It is a glorious, frightening, changing time. I’ve found myself seeking out words to describe the sensuous, the sinewy, the indelibly physical. I returned to the eroticism of Anaïs Nin – that complex, tumultuous, passionate woman I discovered in my teens – and in the process, was directed by Walter Mason to The Dangerous Bride by Lee Kofman.
Serendipitously, my intention was already set to see Lee at the Sydney launch of her latest title, Imperfect. I was intrigued by the background of a writer from the Soviet Union, the commonalities of culture from the same distant corner of the world as my own. Details in The Dangerous Bride touched me on a thrillingly familiar level. Kofman’s mother murmurs to her in Russian: “dochenka, moyo solnishko… her love for [her children] was bloody, animalistic” (p. 140).
Imperfect captured my attention from the moment I saw the cover: an armless Venus, a symbol of a woman exposed and venerated and shamed throughout history. Imperfect promises an examination of bodies, scars and imperfections – all the shapings of our fragile human forms, particularly the womanly, which I have observed, painted and adored.
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.Anaïs Nin
Returning to The Dangerous Bride, I am lost for words, unable to comprehend the work with sophistication. Kofman’s visceral, personal and daring memoir of love, lust, sexuality and freedom is an act of pure vulnerability. In this work, Kofman cuts herself open and allows her soul to pour forth, releasing the innermost intimacies of her heart. In it, she examines “the lush harem that my headspace had become” (p. 95).
Kofman cites the lives of passionate women who take on mythical qualities, like Gala Dalí, or Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, a schoolteacher from Kazan and future wife to two husbands. Salvador calls her ‘Lionette’. She is “narcissistic, sexually confident and voracious” (p. 124).
The Dangerous Bride introduced me to figures in Russian literature I knew nothing of. Naturally, it is a tragic and tumultuous history:
In Russia, Mandelstam once mused, poetry was truly respected – you could even get killed for it… Mandelstam was shot by secret police at the age of forty-seven. When the state didn’t kill its poets, it made their lives miserable enough that they did the job themselves. Also living under Stalin, Mayakovsky shot himself at thirty-seven, Tsvetayeva hanged herself at forty-nine.The Dangerous Bride, p. 143.
This poetess, Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva, once wrote to a lover: I am a person skinned alive, while all the rest of you have armour (cited in The Dangerous Bride, p. 185).
Recognising the heartbreak and pain of lives lived with such violent intensity, an intensity that lives in our cultural veins, Kofman writes of an exaltation that “took me in wild, sharp bursts… I piled myself into it, limb by limb, bone by bone” (p. 225). I, too, have felt this way, in this divine and tremulously fragile year.
I am reminded again of my Anaïs, who famously mused: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Is this that day?