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  Philologica 8 (2003/2005)  
   
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Manfred SCHRUBA

“THE MAIDEN’S PLAYTHING” DRAMATURGY
AND THE FRENCH EROTIC THEATRE
OF THE FIRST HALF OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

 
 
 



 

Summary

Many of the obscene-erotic works collected in The Maiden’s Plaything were influenced by French erotic literature. As represented by the burlesque tragedies Ebixud and Durnosov and Farnos, Barkovian dramaturgy, too, lies squarely within the mainstream of the Western-European tradition. It seems likely that both these works were created in the early 1750s because they parody not only the generic conventions of the tragedy, but also the individual characteristics of Sumarokov and Lomonosov’s early attempts at dramaturgy.

Relying on this dating, the author has limited the corpus of comparative materials to works of French erotic dramaturgy published before the middle of the eighteenth century. Altogether, eleven French erotic plays between 1731 and 1750 were selected, described, and analyzed.

From this corpus, two obscene-erotic tragedies of the 1740s were singled out. The two plays closest to the Barkovian plays in terms of their plot, as well as their generic and stylistic characteristics, are La Nouvelle Messaline (written by Charles-François Racot de Grandval) and Vasta, reine de Bordélie (written probably by Alexis Piron).

Besides their parodic nature, the similarities between these texts include: compositional elements, the system of conventional personages, the structure of dramatic conflict, and the use of obscene words, as well as particular devices, situations and motifs (impotence as a motivating plot factor, fear of the excessively large genitalia of a sexual partner, etc.). Further, not only the presence, but also the absence of some elements (e. g. sex acts on stage, which would have been entirely in accordance with the conventions of pornographic dramaturgy) is highly significant.

Of the devices which align the Barkovian plays with Vasta, reine de Bordélie, the most striking are the speaking-names of the characters. These names are composites formed from obscene expressions. If one also takes into account the commonality of significant motifs, one might postulate with a degree of certainty that the author(s) of the Russian obscene tragedies were familiar primarily with Vasta, reine de Bordélie.

Aside from the issue of the direct influence of French erotic theatre on Barkovian plays, comparative analysis makes it clear that the generic, plot, formal, and stylistic range of Russian obscene-pornographic dramaturgy is quite narrow in comparison to its French analogue. As has been shown in the author’s preceding articles, this “narrowing” is typical of the other genres of Barkoviana as well.

The limited range of its stylistic registers makes Barkoviana rather monotonous reading for today’s reader. However, it must not be forgotten that this monotony, evidently, is the result of a conscious choice. The persistent rejection of the thematic and formal-stylistic diversity of French erotic literature, at the very least, is indicative of the Russian authors’ desire to achieve homogeneity, as well as the unique predictability of the predilections of both the authors and the readers of Barkoviana.

 



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