This study examines how 19th-century Russian literary tradition is manifested in L. Ulitskaya’s short story Sonechka; a tradition which poses questions in the field of the philosophy of artistic creation through the portrayal of painters and their paintings. L. Ulitskaya’s short story does not directly evoke this 19th-century tradition; it is transmitted into the textual world of Sonechka by a 20th-century novel, V. Nabokov’s Camera Obscura. The revelation of the intertextual connection between the two works sheds light on the connection between Ulitskaya’s short story and the tradition cited above.
The heroine of L. Ulitskaya’s Sonechka is reading a play by Schiller. The work, which seems to be entirely unmotivated on the level of the plot, proves to be an exceptionally important code with regard to the poetics and esthetics of Ulitskaya’s short story. This paper examines how the Russian author revives Schiller’s game theory and how the short story itself can be interpreted on the basis of esthetic game theories.
In her interviews and essays, Ulitskaya has often alluded to the great effect that Pasternak’s poetry, and especially Doctor Zhivago, has had on her. In one of the episodes of her novel The Big Green Tent, she describes a first encounter with Pasternak’s novel; the teacher of literature who plays a decisive role in the lives of the main characters reads a manuscript copy of the novel and describes it as a worthy continuation of 19th-century Russian prose.
The parallels between the novels The Big Green Tent and Doctor Zhivago have al- ready been the subject of scholarly attention but the connection between Jacob’s Ladder and the Pasternak novel has not been studied so far. In this study, I examine this connec- tion: on the one hand, at the level of macrostructures, the chronotope, the patterns of the heroes’ fates and the principal thematic elements, and on the other hand, at the level of cer- tain microstructures.
The latter are linked to the present-day plot of Ulitskaya’s novel and, more specifi- cally, Nora’s life. Nora reads the correspondence and notes that her grandfather left for her as well as the KGB documents about Yakov Osetsky towards the end of her life (and the plot itself). As a result of this, she wishes to write the novel that her grandfather Yakov could not due to the historical situation.
The process of Nora’s confrontation with the past and her becoming a writer are coded in Ulitskaya’s text by two of the poems of the Zhivago cycle Winter Night and August and also in the related episodes of Pasternak’s novel. All of these have biographical relevance and present creation as a fundamental element of life, which is closely linked to love and death as well as metaphysical experience. The symbolic parallel of this in Zhivago’s August is the transfiguration of Jesus and “the light without a flame” that blinds the disciples. This symbolism appears in Jacob’s Ladder on two levels: first, in the stage set that Nora creates for King Lear, and second, as a concomitant of her confrontation with the past and her becoming a writer.
It is in this way that the fundamental elements of Pasternak’s life and poetry play a crucial role at the level of microstructures: they provide the context and symbolism of the central question of Ulitskaya’s novel, the nature of “the essence” of the human.