Where The Dog Is Buried: Clues To The Ancestry Of Tsvetaeva's Canine "Devil"

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Canadian Slavonic Papers


Marina Tsvetaeva's 1934 "Chërt" (The Devil) forms a central part of the cycle of autobiographical prose she wrote in emigration. This article assembles clues to the hidden origins of the Devil she describes in prose about her grandfathers, some of it censored in pre-1990 editions of her works. Tsvetaeva's Devil is not simply metaphysical: it has the unusual appearance of a Great Dane. Though she goes on to trace its appearances in the literature and culture of her childhood, some of its physical features (eyes, nose, colour and posture) link it with other people in her life. The vivid details of the Devil suggest relationships, though peculiarly mediated ones, to members of her own family, especially her maternal grandfather, Aleksandr Danilovich Mein. The poet describes herself using Pushkin's poem "Utoplennik" to camouflage her own sense of self from her mother. Much of the rest of "The Devil" describes her recognition of the Devil in varying symbolic or even phonetic guises, tracing how the poet stayed faithful to him even after he ceased to appear visibly, how she found and read his symbols in surrounding reality—e.g., card games, toys, rituals for finding lost objects—and in unexpected, otherwise respectable, parts of society, including her own grandfather. As always, Tsvetaeva creates a story that affirms her identity as a poet and illustrates the work she had to do to achieve that identity.

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