<<   Veselova I. S.  What Am I Writing For? On Peasant Autobiographical Prose of the 20th Century

Real Stories, Imagined Realities: Fictionality and Non-Fictionality in Literary Constructs and Historical Contexts / Markku Lehtimaki, Simo Leisti and Marja Rytkonen Tampere University Press. P. 305


The article is based on autobiographies collected in the Vologda region of Russia in the framework of the project useum of Biographies. Russian Province. 20th century. The research focuses on the phenomenon of autobiographies of Russian rural and provincial residents. In the 20th century biographies of ordinary people in different forms (diaries, memoirs and articles in the local press) became a widespread discourse practice. The aim of the article is to explicate the intermediary position of those autobiographical documents between oral archaic tradition and written narrative.

First, the answer to the What for? question is answered similarly by almost all authors of private documents in order to leave the memory to descendants, to people, who will read it, to the future family generation, to society and to fix the memory about something for ones own use.

Second, the intentions of writing are discussed in relation to non-written forms of commemorative acts. The idea of maintaining social memory in general, and personally focused reminiscences in particular was not popular in Russian traditional culture. This commemoration is mostly impersonal, likewise the memory itself. There has been only one way to leave a personal memory by its materialization.

Third, writing in the 20th century became a means for ordinary people to achieve immortality. Telling about ones own life needs plot-making skills. The narrative structure of peasant autobiographies is built on an event frame. In accordance with cultural notions about the norm and its violations, separate points in the life course can be marked out and called events. Events in the texts examined may be linked in a personal story to the genre modus of heart-breaking romance, womens ritual lamentation or mens epic bragging. So we can see strong correlation between the text and life events.

The authors of provincial, mainly peasant autobiographies and diaries (which can be incorporated here into the entity of autobiographical prose) do not differ in the teleology of their written messages from urban dwellers, or indeed from people of distinction. Similar to them a peasant (or a former peasant), who writes a story of his/her life, has the purpose of perpetuating his/her own memory. The pathos of creating a monument not made by hands in ordinary people is even greater and more desperate than in celebrities.

My further arguments will be based on private documents, written by peasants, collected in the Belozersk and Vashki Districts of Vologda Region by The Propps Centre of St. Petersburg State University in 2001-2002 within the Project Museum of Biographies. Russian Province. The 20th Century [1], as well as on materials gathered by annual folklore expeditions of the Philological Faculty of St. Petersburg State University and data from my personal archive.

The earliest manuscript is the so-called Diary of Babushka (Grandmother) Marfa (Veselova 2000), kindly offered to me by Oksana Igorevna Meshcheriakova, great-grandniece of the author. The manuscript consists of two parts: the first part (38 pages) is life reminiscence of a 66-year-old native of Iaropolets Village in Volokolamsky District, while the second part (12 pages) describes her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The manuscript does not have any title and the author never mentions her own name, so I have to call the author Grandmother Marfa (Babushka Marfa) in the family tradition of O.I.Meshcheriakova. The manuscript was probably written in the 1910s before the First World War. The next manuscript (in chronological order) is The Memo Book of Dmitrii Ivanovich Lukichev of Vashki Village (Diary) dated July 27, 1920 by the Gregorian calendar [2]. Another diary was written by Nikolai Vasilevich Amosov during military operations at the Second World War battle-front in 1942-43 (it is evidently just a part of his Notebook) (Museum of Biographies 2003). The most literary text is the diary of the 21-year-old disabled veteran Dmitrii Petrovich Bespalov, which was probably begun in the autumn of 1944, immediately after the authors home-coming from the war (Museum of Biographies 2003). However, the dates on the manuscript specify September 9, 1945 as the starting date and August 20, 1946 as the end date of its writing. The majority of other available documents was written after the Second World War and also includes autobiographies composed specially for the Museum of Biographies Project in 2002.

What am I writing for?

Quotations from the texts represent explicit objectives of the authors, which are similar, despite the difference in genre indication (diary, memoirs, memo book or notebook):

September, 1958. [3]

Before starting to keep the diary, one must think about what to write down in it. I have no clear understanding what to write, either to put down what I remember from childhood or write starting from the seventh form (of secondary school). Certainly, I write for my own memory. But people who will read my diary will not understand my aim, why I am describing all that. When I take my diary and start writing, things are unfolding before my eyes, enlightening my soul, or, probably, doing the opposite. It is the time when you become a dreamer, you are a person, and, at the same time you start bringing back the past, everything nice and good comes back, together with sad things. But it cannot be like that, which is a pity. I also recollect some sadness, but people cannot live without sadness, I guess. I write my diary and at the same time I recall my play-mates, comrades, friends.

Roza Bogdanova (Museum of Biographies 2003)

The present Book shall contain all events and memoirs of family life for remembrance for me, as well as for future family generations; the book shall be kept and carefully guarded from distress and loss. I must write for my memory only things worth attention and remembering, as well as things useful both materially and morally; equally wise are moral sayings and proverbs, as they can be instructive and useful for self-perfection of myself and other, who read them. Feelings and thoughts, which are written down, shall be thoroughly checked and considered sensibly.

Memo Book of Dmitrii Ivanovich Lukichev of Vashki Village (Diary) (Museum of Biographies 2003)

Man shall leave a trace in life, whatever it will be, either a book, or his children, or a tree he planted, or a thought for the peoples benefit, or, probably the most important good deeds, which made lives of other people easier and which shall be done more often.

Andrei Ivanovich Shilov (Museum of Biographies 2003)

Philosophers and scientists in the 5th-6th Centuries of the Modern Era wrote: a man leaving a diary no matter how well or badly written but sincere gives not only the picture of its epoch to future psychologists and writers, but a true human document, the only one which can be believed. A person who writes diary or memoirs is a merit to society and has the right to acknowledgment.

Fedor Nikolaevich Migunov (Museum of Biographies 2003)

What made me describe my own life and the life of my people? Most important is to let my descendants know how we lived and how we struggled (during the War 1941-1945), and during the years we worked in agriculture, which has also been a struggle, for they say that working in agriculture is to be in the front battle-line. So I have spent my whole life at the front battle-line together with my family.

Sergei Vasilevich Aleksandrov (Museum of Biographies 2003)

I want to write of my past life

Babushka Marfa

As can be seen in the extracts above, the answer to the What for? question is answered similarly by almost all authors of private documents in order to leave the memory to descendants, to people, who will read it, to the future generation of the family, to society and to fix the memory about something for ones own use. It is noteworthy that men declare the desire to leave a memory in the public perspective of we/family/person/man, but not of me. At the same time women are ready to tell about my past life and my soul, my comrades, my eyes.

We have no personal or collective memorial declaration in classic peasant folklore. Therefore it is interesting to find out why the desire to leave a memory has blossomed in traditional peasant communities since the beginning of the 20th century. There may be two reasons: either it has been caused by people becoming literate, i.e. by acquiring technical skills for the realization of an innate wish to overcome nonexistence, or by familiarization with autobiographical strategy.

Traditional forms of commemoration

In my opinion, the idea of leaving a memory in general, and personally focused reminiscences in particular, was not particularly popular in traditional culture. If we consider funeral rituals, they have been mostly used for deliverance from grieving for the dead, for turning reminiscence into ritual commemoration. As a result of funeral and commemoration rites the dead were removed from the actually communicative group of the nearest and dearest into ritually the communicative group of ancestors or forefathers. Hence any recollections and dreams about the dead have been perceived as messages from beyond the grave, which required ritual response.

For example, during the 2003 field survey we were told about a village witch, who had recently died, and who appeared in the dreams of many villagers. This phenomenon was interpreted by the villagers as the old womans wish to get back her valenki (felt winter boots), which she wore all year round, when she was alive. She had been buried without her valenki, so this footwear should have been buried beside the grave during the next commemoration rite. Recently many tombstones and grave crosses in village cemeteries had no names on them, nor any photos of the dead. The commemoration rite of visiting the village cemetery had the purpose of service to all the dead buried at the cemetery together with ones relatives, taking the form, for example, of sprinkling the grave with rice (zerno) and saying Rest well!. This commemoration was therefore mostly impersonal, as was the memory itself.

There was only one way to leave a personal memory by its materialization. This strategy has been described by one of our authors: Man shall leave a trace in life, whatever it will be, either a book, or his children, or a tree he planted. Traditional society offers limited choice: to build a house, to plant a tree and to give birth to children. Building a house is solely mens practice (traditionally the house can be my grandfathers, my fathers, but never my mothers), so women were left with the only option to bear children. There was also a ritual magic of memorabilia sacred trees (a tree planted by a person near his birthplace) or zalomkas [4] (specially broken tree branches) for periods of long absence (army conscription or going to the war as a soldier). The rite of seeing-off the drafted privates on military service had been performed for a long time in the Vologda Region, where the most vivid and semiotically meaningful element was to make a recruits zalomka. It still persists. We saw a fresh zalomka on a house corner at Ostrov Village in Vashki District in 2002. The zalomka had been taken off in 2003 one of our informants told us that his grandson returned from military service. The following two examples illustrate this traditional form of commemoration by zalomka:

(1) Well, eh, so... when they see a boy off, the girls... they make this zalomina... I mean branches... a big branch from a birchtree...

<So a girl makes it?>

Yes, girls, they get together, all the young folk.

<Not the recruit himself?>

No, certainly not. Only girls make them, I mean, girls, not relatives, no nobody... This zalomina is big, really big... You cut the burchie, say, with an axe or knife. Then you make patches, like, cloth scraps ... nice, little patches ... not from the same cloth, mind... here, and here, one by one... then hang it out, all the patches and everything for, say, two three years, whatever... on the corner, on the front corner they nail it.

<And who nails it?>

Well, someone, it doesnt really matter, but not the boy himself, never, I mean his relatives, whoever... Other boys, why not. Friends, I guess. Maybe, friends and girls together.

<And is the boy present when they nail it?>

Oh yes. The boys here. Still here, say, when they fix it... Here we were, all of us... everyone got it on the corner... if its an apartment, right there on the corner...

<What do you need this zalomka for?>

Memory, I reckon... and honour... that he was recruited.... A real honour it was, a great honour. Say respect, for him, he did a good thing. And also memory, say ... for his parents to remember, his girl. The girls, they all got together, all the boys ... honoured he was, as a memory, a great memory.

<And was zalomina hanging for a long time?>

Till the boys back.

<So what happened when he was back?>

The boys back - off it goes. You have it fixed or take it off. The boys back, everythings fine... The boy comes back, looks around, everythings fine, the things in place, he takes it off.

<And if it is not in place?>

Oh no! No. It never happened. No zalomina was broken, or off, or whatever No way. It was a serious business, very serious [5]

A zalomina or zalomka is made by two parties: by the young conscript, who leaves, and by relatives and neighbours, who remain. The branch, selected and cut by the young man is decorated by women generally by girl-friends or his mother. The aim is to make the branch as colourful as possible with a red ribbon, torn from the girls shawl, by bright pieces of cloth, etc. [6]

(2) We made this zalomina.(...) He broke it himself, like, and girls, they put some cloth on it, colourful cloth, very bright. (...)Then fixing the zalomka on the house. The road he went, this side they fixed it, like. Or bind it with red ribbon, or the girl, she tears it from her shawl and ties it up. (...) Then fix it on the road.

<And there it remains?>

Right. My boy, they took him for military service, so we went on the tractor, to see him off () So my boy, he made this zalomka and the girls tied it up. One girl, she takes it from her shawl, as I say. Red shawl it was. (...) So the zalomka remains on the road. One year passed... then another Still on the road... Bright it was, bright and red. Then getting paler... It snows, it rains, and the zalomka still hanging out there...And then it fades off, dies, I reckon.

<And what does it mean?>

It is a memory, I suppose. Yes, certainly a memory. [7]

Women informants said that zalomkas in the woods and at road-sides were places of lamenting and bewailing the fate of those who went to the war, for fortune-telling by the condition of the zalomka. Memories about zalomkas are similar to stories about sacred trees, which indicated the fate and well-being of absent children. Decorated branches on the house become a monument in dynamics (It is a memory, I suppose. Yes, certainly a memory) to those who are away from home, the symbol of waiting, the sign of passing time. While the branch is still hanging and the ribbon has not lost its colour completely, the memory is there. The subjects of this act of commemoration are those who are left behind (those who are supposed to wait and remember the mother or girl-friends), while the object is the absent young man, who has been replaced by his substitute. The sign of womens waiting is a colourful rag, while a symbol of remembering is a knot (compare with to tie a knot for remembering). Zalomkas and sacred trees are the symbols, first, of private memory and private communication with absent persons, who are still alive, second, of memory, which is not eternal, but limited by a certain time span (the period until the textile pieces decay).

The invention of personal memory

Thus, the phenomenon of personal memory has not been inherent in Russian traditional peasant culture. The first and isolated cases of peasant diaries and memoirs known to us date back to the beginning of the 20th century. The idea of leaving a memory of oneself emerged in the peasant community partially due to the spread of literacy, partially due to the advent of photography in provincial and village life (during our field work we saw a lot of photo documents dating from the 1920s in peasant family archives). As Roland Barthes puts it in its initial stage photography, in order to make an impression, had to capture and depict something really important, but quite soon due to well-known inversion procedure it started to declare important everything it pictured. Thus, this everything has become the apex of value sophistication (everyone in our case I.V.). [8]

The process for an ordinary man to become an important person, someone with weight and meaning, was via the fact of writing about oneself. This brings us, first of all, to the figure of the author, who has chosen his personal strategy to achieve immortality, and second, to the poetics of this message (plot-making, selection of events, etc.).

Strictly speaking, the authors of the earliest peasant memoirs cannot be regarded as typical peasants. Probably they were considered alien in the traditional peasant community. Babushka Marfa wrote her life-story after 30 years of working as a maid in a Moscow brothel, being forced to this way of life because of widowhood and extreme poverty. Dmitrii Ivanovich Lukichev, though doing ordinary peasant work, was a free-lance reporter of the Russian Geographical Society. Two of the authors started to keep diaries because of their experience as soldiers after being disengaged from seasonal peasantry labours. Thus, the creation of above-mentioned autobiographical essays was caused by a certain estrangement from the authors original selves. In our archive we have only one personal document of a natural peasant. It is the collection of household books written by a village blacksmith. There is too little really personal information, but a lot of notes about money, so this example is not of peasant writing, but of peasant accounting.

Narrative basis of life-telling

The basis of narration of autobiographical prose is story-telling. Teun van Dijk has stated that stories deal with events, which are the least predictable, the least expectant and minimally trivial both for the narrator and for the reader, so they are relatively interesting [9]. The Life of Babushka Marfa starts to be worth telling from the moment of personal woe. Childhood, marriage, the birth of children the ordinary events of a proper autobiography - are omitted or mentioned as something unimportant at the very end of the story, because they follow a normal human life cycle and therefore are not interesting. The narration in the first person singular is marked by the tone of a lament, which is according to Nancy Ries [10] inherent in Russian texts written by women. The status of events from the point of view of Babushka Marfa can be granted to widowhood, fire, abandoning of children, years of being in a shameful job.

Relations between events in the text (in our case autobiographical prose) and actual events (or, to be more exact, the authors notions of such events) will be described from the point of view of two possible aspects of the term event: of its existential component (existence as reflected in events), and of its narratological component (event plus its motivation, function etc., used for the analysis of narrative forms).

The story (narration) differs from other forms of discourse by the presence of the chain of events. Most literary theorists consider the fiction narrative to be the end product of such linkage, while the process itself can be easily applied to non-fiction narrative, structured from real-life material (oral memoirs, biographies). It can be supposed that narration utilises other types of event linkage (such as plot-moving elements) and interpretation, beside a hero-centred model. For example, chronicles (biographies, annals) use the time principle approach for linking events, guide-books apply co-allocation in space, interpretations adopt cause-and-effect relations. Plotting of events includes, according to Hayden White, several sequential levels of conceptualization, such as story-line, plot and argument [11].

Such a concept of the birth of a story, although to some extent simplified, helps to tie up the narratological and existential aspects of the events mentioned above. Here we must clarify the difference between the notion of an event in life and in the text. Is there a possibility to live an event without calling it by name? There are hopes and plans, battles and ideas, but failed hopes, upset plans, decisive battles and productive ideas can be found only in retrospective stories [12]. Life is continuous, while our comprehension of life is discrete. Discontinuity is the property not of being, but of our understanding of being. Events of life and events in the text cannot exist separately. Facts of life turn into events as soon as we confer event status on them. Let us compare relations between an event in life and in the text, on the one hand, and on the other hand the dependency of event and ritual described by A.K. Baiburin: The ritual in archaic and traditional communities tries to devour the event. Thus, childbirth is only an episode in the structure of maternity rites. The ritual of childbirth comes long before the fact of childbirth (it can be found as a concealed element of the wedding ceremony, and will be completed long after actual delivery). (...) The ritual becomes an event indeed. In other words, there is no event without ritual or outside ritual. And vice versa, the event exists to a degree of its embodiment into the ritual. [13]

An event cannot be treated as such without a commissioning act, performed by tradition: it must be legalized either by rite or by text. An event exists to the level of its comprehension by the community or the individual. Events take place in the background of norms, being violations of such norms. Norm is a mental category, which may be left inexplicit in the text.

Any society has rules which have never been formalized. These rules concern morals, rites and traditions and are related to the dominating concept of good and evil, shaped by multiple repetition and executed habitually as natural human vital necessities. Rules of this type make the basis of community mentality being closely connected to everyday lifestyle. [14]

If a norm is dissolved in everyday practice, its violation becomes a cause for creating a text. The detection of cultural schemes and rules, which are structurally vital for the text, is a rewarding task, resulting in the clarification of multi-layered text structure. Very often specific events in one culture do not have such status in another culture. A drop of moisture on the icon glass is not important for an atheist, while for a believer it is definitely an event, because it is a miracle: At 3 at night of the 24th of November I was woken by a strong fragrance. At first I thought that it came from relics or from a bottle of perfume, but, when I approached the icon, I was astounded: it was covered by odoriferous myrrh! This miracle left me standing still! [15]

Let us make a short summary. In accordance with our notion about the norm (and norm-setting processes cover all conceivable parts of our life: from the colour of clothes, house architecture, state of health, behaviour, to weather) and its violations, separate points in the life course can be marked out and called events. One and the same fact can be treated as event in one culture and not be considered as such in another culture. Event comprehension closely links philosophy and outlook of the narrator and his story.

From the life event to the text event

The narrative structure of peasant autobiographies is built on an event frame. Thus the Diary of Babushka Marfa has a lamentation of self-pity and pity for her children intoned on the dominating statement of the widows honesty and decency:

God-fearing I was, when I got here (to a job as maid in a brothel I.V.) and saw it was no good. I was 36 and kept myself clear of this vice. But I lived my life soberly and never knew no husbands of other women, God kept me from lechery. I drank wine when tired before dinner or supper, but never bought no wine, drank the masters wine, not every day.

This statement is made as background to recollecting a chain of accidents , which happened to fallen girls. It has been initiated by the question of a countryman, who fell in love with one of the girls and wanted to marry her: How does Krestina Danilova behave? And I say better not touch her, they are all fallen [16]

And her friend Mania. The doctors assistant comes to the girls, smart and good he is. Everyones in love with him, but Mania beyond none. Kiss the ground he treads. What guests give to Mania she gives to him () Going to army camps to him with gifts. And he lives freely, as officers do. They say hes gone to the red-light district 5 roubles for a girl and take her whenever you like. Once he wants to marry Mania. Shes out of her mind with joy. He married her, they lived happily but not for long, no good. Hes gone again and on a spree like the good old times. Three days she waits hes not coming. On the third day he comes, shes dead and cold. Poisoned herself to death. He comes, shes in her coffin. He cries: I made you dead with my whoring.

There is no doubt in the sample for modelling such novellas it is the so-called heart-breaking romance with its typical plots of infidelity and suicide, set of characters (unfaithful partner, victim, senior advisor) and discourse between them (i.e. between tradition and modern times). Living on the margin between peasant and urban life Babushka Marfa speaks about real events via the poetics of heart-breaking romance. Compare:

In vain, you, girl, is feeling blue,

Your beau has no love left for you.

Your friend likes gambling most of all,

His drinking brings him to the wall.

Your woe will get you in the grave,

And he would never stop his rave.

(The girl does not listen to her advisor, later she dies from grief, broken heart and consumption Her unfaithful lover comes to her funeral)

The handsome young man knelt in tears

Behind the coffin of his dear,

And his pale lips implored for pardon,

Asking forgiveness from his loved one [17]

Provincial and peasant biographies written by men have a common plot about the first trousers represented in two following quotations [18]:

It was already September 3, 1933. () My future mates in the first form met me with my dad after school in the field. Uncle Stepa, is Vaska going to miss school this year? No, I go, I said. But Nastia Markovskaia is still making my trousers from my mothers black skirt. No way will I go to school in these patched and worn out trousers. On September 4, 1933, in trousers made from my mothers skirt and in a vat-died canvas shirt with my ABC book under my arm I crossed the threshold and went across the street to the first form.

V. S. Domnichev (Museum of Biographies, 2003)

The episode with trousers made from a sack has been most memorable. Before the war the clothing situation was very bad. Nothing could be bought in the shops; there was severe rationing of clothes. () Once the problem of clothes became really urgent. There was nothing to make trousers of for my brother Serezha and me. I was older than my brother and felt shame to go around in clothes with one patch on top of another.

Once Grandpa Petr gave my mother an idea, when she came to see him and told him about our problems. Look here, Shura, your sons are not going to marry tomorrow. Take a strong sack, dye it, sew trousers for the children to wear. Good strong trousers for running around, he said. Time passed and my mother recollected her grandfathers advice. She thought it would be better to keep her boys at home. She found a sack and dyed it in brown vat paint. We had a Singer sewing machine, which is still in the house. My mother liked to use it and in her spare time, in the evenings the sewing machine was working, lulling us to sleep. Mother sang her favourite song, keeping time with it. [19]

Generally the practice of altering clothes has been and still is common in households. But trousers made from sacking turned into symbols for several generations of village bridegrooms. The persistence of the theme was caused by the fact that buying trousers and other clothes in towns instead of sewing them from homespun linen in the 1920s had been a norm for village boys for more than a century. However, from the post-revolutionary period until the end of post-war reconstruction, (for more than 40 years) it was not possible to purchase trousers or cloth for young mans suit. Boys wearing altered clothes at village festivals had become a plot-making topic of many chastooshkas (short songs), and not only biographies:

If my sweetheart cheated me

I will not regret it

He has one torn suit

Made of Mommas jacket! [20]

The biographies studied give enough data to conjecture that a statistically relevant number of life-stories in the biographical discourse of the 20th century deal with the theme of the struggle for life, of fighting with constant shortages of clothes, food and housing: Survival death is the main dilemma of the post-revolutionary epoch. It is the most important criterion for evaluating other social processes. Everyone from these generations had been exposed to the experience of hunger and starvation, an unforgettable experience, imprinted in the body. [21]

Overcoming or the reflection of such critical situations is also declared by people as self-identification: But my longing for my native land, for my mother remained. Sometimes I felt so sad, I cried at nights in bed. I felt sorry for myself that I was so poor. The story of trousers made from a sack has become stereotypical and mythological for several generations of men who survived the critical experience of shame and liberation from it.

The identification of the chain of events in biographic texts proves that the biography discourse of each author is built on a perspective of certain propositions, for example:

I am a fighter who has overcome my hungry and poor childhood (stories about hard work, tired backs of women, trousers made from a sack, material comforts acquired as war trophies, etc.)

I am an honest widow, who overcame the temptations of the big wicked world for the sake of children (lamentations about extreme poverty, stories about accidents with fallen girls, etc.)

I am a fine fellow, who is worthy of good girls (love diary, the main plot of which is difficulties in choosing between a good girl and a very good girl as a future wife)

And what about myself? If after wearing out my authority in the company of pretty girls I will lead a single life, the thought of young years spent with fine girls will be my sole joy in the hours of sadness!

Thus, the declarations of the authors of diaries and biographies about their objective to leave a memory for descendants are solved by creating a monument in accordance with a pre-set model. The monument is cast in material, available to the author, and during its hardening the author becomes more and more alien to his mask.

Any personal document, regardless of its actual genre (diary, memoir, biography), is created from the point of view and in the perspective of the person who wishes to express him/herself in writing and is capable of doing so. The rhetorical protagonist of written peasant biographies embodies a ready-made image already formed by culture: of a poor mother, a conquering hero, or a gallant lover. In full compliance with this general ideological drive, peasant authors chronicle events to standardize the authors/heros behaviour. Such a list will never include facts, foreign to the very nature of such created hero and unknown to the group to whom the message is addressed (descendants, family, community). Despite the fact that the personal diaries written by peasants or former peasants are rather scarce, the concept of personal memory has been already implanted in traditional culture via single analysed images, via photo and video documentation, which have always been fashionable and prestigious in the village life style, via reading books and mass media, via documentation by governmental authorities. Some of our informants have a ready-made template of an oral bio-narration, however writing it all down is still the lot of the few, eager to perpetuate themselves in the flow of time.

  1.    The Museum of Biographies. Russian Province. The 20th Century Project (grant of the Culture programme of the Soros Foundation) took place in 2002-2003 in Belozersk and Vashki districts of the Vologda Region. It was initiated by The Propps Centre: Traditional Cultural Research with the Belozersk Region Library and the Vashki Local History Museum as partners. We declared open the Museum of Biographies competition through the local newspapers. As a result of this competition we collected more then 300 digital copies of different personal documents: diaries, memoirs, letters, official documents, pieces of handicrafts. All exhibits of the virtual museum are presented on the Museum of Biographies CD.
  2.    Lukichev D.I. Pamiatnaia kniga Dmitriia Ivanovicha Lukicheva s. Vashki (Dnevnik). 1997.
  3.    Translation of personal memoirs and recorded stories into English is made as close as possible to the original, preserving their irregularities, individual accent and other specific features.
  4.    Fortune-telling ceremony on the life of a person, leaving the place, mainly seeing-off a boy to army service - making a wreath or bunch of branches from a birch by the road and binding it with a ribbon, - if it withers, therell be trouble (Denisova 1995: 35)
  5.    Field Survey Archive, St. Petersburg State University. Record No. Vash23-16. Recorded on 22.07.2002 at Nefedovo Village of Ostrovski Estate, Vashki District of Vologda Region from Nikolai Ivanovich Alekseev (born in 1927) by A.A.Matochkin
  6.    Decorations with colourful textile pieces are specifically a womens (especially a girls) magic practice at Christmas and Trinity, wedding ceremony, etc. These red/colourful textile pieces are the marks of a blood relative connection between the bride and the groom.
  7.    Field Survey Archive, St. Petersburg State University. Record No. Vash23-12. Recorded on 12.07.2002 at Matveeva Gora Village of Ostrovski Estate, Vashki District of Vologda Region from Aleksandra Simonovna Panteleeva (born in 1938) by A.A.Matochkin.
  8.    Barthes R. Camera Lucida: Kommentarii k fotografii (Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography). M., 1997. P. 156.
  9.    Van Dijk T.A. 1989. Prejudices in Discourse. Stories about Ethnic Minorities. Van Dijk, T.A. Jazyk, poznanie, kommunikatsia (Language, Cognition and Communication). M., Progress. N.N. 20XX. P. 191.
  10.    Ries N. Russian Talk: Culture and Conversation during Perestroika. Ithaca, London. 1997.
  11.    White, H. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins UP. 1973.
  12.    Mink L. History and Fiction as Modes of Comprehension. New Literary History, 1970, 1. P. 554.
  13.    Baiburin A.K. Ritual: mezhdu biologicheskim i sotsialnym. Folklor i etnograficheskaia dejstvitelnost. (Ritual: between biological and social. Folklore and the ethnographic validity) SPb., 1992. P. 18-28.
  14.    Lebina N.B. Povsednevnaia zhizn sovetskogo goroda. Normy i anomalii 1920 i 1930 godov. Kikimora Publications. Helsinki, 1999. P. 12.
  15.    Orthodox Miracles in 20th cent. Evidence of eye-witnesses. 4. M., 1995.
  16.    It is interesting that the description of positive emotions by provincial biographers uses rhetoric images from the opposite pole of the genre scale, that is, from heart-breaking romance. Happiness and strong emotions are marked by a stable exclamation Oh, joy!:
    Oh joy! I was ready to shout for the whole of Moscow to hear my son goes to Stroganov College and I pay no money for it.
    Served in church for sexton. Put surplus (instead of correct surplice Translator) on. This joy giveth to him for all our woes in life.
    Everybody has 33 candles in bundle, standing, waiting for something heavenly, suddenly the whole church is lit by holy fire giveth to one-other, everybody cries from joy.
    There was no end to my joy. Summer break begins and I go home with my best suit in my case. I did not want to come to the farm early, so I hid in the bushes till the evening, and then went home. How much joy it was. My mother was also full of joy.
  17.    Adoneva, S., Gerasimova, N. Sovremennaia ballada i zhestokii romans (Modern Ballad and Heart-breaking Romance). SPb., 1996. . 147
  18.    Presentation Story of the First Trousers: On the Stable Motive of Provincial Autobiographical texts Written by Men was made at the Conference Masculinity In Traditional and Modern Society (Moscow, April 2003).
  19.    Konovalov V. Marking Point. True Stories. The Volna. Vashki Region Newspaper. 2000. No. 18.
  20.    My acknowledgements to S.B. Adonyeva for this example. Field Archive, St. Petersburg State University, Vash8-29. Recorded 24.07.2001. at Ukhtoma Village of Vashkinskii District (Vologodskaia Region) from Olga Iakovlevna Makarova (year of birth 1930) by E. Ivanova and E.Samoilova.
  21.    Kozlova N.N. Gorizonty povsednevnosti sovetskoi epokhi: Golosa iz khora (Horizons of Soviet Day-to-day Life: Voices from Chorus). M., 1996. P. 18.