Women in Russian novels come in three types: notorious women, saintly women, and society women. [...]
The saintly woman remains true to God (or Socialism) and retains her native Russian purity even though she has been raped as a child, frequently beaten, forced to work as a prostitute, and tended children dying of heartrending illnesses. The last characteristic, reflects the influence of Dickens on Russian literature. No wise parent would ever allow a saintly woman to baby-sit unless the child is insured. According to the Society for the Study of the Russian Novel, the most common name for a saintly woman is Sonia (or Wisdom — 42 percent), with Vera (Faith — 19 percent) and Nadezhda (Hope — 9 percent) a distant second and third. [*]
Saintly women like to clasp their hands in horror or sympathy and stalk men as their personified conscience; the man turns, and there are the clasped hands and the look of infinite sympathy and suffering. If he stops to talk with the saintly woman, she will read the Gospel to him. in one Dostoevsky novel there is a whole chapter of quotations from the Bible, beginning with "And I saw the children of Bebob numbering six thousand four hundred and twenty-seven" and ending with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The last is a must, if one is going to invoke the horse theme in Russian literature. At last the stalked hero, out of sheer desperation, turns himself into the police with the hope of being sent to Siberia, but when he arrives there, whom does he see with her hands clasped? From saints there is no escape.
* Consider the frequently cited passage from the notebooks to Crime and Punishment
: "N.B. N.B. N.B! Name the heroine something meaningful. If nothing better comes up, make it Sonia." The passage continues: "N.B. N.B. N.B. N.B. Give her family a last name suggesting either excessive sweetness — Sladkov? Medov? — or else their capacity to suffer — Muchennikov? Slezov? N.B. N.B. N.B. Better make it amusing, that will convey poignancy. Derive it from jam or sugar or marmalade or something. N.B. N.B. N.B. N.B. N.B.!!!!!!! [...]"( Collapse )