence arose at the beginning of the century, Polish activists set out to improve conditions among lower orders in order to strengthen the health of the nation itself. “If the damaged body of prostitute be healed, then so too might the dismembered Polish nation be made whole again” (313).

Who were the “women of the night,” as the author calls them? As Stauter-Halsted emphasizes, despite a long-standing rural precedent, its contemporaries described prostitution as an urban phenomenon and moral misstep. However, as Stauter-Halsted argues, most prostitutes came from rural areas. Prostitution was an option for women from lower social classes; poverty, population explosion, and industrialization drove them out of their villages and into cities, where they had to look for work as unskilled workers. But selling sex was not only confined to dark allies. Prostitution also existed within families, where women worked as domestic servants: the master of a house could, in exchange for a higher salary, commodities, or better treatment, ask for sexual services. In this light, Stauter-Halsted sees prostitution and the possibilities it offered—the improvement of one’s work or a way of dealing with loneliness and anxiety—as not only a forced occupation but at times also a strategic choice that provided the women with a sense of agency.

It is interesting how opinions about prostitutes changed throughout the discussed period. They were either perceived as victims who fell prey to an untrustworthy ethnic “other” or as a manifestation of societal dysfunctionality. Stauter-Halsted explains this change by the appearance of women’s activists and physicians, who after 1905 entered the public space with the intention to improve social ills. Initially, the women were perceived as victims who needed help. However, that sentiment shifted from sympathy to militant attempts to prevent it. Activism constituted a “shadow state,” which without Polish statehood worked to identify problems and transform society into a healthy organism with hopes that Poland would soon regain its independence. From being victims, the women became elements in a chain of vices responsible for the weak condition of society. Stauter-Halsted shows that everything is relatable—social vices, morality, and prostitution, as well as the victims and culprits. Depending on the other social needs, the perception of sex, prostitution, and gender norms had to be reworked.

The Devil’s Chain is a fascinating book, raising rarely explored themes and opening new venues of reading and interpreting Polish history at the turn of the century. It was refreshing to read how focusing on prostitution can normalize the history that often talks about Polish exceptionalism. The shift away from the use of licensed bordellos to relying on the use of private apartments reflected similar statistics across Europe, such as in Paris, Hamburg, and Saint Petersburg. Along the same lines, the Polish scientific community, similar to Western specialists, focused increasingly on prevention rather than on curing venereal diseases. To achieve this rich and in many respects comparable image, Stauter-Halsted draws on an impressive collection of sources: Polish and Austrian state archives, an extensive amount of periodicals, and published primary sources. However, what is most impressive is that we get to hear the voices of the “ladies of the night” through court transcripts, medical reports, reports of investigative journalists, police comments, and reflections of social workers. The result is a fascinating and multifaceted journey through Polish history and the lives of the women who are too rarely silent in historical investigation.

The book is written in accessible and elegant prose and as such can be used in the undergraduate courses on history and gender in Central Europe. It can certainly also be used in the courses for graduate students, where students can explore creative approaches to sources and topics that challenge “traditional” understandings of history.

Barbara Klich-Kluczewska, Rodzina, tabu i komunizm w Polsce, 1956-1989, (Family, taboo, and communism in Poland, 1956-1989), Kraków: Wydawnictwo Libron, 2015, 295 pp., price not listed (hardback), ISBN 978-8-36570-506-8.

Book review by Katarzyna Stańczak-Wiślicz

Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw

This book by Barbara Klich-Kluczewska, a renowned historian working at the Institute of History of the Jagiellonian University, is a great contribution to the field of the social history of communism and one of the more important critical works on the history of private life published in Poland in recent years. Klich-Kluczewska is an author of a significant book on everyday life in Cracow under communism, Przez dziurkę od klucza: Życie prywatne w Krakowie 1945–1989 (Through the keyhole: Private life in Cracow 1945–1989),1 and a number of influential articles, among which are her studies of gendered violence and prostitution in communist Poland. In recent years, she has been dealing with the issue of domestic violence under state socialism, as well as with the history of family relations.

Her latest book emerged from her growing interest in taboo areas in communist Poland. It is focused on the social perceptions of phenomena that differed from the accepted socialist model: divorce, single motherhood, domestic violence, and abortion from 1956 to 1989. All of them are analyzed using the category of social taboo, while family as a part of larger society serves as a context for those studies. Therefore, the book presents the multiplicity of expert discourse on family, family relationships, and parenthood, as well as its impact on everyday practices of individuals. The author’s original input is her attempt to define the Polish family under state socialism. Her definition of the “Polish hybrid family model” shows how distant it was from the Soviet one, which in historical studies is often used as a universal pattern for the communist bloc.

The sources analyzed by the author cover a variety of materials, including police documents and judicial case records, official mass media discourse, women’s memoirs, letters to the editors of women’s and general interest magazines, sociological surveys, and popular culture texts. The use of a variety of sources is one of the strongest aspects of the book. In my opinion, the author’s original approach, to read popular culture writing not only as a representation or forerunner of changes but also as a specific historical actor, is especially promising. What is perhaps even more important and inspiring is the author’s approach to sociological research conducted in communist Poland. Klich-Kluczewska consequently refers to the sociological surveys and papers that represented the expert discourse of the time. She points out that they should be read as sources deeply submerged in historical reality and organized according to their own methodology and, moreover, to the specific (political) determinants of the time. At the same time, the question of whether they should be treated primarily as a function of politics remains open.

The monograph is divided into two parts: the first one is devoted to the description of categories, which are used for the analysis of subsequent problems in the second one. In a concise introduction, Klich-Kluczewska clarifies her methodological approach and points out all the specifics of the sources she decided to use. Although she stresses that the narrative of the book was “run by the sources,” this does not mean uncritical lecture. The author declares her strong belief that the sources should be given a primary role in the process of history making, but at the same time she acknowledges her own questions and doubts, which appeared during her archival and library queries.

In the first part of the book, the author investigates the changing meanings of taboo as a key anthropological category. She argues that adopting this concept made it possible for her to distinguish areas for which it is difficult to find an appropriate category and to avoid such stigmatizing notions as “pathology” or “family deviation” commonly used in communist Poland. According to Klich-Kluczewska, exploring these areas is crucial for identifying principles of dominating order, tensions, and conflicts associated with socialist modernization. Then the author outlines the main concepts of family developed within expert discourses after 1956. Her analysis of the papers written by specialists shows how they were focused on the so-called crisis of the family, and how the family was defined in terms of its usefulness to the community (which she means to the socialist state or nation).

The second, more analytical part of the book consists of four chapters. Each of them concerns different manifestations of social taboo. First, Klich-Kluczewska describes single motherhood as an example of historical continuity, which was interrupted only during the 1970s and 1980s. On the basis of expert publications and personal narratives, she argues that it was not traditionalism and conservatism but in fact the vision of socialist modernity that resulted in the tabooization of the phenomenon. In this way, she contributes a lot to the recent studies on socialist modernization. Next, the author manages to reconstruct the process of transformation from condemnation to a slow and conditional acceptance of divorce. The chapter concerning the issue of domestic violence is particularly important. Klich-Kluczewska shows how conflict between tolerance grounded in the conservative concepts of family and officially promoted condemnation resulted in the progressive stigmatization and tabooization of domestic violence. The last chapter concerns the analysis of the public debate about abortion. The author argues that it was an example of open discussion about the phenomenon, which was tabooed on religious, social, and political grounds and which at the same time was “an open secret” as a common experience for women.

What defines the originality of the author’s approach is her reflection on revolution and evolution in the history of Poland under communism. Being focused on the modernization process, Klich-Kluczewska managed to avoid generalizations about Polish society and relations between party-state authorities and the Catholic Church. Based on an impressive array of sources, she showed the clash of the concepts of modernization and conservativism, which to some extent represented one ideological front focused on family and its usefulness to society. She argues that the “transformation model” should not be applied without reflection on the phenomena described in the book, and points out a variety of factors that affected everyday life and slowed down modernization processes. Furthermore, she insists that the lack of open debate and of grassroot undertakings became a factor in reinforcing the social status quo. Thus, taboo became an appropriate category to analyze the process of negotiating new meanings and dealing with new phenomena.

To conclude, Barbara Klich-Kluczewska’s new book is exceptionally well researched and well conceptualized. Certainly, it opens further research questions to scholars who are interested in the history of private and family life under socialism as well as in gender history. I am convinced it will be of interest to a wide circle of readers: historians, anthropologists, and sociologists. Moreover, it is extraordinarily well written.


Barbara Klich-Kluczewska, Przez dziurkę od klucza: Życie prywatne w Krakowie 1945–1989 [Through the keyhole: Private life in Cracow 1945–1989] (Warsaw: TRIO, 2005).

Barbara Stelzl-Marx and Silke Satjukow, Besatzungskinder: Die Nachkommen alliierter Soldaten in österreich und Deutschland, (Occupation children: The descendants of Allied soldiers in Austria and Germany), Vienna: Böhlau, 2015, 538 pp., €35 (hardback), ISBN 978-3-20579-657-2.

Book review by Lukas Schretter

Ludwig Boltzmann-Institute for Research on Consequences of War, Graz, Austria

This collection of essays is the outcome of a 2012 Vienna conference on Besatzungskinder (Occupation children) in Austria and Germany, organized by the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on Consequences of War in Graz and the Institute for History at the University of Magdeburg. Estimates indicate that in the ten years following the end of World War II, four hundred thousand children were born to Allied soldiers and local mothers in Germany. In Austria, about thirty thousand children fathered by Allied soldiers were born out of wedlock (11). Despite this large number, for decades Besatzungskinder remained understudied and received little support from policy makers. Only in recent years have researchers in various disciplines built professional networks to deal with the subject. The Vienna conference was the first scholarly event on the subject. The book also provides ample room for Besatzungskinder themselves to express their personal experiences.

The collection has six parts and contains twenty-nine essays. After the introduction (part 1), the volume deals with Besatzungskinder divided by the Allied powers in Austria and Germany: Soviet Besatzungskinder (part 2), American and British Besatzungskinder (part 3), and French Besatzungskinder (part 4). The autobiographical texts of twelve Besatzungskinder and one child of a Besatzungskind (part 5) bear witness to the relevance and topicality of the subject. The appendix (part 6) includes maps of the occupation zones, a list of abbreviations, a bibliography, an archive directory, a register of places and names, and short biographies of the authors. Considering its scope, the volume can be regarded as the standard reference work on the topic.

In their introduction, Barbara Stelzl-Marx and Silke Satjukow—both renowned researchers on Besatzungskinder and editors of the volume—give an overview of the current state of research (11–14). Sabine Lee and Ingvill C. Mochmann link the topic of Besatzungskinder to the research field of children born of war, which not only refers to children born during the postwar period in Europe but also includes children fathered by foreign soldiers and born to local mothers in a variety of conflict and postconflict situations. Today’s knowledge base on children born of war indicates that although they are different with respect to background of conception, biological origin, history, and cultural context, many are exposed to the same kind of difficulties, such as lack of access to health facilities, education, and food. In addition, social integration and nondiscrimination prove difficult, as children born of war are often treated as enemies because of their biological background (15–38). The living conditions of Besatzungskinder in Austria and Germany, similar to those in other (post)conflict zones worldwide, have been caught in the conflicted area between integration and rejection, including concealment of identity, financial distress, and societal and familial exclusion. Referring to the outcomes of a questionnaire study in Germany, identity crisis, stigmatization/ discrimination, and adverse childhood experiences are thought to be aspects related to their long-term psychological well-being (Marie Kaiser, Svenja Eichhorn, Philipp Kuwert, and Heide Glaesmer, 39–61).

Some Besatzungskinder were born following voluntary sexual relations between local women and Allied soldiers, others as a result of rape. The line between consensual and forced sexual contacts in occupied postwar Germany and Austria was blurred. For example, the exchange of sex for goods and money often was not a voluntary decision made by women. Miriam Gebhardt (62–92) deals with the issue of rape of German women by Allied soldiers, in particular Soviets. She argues that in contrast to previous assumptions, many rape victims did not develop resilience after the experience but suffered from the long-term consequences. She also rejects the thesis that abortions by German women were racially motivated. Furthermore, Gebhardt provides evidence that women did not remain silent but spoke out about their rape experiences in postwar Germany.

The childhood experiences and living conditions of children fathered by Soviet soldiers are at the core of the essays authored by Stelzl-Marx (93–135), Satjukow (136–165), and Elke Kleinau (166–182) in part 2. In both Austria and Germany, Soviet Besatzungskinder encountered various forms of discrimination and stigmatization, amplified by the fact that their fathers belonged to the Soviet power and not to any of the Western powers. Furthermore, Soviet Besatzungskinder were largely a “fatherless” generation. By the time of their birth, even the soldiers who wanted to stay in touch had either been sent back to the Soviet Union or transferred to other locations. Marriages between Soviet soldiers and Austrian or German women—even though officially legal after 1953—for the most part remained impossible, nor were military personnel allowed to marry or remain in the West or could their foreign partners follow them to the Soviet Union. Pursuant to the view that close relations between Soviet soldiers and Germans or Austrians were ideologically repugnant, the growing East-West divide largely ruled out further contact. In Austria, also after the signing of the State Treaty in 1955, the political situation was not alleviated, while the negative attitude toward Soviet Besatzungskinder was reinforced by the onset of the Cold War.

Stelzl-Marx points out on the basis of a variety of cases and Satjukow exemplifies through an in-depth analysis of a single family history that regardless of whether Soviet Besatzungskinder were born out of rape, a love affair, or survival prostitution, many of them know little about their biological fathers. The wall of silence that often persists until today has led them to ask questions about their biological “roots,” which can be considered an act of “empowerment” (126–134). Moreover, Kleinau discusses on the basis of a single life story of a Soviet Besatzungskind that the biological background did not always pose an educational disadvantage.

Although a “fraternization ban” issued to the US-American and British Allied forces in the summer of 1945 prohibited any kind of friendliness, familiarity, or intimacy between soldiers and the local population, it was not too long before personal relationships between soldiers of the Western powers and Austrian or German women became commonplace. In part 3 of the volume, Ingrid Bauer (183–206), Karin Schmidlechner (238–258), and Satjukow (259–293) point out that most British and American fathers did not take any responsibility for their “illegitimate” children and had moved to different posts or had already returned to their homes at the time their sons or daughters were born. The British and American military administration also did not assume an obligation for these children and endeavored to keep the fathers from claims that were brought forward by German and Austrian women. As the children did not receive the same social benefits available to other children of single parents in Austria and Germany, the mothers were dependent on the financial support of their families. Similar to the children of Soviet soldiers, they experienced discrimination within their families and communities because of their biological origins and lived with the stigma of being both an “illegitimate” child and an offspring of the “enemy,” which, for example, was reflected in the pejorative term Bankerte (bastards).

Most British and American Besatzungskinder in Austria and Germany were extramarital children, but a number of love affairs between British or American soldiers and Austrian or German women led to marriages. Against this background, Eva Maltschnig (218–237) argues that Besatzungskinder were defined not by the background of their conception but by the conditions of their upbringing. Children fathered by American soldiers and born to Austrian or German mothers growing up in the United States, for example, are not to be referred to as Besatzungskinder. Austrian “war brides” met difficulties upon arrival in the United States, but they did not encounter the same discrimination as women in Austria who had a romantic relationship with an Allied soldier (236).

The struggles of Besatzungskinder fathered by black American soldiers were different, as is explained by Ingrid Bauer (183–216), Regina Fritz, Marion Krammer, Philipp Rohrbach, and Niko Wahl (207–217), as well as Heide Fehrenbach (294–320). While it was not easy for single mothers to find a German or Austrian partner or husband, the biological background of a child conceived by a black soldier caused particular hardship and discrimination. At the same time, marriages between black soldiers and Austrian or German women were hardly possible: even after the marriage ban for American soldiers was lifted in 1946, superior officers usually had to grant permission. While there was no German or nationwide American law against interracial marriage, black soldiers were often prevented from doing so. In Austria and Germany, Besatzungskinder furthermore were under guardianship of the youth welfare service. Most children of black soldiers remained with their mothers, but some were put up for adoption in the United States (214). Socially marginalized, “illegitimate” children of black soldiers in Austria and Germany were at the same time addressed in the media: Annette Brauerhoch (321–354) discusses on the basis of the film Toxi (1952) that during postwar years the topic was considered so significant that it could not be ignored by the entertainment industry.

With regard to the French zones in Austria and Germany, sexual encounters and romantic relationships between soldiers and local women were not sanctioned. Renate Huber (355–379) deals with French Besatzungskinder in Austria and illustrates the multifaceted, ambivalent nature and fragmentation of the biographies of Besatzungskinder that has been reflected in their narrated life stories. Rainer Gries (380–410) highlights the political circumstances for French Besatzungskinder: from the start, the French military government dealt with the issue. The children were regarded as French citizens, and many were “repatriated” to be put up for adoption. Most French Besatzungskinder, however, were in a similar situation as the majority of the Soviet, American, and British Besatzungskinder and remained in Austria or Germany (391).

How Besatzungskinder see themselves varies a great deal according to their personalities, the living conditions they experienced in childhood and adolescence, and how society treated them. This also becomes evident in the autobiographical texts by Emilie Romanik, Inge Schnabl, Eleonore Dupuis, Maria Silberstein, Reinhard Heninger, Michael-Alexander Lauter, Ute Baur-Timmerbrink, Lucia Ofner, Gitta Rupp, Peter Habura, Elisabeth F., and Michael Martin in part 5 of the volume. In addition, Stefan Köglberger—the grandson of an American soldier—contributed a fictional text about his family history. Some Besatzungskinder emphasize that they have become “resilient,” which means that they easily overcome problems today despite or maybe because of the difficulties they faced in their early years. By contrast, others report psychological, psychosomatic, and even physical problems, often dating from their childhood. The autobiographical texts—similar to oral history interviews and questionnaires—help to develop a better understanding of the lived experiences of Besatzungskinder. At the same time, they reinforce the need for further political, societal, and academic consideration. Peter Habura, a British Besatzungskind in Germany, searched for his biological father for decades before finding out that he had died in 1998 in the United Kingdom: “I could not ask anyone, neither my ‘parents’ nor aunt or granny. All remained silent. So I did not ask anymore. The following question however was the driving force to continue with my search: Do I live because of love between my mother and my father or was I born out of punches and blows against my mother? Or: What happened and how after all?” (473).

Whenever there are wars or armed conflicts with lengthy periods of foreign soldiers in proximity to local civilian populations, troops and civilians get in close contact with each other. This volume seeks to link individual life stories of Besatzungskinder in post–World War II Austria and Germany to not only the social and political history of West Germany, East Germany, and Austria but also that of the Soviet Union, France, United Kingdom, and United States. It compares their experiences beyond national boundaries and furthers the “Europeanization of the question” (13). Thereby, the volume brings together the current most important research results on Besatzungskinder in Austria and Germany and at the same time enhances the knowledge base of children born of war in a global perspective. For anyone working in the children born of war research field and beyond, the volume contributes to a better understanding of the living conditions of these children and warrants serious consideration concerning how they can be integrated into their communities.

Monika Talarczyk-Gubała, Wanda Jakubowska: Od nowa, (Wanda Jakubowska anew), Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Krytyki Politycznej, 2015, 355 pp., PLN 35.91 (paperback), ISBN 978-8-36468-240-7.

Book Review by Iza Desperak

University of Lodz, Poland

Wanda Jakubowska (1907–1998) was a Polish film director and screenwriter, best known for Ostatni etap (The Last Stage) (1947), the first internationally shown film about concentration camps after World War II. A prewar communist, imprisoned in Auschwitz, and the director of many other films, she was also the mentor of other filmmakers, and a teacher at the Lodz Film School. Although her career was very successful until she was rejected for political reasons, she remains completely forgotten in Poland, and so far there has been no biography of her published in Polish. That is why Monika Talarczyk-Gubała’s book (however, not a biography in its traditional meaning) is so important.

Before writing about Jakubowska and her films, Monika Talarczyk-Gubała published two books focusing on women’s issues, using the tools of both film studies and feminist methodology. One book was devoted to women’s cinema, Biały mazur: Kino kobiet w polskiej kinematografii (White mazurka: Women’s cinema in Polish cinematography) (2013); the other was a systematic study of Barbara Sass-Zdort and her films, Wszystko o Ewie: Filmy Barbary Sass a kino kobiet w drugiej połowie XX wieku (All about Eve: Barbara Sass’s films and women’s cinema in the second part of twentieth century) (2013).

In her new book, Wanda Jakubowska: Od nowa (Wanda Jakubowska anew), Talarczyk-Gubała focuses on Wanda Jakubowska, whose name is known only among experts, nearly forgotten in her own country, or misremembered through a few anecdotes, stereotypes, or legends. Jakubowska worked for Lodz’s famous film school (Filmówka), but there is no single trace of her life or work in the city. That is why a Lodz female collective, trying to make visible local herstories, chose Wanda Jakubowska (among others) in the project to commemorate women in the names of new streets in the newly created city center, especially once a thematic film passageway was proposed. At first, the Lodz City Council accepted the proposal to name one of the streets after Jakubowska. However, when it came to discussion and voting, the proposal was rejected, and the arguments against Jakubowska were partly ideological, partly ignorant. Her biggest fault was living and working under communism, and none of the disputants seemed to know her biography; probably no one even associated her with The Last Stage or any other film. The head of the city council even accused her of being a member of the Polska Partia Rabotnicza (Polish Workers’ Party), associated with the introduction of Soviet domination in postwar Poland, thus showing a lack of awareness of both Jakubowska’s ideological preferences and the political history of the prewar Left. Finally, the council replaced Wanda Jakubowska with Barbara Sass-Zdort, another heroine of Monika Talarczyk-Gubała’s writing, as “less controversial.” This discussion, taking place more than a year after the publication of Talarczyk’s book on Jakubowska, shows how invisible Wanda Jakubowska still is in the popular memory.

Wanda Jakubowska: Od nowa is the first book about Jakubowska published in Polish. International interest in this director influenced not only the wide public but even the experts. Monika Talarczyk-Gubała discovers Jakubowska anew, at the same time asking about the reasons for forgetting this filmmaker, once recognized all over the world. The book evolves and revolves around the layers of Jakubowska’s life and work, like an archaeologist unwinds the layers of bandages of an ancient mummy. And finally, we get the real, living person, instead of a mummy. As Monika Talarczyk-Gubała highlights herself, this study is not a biography. It is rather a documentation of the research, conducted in difficult conditions, and sticking together the discovered pieces like puzzles, to fill in gaps and to build a representation of Jakubowska. That is why the book is so attractive. The reader follows the steps of the researcher to discover one piece after another, as if we were in an Indiana Jones movie. Biographical gaps, concerning things, dates, people, and places we do not know, are plastered together thanks to the application of feminist, gender, and even queer studies methodology. Subtly limited quotations lead the reader to bell hooks, or Krzysztof Tomasik (a Polish researcher rediscovering literature and its writers through queer lenses), and to a wide range of gender studies strategies and tools that make the book so fascinating. An article of Hanno Loewe, free of gender analysis but included in the book, strongly contrasts with Talarczyk-Gubata’s approach and reveals the added value of her methodology. Without a gender lens, we wouldn’t get this fascinating portrayal.

Monika Talarczyk-Gubała tries to bring back the remembrance of Wanda Jakubowska and to cleanse her memory from the myths and mythologies that made her half forgotten and half misremembered. She uncovers facts like archaeologists uncover bones, carefully clears away the dust and other extras, and from a few separate puzzles builds a mosaic: the portrayal of Jakubowska. She also fills the gaps not with missing facts but with feminist methodology prompts. When we do not have a fact, let’s imagine what could have happened. Let’s look at the neighbors, colleagues, generation; let’s imagine what could have been written while we haven’t got documents—the author suggests.

That is why Wanda Jakubowska is portrayed here in the background of a wider women’s genealogy. Between the wars, she impersonated the “new woman”: economically independent, shorthaired, leading a nontraditional lifestyle. A woman who decides to become a single mother and, years later, would support her own assistant (Maria Kaniewska) when she faces a similar decision. A member of a cooperative of filmmakers and a housing cooperative, living there among other “families of choice.” A woman for whom a dress and headgear were a political declaration: a hat symbolizes entering the male-style career and abandoning traditional definitions of femininity; a scarf, also worn by both working-class women and peasants in those times, probably means solidarity with the working class and her own redefinition of the profession of a director.

So far, Jakubowska has been remembered through a series of memories showing her in a very bad light. But the opinions and anecdotes quoted as evidence of her servitude to communist propaganda are now reread and reinterpreted from a different perspective. One of the memories considers the film Robinson Warszawski (directed by Jerzy Zarzycki, released in 1950, it could have been the Polish equivalent of The Pianist [2002], if not interfered with by the censors). The propagandist tone of Robinson Warszawski made it completely different from the original plot, and Jakubowska was accused of that effect. In fact, she was not the one who decided about constant changes in its scenario (changing even the nationality of the protagonists to make a Russian the biggest hero). According to one of the crew, Wanda Jakubowska appeared on the set and changed all the director’s ideas of the shooting—and this was the source of the accusations against her. But at the same time, as Monika Talarczyk-Gubała finds, the filmmaking process was disturbed by the love affair between the director and his assistant (mentioned before), her pregnancy, and, finally, the attempted suicide of the director. So Jakubowska, deeply involved in these events and having just rescued the suicide victim-to-be, might have as well acted to save the film production, suggests Talarczyk-Gubała to the reader.

Jakubowska was also accused of the “devaluation” of the profession of the film editor, as she encouraged some women to retrain and to start in this career. In Polish film culture, where a cameraperson’s status of an artist may be compared with the status of a director, an editor was also an elite, and better paid than other, nonfilm production jobs. Talarczyk-Gubała suggests rereading this story from the perspective of women’s solidarity and feminist support offered to weaker women and also the promotion of other women; this way, a badly paid waitress from a film company canteen could make a professional career. Female solidarity would also be the motivation to support Maria Kaniewska—as an assistant and as a single mother.

Critical opinions did not consider women’s solidarity or feminism as an explanation for supporting other women, but some gossiped about possible lesbianism. Talarczyk-Gubała thoroughly analyzes all the pros and cons for that hypothesis, studies past mechanisms that could have influenced potential closeting of Jakubowska, and points out those facts that could provoke such speculations. Instead of a definite conclusion about Jakubowska’s sexuality, Talarczyk-Gubała proposes to look at this problem from the perspective suggested by bell hooks and to look at Jakubowska as somebody who just freed herself from compulsory receptivity and heterosexuality.

Jakubowska was a filmmaker strongly involved in women’s cinema, but Talarczyk-Gubała shows that her work was not viewed through this dimension for a long time. She was first considered a female director (not just a director) only after making Król Maciuś I (King Matt I), considered a children’s movie, and given the role of a female filmmaker doing what women in that job are predestined to.

Most unfair in misremembering Jakubowska are judgments about her looks. Contemporary writers describe her as a tomboy, wearing knee-high boots, heavily smoking and having a moustache. However, none of the surviving photos confirms that look. Even the photos that are published today contain a completely different image, rather of a nanny in white scarf smiling to the young audience of Król Maciuś. The author also deconstructs another homophobic legend, not only explaining the alternative significance of the short haircut but also finding other photos showing Jakubowska’s traditionally female beauty and elegance.

The last paragraphs of the book come from an interview given by Jakubowska in 1987, where she performs the role of a director devoted to her work—and fond of partying. Once again, she is shown against and across all the stereotypes. The book includes also a perceptive study of select films by Jakubowska, an extension of earlier studies by Monika Talarczyk-Gubała. The appendix includes the full filmography of Wanda Jakubowska. Let’s hope this will be an invitation for further scholarly research.

This book has been well received by the film people, academics, and critics, and was enthusiastically discovered by feminists. Still, it is a book to be read by everyone interested in herstory, as well as those looking for forgotten heritage of the Left. A unique, fascinating, and addictive biography meant to be something else, or rather something more than biography.

Vesela Tutavac and Ilse Korotin, “Wir wollen der Gerechtigkeitund Menschenliebe dienen …”: Frauenbildung und Emanzipation in der Habsburgermonarchie—der südslawische Raum und seine Wechselwirkung mit Wien, Prag und Budapest, (“We wish to serve justice and humanity …”: Women’s education and emancipation in the Habsburg Monarchy—the South Slav space and its interaction with Vienna, Prague, and Budapest), Vienna: Praesens Verlag, 2016, 380 pp., €31.10, ISBN: 978-3-70690-850-4.

Book Review by Susan Zimmermann

Central European University, Budapest

The edited volume contains fifteen contributions on activist and creative women and their endeavors and œuvre. These women, between the 1830s and the interwar period (and sometimes beyond), were engaged in one way or another with the South Slav space. The introduction to the book groups the women in three categories: those who spent (most of) their lives in the South Slav region and had an impact on its societies and politics; women who—mostly from various parts of the Habsburg Monarchy—migrated to and lived in the South Slav space; and women “with a large sphere of action and a European or international sphere of influence” (12–14).

The volume delivers on its promise to foreground interconnection across space, language, and culture within and beyond the Habsburg Monarchy. It brings together (in the German and the English language) important knowledge, most of which is presented with due reference to original, unpublished, and published sources and material.

One highlight contained in the volume is the study by Brigitte Fuchs on the campaign centered in Bohemia for “female doctors for women.” Women activists asserted that Muslim women in the occupied (from 1908 annexed) province of Bosnia and Herzegovina were in need of treatment by female doctors, and used this argument to promote the employment of women physicians in the Habsburg Monarchy. Fuchs describes the overall campaign and the development in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Her study gives detail about each of the seven women who indeed became state-employed health officers in the province, and the role of one of them, Anna Bayerová, in bringing about—a complete novelty in the monarchy—formal employment of these women and the related service law issued by the Austro-Hungarian authorities. The women physicians were to treat women of all nationalities and denominations independent from their social status. Yet there was, officially and in practice, a focus on Muslim women rooted in the vision of a gendered and denomination-specific “civilizing mission” of the Habsburg Empire in the province. The physicians themselves identified with this project to varying degrees, and some of them, depending on context, evoked the mission strategically. Fuchs repeatedly mentions Béni Kállay, the administrator of the province, as Bayeróva’s most important ally. I should add that Kállay’s wife, Countess Vilma Bethlen, must have been involved here. In an article published in 1895, Bethlen recounts that when staying in the province, she used to receive groups of Muslim women. She describes how for the occasion she used to transform the governor’s residence into a sealed-off woman-only sphere, and tells about her support for these women in the spirit of true affection, helping them to fulfill their family duties in a rational manner and bringing progress to “the civilization of the East.”1 One other remark concerns Fuchs’s explanation for the reluctance of the nonsocialist (German-) Austrian women’s movement to support the campaign of female doctors for women. While the (German-)Austrian social democratic women’s movement’s support for the campaign might indeed have been an important factor here, the competition between the Czech women’s movement, which initiated and “owned” the campaign, and the nonsocialist (German-)Austrian women’s movement also must have played a crucial role.

Complementary information on the women’s physicians can be found in Zofia Krzysztoforska-Weisswasser’s contribution to the volume. Some of these women had Polish roots, and Krzysztoforska-Weisswasser in this context reviews the history of the women’s movement in Galicia. While summarizing important information, her account is built around dated nationalist and heroizing tropes well known from some of the traditional historiography.

The well-known representative of the women’s movements of the South Slav space, Zofka Kveder, figures prominently in the volume. Matjaž Birk discusses Kveder’s literary work published in 1914, before and after the outbreak of World War I, in the Zagreb-based German-language Frauenzeitung (Women’s journal), a supplement of the Agramer tagblatt. The elaborate literary analysis argues that the articles published during the war were characterized by a “sentimental-patriotic textual imprint” (297). Tina Bohovec’s insightful study focuses on Kveder as editor and author shaping the profile of the journal Ženski svijet (Women’s world), later Jugoslavenska zena (Yugoslavian woman), published between 1917 and 1920. Ženski svijet/Jugoslavenska žena published contributions in Croatian, Slovenian, and Serbian from the very beginning (307). Bohovec discusses—with reference to the thematic focus of the book reviewed here—the tensions between “national multiplicity, Yugoslavianism and internationalism” and “biographical issues, women’s education and women’s emancipation” (303), all extensively represented in the journal. The focus is on the self-representation of the journal, its thematic composition, and the representation of women’s activism and politics, which included lively contributions by many readers.

Alenka Jensterle Doležal discusses Kveder’s networks and connections with Czech women writers and representatives of the women’s movement, and her multilingual publishing activities when she lived in Prague between 1900 and 1906 and in the years thereafter. Giving plenty of factual information and making use of extensive sources, which include large stocks of correspondence kept in many different archives, the article in a rather descriptive manner locates Kveder’s life and work within the culturally hybrid and modernist transnational culture within the Habsburg Monarchy. The contribution by Dagmar Wernitznig similarly illuminates the intramonarchy connections of one famous protagonist, the Hungarian Rosika Schwimmer. She gives a critical analysis of the “hegemonic tactics” (335) of Schwimmer with regard to the South Slav space. While Wernitznig does innovative and timely research, the article suffers from a tendency to foreground labeling over analysis (“colonizing tendencies” of the international women’s movement, Schwimmer’s “Machiavellian penchants,” etc.; 335, 338). The article only vaguely connects its different sections on Schwimmer’s relations to the South Slav women’s movement, her role in the international women’s movement, and the comparison between Schwimmer’s and Františka Plamínková’s international positions and trajectories.

Four contributions should not have been included in the given form: the text on the writer Dragojla Jarnevic based on a bachelor’s thesis; the article on Ilka Maria Ungar, which throughout uses subjectivist language not appropriate for an up-to-date volume in women’s and gender history; the article on a private commercial school in the bay of Kotor, today Montenegro, which aims to demonstrate that “the Habsburg Monarchy” was interested in women’s professional training and for this reason contributed to their emancipation (234), and mixes genres of information in an inappropriate manner; and a lengthy and well-researched contribution that lucidly describes Milena Preindlsberger-Mrazović’s full-scale involvement in and support for the Austro-Hungarian “civilizing” project in Bosnia and Herzegovina, praises its hero as a “responsible-minded publicist” who did her best according to the standards of the time (210), and presents an analysis of her orientalist writing that is not state-of-the art.

Well-researched contributions not discussed in more detail in this review concern: the biography and one key novel of Serbian writer Draga Gavrilovic, giving an illuminating analysis of the novel (Stanislava Barać); the actress and author Tilla Durieux (Ingrid Kapsamer); the Vienna years of Lydia von Wolfring, a German-Polish child protection activist around 1900 (Elisabeth Malleier); the “bilingual opus” of publications in relation to the “woman question” and the literary work “of the Croatian-Austrian author, pedagogue and scientist Camilla Lucerna,” all discussed in a somewhat basic manner (Vesela Tutavac, 53); and the Hungarian periodical Családi kör (Family circle), 1860–1880, which was of key importance in relation to women’s education and the early women’s movement nationally, and with a view to international connections, and its editor Emilía Kánya (Zsuzsanna Varga).

The volume, which brings together expertise on sources in many different languages and contains a detailed register of around four hundred names mentioned, is a treasure of information for any reader interested in the history of creative women and women’s movements in the South Slav space and the Habsburg Monarchy.


The article is contained in Albin Mrs. Gróf (Count) Csáky, ed., A Nőkérdés: A Mária Dorothea-Egylet Tíz éves fennállásának ünnepére [The woman question: On the tenth anniversary of the Maria Dorothea Association] (Budapest: Czettel és Deutsch-féle Műintézet, 1895).

Yulia Safronova, Ekaterina Yurievskaya: Roman v pismakh, (Ekaterina Yurievskaya: Epistolary novel), Saint Petersburg: Izdatel’stvo Evropeiskogo universiteta v Sankt-Peterburge, 2017, 404 pp., price not listed (hardback), ISBN 978-5-94380-237-9.

Book review by Marina Soroka

Western University, Canada

The rumor that Alexei Uchitel is filming a melodrama about the affair between the Russian heir (the future Nicholas II) and the ballerina Mathilda Kshessinska seems almost to have brought Russia to the brink of civil war in the fall of 2017. The sainted tsar’s aggressive admirers insist that the unreleased film should be banned as a sacrilege and all mention of Kshessinska erased from Russian imperial history. In this context, it seems an act of courage on the part of Yulia Safronova (European University in Saint Petersburg) to have chosen as her subject the adulterous relationship of Nicholas’s grandfather Alexander II with Princess Catherine Dolgorukova (after 1880, Princess Yurievskaya, aka “Katya” of popular fiction).

But the status of a national icon evaded Alexander II despite his violent death at the hands of revolutionaries. Today, nationalists’ icons are the two monarchs who, by historians’ consensus, caused the most damage—or did the least good—to the empire since the eighteenth century, Alexander III and his son Nicholas II. Also, academics’ views make no impact on society unless they are broadcast on the screen. So long as the public continues to watch TV serials about Katya and the emperor cut along the lines of Cinderella and her prince, the author of a scholarly monograph is safe.

Safronova’s book is an example of the works about the elite of imperial Russia that have begun to appear in Russia since the 1990s, marked by erudition, meticulous research, and a balanced, calm analysis. Safronova’s book is in a class with Sergei Firsov’s biography of Nikolai II1 and his life of Konstantin P. Pobiedonostsev.2 Firsov’s books, remarkable for their solid research and iron-clad conclusions, demonstrate how a historian in today’s Russia can take up a controversial subject—namely, Nicholas II—and, despite considerable social and cultural pressure, avoid the pitfalls of hagiography or a sentimental story.

Safronova, likewise, took up an ideologically fraught subject and instead of writing a steamy royalty romance or a paean to autocracy has provided a nuanced account of the Russian elite’s relationship with the monarchy. Her approach to her subject also recalls Ekaterina Liamina and Natalia Samover’s brilliant book Bedny Joseph,3 a biography of Count Iosif Vielgorsky. Since Vielgorsky was a young man who died in the 1830s before accomplishing anything, the traditional approach would not have worked. The authors instead used the method that French social historians have successfully applied to the lives of “humble folk” of the past to create “a … blend of biography, psychohistory and history of everyday life.”4 It is a thoughtful and penetrating portrait of an epoch viewed through the single lens of a young Russian aristocrat.

Katya (1847–1922) is remembered only because she was a mistress and briefly the morganatic wife of a Russian emperor, and Safronova uses her story as a framework for exploring much broader questions: elite women’s status and roles in imperial Russia, the Russian aristocracy’s survival tactics in a time of change, and the functioning of the autocracy.

The book consists of four parts. The first part considers Katya’s family background and the strained circumstances of the Dolgorouky family during the great reforms. It puts to rest one of the myths about Katya, that of her illustrious family: actually, Katya came from a bankrupt and disreputable lateral offshoot of the large princely clan and recalled her family life with a shudder.

The second part of the book lays out the story of the liaison. When it began, the emperor was forty-seven and Dolgorukova seventeen, barely out of the Smolny Institute. This part is based on the five thousand previously unpublished letters that the emperor and his mistress exchanged between 1866 and 1881.5 Although the letters, which provide the material for this part, almost entirely deal with their intimate life, the letters’ ritualized French language is placed in broad historical and cultural context and becomes a subject for analysis in its own right.

The third part narrates the events in the nine months between Katya and the emperor’s wedding (June 1880) and his assassination in March 1881. This includes the struggle between the Romanov family, backed by the court, and Katya. The reasons for hostility to her were various: the emperor’s children, the court, and society found it shocking and shameful that following his consort’s death Alexander made public the existence of his illegitimate family with children whose ages testified to long-term adultery. Traditionally, Russians viewed a second marriage as a concession to weakness and inability to be loyal to the memory of the first spouse. In the eyes of his contemporaries, Alexander showed a weakness so great that he could not even wait for the established period of mourning to pass before marrying his mistress. No one believed that a March-November relationship could be based on reciprocal feelings; Katya was considered a gold digger and the tsar her besotted victim. All this damaged the prestige of the monarchy.

Finally, the fourth part describes Katya’s attempts to assert her rights as the emperor’s widow and construct her own legend for posterity, and the resulting difficulties she faced in her relationship with the Romanovs in the forty years of her widowhood.

Safronova presents the arguments pro et contra in the old debate about the degree of Katya’s political influence over the emperor, explains their sources, and concludes that “Katya was not a cynical manipulator who craved the imperial crown; she was a sentimental, easily-influenced woman who found herself in a hostile environment” (289). As for the much-repeated story that Katya was one of the “liberal” inspirations of the elderly reformer tsar, Safronova’s sources indicate that the princess knew next to nothing of politics, and served as a rather ineffectual mouthpiece for her closest female companion and Prince M. T. Loris-Melikov, the tsar’s all-powerful minister in the last months of the reign.

Safronova shows sensible caution in formulating an opinion about her protagonist: “The letters do not allow us to become fully convinced of her [Katya’s] intent or her sincerity, because they cannot be juxtaposed to her correspondence with other persons” (379). Only once does she say that Katya’s personality as it emerges in her letters is unattractive, but then she suggests that it might be because the letters are full of complaints and requests for money, not very appealing subjects in themselves (379).

The resulting portrait of the tsar’s favorite does little to change the overwhelming opinion of her contemporaries: a foolish and tactless woman. One might regret that the author does not explain in more detail how Katya’s position from the age of seventeen to that of thirty-one severely limited her opportunities for maturing and becoming an individual in her own right. After she moved out of her brother’s home into the house the emperor bought for her through a confidant, she practically became an outcast. She lived in seclusion, pretending to her servants and visiting doctors that she was a widow and her children were her wards. Culturally prescribed female roles as “nurturer, moral counselor, organizer of the household, careful manager of the domestic economy, participant in social occasions”6 were closed to a kept woman living a fictitious life. On her lover’s cue she constructed herself as an “eternal child,” ignorant, petulant, insecure, and free of any responsibilities that adults normally assume. Her survival entirely depended on the emperor’s continuing sexual interest and his promise of eternal attachment, and her letters speak to her dedication to maintaining both.

Using a broad array of sources, Safronova has written a coherent, well-organized story about a Russian aristocrat in the era of decline, the imperial court, women’s upbringing and education, the notions of family life, child-rearing, and sexuality among the Russian elite. All of this provides a wealth of information for social history, gender history, and much else.


Serguei Firsov, Nikolai II: Plennik samoderzhaviia [Nikolai II: A prisoner of autocracy] (Moscow: Molodaya gvardyia, 2010).


Serguei Firsov, Konstantin Pobedonostsev: Intellektual vo vlasti [Konstantin Pobedonostsev: An intellectual in power] (Saint Petersburg: Vita Nova, 2016).


Ekaterina Liamina and Natalia Samover, Bedny Joseph: Zhizn i smert Iosifa Vielgorskogo—opyt biografii cheloveka 1830-kh godov [Poor Joseph: Life and death of Iosif Vielgorskii—an experimental biography of a man of the 1830s] (Moscow: Yazyki slavianskoi kultury, 1999).


Olga Edelman, “O priatnom i poleznom chtenii” [On pleasant and useful reading], Ruthenia 2,


Katya took them with her when she left Russia in 1882. They returned to Russia in 2001 as a gift from the Rothschild family.


Wendy Rosslyn, “Self and Place in Life-Writings by Late Eighteenth- and Early Nineteenth-Century Russian Noblewomen,” Slavonic and East European Review 88, nos. 1–2 (2010): 237–260, here 246.

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