Featured Review: Literary Pairs in Comparative Readings Across National and Cultural Divides

Today’s featured review is reprinted with thanks to VTU Review: Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In it Vakrilen Kilyovski details the strengths of Yarmila Nikolova Daskalova’s monograph Literary Pairs in Comparative Readings Across National and Cultural Divides (2018), a volume which offers an original and insightful reading of the literary text as a powerful means of both representing and shaping the inherent dialogism of different cultures.

You can read the review below:

“Even in the field of contemporary comparative literary studies, with its self-proclaimed interest in crossing cultural and linguistic borders and its adherence to a multi-faceted interdisciplinary approach to the literary text, seldom does a critical study appear that attempts to distort the balance of a comparative-contrastive dichotomy (in its analysis of texts and authors) in favour of the former rather than the latter. One such book is Yarmila Daskalova’s Literary Pairs in Comparative Readings Across National and Cultural Divides. The book is a kaleidoscopic collection of essays, covering a time period of two centuries, encompassing literary samples from Romanticism to postmodernism, dealing with the works of ten authors, writing in four different languages, coupled in eight “pairs.”

As the title suggests, it offers comparative readings of selected texts by authors from diverse literary, national, linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Rather than matching peers (in the sense of writers belonging to a common national tradition or sharing the common aesthetics of a single literary movement or cultural period), Daskalova undertakes the arduous project of “pairing” seemingly diverse constellations of prominent literary figures (British, Irish, American, French, Russian and Bulgarian) on the basis of the “similar typological schemes, perceptions and literary strategies” utilized in their works (3). Under the seemingly random structure of the book, lurks a discernible hypertextual pattern, linking names of authors and intertwining cultural and mythological references into a complex postmodern poetic network.

Thus, in the first essay William Butler Yeats is “paired” with his predecessor – the English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The second essay compares the “one-man modernist” Edgar Allan Poe and his self-proclaimed French counterpart, the poet of modernité, Charles Baudelaire, on the basis of their “acute perceptibility of the weird and bizarre” and their shared predisposition to the “supernatural and melancholy aspects of life,” “the sinister and the macabre” (24). The third essay offers a comparative critical reading of works by the nineteenth-century American minuscule lyrique Emily Dickinson and the twentieth-century Russian avant-gardist poet Marina Tsvetaeva. In it Daskalova traces “overlapping recurrent themes, visions, imagery and messages” in their verse, as well as “similar devices and approaches” employed by both authors for expressing their unique individualities.

In the fourth essay, the “pair” of voyagers, W. B. Yeats and Charles Baudelaire, undertakes an “inner exilic,” “dislocating” journey through the “menacing vastness of the sea” (99). Whether lacking a particular destination in time and space (as in Baudelaire’s case) or directed to a particular location as “home,” masked as a nostalgic longing for some “other world” (Yeats’s “News for the Delphic Oracle”) both trips lead their travellers to a modern existential “elsewhere” (99). In the fifth essay, Daskalova’s “comparison and parallelism” strategy draws on the “haunting gothicisms” and “obsessive dark imagery and somnambulist daydreaming” that pervade the works of Edgar Allan Poe and the Bulgarian poet Peyo Yavorov and “mark their destinies of poètes maudits (115).

In the sixth essay, through an intertextual reading of texts by W. B. Yeats and Peyo Yavorov, Daskalova analyses their attempts to create a “sacred mythopoeic image of the motherland” (4). The former mythologizes his native Ireland, inspired by ancient Greek and Celtic mythology, while the latter draws on Bulgarian folk traditions to do the same. The seventh essay contrasts the “intranational” perspective on the “concept of Irishness” of W. B. Yeats as exhibited in his works to the “transnational” one of the American-Palestinian critic Edward Said, developed in his essay “Yeats and Decolonization.”

The last essay “com-pairs” two postmodern novels by contemporary Bulgarian writers: Svetlozar Igov’s Elenite and Emil Andreev’s The Glass River. It focuses on the representation of “otherness” and “the foreign” within a specific Bulgarian cultural context. Insightful, illuminating and poetic itself, this book is a valuable contribution to the field of comparative literary studies. A pleasure to read, it will appeal to scholars and the general public alike.”

To purchase your copy of the text or to read an extract, you can click here.

Happy reading!

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