Colleen Lucey, “The Portrayal of Prostitutes and Courtesans in Russian 19th-Century Periodicals”

Colleen Lucey (PhD Candidate, Slavic Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

“The Portrayal of Prostitutes and Courtesans in Russian 19th-Century Periodicals”

Russian caricature of the mid-nineteenth century was a lucrative art. Cheap to make and affordable to purchase, the many humorous broadsheet publications that circulated from the 1860s to the 1880s featured small-scale graphic satires that appealed to a wide range consumers of art.[1] The popularity of two weekly periodicals, Iskra (The Spark) published between 1859 and 1873, and Budil’nik (The Alarm clock) published between 1866 and 1917, provide “important historical evidence of the significance of the art world in urban cultural life.”[2] Of particular interest is how these periodicals contributed to and influenced Russian perceptions of urban “types”—the bureaucrat, street urchin, and, most importantly for this study, the prostitute and courtesan.

In the mid-nineteenth century satire was a means through which illustrators could depict commercial sex. This presentation sets out to answer several questions regarding how Russian periodicals helped formulate perceptions of public women: How did typological print-books by artists like Paul Gavarni influence Russian renditions of courtesans? To what degree did the periodicals Iskra and Budil’nik draw upon contemporary regulation in their depictions? What insights can be drawn about the paratext created by these periodicals?

My analysis of images is informed by scholarship on the commodification of women in print and visual culture. This presentation will incorporate elements of feminist critique to show how Russian illustrators from the 1860s to 1880s utilize the periodical presses to construct ways of seeing the prostitute’s body through the lens of satire and performance.

[1] Margaret Samu, “Making a Case for Realism: The Female Nude in Russian Satirical Images of the 1860s” in From Realism to the Silver Age: New Studies in Russian Artistic Culture, ed. Rosalind Blakesley and Margaret Samu (Dekalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2014), 48.

[2] Carol Adlam, “The Frisky Pencil: Aesthetic Vision in Russian Graphic Satire of the Period of the Great Reforms,” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Autumn 2004). <http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/index.php/autumn04/297-the-qfrisky-pencilq-aesthetic-vision-in-russian-graphic-satire-of-the-period-of-the-great-reforms> [accessed Jan 2015].

 

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