Karolina Pavlova’s Double life

Developed by: Sibelan Forrester (sforres1@swarthmore.edu) Maintained by: David J. Birnbaum (djbpitt@gmail.com) [Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 Unported License] Last modified: 2014-05-03T21:14:26+0000

About this project


Karolina Pavlova (1807–93) is generally recognized as the best Russian woman poet of the nineteenth century, and one of the best nineteenth-century Russian writers in general. She was largely forgotten in the last decades of her life, after the political polarization of Russian discourse left little room for writers like Pavlova who were neither radical nor reactionary in their opinions. She died in emigration in Dresden. The Modernist poets of the Russian fin-de-siècle rediscovered her; she was warmly cited by poets such as Andrei Bely and Sofia Parnok, and the Symbolist maître Valery Briusov edited an edition of her collected works, with his introduction, in 1915. Since then, she has been generally recognized as what Russians call a second-rank writer: not second-class in talent, but also not one of the big names. A volume of her work, Полное собрание стихотворений [Complete collection of poems], appeared in the prestigious Soviet Библиотека поэта series in 1964.

For more information about Pavlova’s life and writing, see Barbara Heldt’s introduction to her translation of Pavlova’s Double life (cited in the bibliography below).

Pavlova’s Double life (Двойная жизнь), 1848, was warmly received by critics when it first appeared, and it is an extremely interesting work from the generic point of view: each prose chapter recalls the society tale, a genre that was equally practiced by men and women and that laid the foundations of great Russian novels like Mikhail Lermontov’s Hero of our time or Lev Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The subtitle Очерк [A sketch] helps make clear what Pavlova intended in the prose sections: a somewhat clinical presentation of the state of society in real life. But each prose chapter is followed by a poetic section that recounts the heroine’s dreams—until the dreams are cut off at the end of the last chapter. The final poetic section is spoken in the poet’s own voice.

To understand Pavlova’s project, it helps to read a tale by her near-contemporary, Evdokiia Rostopchina’s Rank and money, translated by Helena Goscilo. Rostopchina describes a love affair’s tragic ending when a young woman is not allowed to choose her own husband, but forced to marry a wealthy baron. Pavlova depicts a young woman who does choose her own husband—more or less—but whose future happiness is clearly doomed, because she was educated in a way that left her incapable of making a wise choice. (Along the same lines, it is interesting to follow Double life by reading Nadezhda Khvoshchinskaia’s novel The boarding-school girl, in which a girl with a rather defective upbringing makes a different set of choices about how she will live her grown-up life.)



A double life dates from the era before Russian novels became enormously long (in part because of the use of literature to discuss burning issues of the day, and in part because serialization in journals and modes of payment tended to encourage longer works), so the questions we ask in this project could realistically have been answered using index cards. The work’s relative brevity lets it work well as a test case for questions that might be impossible to answer using traditional methods, and any other text marked up in the same way can be interestingly compared to A double life

The initial question was: who speaks to whom in the text, and how much? The text was marked up in XML, with the following criteria:

  1. person: identifier=name; sex=m, f, or mixed (for a group); type=character, famous, indeterminate or mythological (e.g., Psyche); nationality=English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Russian or Spanish; age=old, young, mixed, or unknown.

    The person markup was used on both the names of persons and on words associated with the person: pronouns (distinguished as nominative or in oblique cases, since one suggests action and the other passivity) and common nouns (e.g., daughter).

  2. speech: addressee and speaker were marked up. Persons occurring within speech spans can thus be tracked as being spoken about, and the number of speeches or amount of speech addressed to certain characters can be tracked.

So far this site explores:

  1. how often various characters occur, and in which chapters
  2. how often various characters speak, period
  3. how often various characters speak and are spoken of

We also plan to explore:

  1. how often various characters speak to one another: where are the discursive links among the characters in the work
  2. which characters appear more in oblique cases and which more in the nominative


Huge thanks to David J. Birnbaum and Eric Gratta for their help with developing this page! Discussing what I wanted to do has also helped me figure out other ideas for working with the text.

Sibelan Forrester, March 17, 2013.