Disenchanted with their own society, they were predisposed to find the Soviet regime to their liking and, furthermore, were fearful that if they returned with negative reports they would be labelled reactionaries The effect of such references is potentially reassuring — the Soviet Union is certainly different, but it is different in the same way that Russia has always been different. Whilst there may be political rupture, there is cultural continuity. Gender also functions as a cultural mediator, both in the production and the reception of texts, and in the experience of travel. Clearly, travel is not part of the stereotype of conventional femininity, and inter-war women travel writers must have known themselves to be exceptional.
However, Looking for an affair with a Union lady the case of the women who travelled to the USSR, this exceptionality was cloaked by class: they were either financially independent intellectuals for whom travel was already a habit, or they were workers delegates whose presence in Soviet Russia was justified by their proletarian identity and communist commitment. Factors other than gender must then be taken into. However, it appears that female intellectuals in the s were not explicitly prevented from travelling to the USSR because of their gender.
They travelled in mixed groups which included other single Looking for an affair with a Union lady as well as couples. Charlotte Haldane says that she was one of only five British journalists in Russia in the Autumn ofand the only woman, and had to fight gender prejudice to get the job Russian Newsreel 49; Truth Will Out With the exception of Curie, who was very aware of her gender, the writers generally report only passing comment as regards their identity as female travellers.
They seem not to have been prevented from going where they chose. This is certainly true of Mitchison, Haldane and Mannin. Writers often comment favourably on the progress in female emancipation in the USSR, compared with the situation in France and Britain, even if they admit that absolute equality has not yet been achieved. In her novel We Have Been WarnedMitchison describes an abortion being performed, which was one of the reasons why she found it difficult to secure a publisher for the work You May Well Ask While women writers clearly do relate such visits to their own experiences and interests, their texts do not suggest that they visited these institutions to the exclusion of others, such as farms, factories, the Moscow Metro, the Dnieper dam, theatres, museums, art galleries, or that men were not also welcome there.
Mazuy interprets this allocation of gendered roles as a means of erasing or modifying the actual experience of the visitor in order to ensure that the requisite message was conveyed:. Their ensuing texts were not subject to the requirement that personal impressions should be suppressed in favour of ideology, because they were travelling independently and were not therefore required to write to order on their return.
Thus her personal experience was more susceptible to manipulation than that of the intellectuals, and its manipulation by the Soviet authorities and of course by the PCF is more visible. The European left, equally, was predisposed to read it as such. Thus to display reforms and institutions focused on female difference was easily legible to the inter-war woman traveller in terms of equality.
Writers chose reportagetravel literature or fiction according to the purpose of the visit and, more importantly, the purpose of the resulting narrative. In works of reportage on the USSR, a first person narrator discusses the political and social changes brought about by the regime in terms of her personal experience.
The texts are chronological, based on notes taken at the time, sometimes partly written during the visit or the journey home, and often amplified later by references to works of history, political analysis or to other works of reportage. They begin with an of the journey, and mention any specific textual preparation or awareness of Russia on the part of the author. There is some explanation of why the author chose to go, and of her political commitments, or absence thereof.
Authors of such narratives followed broadly the same itinerary, defined by Intourist or VOKS — Leningrad, Moscow and surrounding areas, and also sometimes the Ukraine, including Kiev and the Dnieper dam. For historians, this has tended to call Looking for an affair with a Union lady question their historiographical value, as Brigitte Studer points out.
However, as she goes on to say, more recent critics have focused instead on their cultural value, that is, they have asked why certain authors undertook the journey, what was the interest of their personal experience, and what possibilities were open to them as regards the making-into-discourse of their experiences and the reception of their texts On the one hand, they assert the value of their own active curiosity, which is presented as a route to truth. On the other hand, the writers acknowledge the provisional and superficial nature of their own conclusions.
Though in one sense they are formulaic, these works of reportage are also very clearly — and self-reflexively — about the traveller herself and about her culture. Both women had been to Russia before, and both travel to Samarkand out of a desire to go further.
In these texts then, the journey is not primarily to Soviet Russia — although both do see and comment on the functioning of the regime in the larger urban centres. The intrinsic interest of this journey is eternal and not only to do with current ideological change.
Mannin and Maillart go to see a country — its geography, its history and its traditions — rather than a regime. Both Mannin and Maillart strive to render the otherness of Eastern, or Asian, Russia by delighting in its radical difference from the West, and indeed from Moscow and its environs.
Maillart is an adventurer: her book is about mountains, deserts, and rivers, about a hostile natural environment which small populations have learned to inhabit. She thrives on physical danger, and is happy spending seven hours of solitary exploration on top of a glacier, on skis She is profoundly attracted by the Oriental nomadic lifestyle Mannin is much less attracted by geographical otherness and hostile landscapes, but rather is fascinated by radical cultural otherness.
Her interest in the Orient focuses on the golden domes of Samarkand, on the blue tiles of the Registan, on the turbans and the bazars. Mannin however will never resemble a Kazak. She tends to domesticate otherness, likening the Eastern rural villages to Irish ones. Here she can embrace normality by going to the ballet and throwing a dinner party ! Writers who travelled less extensively certainly do also represent Russia as not-Europe and as both Asian and Oriental.
However, the journeys undertaken by Mannin and Maillart take them right into Asia, to the places where Soviet control is weakest. Both texts depict the relationship of the Soviet power to the Asian regions as one of coloniser to colonised.
The result is that Soviet otherness appears as much less radically different from the West than the less Sovietised parts of the country. These texts thus implicitly question the whole Soviet project from quite a different perspective.
Instead of asking whether the Soviet regime is acceptable in theory or working in practice, they suggest that the sheer diversity and size of the country might be the deciding factor. Their interrogation of the Soviet project is cultural and geographical, rather than ideological, though it is still clearly political.
To do this, Mitchison goes beyond the confines of realism. The novel describes the life story of Dione and her husband, Tom, and their extended family, their involvement in Labour politics in the fictional Midlands towns of Sallington and Marshbrook Bridge, their life at the family home in Scotland, and their life in Oxford where Tom is a don. The utopianism of this textual interlude derives largely from the representation of Oksana, a Russian woman the couple befriends, with whom Tom enjoys a sexual liaison in the idyllic rural setting of the Crimea. The USSR thus represents not only political progress, but also the sexual freedom which underpins a progressive marriage free from bourgeois norms of fidelity.
God, I like this place. If only he could be happy and innocent like this always, stripped and new-born. We shall not let this — personal thing — disturb us afterwards.
We will be working together for the same thing, I in my country, you in yours. We will always be together in that way.
How many relationships have a big age gap?
He too resolves his sexual hang-ups in Russia and finds a Russian worker to marry. His letters to Dione present an idealised view of collectivised industry in Kharkov which contrasts sharply with his experiences of unemployment at home ; Dione is acutely aware of her conflictual identity as a wealthy and culturally privileged middle-class socialist who desires social justice but cannot relish the loss of material comfort this would entail for her personally and, more importantly, for her children. Dione imagines that her sons have been victims of counter-revolutionary reprisals, and that she is led off to witness the executions of Tom and other Sallington Labour friends.
This fantasised ending problematises the whole notion of the desirability of a socialist revolution of any sort in England, which has been the main political theme of the novel. By sidestepping realism, Mitchison is able to articulate a radical contradiction within her own political thought, to which she simply has no answer, not even a provisional one — even though she Looking for an affair with a Union lady realises that in the contemporary political environment, an answer must be found.
This sort of radical political agnosticism, which verges on political despair, had no place in inter-war reportage or in travel literature. It could only find expression in fiction.
There appears to be a close relationship between the willingness, or ability, of an author to express doubt about their personal commitment, and their willingness, or ability, to write fiction. It is not a question of a positive choice in favour of a particular genre, but rather a negative choice against fiction on the part of an intellectual who was ly a writer of fiction.
Such writers tend to portray this choice against fiction as beyond their conscious control, as an inability to write fiction, and as a process by which politics takes over from fiction at a particular period in their lives. It was interesting to note, as I now looked back on it all, that during the entire eight years of my anti-Fascist activities, my creative impulse had been anaesthetised, sublimated in the excitements into which I had plunged — political battles, constant changes of scene, travel, meetings, speeches, and encounters with hundreds of strange new human beings.
Haldane, leading light of British intellectual communism.
Since both had a ificant public role as intellectual friends of communism in their national context, neither was in a position to express doubt without risking a complete renunciation of this role. Did they fear an inevitable link between fiction and polysemy that might betray their protestations of certainty in other contexts? Did they fear the tendency of fiction to escape interpretive control?
Menu: top buttons
For whilst Russian Newsreel does not express conversion, Haldane later constructed her experience of the USSR as a negative conversion story. As we have seen, for a British communist writer to write against the Soviet Union in would not have been straightforward. But inin Truth Will OutHaldane stated repeatedly and clearly that she was convinced by communism when she set off for the USSR, and had decided to leave the party by the time she came home.
According to Mazuy, all apparent positive conversions were in fact prepared in advance and were the result of a deliberate mythologisation of visit-as-conversion for propaganda purposes, whilst all negative conversions Looking for an affair with a Union lady from pre-existing doubts. Nonetheless, both writers mythologised their visits as negative conversions, and both avoided fiction until they had publicly distanced themselves from their earlier commitment. Both writers depicted the absence of freedom as detrimental to creativity in their conversion narratives:. But we can ask textual questions: what were the conditions of possibility for expressing a conversion in a text?
How did those conditions of possibility — or impossibility — condition genre choices made by writers? Haldane judged to be an impossible moment to create a high-profile negative conversion story, while Gide believed to be an appropriate moment to express his doubts, despite advice to the contrary, given the political situation in Spain Sheridan And until the moment was deemed to be ripe for doubt, for both writers, fiction was impossible.