History of the literary cultures of East-Central Europe

History of the literary cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and disjunctures in the 19th and 20th centuries. Ed. by Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer. Volume 4: Types and stereotypes. (Comparative history of literatures in European languages 25.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. xi, 714. ISBN 9789027234582. $297 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ioana-Rucsandra Dascalu, University of Craiova

The four volumes of the History of thelLiterary cultures of East-Central Europe reflect the current tendency in sociohumanistic sciences to highlight countries of the communist bloc. The literatures of these countries originate in terror, suffering, and humility. The fourth volume, and the last in the series, structures the nineteenth and twentieth centuries according to several representative notions, including national poets, the image of family, female identity, the figure of the outlaw, sources of trauma, and examples of mediation.

In the preface, the editors define East-Central Europe as a compromise term, a buffer-zone between the German territories to the west and Russia to the east, an area including the Baltic countries, the South Slavic territories, and Albania (4). The creation of each of these peoples, their artistic expressivity outbursting from the wretched fatality of their destiny, is best characterized by the terms brilliance and tragedy (1).

The national poets in this volume were chosen because their literary contributions provide epic verse narratives as emblems of their nations (12).  . Poland’s national poet is Adam Mickiewicz, with his wish for political liberation and moral regeneration of the people. Sándor Petöfi is the Hungarian national poet, while Karel Hynek Mácha, the author of the Máj verse narrative, is the Czech national poet. France Prešeren is the Slovene national emancipation leader. Petar II Petrović Nejgoš, the ruler of Montenegro, used historic narrative in order to pacify his people. Hristo Botev, the Bulgarian national poet, remains an inseparable part of Bulgarian history, literature, and even geography (117). Mihai Eminescu is an important Romanian poet, and Hayyim Nahman Bialik is considered the most important Hebrew poet.

The chapter ‘Figurations of the family’ contains metaphors of a vision of the country as a close relative. Several subthemes are taken up, such as wife abuse and family violence in Estonian literature, representations of the motherland, the Party Father in Bulgarian literature, and the body of the Lithuanian nation.

Another chapter depicts the importance of women in the literary canon. In the succession of generations in Romanian literature, from Mihai Eminescu’s ‘muses’ to present-day authors, one finds an attempt at redemption by way of the woman’s lyrical voice. In Latvian literature, the editors include Aspazja and Anna Brigadere as examples. Another section focuses on women’s bodies in Croatian theatre and on the feminist dystopias of the Slovenian writer Berta Bojetu-Boeta.

The next section, ‘Figures of the other’, offers insight into the idea of tolerance towards the gypsies and also discusses the Vlad Tepes and Dracula myth in Romania. In the same vein, the editors sketch a figure of the outlaw (regionally known as haiduk) in East-Central Europe. In the twentieth century, the Holocaust, World War II, and totalitarian dictatorships (e.g. the Soviet gulags) caused trauma to manypopulations. . With the term ‘mediation’ the editors want to show international cooperation for stability and inter-ethnic relationships, involving bilingualism and cultural exchanges. The book’s epilogue accounts for the movement of liberation and emancipation of East-Central European literatures after the 1989 revolutions, including reintegration in the circuit of the free Western literature tradition.

Overall, the fourth volume in this collection is a work about writing literary history by integrating literature with political and social events of this region that is very rich in tradition and artistic imagery.