The defenders of the moral purity of Soviet society have a new bone to pick with younger Russian writers. During the past year or so they have introduced in popular Soviet fiction oversexed women and discussed their anatomy more explicitly than ever before, in a trend that threatens to take the Soviet reader "on the path of sin," in the words of one critic.
Consider, for example, the story about two young women published in the journal Moskva. Nina, who is single, takes a new lover each week from among a group of about 20 young villagers given to seemingly uninterrupted drinking. The other woman, Lena, is married but has an affair with a visitor to their remote Siberian collective farm.
In the midst of drunkenness and debauchery, the narrative goes into considerable details about Lena's "shameless beauty" as she stands naked before her lover. Meanwhile, the collective farm practically collapses.
Only one person in Ivan Sbitnev's story "Hunters" is interested in the farm. He is an inspector from the regional Communist Party headquarters who is at a loss to figure out what is going on in the village where, in the end, things go from bad to worse.
Another story in the journal Neva is set in a provincial town where an aging widower arriving from Moscow has a one-night affair with a 21-year-old woman, Nina. But Nina loves another man. The widower eventually returns home heartbroken, but not before the narrative places him outside Nina's window where he covertly watches her undress.
This may not seem a matter of great significance to a Western reader, who can pick up books by Harold Robbins, Erika Jong or Judith Krantz in a neighborhood drugstore.
But in a country known for its prudishness and ambitions to create a new Soviet man, semi-explicit description of eroticism is a new thing.
Traditionally, Soviet fiction has been imbued with the sense of party-mindedness and moral uplift. The object of a hero's infatuation is a woman in a neighboring collective farm. The general theme is one of boy-gets-girl--but only after overfulfilling work norms. Promiscuity does not exist. The system promises love as reward for solid work.
The traditional approach is generally a rule in the main literary journals such as Novi Mir, Oktyabr and Nas Sovremenik.
But smaller, provincial literary journals have begun to give their readers a somewhat different diet. The story "Hunters," for instance, reveals the sense of despair in the village, with no element of moral uplift. About a dozen other small journals in the course of the last year also have begun to give their readers a close look at the female body, with erotic thoughts pushing party-mindedness into the background.
The journal Zvezda, for instance, printed a story in which the author places the heroine naked in front of a mirror to analyze her physical beauty. The Journal Don has a middle-aged village teacher secretly observing a 10th-grader as she undresses to take a dip in a local river.
A young, aggressive woman named Olga does a striptease in the pages of the journal Volga in front of a group of her male and female friends. With her panties finally off, she defiantly cries, "Let's all take everything off, everything. There's nothing to be ashamed of."
In the magazine Ural, a character named Chuvilin is about to make love to his girlfriend: "His heart was beating madly. There was his Vera, natural, hot, accessible, his sweet Vera. She took off her dress, then unhooked her bra. Two ripe breasts filled with juices of life were bared before his dazed eyes. Vera was wearing only her shoes. Chuvilin reached with his hands . . . . "
Then there is almost a heretical note in a fictionalized account about the 17th-century peasant rebel Ivan Bolotnikov, published in the journal Volga. It portrays the man regarded as a major precursor of the Bolsheviks as having forgotten about his revolt against the czar while he succumbed to a buxom temptress in a scene of passion that matched Chuvilin's.
The appearances of naked Olgas, Ninas, Veras and Lenas on the pages of various magazines in the course of the past year has been criticized as a new, negative trend in Soviet fiction.
The authoritative weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta focused its criticism exclusively on "it," a reference to sex descriptions. Critic Sergei Chuprinin studiously avoided the mention of the word sex. He did not deal with the fact that the enormous volume of popular fiction is also a source of information about changing social mores and attitudes.
What younger writers have done with their recent writing constitutes "a peak of literary licentiousness," the critic said. "There are clear suspicions that the scenes of intimate character in contemporary prose will have a negative influence on public morals and push gullible readers on to the path of sin."