Wayward Women: Deviant Female Sexuality in Russian and Yiddish Literatures, 1870-1930
Alexander Kuprin’s novel The Pit, published in the literary almanac Zemlya(1909-1915), centers on the Jewish madam Anna Markovna’sbrothel in an unspecified city in Imperial Russia. After a fight breaks out in the brothel, one of the prostitutes locks herself in her room and vows that she “will infect them all.” This prostitute, whose real name (the Jewish sounding Susanna Raitzina) we only learn near the end of the novel, has been eluding the weekly medical checks and has been knowingly exposing her clients to syphilis as a perverse form of revenge. The Pit was one of many texts related to human sexuality at the beginning of the twentieth century, and it reflects the link that was forged in public discourse at that time between the Jewish population and deviant sexuality in Russia and Eastern Europe. Broadly speaking, the literary treatment of sexuality from this period in both Russian and Yiddish expresses anxiety surrounding the rapid and dramatic changes wrought on society by modernization, especially the destabilization of previously held boundaries of class and family. Female prostitutes figured prominently in texts from this period and became a kind of shorthand for representing deviant female sexuality, which threatened the traditional organization of family life and patriarchal control over women.
(Excerpt from LeiAnna's proposal)