he folk tales of a nation give one a good idea of its thinking, or better, its outlook? In a Russian tale, a girl is walking in her garden. A handsome young man passing by on his horse, sees her, lifts her on to his horse and gallops away. She does not ask him who he is and where is he taking her. In almost all Russian folk tales, the women are similarly passive.
I asked a Russian lady, why was it so? She did not, at first, seem to understand what was bothering me. Then she replied something to the effect that the girl liked the stranger, well it was something in the nature of love at first sight. That reminded me of the French saying:
Quand-on commence avec coup de foudre,
On finit avec coup de pied.
(When one begins with a thunderbolt, meaning love at first sight, one ends with a kick.) Or is that too cynical?
Of course, folk tales belong to the pre-modern age but are from the period when agriculture had not only become stable, but had also progressed enough to generate an exploiting class of landowners.
There is no belle au bois dormant (the sleeping beauty) from the hunting-gathering society. In the latter, there was no surplus. So, if anyone slept that long, he or she would be left to die.
It is, therefore, plausible that the Russian folk tales originated in the period when the Russian State had been consolidated and the landowning class had its estates covering the whole fertile surface of the country.
The landowners families lived there comfortably with a lot of serfs and, later, servants. But there was extreme loneliness. Even calling on neighbouring landowners was difficult because of distances.
It was specially lonely for girls. Boys and girls both went to the cities for education. However, the boys, after graduating, went to military or civilian jobs, while the girls returned to the country houses to wait for marriage. They, thus, tended to marry any eligible bachelor, who came along. For example, Chekhovs Yulia Sergeyevna married Panaurov, whom she did not like, only to be able to get out of the boring little town where she lived. Alexandr Pushkins Tatiana herself wrote a letter to Evgeny, who was visiting a neighbouring estate and often called on her family, proposing marriage. The latter explained to her that he was not contemplating marrying anyone.
These two instances, reflecting the extreme frustration of young women in the country estates, are, perhaps, reflected in the readiness of the heroines of the Russian folk tales to go with any stranger prepared to take them along.
Their longings, tempered by the fear that they may be left out, are well expressed in Pushkins poem titled What means my name to you?
What's in my name?......Long since forgot,
Erased by new, tempestuous passion,
Of tenderness 'twill leave you not
The lingering and sweet impression.
I may add here a sequel to Tatianas story. Later, she married an old man and moved to a city, where she became a distinguished figure of the haute socit. Here Evgeny ran into her and wanted to have an affair with her. But she refused to upset an old mans tranquil life.