Disrupted Idylls

Nature, Equality, and the Feminine in Sentimentalist Russian Women’s Writing (Mariia Pospelova, Mariia Bolotnikova, and Anna Naumova) – With translations by Emily Lygo

by Ursula Stohler (Author)
Thesis 357 Pages
Open Access

Table Of Content

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Many people and institutions have generously assisted me in the writing of this book, for which I am profoundly indebted to them.

First of all I would like to thank my teachers at Kantonsschule Oerlikon near Zurich, in particular history teacher Ursula Verhein, who first drew my attention to gender aspects in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and English teacher Verena Dedial-Lutz, whose feminist views and love of British culture were a great inspiration. I would also like to thank Professor emeritus Rolf Fieguth at the Department of Slavistics, University of Fribourg, Switzerland, who encouraged me to explore Russian Sentimentalist women’s writing, both in written assignments and in my Lizentiatsarbeit (comparable to a Master’s thesis), Anna Buninas Übersetzung von Boileaus Art Poétique im Problemkontext weiblicher Autorenschaft zu Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts (Anna Bunina’s Translation of Boileau’s Art of Poetry in the Context of Female Authorship in the Early 19th Century).

A three-year Graduate Teaching Assistantship from the Department of Modern Languages, Russian Section, at the University of Exeter, UK, enabled me to explore the topic in depth and to complete my PhD thesis, Women Writers of the 1800–1820s and the Response to Sentimentalist Literary Conventions of Nature, the Feminine and Writing: Mariia Pospelova, Mariia Bolotnikova, and Anna Naumova. I am immensely grateful to my supervisors, Katharine Hodgson and Carol Adlam, for their continuous support, encouragement and invaluable advice, for their assistance in search of funding, and their generosity which allowed me to research this fascinating topic. Moreover, I am grateful to Wendy Rosslyn, without whose numerous comments as an external examiner of my thesis this book would not have seen the light of day.

The Overseas Research Student Award Scheme (Universities UK, England) provided generous additional financial assistance during those three years, as did contributions from two Swiss foundations, Dr. Max Husmann Stiftung für Begabte (Dr. Max Husmann Foundation for the Gifted), and Stiftung für die Frau (Women’s Foundation). Finally, the Postgraduate Research Fund of the School of Modern Languages at the University of Exeter, and the British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies funded research visits to Russian archives and libraries that were of crucial importance for the gathering of material for my study.

Various parts of this book were presented at conferences and research meetings, which produced valuable feedback from scholars in my field. In 2000, during the ← 9 | 10 → Osteuropa-Tage (Days of Eastern Europe) at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, I presented work on Anna Bunina. In 2001 I compared Anna Bunina and Mariia Pospelova at the Junges Forum Slavistische Literaturwissenschaft (Young Forum for Slavonic Literary Studies) in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. At the Postgraduate Research Seminar at the University of Exeter in October 2001, I focused on women and poetry in imperial Russia.

In 2002, I explored the question of Russian women poets and the craft of writing at the Postgraduate Research Seminar, Schools of Modern Languages, Universities of Bristol and Exeter, UK. Subsequently, I gave a public lecture on the topic of early-19th-century Russian women writers, presented a paper on Sentimentalism’s potential for social criticism to the Interdisciplinary Conference ‘Beyond Anthropocentrism’, and addressed the question of the feminine myth in Russian Sentimentalism in a presentation to the Feminist Research Network, all at the University of Exeter.

In 2003 I presented a paper on women’s opportunities to become writers in the Sentimentalist era to the Annual Meeting of the Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Russia at Hoddesdon, UK, and to Professor Dr Natal´ia Kochetkova’s Study Group of Russian Eighteenth-Century Literature at Pushkin House in St Petersburg, Russia.

In 2005 I discussed the Russian reception of the French poet Mme Deshoulières’ meditative idylls during a research meeting of the Junges Forum Slavistische Literaturwissenschaft (Young Forum for Slavonic Literary Studies) in Bern, Switzerland, and–in 2006–at the conference Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700–1900 at Chawton House Library in Alton, UK, and at the conference Crossing Borders: Transpositions and Translations in Russian Culture in Cambridge, UK. Contrasting ideals of family structures in the work of Anna Labzina were at the centre of my presentation to the conference Familiengeschichten: Familienstrukturen in biographischen Texten (Family Stories: Family Structures in Biographical Texts) held in 2006 at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

In 2007 my presentation to the XIIème Congrès International des Lumières in Montpellier, France, focused on the research potential of texts by Russian Sentimentalist women writers which I had published online: The Corinna Project1 ran from January 2002 to October 2003 at the Department of Russian at the University of Exeter in collaboration with what was then the University’s Centre for Nineteenth Century European Literature. In 2008, at the conference Going European? ← 10 | 11 → New Approaches to European Women’s Writing in Utrecht, The Netherlands, I presented a paper on research opportunities in transcultural influences in Russian women’s writing. Finally, I presented a paper on conceptions of the muse in Anna Naumova’s writings during a panel on 18th-century Russian women at the National Convention of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (formerly the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies) in Philadelphia, USA.

I am as grateful to participants of the aforementioned conferences for their advice, comments and discussions, as to the editors and reviewers of Aspasia and other publishers of articles mentioned below, whose feedback contributed to improving various aspects of this book. Among them are Maria Bucur, Anthony Cross, Krassimira Daskalova, Francisca de Haan, Amanda Ewington, Diana Greene, Gitta Hammarberg, Catriona Kelly, Joachim Klein, Natal´ia Kochetkova, Marcus C. Levitt, Charlotte Rosenthal, Wendy Rosslyn, Roland Vroon, Andrei Zorin, and the late Mikhail Fainshtein and Lindsey Hughes, who are both much missed.

Some parts of this book were previously discussed in articles, the most significant among them being, ‘Released from Her Fetters? Natural Equality in the Work of the Russian Sentimentalist Woman Writer, Mariia Bolotnikova’, in Aspasia: International Yearbook of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern European Women’s and Gender History: Women Writers and Intellectuals, 2008. The anthology Interdisziplinarität – Intermedialität – Intertextualität (Interdisciplinarity, Intermediality, Intertextuality) includes my publication ‘Parodie als Mittel der poetologischen Selbstbestimmung – Untersuchungen zu Bunina and Pospelova’ (Parody as a Means to Poetological Self–Determination: Bunina and Pospelova). The Newsletter of the Study Group on Eighteenth-Century Russia published my contribution, ‘“I Will Create Whatever I Want to”: Naturalness as a Source of Mastery in the Works of Sentimentalist Women Poets’. These publications were instrumental in helping me clarify the thoughts and reflections presented here.

A great source of inspiration was the tireless enthusiasm for transcultural influences in European women’s writing shown by Suzan van Dijk, with whom I had the welcome opportunity to co-author ‘NEWW: New Approaches to European Women’s Writing (before 1900)’ for the 2008 edition of Aspasia.

Amanda Ewington most kindly permitted me to read the manuscript of her work on Russian women poets of the 18th and early 19th centuries, and gave generous permission to use her translation of the preface and of one poem by Pospelova included in my book. I am grateful to Robert Chandler for referring me to Emily Lygo, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for translating all the other poems under the most extraordinary circumstances. ← 11 | 12 →

Daniel Henseler, Carolin Heyder and Ute Stock shared their opinions on my research topic. Professor Hans Badertscher at the Department of Didactics at the University of Bern, Switzerland, generously provided financial support for me to participate in some of these conferences, and gave me leave from teaching for this purpose. I am grateful to John Murray for his emotional support when I was about to embark on an academic career in the UK, and to Katia Terioukova and her family for their hospitality in St Petersburg during my research visits.

My thanks are also due to numerous diligent library staff at the Universities of Exeter and Bern at Unitobler; at the Rare Books and Manuscript Sections of the Russian National Library, at the Institute for Russian Literature (Pushkin House) and the Scientific Library of St Petersburg State University, all in St Petersburg; and at Moscow’s Russian State Library.

I am grateful to the Swiss National Science Foundation, the University of Zurich’s Open Access Publishing Fund and the Gender Equality Commission at the University of Zurich for their financial support of this publication.

Finally, I would like to thank Margret Powell-Joss for her assistance in the editing process and Marlène Thibault for proofreading the manuscript.

While this book was being written, I enjoyed the invaluable emotional and material support of my parents, Hansueli and Milu Stohler, of my husband, Andres von Känel, and of my parents-in-law, Lisi and Edi von Känel, who demonstrated their appreciation of how much I value academic study by cooking meals for us and spending time with my three wonderful children, twins Benjamin and Raya and their younger brother Leon, allowing me to focus on my research.

This book is dedicated to my children, my husband and my family: You light up my life.

1 Russian Department, University of Exeter, England: The Corinna Project, accessed on 8 December 2014, www.ex.ac.uk/russian/corinna.

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Note on Conventions

The Appendix reproduces in full those poems that are the object of exhaustive analysis, or which encourage reflection on topics relevant to the argument of my thesis. It includes poems by Mariia Bolotnikova and Anna Naumova which clearly illustrate my argument. As many of Mariia Pospelova’s essays and poems are summarised or excerpted in the main text to highlight features which occur in a significant number of her works, only a few of her works are given in the Appendix. The Appendix does not give full quotations of poems by Bolotnikova and Naumova that feature in the main body of this book only to lend weight to a specific aspect of my argument without being analysed in greater detail.

Some of the English translations are taken from Amanda Ewington’s Russian Women Poets of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries; full references are given in footnotes.1 All other poems, quotations or titles of works have been translated from Russian into English by Emily Lygo.

I have used capital letters for ‘Fate’ and ‘Fortune’ to indicate when the words refer to allegories; lower-case letters are used for references to an impersonal force which determines the course of human lives. Moreover, the adjective ‘classical’ refers to cultural products, including literary works, which give evidence of the humanist foundations of Western European society, while ‘Classicist’ refers to the literary period known as ‘Classicism’.

Quotations in Cyrillic reproduce source-text spelling, regardless of possible deviations from contemporary usage (e.g., Pospelova’s spelling of ‘истинна’, which moreover differs from Naumova’s ‘истина’). No attempts have been made to harmonise any variant spellings which may occur in a text by the same author (e.g., ‘счастие’ and ‘щастие’). The genitive adjective endings, ‘–ыя’ and ‘–аго’ remain unchanged, as does ‘–зс–’ in words such as ‘разсуждение’. However, ‘hard’ signs in words ending in a consonant have been omitted and the pre-Revolutionary letters ‘Ђ’ and ‘і’ have been replaced by ‘e’ and ‘и’, respectively, turning ‘здЂсь’ into ‘здeсь’, and ‘безмолвіе’ into ‘безмолвие’. ← 13 | 14 →

Transliteration conforms to the Library of Congress system. With the exception of bibliographical references, poem titles and historic transliterations of Russian texts, the older spelling of ‘Mar´ia’ has been replaced by the more modern (and more easily readable) ‘Mariia’, and the transliterated forms, ‘Aleksandr’ and ‘Aleksandra’, have been replaced by the more common forms, ‘Alexander’ and ‘Alexandra’.

1 Amanda Ewington (ed. and transl.): Russian Women Poets of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto: Toronto 2014.

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The present study examines the ways in which Russian women writers responded to Sentimentalist literary conventions during the first two decades of the 19th century, in particular to the notion that women have an inherent affinity with nature, which literary works of the time often presented as an earthly paradise. The study considers particular features in writings by several 18th- and early-19th-century Russian women authors including Anna Bunina, Alexandra Khvostova, Anna Volkova, Anna Labzina, Mariia Sushkova, Mariia and Elizaveta Moskvina, Ekaterina Ursusova, Alexandra Murzina, Anna Turchaninova and some of their anonymous colleagues. Particular features in works by non-Russian female writers including Isabella Lickbarrow, Charlotte Smith and, especially, Antoinette du Ligier de La Garde Deshoulières (Mme Deshoulières) also come under scrutiny. Particular attention is paid to works by three women authors who have so far received scant scholarly attention: Mariia Pospelova (1780/1783/1784–1805), Mariia Bolotnikova (dates unknown; published 1817), and Anna Naumova (c. 1787–1862). A chapter has been dedicated to each of them.

To contextualise Russian women’s writing of the period, I have compared specific aspects with features in works by contemporary male Russian writers, primarily Nikolai Karamzin, but also Iakov Kniazhnin, Mikhail Popov, Ivan Khemnitser, Denis Fonvizin, Nikolai L´vov, Vasilii Zhukovskii, Andrei Bolotov, Mikhail Kherasov, Ivan Dmitriev, Alexander Radishchev, Alexander Sumarokov, Vasilii Trediakovskii, Mikhail Lomonosov, and Gavrila Derzhavin. Alongside Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings greatly influenced Russian Sentimentalism, other non-Russian male authors relevant to my study include Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, François René de Chateaubriand, John Locke, Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Charles Bonnet, Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle, James Thomson, Edward Young, and the Swiss painter and poet, Salomon Gessner.

Rather than attempting to present a comprehensive overview of Russian women’s writing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the study addresses responses to specific Sentimentalist conceptions of writing, nature, and the feminine in the literary discourse of the time. A chapter each is dedicated to Pospelova, Bolotnikova, and Naumova because of their different responses to the broader literary and social constraints and potentials which governed their writing lives. The most important chapter focuses on Naumova’s copious and wide-ranging collection of poems in order to do justice to the complexity, diversity and fascinating nature of her response to Sentimentalist conceptions of writing, nature and the ← 15 | 16 → feminine, and to the way in which she addressed topics relating to fate in the emerging Romantic period. In contrast, shorter chapters cover Pospelova’s copious but less diverse work and Bolotnikova’s writings, which address an intriguing diversity of topics but take up fewer pages than Naumova’s.

For the past two decades, Sentimentalist Russian women’s writing has commanded a considerable amount of attention. In particular, the feminisation of women’s writing subsequent to Karamzin’s stylistic reforms has generated a great many works.1 Studies dedicated to the lives and literary activities of men and women who lived in the provinces have also been published.2 Moreover, the Sentimentalist conception of nature as an earthly paradise has been investigated, as has the reception of Rousseau in Russia.3 ← 16 | 17 →

Two aspects which have yet to receive due scholarly attention, however, are the gender connotations of Sentimentalist conceptions of nature, and the way in which they affected the choice of topics by Russian women writers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. My study attempts to close this gap.

Another aspect which has so far escaped scholarly attention is the democratic potential of Sentimentalism as applied to the woman question. Socialist literary studies found at least some revolutionary egalitarian potential in writings from almost any period. In the two decades after the fall of the Socialist regime in the early 1990s, many attempts to explore the implications of democratisation and egalitarianism met with resistance from Russian literary scholars: as one of them pointed out to me, ‘we have heard so much about egalitarian potential in literary works, we do not need any more research on this topic.’ However, an overlooked aspect is precisely the Sentimentalist egalitarian discourse which encouraged some women—Bolotnikova among them—to raise their voices in criticism of the patriarchal social order and to claim their right to be authors. Moreover, scholarly attention has yet to be directed towards revisions of Sentimentalist gender conceptions as manifested in depictions of nature and the feminine. My chapter on Naumova is of particular interest in this regard; it also addresses literary ← 17 | 18 → manifestations of salon culture and divination, which have been the object of important recent studies.4

The book is structured as follows: Chapter One discusses Sentimentalist gender concepts and considers their Western origins, in particular Rousseau’s paradigms, e.g. his conception of civic virtue; his wish to exclude women from the republic; and his characterisation of women as elements of disorder, the female character of Fate in particular. Given that these notions were highly influential across Europe, the chapter also considers their reception in Russia, with a special focus on the concept of a male public sphere and a femal private one.

Chapter Two examines the impact of Sentimentalist gender conceptions on Russian literature. It argues that the democratic potential of Sentimentalist discourse shifted formerly marginalised groups such as serfs or women to the centre of literary attention. At the same time it instrumentalised women by requiring them to be virtuous and by equating them with nature conceived of as an earthly paradise. The chapter also explores literary representations of Fate in emerging Romantic literature.

Chapter Three considers the ways in which women authors responded to Sentimentalist notions of nature and writing, arguing that women wishing to be published were expected to be decent, modest, pious and virtuous. Some of them may therefore have felt the need to justify their writerly activities by adopting Sentimentalism’s essentialist conceptions of women. One of these notions was women’s alleged affinity to nature and estrangement from culture; another was that women were particularly suited to writing as a spontaneous act. Female authors also found subtle ways of challenging Sentimentalist topoi such as pastoral gender patterns or representations of Sappho.

Chapter Four examines poems and prose by Pospelova, an author who tended to present her female lyrical persona as an angelic being in harmony with Creation. This can be interpreted as her endorsement of many Sentimentalist literary concepts, including her belief in woman’s inherent goodness and assumed affinity with nature.

Chapter Five focuses on works by Bolotnikova, who subverted certain aspects of the value system of Sentimentalist discourse, for instance when referring to a heightened regard for nature in the creation of her self-image as a provincial woman author, or adducing nature as an argument to claim social equality for women. ← 18 | 19 →

Chapter Six is dedicated to Naumova, who also espoused the Sentimentalist idealisation of women, particularly when presenting herself as a morally superior being who was therefore entitled to criticise other people’s behaviour. She also rejected some Sentimentalist notions about women, however, such as the equation of woman with nature, or the topos of the naive girl who must kill herself for failing to live a virtuous life. Moreover, Naumova questioned and revised the purely negative connotation of Fate with disorder which transpired from writings by many Sentimentalist poets and political thinkers.

The Sentimentalist period saw an increase both in women writers and in submissions of literary works for publication by non-established, nor even well-educated, women writers. Although none of the three main authors under scrutiny here attained great literary fame, their works nevertheless illustrate the extent to which the literary, cultural and political discourse of the time allowed women writers to create their authorial self-images and express themselves on important aspects of life.

Of the three authors under consideration in this study, Pospelova received the most attention, both from her contemporaries and from scholars. In her day, her precocious talent made her a literary sensation. Recent feminist studies occasionally mention her as a Sentimentalist counter-example to the more neo-Classicist Anna Bunina (1774–1829).5 Conversely, Bolotnikova, whose writings reflect the view of a provincial woman on specific aspects of the discourse of her time, went all but unnoticed in her time and has received very little critical attention. Finally, although Naumova, a provincial woman author, enjoyed relatively high renown in her provincial town, her work again has received scant critical attention. We know her to have been part of a social network of literary individuals, which placed her in a position to share her views on Sentimentalist and pre-Romantic cultural and literary ideals in a way that eluded Bolotnikova.

My enquiry covers some four decades, from c. 1780 to the 1820s, a period when Sentimentalist aesthetic ideals coexisted with neo-Classicist and pre-Romantic ones. With regard to the classification of literary periods, I have adopted the distinction between the terms of ‘trend’ and ‘movement’ suggested by Rudolf Neuhäuser, who argues that, in order to establish the literary profile of a period we must examine its literary trends, several of which may exist in parallel. Neuhäuser considers such a trend to be a ‘movement’ if and when it defines a period’s literary ← 19 | 20 → profile. Indeed, he postulates a Sentimentalist movement for the period from 1770 until 1790. However, Sentimentalist trends continued on into the first two decades of the 19th century.6

The scholarly debate on the emergence and decline of Russian Sentimentalism continues. In her work on the period, Natal´ia Kochetkova provides an exhaustive overview of various opinions. Tracing adumbrations of Sentimentalist ideals back to pre-1760s Russian literature, she observes that the likes of K. Nazaretskaia or L. Pastushenko locate the rise of Russian Sentimentalism in the 1760s or 1770s, specifically identifying early indications of Sentimentalist ethics and aesthetics in works by Mikhail Kheraskov (1733–1807), who placed great emphasis on spiritual introspection. Kochetkova considers the 1770s to be the decade in which Sentimentalism became an autonomous literary trend, and the three decades from c. 1780 until c. 1810 to be the period when Sentimentalism was a literary movement. She further observes a growing interest in European Sentimentalist literature, including the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) and Jean-François Marmontel (1723–1799), in the first two decades of the 19th century, which is when numerous translations of their works were published.7

In his seminal work on 18th-century Russian literature, Joachim Klein examines the rise of the Russian pastoral since the 1750s and the role of non-Russian models in its development. Klein identifies its beginnings in the publication of some of Simeon Polotskii’s (1629–1680) works in the second half of the 17th century and in the 1730 translation by Vasilii Trediakovskii (1703–1768) of the description of an imaginary voyage by Paul Tallemant the Younger (1642–1712), Le voyage et la conqueste de l’Isle d’amour (A Voyage to the Isle of Love8) originally published in 1663, followed by love idylls and eclogues by Alexander Sumarokov (1717–1777). By the 1770s, however, Sumarokov-style pastorals were being eclipsed by translations and adaptations of Salomon Gessner’s (1730–1788) pastorals. Klein observes further stages in the development of the genre in idylls from the 1820s to 1830s by Nikolai Gnedich (1784–1833) and Anton Delvig ← 20 | 21 → (1798–1831), followed by Nikolai Shcherbin’s (1821–1869) idylls published in the 1840s and 1860s.9

Now that more women writers are being written into literary history, time frames of literary periods may have to change and the Sentimentalist movement may have to be extended to the 1820s (from the so-far assumed early 1790s) given that many women wrote in a Sentimentalist style during the first two decades of the 19th century.

Having said that, it may prove difficult to identify distinct literary trends in works by Russian women writers, who often continued to emulate aesthetic ideals already abandoned by their better-known male counterparts. For example, Bednaia Liza (Poor Liza), a novella by Nikolai Karamzin (1766–1826), had appeared in 1792, and excerpts from his Pis´ma russkogo puteshestvennika (Letters of a Russian Traveller) had been published in 1791 and 1792. By the time Pospelova published her works—which exhibit the Sentimentalist belief in an individual’s innate goodness—at the turn from the 18th to the 19th centuries, Karamzin had grown sceptical of this view. Evidence of the change can be found in his novella, Moia ispoved´ (My Confession, 1802), a polemic against Rousseau’s Confessions.10

Pospelova’s work represents the epitome of values which Bolotnikova and Naumova were to revise in their writings produced at a time of transition between two strong literary currents and influences. Sentimentalist ideals had already been consigned to the past by the time Bolotnikova’s collection of poems appeared in 1817 and Naumova’s two years later, in 1819.11 Moreover, the allegorical figure ← 21 | 22 → of Fate and elements of folk culture in Naumova’s poems adumbrate a Romantic world-view.

Finally, her criticism of many aspects of Sentimentalist aesthetics neatly illustrates Iurii Tynianov’s view of literary evolution, which is that emerging writers often take issue with specific aspects of the literary ideals which held sway during their formative years.12

This study focuses on the literary genre of the pastoral, exploring topoi and metaphors used by Sentimentalist women writers to create their authorial self-images and to justify their incursion into the male-dominated territory of authorship. If the Classicist attitude to literary genres was quite rigid, Sentimentalism displayed a marginally greater degree of flexibility. In terms of the pastoral, Amanda Ewington argues that women writers welcomed ‘the thematic focus on love and virtue, more than the opportunity to experiment with form’ practiced by male Sentimentalist authors.13

A thematic approach most clearly reveals the intriguing and often surprisingly innovative, not to say somewhat subversive, aspects in Bolotnikova’s and Naumova’s writings. On the other hand, in the context of this study, discussions of literary quality and formal features such as meter and rhyme are of minor relevance; anyone interested in these issues is therefore referred to Ewington’s excellent study on Russian women writers of the 18th and early 19th centuries.14

1 For a detailed list of works on this topic, see Chapter Two.

2 Mary W. Cavender: Nests of the Gentry. Family, Estate, and Local Loyalties in Provincial Russia. University of Delaware: Newark 2007;
Catherine Evtuhov: Portrait of a Russian Province. Economy, Society, and Civilisation in Nineteenth-Century Nizhnii Novgorod. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh PA. 2011;
Olga E. Glagoleva: Dream and Reality of Russian Provincial Young Ladies. 1700–1850. Carl Beck Papers: Pittsburgh 2000;
Olga Glagoleva (ed.): Dvorianstvo, vlast´ i obshchestvo v provintsial´noi Rossii XVIII veka. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie: Moscow 2012;
Olga Glagoleva: Russkaia provintsial´naia starina. Ocherki kul´tury i byta Tul´skoi gubernii XVIII—pervoi poloviny XIX vekov. RITM: Tula 1993;
Olga Glagoleva: ‘Imaginary World. Reading in the Lives of Russian Provincial Noblewomen (1750–1825)’. In: Rosslyn, Wendy (ed.): Women and Gender in 18th-Century Russia. Ashgate: Aldershot 2003, pp. 129–146;
Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva: The Worlds of Russian Village Women. Tradition, Transgression. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison Wis. 2012;
Hilde Hoogenboom: ‘The Importance of Being Provincial. Nineteenth-Century Russian Women Writers and the Countryside’. In: Dowler. Lorraine / Carubia, Josephine / Szczygiel, Bonj (eds): GenderScapes. Renegotiating, Reinterpreting and Reconfiguring the Moral Landscape. Routledge: New York 2005, pp. 240–253;
Katherine Pickering Antonova: An Ordinary Marriage. The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia. Oxford University Press: Oxford 2013;
Priscilla Roosevelt: Life on the Russian Country Estate. A Social and Cultural History. Yale University Press: New Haven 1995;
Irina Savkina: Provintsialki russkoi literatury. Zhenskaia proza 30—40 godov XIX veka. Göpfert: Wilhelmshorst 1998.

3 Stephen Lessing Baehr: The Paradise Myth in Eighteenth-Century Russia. Utopian Patterns in Early Secular Russian Literature and Culture. Stanford University Press: Stanford CA. 1991;
Joachim Klein: Die Schäferdichtung des russischen Klassizismus. Harrasowitz: Berlin 1988;
Klaus Garber: Der locus amoenus und der locus terribilis. Bild und Funktion der Natur in der deutschen Schäfer- und Landlebendichtung des 17. Jahrhunderts. Böhlau: Köln 1974;
Terry Gifford: Pastoral. Routledge: London 1999;
Inna Gorbatov: Formation du concept de Sentimentalisme dans la littérature russe. L’Influence de J.J. Rousseau sur l’œuvre de N.M. Karamzin. Peter Lang Verlag: Paris 1991;
Heidemarie Kesselmann: Die Idyllen Salomon Gessners im Beziehungsfeld von Ästhetik und Geschichte im 18. Jahrhundert. Scriptor: Kronberg 1976;
Natal´ia Kochetkova: Literatura russkogo sentimentalizma. Esteticheskie i khudozhestvennye iskaniia. Nauka: St Petersburg 1994;
Thomas Newlin: The Voice in the Garden. Andrei Bolotov and the Anxieties of Russian Pastoral. 1738–1833. Northwestern University Press: Evanston IL 2001;
P. Orlov: Russkii sentimentalism. Izdatel´stvo Moskovskogo universiteta: Moscow 1977;
Thomas Barran: Russia Reads Rousseau. Northwestern University Press: Evanston IL 2002;
Chantal Mustel (ed.): Rousseau dans le monde russe et soviétique. Museé Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Montmorency 1995;
M. Rozanov: Zh.Zh. Russo i literaturnoe dvizhenie kontsa XVIII i nachala XIX v. Ocherki po istorii russoizma na zapade i v Rossii. Tipografiia imperatorskago Moskovskago universiteta: Moscow 1910.

4 Detailed bibliographical information on Russian salon culture can be found in Chapter Two.

5 Judith Vowles: ‘The “Feminization” of Russian Literature: Women, Language, and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Russia’. In: Clyman, Toby / Greene, Diana (eds): Women Writers in Russian Literature. Praeger: London 1994, pp. 35–60.

6 Rudolf Neuhäuser: Towards the Romantic Age. Essays on Sentimental and Preromantic Literature in Russia. Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague 1974.

7 Kochetkova 1994, pp. 8, 22.

8 English translation by Aphra Behn published in 1675, see
James J. Bloom: The Imaginary Sea Voyage. Sailing away in Literature, Legend and Lore. McFarland: Jefferson N.C. 2013, p. 118.

9 Ioakhim Klein: Puti kul´turnogo importa. Trudy po russkoi literature XVIII veka. Iazyki slavianskoi kul´tury: Moscow 2005, pp. 19–23.

10 Rudolf Neuhäuser: ‘Karamzin’s Spiritual Crisis of 1793 and 1794’. In: Black, J. (ed.): Essays on Karamzin. Russian Man-of-Letters, Political Thinker, Historian. 1766–1826. Mouton: The Hague 1975, pp. 56–74 (p. 63);
Ilya Serman: ‘Chateaubriand et Karamzin, témoins de leur temps’. Revue des études slaves 74, 2002–2003, pp. 701–718 (pp. 706–707);
Iurii Lotman: ‘Russo i russkaia kul´tura XVIII veka—nachala XIX veka’. In: Zhan-Zhak Russo: Obshchestvenno-politicheskie traktaty. [n.ed.] Nauka: Moscow 1969, pp. 555–604 (p. 583).

11 Mariia Pospelova: Luchshie chasy zhizni moei. Tipografiia gubernskago pravleniia: Vladimir 1798;
Mariia Pospelova: Nekotorye cherty prirody i istinny, ili ottenki myslei i chuvstv moikh. Tipografiia senata u Selivanovskago: Moscow 1801;
Mariia Bolotnikova: Derevenskaia lira, ili chasy uedineniia. Tipografiia Reshetnikova: Moscow 1817;
Anna Naumova: Uedinennaia muza zakamskikh beregov. Universitetskaia tipografiia: Moscow 1819.

12 Iurii Tynianov: Poetika. Istoriia literatury. Kino. Nauka: Moscow 1977, pp. 270–281.

13 Amanda Ewington (ed. and transl.): Russian Women Poets of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto: Toronto 2014, p. 13.

14 Ewington’s work includes detailed analyses of meter and rhyme in the works of 18th- and early-19th-century women’s poetry as compared to poetic traditions and to prevalent patterns in works by male authors; see Ewington.

| 23 →

Chapter One
Sentimentalist Gender Concepts: Their Western Socio-Political Origins and Their Reception in Russia

This chapter provides some context to prevailing Sentimentalist socio-political assumptions, in particular the division of society into a public and a private sphere. It addresses the concept of civil society, and investigates its relationship to notions on gender, exploring to what extent they shaped representations of fate as a female element of disorder. Initially, the focus will be on Western Europe, in particular on France, with frequent reference to the writings of the philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), which were of crucial importance in this context. This will be followed by a look at Russian culture and how the Sentimentalist concepts affected it. Finally, differences between the Russian version of Sentimentalist gender concepts and their Western European and French counterparts will be highlighted.

Women’s exclusion from the republican order

A fundamental feature of Sentimentalist socio-political thinking was the notion that the state should be structured along democratic principles. In 18th-century Western Europe, Rousseau was among the chief proponents of the Republican concept and, in his 1762 treatise Du contrat social (The Social Contract), outlined the basis for a legitimate political order within a framework of classical republicanism, describing the creation of a civil society through a social contract which protects individuals both from each other and from external danger. Collectively, individuals are the authors of the law. Therefore, by coming together in a civil society, submitting to the authority of the will of the people as a whole, and by abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free.1

The republican models which inspired Rousseau’s political ideas were a product of Western European culture, including Switzerland and its neighbouring, independent city state of Geneva, where Rousseau was raised. He also drew on ← 23 | 24 → the ancient Greek concept of a republican state resurrected by Niccoló Machiavelli (1469–1527), the Italian Renaissance political philosopher.

From a feminist point of view, these models describe a civil state based on principles of discrimination and exclusion, and lacking in genuinely democratic foundations. In ancient Greece, for example, neither slaves and nor women were regarded as citizens of the polis. Democracy, therefore, is not based on an ideal which ascribes unconditional value to each and every individual; the creators of democracy never intended to establish universal human rights. Patriarchal rule as such was not abolished when it was overturned but was transformed, through fragmentation and redistribution among ‘brothers’, into a ‘fraternal patriarchy’. The public space of society, and the laws underpinning it, came about without women’s participation. This conceptual distinction in political thinking on the grounds of biological difference is what Carole Pateman calls ‘the sexual contract’. In her ground-breaking study, Pateman posits the existence of a sexual contract prior to the emergence of a social contract, the sexual contract implying women’s subordination to men, and ensuring men’s access to women’s bodies.2

Rousseau’s political ideas were a decisive element in the dawning of the French Revolution of 1789. That same year, the Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen) was proclaimed a major achievement of the new republican order. Women, however, had no political sovereignty, nor did they enjoy the civil protection guaranteed by the document, a fact which illustrates the disjunction of civil rights from women’s rights. In response to this omission, the French playwright and political activist, Olympe de Gouges (1748–1793), issued her Déclaration des droits de la femme et de la citoyenne (Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, 1791). Her ideas were unwelcome, however. Accused of counter-revolutionary conspiracy, de Gouges was guillotined two years later, her death obliterating the potential re-orientation of civil society as a political system based on social equality of the sexes.3

The idea that women should not be a part of the public sphere was reinforced by Rousseau’s concept of the republican order of the state, which strengthened the notion of a society divided into a public domain accessible to men, and a private sphere reserved for women and regarded as an emotional retreat from the ruthless outside world. The republican order of the state, whose cohesion relied on a mutual, voluntary bond among brothers, to the complete exclusion of women, ← 24 | 25 → was divorced from the notion of femininity. Jean Bethke Elshtain notes that politics ‘is in part an elaborate defence against the tug of the private, against the lure of the familial, against evocations of female power.’4

In Rousseau’s political writings, woman is perceived as an element of disorder. Uncontrollable, she poses a threat to the order of the republican state. Pateman shows that ‘in his essay, Politics and the Arts, Rousseau proclaims that “never has a people perished from an excess of wine; all perish from the disorder of women.”’ According to Rousseau, Pateman suggests, women ‘have a disorder at their very centres—in their morality ….’

Writings by men such as Rousseau betray a subliminal fear of woman’s sexual appetite and reproductive capacity. Well before Sigmund Freud, Rousseau states that, being but inadequately capable of developing the control mechanism which Freud was to call the ‘superego’, women cannot sufficiently subdue their passions.

Such fears and notions about women were transferred into the world of politics, a process which Pateman defines as follows:

‘The disorder of women’ means that they pose a threat to political order and so must be excluded from the public world. Men possess the capacities required for citizenship, in particular they are able to use their reason to sublimate their passions, develop a sense of justice and so uphold the universal, civil law. Women, we learn from the classic texts of contract theory, cannot transcend their bodily natures and sexual passions; women cannot develop such a political morality.5

The dichotomy endorsed by numerous republican political theorists resulted in assumptions about manliness which forced politically active men to repress any internal feminine aspects, leading to ‘man’s inability to tolerate the feminine side of his nature—an intolerance projected onto, and helping to constitute, external social forms.’

Fate brings disorder to the republic

One manifestation in the public world of the element of disorder was fate, a concept reflected in many Sentimentalist writings, as I will show in Chapters Two ← 25 | 26 → and Six. The following paragraphs summarise the development of the notion of ‘fate’ in European culture and address its association with the gendered conceptions of republican ideals. Personified as a female character, fate was occasionally called ‘Fortune’ or ‘Destiny’. In antiquity, Fortune was considered to be the deliverer of worldly goods, as Hanna Fenichel Pitkin has shown in her study on the character of Fortune in the writings of Machiavelli. A highly respected goddess, ‘directed toward human self-control rather than toward control of the goddess’, Fortune’s attributes include the cornucopia, a symbol of abundance, as well as a ball or wheel to symbolise her ability to play havoc with human lives.6 By the early Middle Ages, Christianity had created a hierarchy of the different manifestations of this female character, reducing Destiny and Fortune to mere facilitators of the will of God, omnipotent organiser and ruler of the universe. In the Middle Ages, Fortune was attributed with maternal features; her cult bore resemblances to that of the Virgin. While the Virgin was the perfect mother, however, Fortune was depicted as an evil stepmother. The Virgin is benign and benevolent while Fortune is angry and terrifying, heedless to any prayers which may be offered to her. Men, although terrified of her, make no attempt to fight her or resist the power of her machinations, attempting to learn life’s lessons from her instead. It is in this guise that Fortune will appear in Chapter Six dedicated to Naumova.

By the Renaissance, Fortune is an irrational demi-goddess no longer in control of human lives; if she interferes with human endeavour, she must be subjugated. This is why Renaissance depictions of Fortune are far less frightening than Medieval ones. In contrast to the ancient Roman world, where Fortune stood at the helm of ships, symbolising the decisive force which governs the course of human existence, Renaissance iconography shows her ‘as the ship’s mast, holding the sail, while it is man who steers’.7 The Renaissance doctrine rests upon a gender-specific concept that, rather than attempting to obliterate mere vestiges of a mythical female deity, betrays a deep-seated male fear of the female element equated to disorder. Although it is natural to be upset by and infuriated with the cruel turns and vagaries in our lives, and with their impact on our autonomy, there is no objective reason why life’s unpredictability should be represented by female allegories and metaphors. ← 26 | 27 →

It was Machiavelli who first introduced sexual connotations when he equated political concepts of the state with manliness, contrasting it with the feminised threat—and symbolic power—exerted by utterly unpredictable Fortune, who can wreak havoc on kingdoms and nation states. She is Circe luring men to their destruction. The gender-specific aspects of Machiavelli’s political doctrine translated themselves into his republican ideals, which strongly influenced Rousseau’s ideas on the republican order of the state. Machiavelli advocated a clear distinction between the public realm of male civic virtues, including the creation of a civic brotherhood, and the private sphere of female virtues and ‘feminine’ qualities such as forgiveness, gentleness and compassion. This dichotomy held no room for a symbolic character as unstable and disruptive as Fortune. Since she could not be mastered, it became nesseceary to summon extraordinarily powerful manifestations of male virtue, understood as civic virtue, in defence.8

As Chapter Two will demonstrate, by the end of the 18th century such sexual connotations also appear in depictions of Fortune in Russia. Perhaps as an antidote to masculinist tendencies in politics, Sentimentalist men celebrated femininity in cultural domains, literature included. Many aspects of the socio-political ideas which prevailed in Sentimentalism therefore stood in direct opposition to its literary concepts.9

In Sentimentalist thought, control of the passions—a requirement for social life—was associated to an essentialist dichotomy projected onto women, who were consequently pressed into the ideal of domestic angel and virtuous being to the exclusion of other options, be that participation in civic brotherhood, or disruptive ‘madwoman in the attic’, to use Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s image.10 ← 27 | 28 →

Sentimentalist elevation of the private sphere

As opposed to the public—exclusively masculine—sphere of politics, the private sphere of the home was thought to be women’s natural realm. While the home was indeed understood to be a kind of community, it was, as Pateman observes, above all considered to be a natural community which had existed before society had begun to emerge.11 As women were considered to have a greater affinity to nature than culture, the notion expressed in Rousseau’s Social Contract confined women even more to the domestic sphere, where civil rights did not apply. As Elshtain states, ‘the private realm of feeling and sentiment is not subject to laws and not judged by public standards.’ Rousseau’s treatise Émile ou de l’éducation (Emile, or, on Education, 1762) reflects this attitude. While an essential element in a boy’s upbringing was to instil civil virtues so that he might become a responsible citizen, a girl’s education aimed at making her the guardian of morals and virtues in the private sphere of her home.12

The public space not only created universal laws intended to guarantee security and equality among brothers, but also to stimulate feelings of justice, a civil virtue which women, who remained in the intimate sphere of the home, were denied. Pateman states that

… it is love, not justice, that is the first virtue of the family. The family is a naturally social, not a conventionally social, institution, but justice is a public or conventional virtue.13

As Mary Seidman Trouille observes, this was also a result of Rousseau’s dictum, according to which women lacked ‘the instinct to resist injustice’. Apart from virtue, paternal authority—also believed to be a ‘natural’ authority—is the only regulator in the intimate space of the home. Any women with access to the public world were expected to transfer naturalness and honesty—key virtues in Sentimentalist discourse—from the home into the public sphere.14

Dena Goodman suggests that the dichotomy between a public sphere accessible to men and a private sphere considered to be women’s natural realm of activity may be refined if we apply the paradigm outlined in Jürgen Habermas’ Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, where a distinction is made ← 28 | 29 → between a public sphere and an authentic public sphere.15 The public sphere is subject to state authority; it is the realm of the court and the aristocracy and controlled by the police and, despite its claims of responding to the needs of, and being responsible for, the welfare of its subjects, it is far beyond their everyday lives. By contrast, an authentic public sphere arises when individuals come together to make public use of their reason—in towns, institutions of sociability and the bourgeois family. Despite some public elements, its existence remains outside the public sphere of the state. It is in the authentic public sphere that cells of opposition may emerge against the public sphere of the state, which has excluded many subjects from participating in the excercise of political power. In France the weight of the authentic public sphere increased to the point where it eventually overturned the power of the state.

Joan Landes investigates the place of women in the gender paradigm brought about by the French Revolution,16 arguing that, in its wake, a gender division emerged in the new social order. Rousseau’s celebration of domestic life, and of women’s place in this domain, was a crucial element in the theoretical framework which paved the way for the new order.17 After the Revolution, salonnières and ladies at court, who under the Ancien Régime had occupied what may be considered ← 29 | 30 → public-sphere positions, found themselves expelled from such spheres of public influence, and relegated to the private sphere of the home.

Another way in which the dichotomy between a public sphere of politics and a private sphere of domesticity can be revised is if—as Elshtain suggests—we regard the family as a constituent of culture, rather than an entity opposed to it. From this perspective, home as a place where both men and women are socialised in equal measure ceases to be a sphere that is of secondary relevance to the public sphere of politics. This view contrasts with the notion of the ‘naturally good human being’ posited by Rousseau in order to criticise the path to civilisation his society was travelling on at the time. It is a notion which suggests that enlightenment and progress improve people’s morals. In his Discours sur les sciences et les arts (Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts, 1750), Rousseau claims that the arts and sciences corrupt a human being’s primordial goodness and are therefore harmful to society. From his Emile to his Confessions (1783), the philosopher adopts as a guiding principle the notion of a human being’s innate goodness combined with an elevated esteem for nature and scepticism towards social institutions.18

Even though the influence of Rousseau’s work prevented women from assuming influential positions in the public sphere, instead encouraging them to regard motherhood and domestic life as their main social functions, many women at the time welcomed this shift of focus. The reason for this paradox is that Sentimentalism’s elevated regard for the private sphere gave women a chance to address and give voice to many of the problems they had to cope with, especially when it came to courtship and marriage, which played a very important role in women’s lives. In the absence of other options, marriage was often the only way a woman could acquire material stability or wealth, and could have a significant impact on her mental and physical well-being. In Western Europe, a married man was entitled to be in charge of his wife’s possessions. And so, due to a lack ← 30 | 31 → of legal measures which would have called them to account, any husbands who dissipated or lost their wives’ property usually went unpunished.

Women also had little control over their reproductive capacities, since a husband was allowed to have unrestricted access to his wife’s body, rendering any form of birth control difficult. Women were seriously affected by male adultery, not only in terms of their emotional lives, but also in terms of health risks, for example if a husband infected his wife with a sexually transmitted disease. Many women therefore appreciated Rousseau’s ideal of matrimony, which emphasised faithfulness and mutual respect. They also supported the Sentimentalist ideal that men and women should be free to choose their marital partners, since relationships which emerged from natural inclinations were more likely to prevent adultery than marriage based on material interests. At a time when arranged marriages were common and the restrictive private sphere made it difficult for women to escape domestic misery, this promised a considerable improvement of women’s lives.

Sentimentalism thus elevated the status of women, providing them with a position which brought them closer to the social esteem afforded to men. Rousseau’s ideas promised women positions of considerable social significance—at least apparently so—offering them ‘a new dignity as women and a valorisation of la vie intérieure (in the double sense of domestic life and affective experience)’.19

I will argue in Chapters Four, Five and Six that a further feature of Sentimentalism which appealed to women was the Christian element inherent in this discourse. The Christian value system contains many aspects which elevate women’s sphere of existence. Although Christianity is often presented as a faith which has contributed considerably to the oppression of women, it does have strong egalitarian aspects. As Elshtain argues, the emergence of Christianity some two thousand years ago ‘ushered in a moral revolution’, forcing the ruling elite to justify their claims to power not with regard to tradition alone, but with reference to standards which applied to every individual. At its roots—and in sharp contrast to the heroic ideals supported in the preceding eras of ancient Greece and Rome—Christianity prepared the way for a democratisation of society because it afforded equal value to each and every single human being, from the oppressed, including slaves and women, to the highest dignitaries. Elshtain further claims that Christianity not only democratised society, but also, and particularly, cherished values which were essential to women and their realm of existence: ← 31 | 32 →

Sentimentalism’s elevated regard for femininity attributed considerable relevance to these values, which were important to women’s lives. Pietist ideals emphasising moral purity and charitable activity gained in popularity. However, although empowering to the individual, pietism shares the flaws of similar movements, from Martin Luther’s religious reforms to Freemasonry and their belief in the transformative power and influence of virtuous individuals on society, which results in a failure even to attempt to change existing social structures.

A comparison of public and private spheres in the West and in Russia

As we have seen, a typical feature of Sentimentalism is its emphasis on public and private spheres and their clear attribution to gender roles. As in Western Europe, the creation of a public sphere in Russia began with the emergence of an absolutist state, for which Peter the Great (1672–1725) laid the foundation. In 1718 he reformed Moscovite Russia’s political landscape by issuing an ukaz (edict) announcing the introduction of so-called assemblei (assemblies). The sense of equality in these assemblies was a novelty. Rank was of secondary importance; this enabled merchants and craftsmen to participate in these informal gatherings held in private homes, where the entertainment consisted of dancing, drinking, eating and playing games. Moreover, women were involved in rather than excluded from this (authentic) public sphere. This amounted to a considerable change from the Moscovy patriarchy, where noblewomen had spent their lives mostly segregated from the wider social world: Now Russian women became active participants in these forerunners of civil society.21

The 18th century therefore saw the rise of a vibrant authentic public sphere in Russia, ranging from salons and literary circles to theatres and public university ← 32 | 33 → lectures.22 In contrast to Western Europe, however, many of these events were held at palaces or in the gardens of influential individuals. The coffee-house, a characteristic venue for activities in the authentic public sphere in Western Europe, was not typical of Russia. This led visitors to mistakenly deplore the absence of such a public sphere, which in turn was taken as evidence for Russia’s social backwardness.

In fact, the authentic public sphere in Russia manifested itself in diverse activities.23 Public intellectual debates were held at the Academy of Sciences. Clubs such as the St Petersburg English club proved highly popular, as did learned societies such as the Free Economic Society. After the administrative reforms of the provinces, initiated in 1775 by Catherine the Great (1729–1796), similar activities also occurred beyond Russia’s main cities. 18th-century Russia’s expanding print culture is further evidence of the existence of an authentic public sphere.

Women benefited from the growth of the authentic public sphere insofar as it enabled them to participate in social activities such as visits to ballrooms, theatres, gardens, literary circles and learned societies. Literary circles, in particular, provided important arenas for women’s social interaction, providing both intellectual stimulus and exchange as well as opportunities to inspect potential marriage partners. Nevertheless, some domains remained off-limits to women, among them most clubs where women were regarded as a distraction; Masonic lodges, an important element of the authentic public sphere; as well as the secret societies and other platforms for political discourse which emerged at the beginning of the 19th century.24 ← 33 | 34 →

In contrast to Western Europe, official 18th-century Russian policy made deliberate efforts to lower any barriers between the public sphere and the authentic public sphere. In the early days of her reign, Catherine the Great tried to foster civil awareness in her citizens, e.g. in her Nakaz’ (Instruction) and by summoning representatives to a legislative commission. Her nomination of Ekaterina Dashkova as President of the Academy of Sciences, a key position in the public sphere, further challenged the traditional social order. In the long run, however, these measures failed to diminish the political gap between the authentic public sphere and the public sphere of state and court, not least because favouritism continued to flourish under Catherine the Great, lending additional weight to the public sphere of the court. There were many who felt incapable of exercising any influence in the system, retiring instead to the authentic public sphere and gathering in Masonic lodges and other secret societies, which fostered the egalitarian approach to the practice and celebration of interpersonal and spiritual values denied by official state institutions.

Similar to France, there were cells of opposition in the authentic public sphere seeking to abolish absolutist monarchy. And similar to the French Jacobin regime in late-18th-century France, the crown’s response to the failed Decembrist uprising of 1825 was to impose severe restrictions on the authentic public sphere, albeit less violently so. The policies of Nicholas I (1796–1855) were designed to restrict and mould the private realm to conform to the public sphere, where he proclaimed the fundamental elements of his rule: pravoslavie’ (orthodoxy), samoderzhavie’ (autocracy), and narodnost´’ (nationality).

The strong emphasis of Russian Sentimentalist ethics on friendship, and the idea that marriage, i.e. the husband-wife relationship, should be based on reciprocity of feelings, ran counter to traditional 18th-century conceptions of marriage which placed family interests above those of the individual.25 Traditionally, a woman’s primordial duty was to marry and produce children; a mother’s important task was to find a husband for her daughter; in turn, the daughter was expected to accept her mother’s choice. As it was generally believed that marriage would eventually lead to love, emotional fulfilment at the outset was of secondary importance. Although Peter the Great had outlawed the practice of forcing women into marriage in 1722, ← 34 | 35 → the aristocracy’s persistent sense of authority and hierarchy meant that countless women found themselves having to accept arranged marriages.26

Just as in the West, marriage had a considerable impact on a Russian noblewoman’s life. Although promising her access to a wider range of social activities and a higher status than a spinster’s, marriage did not offer her the independence she might have dreamt of while suffering her father’s authoritarian rule. A married woman was legally obliged to obey her husband. In the new family, she usually also came under her mother-in-law’s supervision and she was expected to prove her virtue by suffering the husband’s infidelities—if and when they occurred—in silence. Rousseau’s call that spouses should be respectful of and faithful to each other, and the Sentimentalist idea that marriage should be based on reciprocated feelings promised to bring considerable change to women’s lives in Russia. Bolotnikova’s and Naumova’s writings contain intriguing reflections on the topic, on which I will expand in Chapters Five and Six.

While the Western European home and its private sphere were regarded as a woman’s natural domain, an idea made increasingly popular through Rousseau’s writings, the position of the home in Russian culture requires a more differentiated approach.27 As Jessica Tovrov argues, despite gender divisions in Russian society, the home was a place where private and public spheres overlapped. And, just as Elshtain suggests, the family was regarded as an integral part of Russian culture. This is in contrast to Rousseau’s perception of the family as a natural entity outside society. Aristocratic Russian women had significant opportunities to interact with people and institutions beyond the confines of the home. To a great extent, this was due to the fact that, as Michelle Lamarche Marrese’s study demonstrates, they were entitled to own property.28 From 1753 onwards, Russian noblewomen were permitted to sell their estate without their husband’s consent. ← 35 | 36 → As a result, many of them managed their own estates, supervising industrial production and playing an active role in the economy by buying and selling property. It was normal for spouses to be in control of their own properties, and very common for them to spend considerable periods of time apart to manage their respective estates. It was also not uncommon for men employed in state service in the major cities to have their wives manage their country estates. Women’s right to control property led to fewer restrictions than in the West in terms of which spheres of existence were considered appropriate for men and women.

As Marrese argues, women in Western Europe tended to pay considerable attention to household goods, clothing, and valuable items; theirs was a female identity which, in the absence of other options of owning property, relied heavily on these kinds of material possessions. In contrast, the ideals of female domesticity which began to spread across Russia by means of advice literature and many works of fiction, including Western writings such as Rousseau’s, were at odds with Russian women’s legal right to own property and with the expectation that women should look after their estates in order to provide an income for their children.

This is not to say that women’s right to own property never conflicted with society’s patriarchal structure. Many women only actively engaged in property transactions as widows. Nor were husbands prevented from encroaching upon their wives’ properties by running their estates into the ground or gambling them away, as demonstrated in the examples of Anna Labzina (1758–1828) at the beginning of the 19th century, or that of Karolina Pavlova (1807–1893) in 1852.29 It did, however, give women a legal entitlement to claim control of their own property, which some women pursued in court. ← 36 | 37 →

Russian culture had therefore developed in a way which empowered women, including them in society rather than excluding them. Towards the end of the 18th century this empowerment was jeopardised by Rousseau’s ideal of female education which restricted women to representing domesticity and being dependent on male authority. Labzina’s example, which I will expand upon below, illustrates how Rousseau’s influence threatened to reverse a progressive feature of Russian society, i.e. female authority in both the public and the private spheres.30

It should be noted that Russian women’s responsibilities as estate managers may well have put them in charge of financial matters, giving them opportunities to interact with a great number of people. However, as I will discuss in Chapter Two, women—especially if they lived in the provinces—also needed and wanted reading material to open a window on the world beyond their estates. By reading texts written far from their estates (even abroad), publishing their own works and making them accessible to a wide readership, these women managed to escape domesticity, either in the narrower sense of the family circle, or the wider one of their estates. However, just because aristocratic Russian women bore economic responsibilities, they were not necessarily free to access the more intellectual domains of life.31 ← 37 | 38 →

Egalitarian principles in Sentimentalist discourse

As I have outlined, a crucial element to Sentimentalist socio-political ideas was the creation of a public sphere of civil laws for men, and a private sphere of feelings which was thought to be women’s natural domain. Another fundamental feature of Sentimentalist discourse was the emphasis on egalitarianism and belief in the unconditional value of all human beings. Bolotnikova, whose writings I will discuss in Chapter Five, refers to these notions.

In Russia, the concept questioned the legitimacy of a social system based on serfdom, and led to discussions about women’s social equality. However, these discussions did not fundamentally challenge the paradigm of gender-separate spheres of existence. The importance of egalitarian concepts in Russian Sentimentalism manifested itself in the tendency of the ruling class to show a strong sensitivity to democratic ideas and class distinctions—to a great extent a legacy of the ethical principles of the Enlightenment. In particular, the belief that progress and educational institutions were beneficial became very popular. It was contrary to Rousseau’s cultural scepticism, and related to the fact that 18th-century Russia was still struggling to overcome cultural ‘backwardness’ in comparison with Western Europe. Russians espoused some of Rousseau’s concepts (such as the worship of nature) while rejecting or ignoring others. The relevance of progress and education clearly emerges from Catherine the Great’s political agenda. Belief in their usefulness was so profound that they soon began to trickle down to the lower classes of Russian society. By the end of the 18th century, many members of the aristocracy had established institutions to provide education for serfs and peasants alike. The poet Vasilii Zhukovskii (1783–1852), for example, was reported to have educated and liberated his servant, while Nikolai Novikov (1744–1818) supported a school open to children from all classes of society; journals published numerous similar accounts held up as exemplary.32 ← 38 | 39 →

In addition to the popularity of the notions of progress and education, many of these altruistic acts were due to the (egalitarian) Sentimentalist notion of compassion. In the late 18th century, a Sentimentalist was considered to be compassionate, humane and philanthropic. True to form, the Freemasons considered moral perfection to be within reach of every human being, regardless of their level of education or social class. Masonic journals published reports, for instance, about peasants saving their neighbours from house fires, demonstrating that even the ostensibly ignorant could be magnanimous. Many Freemasons were philanthropists. When famine threatened, Rousseau-inspired Novikov, for example, stocked granaries for the peasant population.33

Nevertheless, the Sentimentalist conception of compassion was often patronising and did not genuinely aim at changing the status quo. Prevailing notions of virtue required people to accept a given situation. In fact, to do so was considered particularly virtuous, causing people to abandon any thoughts of improvement. This neutralized any threats of political uprising or criticism of the gender order which could have arisen from increasing demands for social equality. The patronising nature of Sentimentalist compassion is most clearly visible in Sentimentalist attitudes to serfdom. Believing that society would improve through enhanced attention to each individual’s spiritual life, the Freemasons engaged in charitable activities to reduce the misery of the serfs without condemning the ← 39 | 40 → institution of serfdom. For all his idealisation of a peasant’s emotional capacities in works such as Bednaia Liza (Poor Liza) or Frol Silin, Karamzin still supported the institution of serfdom, and considered his Plato-inspired republican ideals mainly a fascinating utopia.

The writer Vladimir Izmailov felt pity for the members of disadvantaged social groups, but did not approve of the idea that serfs should acquire wealth, let alone transcend their social position. Instead, his sympathies were directed towards impoverished representatives of the gentry. Andrei Bolotov (1738–1833) expressed pity for oppressed members of society in his writings, but did so mostly to thank God for not having made him one of them. Zhukovskii’s ambivalent views regarding serfdom led him to advocate (and put into practice) education for the serfs, while, at the same time, warning his contemporaries of the dangers which might result from subsequent demands for social freedom. The idealisation of compassion turns out to a great extent to be a self-congratulatory gesture, which in many cases may have served as a means of assuaging the guilty conscience of the privileged classes. As a result, it was as likely to reinforce as much as question the existing social order.34

In Russia as well as in Western Europe, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars led to a desire to improve the conditions of the poor in order to forestall social unrest. This explains why even those Russian aristocrats who argued that serfdom should be abolished often had no intention of changing power relations in society, as Thomas Newlin’s investigation of this question shows. Why were they so concerned about the living conditions of the serfs? Rather than the desire to generate social equality, it was the fear that the oppressed might some day rise and take revenge. An excerpt from Alexander Bakunin’s ‘Agreement Between Landlord and Peasant’ of 1803 reveals this attitude:

Отречение от всех насильственных прав не уменьшит но утвердит законную власть помещика, и каждый куст не будет угрожать ему истреблением.

Being severed from all rights will not diminish but will confirm the lawful right of the landowner, and it will not be that every bush threatens him with destruction.35 ← 40 | 41 →

Once serfdom was abolished, people would still be working for their landowners, yet they would do so out of their own free will, not because the system forced them.

One of the reasons why, in 19th-century Russia, so many members of the aristocracy began to feel compassion for the serfs was a sense of guilt for the advantages which came with their social position. After 1762, the landowners’ privileged situation became even more evident among the aristocrats who retired to their estates once Peter III (1728–1762) had released the nobility from state service. Although the rate of retirement did not increase dramatically, emerging Sentimentalist ethics contributed to the popularity of an ideal which appealed to those who wished to retire to ‘cultivate their gardens’, in the words of French philosopher Voltaire. There is, Newlin suggests, both a literal and a symbolic meaning to this expression. It implies that one should ‘withdraw inward and homeward, into the self, into the family, into the benign, quiet, familiar landscape of the estate’.36 The aristocracy’s retreat from the public life of state service to the privacy of their own land forced them to face the different ways in which different classes of society lived on their estates. They had to come to terms with the reality of serfdom, which presented itself to them in a much cruder form than when they had lived in the city. Little wonder, then, that attitudes towards serfdom were ambivalent.

Despite these controversial views, republican ideals circulated widely in Russia during the first two decades of the 19th century. Napoleon’s Code Civil, introduced in 1804, had given a taste to Frenchmen interested in egalitarian political principles. During the ensuing two decades, the Decembrists, eager to introduce similar concepts in Russia, were preparing their coup d’état. Concepts of universal civil rights began to be a topic for discussion in various groups of society, particularly amongst the members of the army who had spent time in France after Napoleon’s campaign against Russia. Terms such as ‘zakon’, ‘prestuplen´e’, ‘vol´nost´’, ‘tiran’, ‘tsepi’, ‘raby’, ‘svoboda’, and ‘okovy’ (crime, freedon, tyrant, chains, slaves, liberty, fetters) became a part of the vocabulary in these debates, and served as signal words in Decembrist poetry.37

As a consequence of this political climate, the ‘woman question’ became a hotly debated issue during the first two decades of the 19th century, as Grigorii Tishkin’s study demonstrates, even though the Napoleonic Code was reactionary ← 41 | 42 → in this matter.38 According to debates held in journals, criticism of the patriarchal structure of society had already arisen in 18th-century Russia. It was believed that men’s greater physical strength was the cause of the social inequality of women, whose need for male protection was undisputed. The fact that sexual difference should have resulted in social oppression, however, was condemned as unbecoming to an enlightened society. By propagating culture, morals and knowledge, women were to be enabled to achieve social equality with men. This view was reflected in contributions in journals which tried to answer questions about whether men or women were more useful; the privilege usually went to women because of their ability to give birth.

The Decembrists, too, considered the role of the female sex in the new order of society, even though the political nature of their circles meant that women were not admitted. Decembrists such as Nikolai Kriukov, however, declared that the minds of men and women were completely equal, and that any social differences between the sexes were a consequence of education. Nevertheless, the Decembrists had no intention of granting civil rights to women nor of regarding them as equal members in the new social system. The tendency was to reduce women to the traditional tasks of motherhood, charitable actions, and embodiment of virtues and good morals. Sentimentalism made too strong a link between calls for equality between the sexes and the celebration of female virtue to allow the Decembrists to envisage fundamental changes in the social roles of the sexes.39

The Sentimentalist notion of innate goodness, a fundamental feature of Rousseau’s thought system, which became very popular in late-18th- and early-19th-century Russia, was particularly detrimental to the achievement of social equality ← 42 | 43 → between men and women. On a social level, this fascination was reflected in pedagogical experiments aimed at the creation of a natural, and therefore morally good, human being. The ideal object for this kind of experiment was what Iurii Lotman has termed the ‘child-woman’, a tabula rasa or clean slate in a double sense due to her being excluded from the allegedly corrupting influences of civilisation both as a woman and as a child.40

Labzina, for example, spent some years of her youth in the house of poet and Freemason Mikhail Kheraskov, where she was deliberately kept in a state of ignorance and isolation in order for her innate goodness to be preserved. Like a child, this young married woman was expected to share every thought with her educators, a fact which is most revealing of the Sentimentalist image of women. The example also demonstrates that the concept of innate goodness was a gendered one and was chiefly projected onto women. By contrast, men were regarded as generally failing in their attempts to be morally good, and therefore ‘condemned’ to live in a state of corruption. In other words, a man could choose whether or not he wanted to adopt and emulate the idea of innate goodness, while women, thought to be endowed with natural goodness, were unable to escape.

Kheraskov’s treatment of Labzina reflects his idea of woman’s innate goodness and educational ignorance. In contrast, influenced by the teachings of St Augustine, he and his fellow Freemasons believed in Original Sin, meaning that man was born corrupt and therefore in need of continuous moral instruction if he wished to achieve goodness and restore his original state of innocence. The Freemasons held that man was a ‘rough stone’ which had to be cut and polished, whereas woman was already as virtuous as man wished to become. To achieve moral perfection, therefore, woman did not require the same degree of culture and education as man.


Chapter One outlined some of the foundations of Sentimentalism and its reception in Russia. Chiefly due to Rousseau’s influence, ancient and medieval Western ideas reached Russia during the 18th and early 19th centuries. Together with the Sentimentalist ideal of female domesticity, the exclusion of women from the public sphere is based on a fear of the female element, which is thought to bring disorder to the republican brotherhood. The fear manifests itself in associations of Fate with the female, found repeatedly in Western and Russian cultural history. ← 43 | 44 →

By the time Rousseau’s ideas reached Russia, the country had undergone a process of Westernisation in the course of which women were encouraged to participate in the (authentic) public sphere. However, the concept of a division of society into a public sphere reserved for men and a private one for women does not necessarily apply to all aspects of Russian society, where the family was regarded as belonging to the authentic public sphere. Moreover, in their role as estate managers, many Russian women were active in both the public and the private spheres.

The Sentimentalist ideal of female domesticity threatened to reverse this progressive feature of Russian society. Nevertheless, the symbolic elevation of women in Rousseau’s writings appealed to many women, both in Russia and in the West. An important element of the Russian reception of Western Sentimentalism in the style of Rousseau was the religious component and its egalitarian conception. In general, Sentimentalism in Russia produced many debates on egalitarian aspects of society, including the question of serfdom, Decembrist calls for an egalitarian order of the state, and the woman question. However, the Sentimentalist fascination with alleged human primordial goodness risked having a negative impact on women, who served as its main objects of projection and were therefore threatened by exclusion from the public sphere of culture and education.

1 Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Du contrat social, ou, principes du droit politique. Burgelin, Pierre (ed.): Garnier-Flammarion: Paris 1966.

2 Carole Pateman: The Sexual Contract. Polity Press: Cambridge 1988.

3 Mary Seidman Trouille: Sexual Politics in the Enlightenment. Women Writers Read Rousseau. State University Press of New York: New York 1997, p. 243.

4 Jean Bethke Elshtain: Public Man, Private Woman. Women in Social and Political Thought. Princeton University Press: Princeton NJ 1993, pp. 15–16.
On this topic, see also
Linda Zerilli: Signifying Woman. Culture and Chaos in Rousseau, Burke, and Mill. Cornell University Press: London 1994, pp. 16–59.

5 Carole Pateman: The Disorder of Wome. Democracy, Feminism and Political Theory. Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA 1989, pp. 17–18.

6 Hanna Fenichel Pitkin: Fortune is a Woman. Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccoló Machiavelli. University of California Press: Berkeley 1984, p. 139.

7 Pitkin, p. 142.

8 Elshtain, p. 99.

9 On the contrast between the masculinity displayed in the public sphere (e.g., university life) and expressions of affection in the private sphere of the family that persisted in Russia until the mid-19th century, see
Rebecca Friedman: Masculinity, Autocracy, and the Russian University. 1804–1863. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke 2005, pp. 53–74, 99–124;
Rebecca Friedman: ‘From Boys to Men: Manhood in the Nicholaevan University’. In: Clements, Barbara Evans / Friedman, Rebecca / Healey, Dan (eds): Russian Masculinities in History and Culture. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke 2002, pp. 33–50.

10 Sandra Gilbert / Susan Gubar: The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. Yale University Press: New Haven 1979.

11 Pateman 1989, p. 19.

12 Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Émile, ou, de l’éducation. T. L’Aminot et al (eds). Bordas: Paris 1992.

13 Pateman 1989, p. 20.

14 Trouille, p. 17;
Elshtain, pp. 157–158;
Pateman 1989, p. 132.

15 Dena Goodman: ‘Public Sphere and Private Life. Toward a Synthesis of Current Historiographical Approaches to the Old Regime’. History and Theory 31, 1992, pp. 1–20;
Jürgen Habermas: Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Polity: Cambridge 2008.

16 Joan Landes: Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution. Cornell University Press: Ithaca 1988.

17 Applying Habermas’ theory to the ‘woman question’, Goodman suggests a revision of Landes’ division in France into a male public space and female private sphere. Following Habermas’ distinction, Goodman argues for the existence of a public sphere of the state alongside an authentic public sphere of private gatherings where individuals make public use of reason.
Women were influential in both domains, i.e. in the public sphere when involved in life at court, and in the authentic public sphere when hosting salons from which a culture of intellectual exchange began to emerge and threaten the power of the state. As the post-revolutionary state began to appropriate and dilute the authentic public sphere, however, an important arena of female influence disappeared.
Where Goodman disagrees with Landes is in her labelling both salonnières and women of the court as women of the public sphere without considering that the former belong to the private realm, of which the authentic public sphere is a part, while the latter belong to the public sphere of the state. Goodman’s study does not contest the fact, however, that women were eventually expelled from both areas and relegated to domesticity. See Goodman, pp. 1–20.

18 To illustrate her objection to Rousseau’s ideas on this topic, and to exemplify her view that the family is a fundamental element in the creation of culture, Elshtain refers to the Wild Boy of Aveyron captured in south-western France in 1800 who, having grown up outside human society, had failed to develop any capacity of communicating with other people nor did he display any higher moral standards in his interactions with them. See Elshtain, pp. 298–353;
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Discours sur les sciences et les arts. Roger, Jacques (ed.). Garnier-Flammarion: Paris 1971;
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Les Confessions. Raymond Trousson (ed.). Imprimerie nationale: Paris 1995.

19 Trouille, p. 4.

20 Elshtain, pp. 56–61.

21 On this topic, see also Barbara Alpern Engel: Women in Russia. 1700–2000. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2004, pp. 5–26.

22 The nature of public and private spheres in Russia is well investigated in Douglas Smith: Working the Rough Stone. Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia. Northern Illinois University Press: DeKalb 1999.

23 They included balls, which were separated into ‘aristocratic’ balls for an exclusive elite, and ‘English’ balls to which merchants were admitted. Theatrical, concert and opera performances were no longer reserved to the court and wealthy aristocrats, as had been the case in Moscovy, and visits to these venues attracted Russians in increasing numbers. As Smith further suggests, events on stage often mattered less than chatting with other members of the audience. The character of these venues therefore became rather similar to Western European coffee-houses. See Smith, pp. 67–70.

24 As Smith demonstrates, there were Masonic ‘adoption lodges’ for women in France. By the time of the French Revolution, any sizeable French city had an adoption lodge. Both there and in England, although ‘women Masons were never allowed to meet without the supervision of their male counterparts’, these institutions developed into forums where women’s social inequality was discussed. Three adoption lodges seem to have operated in Russia, about which, however, little is known; see Smith, pp. 28–30.

25 See Jessica Tovrov: The Russian Noble Family. Structure and Change. Garland Publishing: New York 1987.
On the egalitarian potential of Sentimentalist conceptions of friendship within marriage, see also
Olga E. Glagoleva: Dream and Reality of Russian Provincial Young Ladies. 1700–1850. Carl Beck Papers: Pittsburgh 2000, pp. 46–47.

26 Arranged marriages remained the norm until well into the late 19th century, especially among townspeople and peasants. By then, members of the artistocracy, however, enjoyed greater freedom in the choice of their spouses; see
Barbara Alpern Engel: Breaking the Ties That Bound. The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia. Cornell University Press: Ithaca 2011, pp. 49–51.

27 For differences in the concept of the home between Western and Eastern Europe, see also
Barbara Evans Clements: A History of Women in Russia. From Earliest Times to the Present. Indiana University Press: Bloomington 2012, pp. 89.

28 Michelle Lamarche Marrese: A Woman’s Kingdom. Noblewomen and the Control of Property in Russia. 1700–1861. Cornell University Press: Ithaca 2002. See also
Judith Vowles: ‘Marriage a la russe’. In: Costlow, Jane T. / Sandler, Stephanie / Vowles, Judith (eds): Sexuality and the Body in Russian Culture. Stanford University Press: Stanford 1993, pp. 53–72;
Robin Bisha et al. (eds): Russian Women, 1698–1917. Experience and Expression. Indiana University Press: Bloomington 2002, pp. 58–107;
Clements, pp. 38–9, 79–80.
For an example of a Russian gentlewoman living in the second half of the 19th century who seems to have been in charge of estate management as a matter of course, see Katherine Pickering Antonova’s extensive study on this topic, in particular the chapters: ‘Estate Management’ and ‘Domesticity and Motherhood’, in: An Ordinary Marriage. The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia. Oxford University Press: Oxford 2013, pp. 74–94, 136–156.
Antonova emphasises the contrast between the reality of Russian provincial gentlewomen and Western rhetoric about female domesticity, widely known in the Russian provinces at the time.

29 Anna Labzina: ‘Vospominaniia. Opisanie zhizni odnoi blagorodnoi zhenshchiny’. In: Bokova, B. (ed.): Istoriia zhizni blagorodnoi zhenshchiny. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie: Moscow 1996, pp. 15–88 (p. 55);
Alexander Lehrman: ‘A Chronology of Karolina Pavlova’s Life’. In: Fusso, Susanne / Lehrman, Alexander (eds): Essays on Karolina Pavlova. Northwestern University Press: Evanston IL 2001, pp. 251–263 (p. 257).

30 On Labzina in the context of Sentimentalist ideals, see also
Elisabeth Vogel: ‘Zur diskursiven Verhandlung empfindsamer Konzepte. Am Beispiel von Nikolai Karamzins Briefe eines russischen Reisenden und Anna Labzinas Erinnerungen’. In: Cheauré, Elisabeth / Heyder, Carolin (eds): Russische Kultur und Gender Studies. Berlin Verlag: Berlin 2002, pp. 149–172; and
Irina Savkina: Razgovory s zerkalom i zazerkal´em. Avtodokumental´nye zhenskie teksty v russkoi literature pervoi poloviny XIX veka. Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie: Moscow 2007, p. 75.
Savkina argues that Labzina eventually managed to subvert the role of a submissive woman imposed on her when she made public her experiences, disclosing the clash between Sentimentalist ideals of femininity and the reality of women’s daily lives.
On the persistence of the ideal of women’s domestic role in Russia in the mid-19th century as manifested in advice literature, see
Diana Greene: ‘Mid-Nineteenth-Century Domestic Ideology in Russia’. In: Marsh, Rosalind (ed.): Women and Russian Culture. Projections and Self-Perceptions. Berghahn: New York 1998, pp. 78–97.

31 This becomes particularly clear in the example provided by Antonova. Here, the father of a genteel provincial family regards education as an intellectual domain which reaches beyond the private realm to provide a connection with the outside world, and takes charge of his children’s education. See Antonova, pp. 157–181; see also Glagoleva 2000, p. 68.

32 Natal´ia Kochetkova: Literatura russkogo sentimentalizma. Esteticheskie i khudozhestvennye iskaniia. Nauka: St Petersburg 1994, p. 16;
Thomas Barran: Russia Reads Rousseau. Northwestern University Press: Evanston IL 2002;
Natalia Kochetkova: ‘Zur Idee des Fortschritts in der Literatur des russischen Sentimentalismus’. Zeitschrift für Slawistik 39, 1994, pp. 405–412;
Catharine Ciepiela: ‘Reading Russian Pastoral. Zhukovsky’s Translation of Gray’s Elegy’. In: Sandler, Stephanie (ed.): Rereading Russian Poetry. Yale University Press: New Haven 1999, pp. 31–57 (p. 43).
For an interpretation of Urusova’s ‘Polion’ as a polemic against Rousseau’s criticism of culture, see
Marcus C. Levitt: ‘The Polemic with Rousseau over Gender and Sociability in E.S. Urusova’s Polion (1774)’. The Russian Review 66, 2007, pp. 586–601.
On the progressive and the conservative interpretations of the Sentimentalist notion of equality, see also
Iurii D. Levin: The Perception of English Literature in Russia. Investigations and Materials. Catherine Philips (transl.). Astra: Nottingham 1994, pp. 159–160.

33 Kochetkova 1994, pp. 18–19, 62–63;
V. Stepanov: ‘Povest´ Karamzina Frol Silin’. In: Berkov, V. (ed.): Derzhavin i Karamzin v literaturnom dvizhenii XVIII—nachala XIX veka. Nauka: Leningrad 1969, pp. 229–244 (p. 233);
Inna Gorbatov: Formation du concept de Sentimentalisme dans la littérature russe. L’Influence de J.J. Rousseau sur l’œuvre de N.M. Karamzin. Peter Lang Verlag: Paris 1991, p. 42.
Anna Kuxhausen observes similar efforts to promote the idea of empathy in educational texts of that time. Anna Kuxhausen: From the Womb to the Body Politic. Raising the Nation in Enlightenment Russia. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison 2013, pp. 114–117.

34 Kochetkova 1994, pp. 58–74;
Stepanov, p. 233;
Iurii Lotman: Izbrannye stat´i. 3 vols. Aleksandra: Tallin 1992, Vol. II, pp. 162–163;
Ciepiela, p. 43.

35 Alexander Bakunin: ‘Usloviia pomeshchika s krest´ianinom’ quoted in Thomas Newlin, The Voice in the Garden: Andrei Bolotov and the Anxieties of Russian Pastoral (1738–1833), Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001, p. 99 (in English), p. 227 (in Russian).

36 Newlin, p. 5.

37 Lidiia Ginzburg: ‘Russkaia lirika 1820—1830-kh godov’. In: Ginzburg, Lidiia (ed.): Poety 1820—1830-kh godov. Sovetskii pisatel´: Leningrad 1961, pp. 13–14, 20;
Brodskii, N.: Literaturnye salony i kruzhki. Pervaia polovina XIX veka. Academia: Leningrad 1930; repr. Olms: Zürich 1984, pp. 68–69, 142.

38 Grigorii Tishkin: ‘Zhenskii vopros i pisatel´skii trud na rubezhe XVIII—XIX vekov’. In: Fainshtein, Mikhail (ed.): Russkie pisatel´nitsy i literaturnyi protsess v kontse XVIII—pervoi treti XX vv. Göpfert: Wilhelmshorst 1995, pp. 29–42. Napoleon is said to have intervened personally in the Code Civil in order to restore the husband’s authority over his wife.

39 Tishkin, pp. 31–34;
Mikhail Fainshtein: ‘Litsom k litsu. “Zhenskaia tema” v proizvedeniiakh pisatel´nits Rossii i Germanii na rubezhe XIX i XX vv.’. In: Ganelin, R. (ed.): O blagorodstve i preimushchestve zhenskogo pola. Iz istorii zhenskogo voprosa v Rossii. Sankt-Peterburgskaia Gosudarstvennaia Akademiia Kul´tury: St Petersburg 1997, pp. 110–116.
Further examples of polemics about the roles of men and women that appeared in the press during the first decades of the 19th century can be found in
Yael Harussi: ‘Women’s Social Roles as Depicted by Women Writers in Early Nineteenth-Century Russian Fiction’. In: Clayton, J. Douglas (ed.): Issues in Russian Literature Before 1917. Slavica Publishers: Columbus 1989, pp. 33–48.

40 Jurii Lotman: Russlands Adel. Eine Kulturgeschichte von Peter I. bis Nikolaus I. Böhlau: Köln 1997, p. 329–344.

| 45 →

Chapter Two
Literary Impacts of Sentimentalist Gender Conceptions in Russia

This chapter addresses literary implications of Sentimentalism’s socio-political concepts. It suggests that literature and its ability to transfer issues from the domestic sphere to the public world was potentially able to bridge the gap between the sexes’ separate spheres of existence. Salons and literary circles in particular played the role of intermediary between the two spheres of activity, since they were a place of cultural exchange for both sexes, and associated with both the public and the private spheres. The chapter further considers representations of Fate in Russian Romantic literature, which began to emerge in the first two decades of the 19th century.

The feminisation of literary culture

In contrast to Classicist aesthetics, Sentimentalist discourse was descriptive rather than normative, thus broadening the horizon to groups of society previously ignored by the ruling class. One of the consequences was the appearance of the character of the serf and the rise of the ‘woman question’ in many literary works. Another effect was the high regard in which femininity was held in Sentimentalism, becoming a cultural standard: as scholars have shown, style, language, and genre were adapted to what male writers thought to be pleasing to and customary among women. A smooth type of diction replaced the complicated syntactic structures influenced by Church Slavonic; words borrowed from French began to crop up in Russian texts; and novels and minor poetic genres, such as madrigals, idylls, eclogues, or rondeaus, were given preference to epic works and drama. A further result of the cultural phenomenon of ‘feminisation’ in Sentimentalism was that it became possible to think of women as readers as well as contributors to journals, and, to some extent, as authors of literary works. Feminist scholars have found that publishing remained a male domain, however, and that men tended to publish women’s writings regardless of quality. This is why the Sentimentalist ‘feminisation’ of culture confined women in essentialist conceptions, traditional gender patterns, ← 45 | 46 → and the roles of amateur or dilettante, rather than allowing them to develop into professional writers.1 Strongly influenced by French literary models, Sentimentalist literature also projected the notion of goodness onto women. As a result, female ← 46 | 47 → literary characters had to die if and when they could no longer embody virtue. The conception was associated with Sentimentalism’s idealisation of nature and a belief in women’s greater affinity with nature than with culture, which manifested itself particularly clearly in the gender patterns of the pastoral.

Notwithstanding a discourse which conceptualised them as beings estranged from culture, girls and women increasingly began to be a part of 18th- and early-19th-century cultural life in Russia. This is reflected, for instance, in girls’ increasing educational opportunities. In the 1780s Catherine the Great initiated the creation of a nationwide network of schools, which included the provinces, making at least some education available there, even though most families continued to send their children away to the major cities for their education.2 In addition, several boarding schools for girls were created across the Empire. Catherine the Great set up the Smol´ny Institute, an exemplary boarding school for young girls of noble extraction.3 In the first two decades of the 19th century, the empress ← 47 | 48 → Mariia Fedorovna, who had assumed responsibility of the Smol´ny Institute, initiated and established many more educational institutions. After the French Revolution, members of the French aristocracy arrived in Russia, where they set up private pensions, chiefly in the major cities.4 Boarding schools not only provided girls with an education, but could also serve as cultural venues. Most men or women who ran boarding schools were well-known and highly regarded people with a wide circle of acquaintances. For 1819, for instance, N. Brodskii mentions a boarding school in St Petersburg run by a French nobleman who also organised literary evenings in which women were able to participate.5 By providing a mixed-sex venue for literary evenings and similar events, boarding schools contributed to the revision of the notion stipulated by Sentimentalism’s division of society into a male public and a female private sphere, that women should not become involved in public matters. I will provide an example for this phenomenon in Chapter Six on Naumova.

In late-18th- and early-19th-century Russia, women’s involvement in cultural activities was further stimulated by the growing interest in reading. The extent to which reading material was actually available to provincial gentlewomen is a contested question. On the one hand, Karamzin, in his essay ‘O knizhnoi torgovle i liubvi k chteniiu v Rossii’ (On the Book Trade and the Love of Reading in Russia, 1802), painted a lively picture of the thirst for reading which seized the nobility in ← 48 | 49 → the Sentimentalist era, a development which Novikov’s contributions to the emergence of the Russian book trade in the 1780s had helped to stimulate.6 The interest in reading was reflected in literary works whose protagonists are frequently depicted going for a walk carrying a book in their hand.7 Educational institutions, bookshops, publishing houses and public libraries began to appear in provincial towns, although it would take until the 1830s before they became considerable in number.8 By the 1820s, reading had gained respect among the aristocracy, both in major cities and in the provinces. One of the first professional women writers of the Empire, Liubov´ Krichevskaia (1800–?), lived in Kharkov, where she greatly benefitted from her city’s vibrant cultural life.9 Books were available even in provincial towns which provided less intellectual stimulation, as Alexandra Kobiakova (1823–1892) reports in her autobiography.10 That was the time when some noblewomen began to collect books for their own private libraries. Educated women in the provinces had to find ways of obtaining new reading material, e. g. by buying books on their trips to major cities.

On the other hand, intellectual circles whose members would discuss ideas relating to reading tended to be concentrated in the major cities. Women living in remote areas encountered considerable obstacles if they wanted to overcome their ← 49 | 50 → status as social and intellectual outsiders. One scholar notes that in a provincial town like Kharkov, for instance, books could only be bought during fairs, and were mostly for children or about household matters—a view in stark contrast with Krichevskaia’s depiction of the town’s lively cultural life mentioned earlier.11 It is also noteworthy that the poet Anna Bunina moved to St Petersburg from the countryside in search of the wide range of educational opportunities the big city provided.12 Katherine Pickering Antonova’s study of a provincial gentry family in the first half of the 19th century suggests that the provincial gentry did a lot of reading and that a great deal of reading material was available, and also usually exchanged among friends and relatives, but that there was a desire for an even larger amount and greater variety of reading material.13

In the Enlightenment, reading was the privilege of a few cultured noblemen educated in a humanist vein and required a serious study of the work in question, often presupposing familiarity with the classical style and topoi. In Sentimentalist discourse, however, reading began to be regarded as a pastime; no one wishing to pass their time in the company of a book was required to be able to identify traditional literary genres. Light fiction, accessible to any literate person with a ‘sensitive heart’, became Sentimentalism’s predominant literary genre, and was particularly popular among young women deprived of a classical education. Books became accessible to a new readership, including merchants, soldiers, vendors, and even serfs.14

Classicism’s one-dimensional and elitist relationship between author and publisher was replaced in the Sentimentalist era by more domestic circles which saw friends gathered informally to read literary works—their own or other writers’—to each other, and to exchange materials and information on new publications. Journals announcing new books which could be ordered by subscription were another source of news about literary works. Early 19th-century Russia also saw the creation of journals for women, such as Damskii zhurnal (The Ladies’ ← 50 | 51 → Magazine, 1806–1816), Aglaia (Aglaia, 1808–1812), Kabinet Aspazii (Aspasia’s Cabinet, 1815), Modnyi vestnik (The Fashion Messenger, 1816), or Vseobshchii modnyi zhurnal (General Fashion Messenger, 1817). As the number of journals increased, so did the importance attributed to reading; newspaper reading became part of the curriculum of boarding schools for girls.15

There is no doubting the egalitarian aspect of the wider availability of reading materials, rendering reading accessible to different kinds of social groups, including women. However, the development also affected the literary quality of the works, many of which were trite and trivial. Journals devoted almost as much attention to fashion as to literature, and literally became a part of a lady’s accessories. They often had very stylish covers and were put on display next to other fashionable fripperies. As Gitta Hammarberg observes, ‘journals were placed in the context of a lady’s toilette among cosmetics and combs, as if stressing that booklets beautify her as much as cosmetics’.16 Thus, the connotation of the ‘trivialisation’ of literature with the female perpetuated the exclusion of women from academic knowledge.

Salons as centres of literary activity

Literary works were frequently discussed in the context of salons. Their emergence offered women the opportunity to educate themselves and become involved in cultural matters. Early-19th-century Russian salons were usually hosted by women. However, as venues situated in Habermas’ semi-public world of the authentic public sphere, where men interacted with women, they challenged the paradigm of a female private sphere and a male public reserve. In the context of 20th-century salon culture, Beth Holmgren formulates the paradox as follows:

Whereas a salon is almost always situated in a private home, it projects in various ways a liminal space between private and public—by including public characters, mixing different social groups, eliciting small-scale public dialogue.17 ← 51 | 52 →

Salon hostesses had to find a balance between offering light-hearted entertainment and creating an environment of inspiration—and criticism—for aspiring poets. Being a salon hostess, then, enabled a woman to occupy an important social position and to receive public recognition for her talents, not least as a co-architect of the authentic public sphere.

In St Petersburg, a prestigious literary society, Alexander Shishkov’s (1754–1841) Beseda Liubitelei Russkogo Slova (Gathering of Lovers of the Russian Word) included three women authors: Bunina, Volkova, and Ekaterina Urusova (1747–after 1816).

Literary salons and circles emerged not only in the big cities, but also in some provincial centres. Cultured societies organised by women met regularly in Odessa or Kharkov, or in Kazan, as in the case of Alexandra Fuks (c. 1805–1853). Provincial towns such as Kaluga, Kostroma, Smolensk, and Tula also had centres of intellectual life actively involving women. It has to be noted, however, that the greatest numbers of salons were to be found in major cities, whereas considerably fewer salons existed in the provinces.18

In the first three decades of the 19th century, few cultured circles were open to provincial women with aspirations to become a writer. According to Irina Savkina’s study on 1830s to 1840s prose writers including Elena Gan (1814–1842), Alexandra Zrazhevskaia (1805–1867), and Sofiia Zakrevskaia (c. 1796–c. 1865), such women were double outsiders, both as a women writers and as a provincial residents, provintsialki, provincial women. However, as my chapter on Bolotnikova will suggest, women poets living in the country to whom the term provintsialka might be applied existed even before the period covered by Savkina. In this context, some of the women authors which feature in Savkina’s study were at least partly educated in St Petersburg prior to moving to the provinces at a later point in their lives. Gan, in contrast, spent her entire life in the country, where she received an outstanding education. Even though these women did not frequent salons or literary circles, they did produce a considerable number of literary works, often as a source of income. Collaboration in journals was an important means of achieving publication: Zakrevskaia, to name just one, sent ← 52 | 53 → her literary productions to city friends who assisted her in publishing her works in journals.19

An 18th-century precursor of the Russian salon seems to have existed in the house of Elizaveta Kheraskova, who organised gatherings of famous men—and a few women—of letters.20 Among early-19th-century salon hostesses, we find Alexandra Khvostova (1767–1853), who held literary evenings in her St Petersburg apartment. Two decades later, in 1821, Sofiia Ponomareva set up literary evenings, again in St Petersburg, which attracted the intellectual elite of the day. Emulating the salons of the French précieuses, Ponomareva celebrated her central role of salon hostess, seated on a sofa, surrounded by admirers while orchestrating the intellectual exchange. Still in St Petersburg, Alexandra Voeikova (1795–1829) seems to have held a similar type of salon, while Avodoti´a Kireevskaia-Elagina (1789–1877) did so in 1820s Moscow. Other noteworthy salon hostesses were Zinaida Volkonskaia, Evdokiia Rostopchina, and Karolina Pavlova.21 ← 53 | 54 →

With its emphasis on the world of feelings and women’s participation in salons, this cultural institution revised male gender roles. The Sentimentalist man claimed to empathise with women and to cherish their feminine nature to such an extent that he adapted his own behaviour, ‘feminising’ himself. Compassion, friendship, tears and a tender heart became fixtures in the Sentimentalist man’s repertoire. As Hammarberg found elsewhere, a more ‘feminine’ type of man became a model for male behaviour.22 Her study argues that, at the turn of the century, the character of the dandy began to make anappearance in the arena of society life. The male counterpart to the coquette imitated her manners, adopting her interest in looks and clothing, her fascination with French language and culture, her ‘feminine’ diction and her often exaggeratedly delicate disposition. Some men occupied themselves with activities traditionally considered to belong to the sphere of women, such as embroidery. From the 1790s to the 1810s, Sentimentalism’s elevated regard for femininity meant that, in some quarters, it became fashionable for the man to be effeminate.

Egalitarian principles in Sentimentalist literature

Sentimentalist literary works addressed many social issues, among them egalitarian principles and a belief in the unconditional equal value of all human beings. The scholar Grigorii Gukovskii considered Alexander Radishchev (1749–1802) to be the main representative of the democratic and revolutionary trend in Russian Sentimentalism but considered Karamzin, on the other hand, to uphold ← 54 | 55 → reactionary views.23 The impression is partly confirmed when we consider Karamzin’s intention to conserve the patriarchal order in the private sphere of the family, opting for the extension of patriarchal rights to society as a whole. In his Pis´ma russkogo puteshestvennika (Letters of a Russian Traveller), he relates the protagonist’s suggestion that the inhabitants of a Swiss village should proceed with a young criminal in the same way as a father would if he had to punish his own child: public life becomes a ‘semiprivate patriarchal sphere’.24 Other writings by Karamzin reflect similar attitudes, for example the novel Frol Silin, which romanticises a time when landowners treated their subordinates as a father would his children. In contrast to Karamzin, Radishchev suggested that human relationships, whether in family or friendship, should be based on natural feelings of respect; he did not, however, extend this kind of equality to women. Nor, as Joe Andrew observes, does he discuss women’s rights anywhere in his works.25

To a great extent, the democratic potential of Sentimentalism is due to its celebration of equality on an emotional basis. This is expressed most clearly in Karamzin’s Poor Liza, a novella in which the female protagonist, a peasant girl, is emotionally equal to an aristocrat and capable of experiencing the same kind of emotions. Owing to the universal human capacity to experience emotions, the Sentimentalist notion of compassion presupposed the unconditional and equal value of all human beings. This is why it allowed authors to include social outsiders such as peasants and women in their work. Many Russian authors who wrote literature which fitted into the paradigm of Classicism at the same time composed works which belonged to lower literary genres, in which peasants and serfs were protagonists, as shown in Iurii Veselovskii’s study. Alexander Sumarokov, for example, who addressed sublime and heroic topics in his historical drama Dmitrii Samozvanets (Dmitrii the Impostor), also wrote fables which reproduced the language and customs of simple peasants. Iakov Kniazhnin (1742–1791), the author of the historical drama, Vadim Novgorodskii (Vadim of Novgorod), about ← 55 | 56 → the lost republican freedom of ancient Russia, also composed a simple poem in verse form recounting a conversation between two peasants.26

The topic of serfdom in particular began to appear in literary works, especially in the writings by noblemen who had withdrawn to their estates where they came into closer contact with the reality of serfdom. A literary genre predestined to address the subject of serfdom was the pastoral. Idealising nature and expressing scepticism about civilisation, it was the quintessential Sentimentalist poetic genre. As Terry Gifford observes, ‘pastoral is essentially a discourse of retreat which may […] either simply escape from the complexities of the city, the court, the present, “our manners”, or explore them.’27 Two forces were in opposition to each other, the idealisation of nature as a Garden of Eden versus the presence of hard-working serfs disrupting the idyll. Many aristocrats returning to their estates ignored the social injustice of serfdom, producing poems featuring shepherds frolicking blissfully in an idyllic imaginary scenery glowing in endless spring. Others, however, employed their literary skills to criticise social inequality and unfairness. The democratic potential of Sentimentalist ethics rests upon their tendency to face and explore reality rather than produce idealised accounts.

Traditional pastorals featured two main characters, the shepherd and the agricultural labourer. The shepherd symbolises leisure; while tending his flocks he has time to sing songs and exchange gentle words with his beloved shepherdess. The labourer, on the other hand, is busy working all day long, with only short moments of rest. He is virtuous and contented with the harmonious life on the estate and in his family fold, happy despite all the hard work because it prevents him from leading the life of idleness and vice to which the city-dweller is prone. The labourer’s work fulfils and represents the idea of God’s Creation; he is the gardener in a terrestrial Eden. The character of the contented agricultural labourer therefore frequently appears in moralist writings such as Marmontel’s, which, as Wendy Rosslyn has shown, were widely translated into Russian in the 18th century.28

The character of the shepherd is usually portrayed against the background of a locus amoenus, an idyllic landscape with babbling brooks and sheep grazing in perpetual spring. This is how he appears in works by Sentimentalist women writers including Bunina. Her poem Vesna’ (Spring), for example, depicts a locus amoenus ← 56 | 57 → in which shepherdesses lead a carefree life; they are contented with their idyllic environment and the frugal nourishment provided by nature:

В жерло зернистаго граната

Бьет с шумом чистая вода;

На злаках горнаго поката

Пасутся тучныя стада.

В различных купах под кустами,

Со светлыми, как день очами,

Сидят безпечно пастушки.

Их снедь: млеко с суровым хлебом;

Но кто счастливей их под небом!

Забота их: свирель, — рожки.29

Into an open granite mouth

Fresh water crashes and resounds;

In the fields on rolling hills,

Herds of fattening cattle graze.

In little groups beneath the trees,

Their eyes as bright as any day,

The shepherds sit, all quite carefree.

Their fare is milk with simple bread;

But who is happier than they!

Their only care’s the pipe,—the little horns.30

Portrayals of the agricultural labourer had a tendency to be less idealised than those of the shepherd. Although depictions of his life were far from realistic, descriptions of his work would often list his various tasks, which is why the character lends itself to the criticism of serfdom.31 As a result of Sentimentalism’s democratic tendency, the agricultural labourer acquired more serf-like traits, losing many of the traditional, idealising features. He was given a voice to deplore the injustice of being forced to live a much worse life than that of his master and mistress, an aspect I will discuss in greater detail in Chapter Five.

The character of the serf appears in the genre of the comic opera, where, as it seems, he often became a mouthpiece for the author’s criticism of the institution ← 57 | 58 → of serfdom. Veselovskii’s exploration of representations of the countryside in 18th-century Russian poetry suggests this view.32 In Iakov Kniazhnin’s Neshchast´e ot karety (Misfortune from a Coach), for instance, a serf complains about his and his fellow serfs’ miserable lives: their masters tell them what to drink and eat, and even decide who they may marry; the serf adds that their masters make fun of the serfs’ misfortunes, yet would die from hunger without their hard work. In the comic opera, Aniuta, by Mikhail Popov (1742–c. 1790), one of the protagonists criticises the aristocrats who do nothing but eat, drink, go for walks and sleep while the peasants slave away and even have to pay their masters. Serfs appear similarly in fables by Ivan Khemnitser (1745–1784). In Prazdnik derevenskii (The Village Feast), for example, they complain that they must plough, reap or sow all year long and can never enjoy a moment of leisure. Drawing on Iurii Lotman’s theories, Priscilla R. Roosevelt has suggested that the dramatic arts of late-18th- and early-19th-century Russia had a tendency to invade everyday life, of which the serf in comic opera may be considered a manifestation. The ruling class did not, however, interpret the presence of the serf in comic opera as a call to abolish serfdom, but rather, as Simon Karlinsky argues in his study on Russian drama, to expose the abuses of the institution without changing the system as such.33

To a certain extent, then, the appearance of the literary character of the serf indicates that the ruling classes were aware of social inequalities. This philanthropic motivation notwithstanding, authors often instrumentalised the serf to express their views on topics other than serfdom. The serf thus became just another dramatic character, often to create a comic effect, as an example from a satirical poem by Denis Fonvizin (1744/45–1792) demonstrates. His ‘Poslanie k slugam moim Shumilovu, Van´ke i Petrushke’ (Epistle to my Servants Shumilov, Van´ka, and Petrushka) dates from 1760, when Sentimentalist ethics were beginning to emerge. The narrator is a nobleman who muses about the meaning of life and of the world. Unable to find the answers, he asks three of his serfs in turn. The first one replies that he does not know the meaning of life, but that he knows he will always have to be a servant. The second serf adds that he lacks the education to know the answer to such a question. He does, however, tell his master how the world works in his opinion: from serf to tsar, everyone wants to fill ← 58 | 59 → their pockets, which they can only do by deceit. The third serf agrees, suggesting that the only life worth living is a selfish one.34 Fonvizin’s use of the serf is less to express criticism of serfdom than of depraved human morals. The character of the serf lends himself to this literary task because he is the silent observer of a world in which he is not supposed to participate. The serf enhances the credibility of the author’s message: if even a simple serf can comprehend the corrupted state of human relations, corrupted it must be. The instrumentalisation of the character of the serf impedes a serious examination of his social position. He becomes a topos, a stereotype against which to uphold other, more important views.

Moreover, in addition to his function of enhancing the authenticity of the author’s opinions, the juxtaposition of the narrator’s quiet way of life with the serf’s labours serves the literary purpose of producing a comic effect. In Nikolai L´vov’s (1751–1803) comic opera, Silf, ili mechta molodoi zhenshchiny (Sylph, or a Young Woman’s Dream), the character of the serf also creates an entertaining incident. Andrei, a hard-working servant, complains about his lazy master and protests his lot in an aria, the usual genre in which the subject of serfdom occurs in comic opera:

Право, я не ради свету!

Ну да что, житья мне нету

Уж от ваших прихотей!

Будь и кучер и лакей,

Конюх, дворник, казначей.

Всë исправь, везде поспей,

Да ведь я один Андрей!

Я и дворник, и садовник,

Я и кучер, и лакей,

Конюх, дворник, казначей.

Всë исправь, везде поспей,

Да ведь я один Андрей!35 ← 59 | 60 →

It’s true, I say this not for the world!

What can I say, I have no shelter

From your whims and fancies!

If only there were a driver, lackey,

Groom and yardman, treasurer.

Get it done, be everywhere,

But I’m only one Andrei!

I’m a yardman, and a gardener,

I’m a driver, and a lackey,

A groom, a yardman, and a bursar.

Get it done, be everywhere,

But I’m only one Andrei!36

According to the stage directions for this scene, the serf sweeping the garden exits to the side. His purpose here is to create an amusing interlude between more important scenes which drive the plot. Although his aria voices criticism of the serfdom’s social inequality, its predominant effect is tragicomical. As may befit the genre of comic opera, the character of the serf is endowed with clown-like features rather than those of a critic of social power relations.

Once the character of the serf becomes commonplace in comic opera, the content of his speech begins to lose significance. The serf evolves into an interchangeable puppet whose sole purpose is to entertain the audience, a function which trivialises him and his complaint about his destiny. If spectators sympathise at all with the serf, they do so in a patronising manner rather than with an aim to bring about social change. The trivialised image of the serf turns out to be a way of ‘killing the serf into art’. The expression ‘to kill women into art’ has been used in feminist studies to describe a choice of unrealistic and stereotypical representations of women in art, which ‘kill’ or obliterate women because they prevent debates on the complexities women face in real life.37 Once the serf makes his appearance in literature—in the guise of a comic character—the privileged classes may feel that they have accomplished their duty and can avoid further examination of the implications of his presence for their own situation. It should ← 60 | 61 → also be noted that most actors in theatrical performances held on country estates were serfs who were completely at the estate owner’s mercy.38

The issue of woman’s social rights and societal position was another topic addressed in various Sentimentalist literary works. Karamzin expressed his concern about the oppression of women in one part of his ‘Poslanie k zhenshchinam’ (Epistle to Women, 1795), even though he seems to think the problem only exists in countries other than Russia. He uses the liberation of women as an excuse for the Russian war against the Ottoman Empire, a country he regards as uncivilised and unenlightened and one in which women are oppressed:

[…] О Азия, раба

Нaсильств, предрассуждений!

Когда всемощная судьба

В тебе рассеет мрак несчастных заблуждений

И нежный пол от уз освободит?

Когда познаешь ты приятность вольной страсти?

Когда в тебе любовь сердца соединит,

Не тяжкая рука жестокой, лютой власти?

Когда не гнусный страж, не крепость мрачных стен,

Но верность красоте хранительницей будет?

Когда в любви тиран-мужчина позабудет,

Что больше женщины он силой наделен?39 ← 61 | 62 →

[…] Oh, Asia, slave

Of violence, prejudices!

When will almighty fate

Disperse in you the darkness of unhappy misconceptions

And set free the tender sex from its yoke?

When will you recognise the pleasure of free passion?

When will love unite hearts in you,

And not the heavy hand of cruel and frenzied power?

When will not the foul watchman, not the fortress of gloomy walls,

But faithfulness to beauty be my keeper?

When, in love, will the tyrannical man forget

That he has been given more power than a woman?40

Karamzin here raises the ‘woman question’, criticising societies which deny women their freedom, tolerating physical violence and coercion into arranged marriages, which became formally illegal in Russia in 1722. It is difficult to say to what extent Karamzin here also hints at the situation of women in Russia, who are not allowed to divorce even a severely abusive husband. In advocating a social system which allows women to choose their spouses according to their inclinations, Karamzin certainly echoes Sentimentalist views; he would also grant women the right to seek sexual fulfilment. The stanza quoted above contains terms which evoke the republican ideals that began to be discussed at the time—‘uzy’, ‘osvobodit´’, ‘vol´nyi’, ‘vlast´’, and ‘tiran’ (fetters, to liberate, free, power, tyrant)—eventually becoming key words in Decembrist communications about their revolutionary project.

A further sign that the early 19th century saw an emerging discussion of gender roles is the appearance of powerful female characters in the works of some male writers. Konstantin Ryleev’s writings feature heroic women who assume their civil responsibilities just as men do. Karamzin, who cherished the image of the naive girl in his sentimental works, gives an influential role in the public sphere to a courageous, authoritative woman in his novel Marfa Posadnitsa (Martha the Mayoress, 1803). Not everyone accepted this image of women. In fact, one of his contemporaries accused Karamzin of Jacobinism for having ‘… made a drunken ← 62 | 63 → and stupid hag deliver speeches in favour of the liberties of the Novgorodians and orate like Demosthenes’.41

Sentimentalism’s elevated regard for women manifested itself in the fact that, at the beginning of the 19th century, men’s ideal of a woman began to feature qualities such as intelligence and education. Petr Makarov, for instance, was a Sentimentalist who argued that women should have access to education and knowledge, harshly criticising men who thought that this might reduce a woman’s physical attractiveness:

But what shall we think of these people who are firmly convinced that a woman cannot acquire knowledge without losing the attractiveness of her sex, and who, as a consequence, wish that an entire half of humanity (and the better one) does not educate itself?42

Karamzin, too, supported the idea that a woman’s attraction did not reside in looks alone: in addition to virtues such as goodness and kindness, she should also have an educated mind. This was one of the reasons why, in the 1960s, scholars began to think of Karamzin as a progressive rather than a reactionary writer. French researcher Jean Breuillard, for instance, identifies democratic tendencies in Karamzin’s symbolic elevation of women and in Sentimentalist calls to improve women’s educational opportunities.

The way in which women became the focus of attention of male writers in Sentimentalist culture is further illustrated elsewhere in Karamzin’s programmatic ‘Epistle to Women’. Its opening lines, for instance, address women as follows: ← 63 | 64 →

О вы, которых мне любезна благосклонность

Любезнее всего! которым с юных лет

Я в жертву приносил, чего дороже нет:

O you, whose kind favour to me is

Kinder than all others! To whom from my youngest years

I’ve sacrificed the thing of greatest value:43

Here Karamzin rehabilitates the notion of femininity after the low standing it had been accorded in Enlightenment aesthetics. Mikhail Lomonosov’s (1711–1765) ‘Razgovor s Anakreontom’ (Conversation with Anakreon), written in the 1760s, for example, suggests that any writer aware of his civic duties should banish love lyrics from his pen. The view supported by Lomonosov’s poem is that a mature man should be proud of his achievements as a conscientious citizen and politician, and should not idle his time away in the company of women. In contrast, the narrator of Karamzin’s epistle claims to be striving to adopt the feminine values he has found in women’s circles, and decides to live a domestic life in their virtuous and kind-hearted company, in preference to the glory and status a warrior’s life would afford him.44

The functionalisation of women in Sentimentalist literary culture

One of the disadvantages of this kind of conception was that it objectified and functionalised women. Just as in courtly love culture, woman in male Sentimentalist thinking became a remote object of the man’s desire, a ‘universal ideal emptied of all substance’.45 In Karamzin’s perception, as expressed in his ‘Epistle to Women’, women were thought to have a civilising effect on men, which is why women’s task was to help men to refine themselves. His epistle depicts how the most ferocious warrior spares the lives of his enemies if his action can gain the favour of the woman of his heart. The narrator further describes how in his mature years the gentle glance of a woman is a reward for the atrocities which he has had to suffer from men. He also relates how much he admires the nuns’ charitable work. ← 64 | 65 → Although this observation was meant to encourage men to imitate this laudable example it eventually functionalised women since it did not recognise them as beings with their own rights and claims. In the kind of thinking exposed in Karamzin’s ‘Epistle to Women’, women are idealised either as an authority which offers symbolic rewards for men’s military actions, or as exemplars of virtue and refinement from which men were supposed to learn.

The woman reader in particular became a symbol and an abstract point of reference for the Sentimentalist male author because it helped him to construct his conception of literary creation. The main concern of a Sentimentalist writer was that his works should be appealing to female readers. He adapted his style, topics, and linguistic level to what he imagined to be the liking of the ‘fair sex’. The desire of pleasing a female readership accompanied and stimulated his writing process. By assigning special importance to the speech of women and to their domain of activity the Sentimentalist man wanted to challenge the rigid Classicist norms of genres. Women were considered to be ideal judges of the quality of a literary work because they were to a great extent unaware of the traditional requirements of genre. Just as Rousseau found the personification of innate goodness in his untutored wife Thérèse, who had a feeling for beauty despite her lack of education, Karamzin regarded women as ideal arbiters of taste precisely because they were considered to be alienated from culture. It is largely due to this feature that many scholars revised the image of Karamzin as a conservative writer and regarded the importance which he attributed to women as readers and arbiters of taste as an extension of democratic ideals to women.46

In Hammarberg’s view, the importance assigned to the female reader by Sentimentalism is a considerable departure from ‘the traditional view of woman as passive and man as active’. It is true that, given their symbolic influence on men, women played quite an important part in the creative process, and that male authors feeling the need to adapt their writing to women’s taste adopted more passive features. Nevertheless, Karamzin’s new role for women in the process of literary creation defined most of them as readers rather than authors. The Sentimentalist idealisation of women as readers and arbiters of taste differed only marginally from their traditional role as muses who arouse men’s poetic feelings, leaving the basic gender paradigm intact. Even though the woman reader became the axis around which Sentimentalist literary production revolved, women were still supposed to manage and monitor rather than create and initiate cultural ← 65 | 66 → activities. Carolin Heyder and Arja Rosenholm argue that in the perception of Sentimentalist men, ‘woman is not a producer of a sign, but functions as a sign’.47

Women were further instrumentalised by the fact that Sentimentalism’s symbolic elevation of women served to a great extent as a means for the man to explore his emotional capacities. In this respect, the Sentimentalist man emulated the tradition outlined by elegiac poems written from the male point of view, such as in Western European courtly love culture, where the rejection of the beloved woman gives rise to abundant male monologues. As Catherine Bates argues in relation to English Renaissance poetry, the scenario of courtly love culture turns the abject male lover of amour courtois into a master of rhetorical wit.48 Sentimentalist man exchanges rhetorical mastery for the subtleties of the sensitive soul, yet the way in which he instrumentalised women by perceiving them as objects for his literary creativity has similarities to courtly love culture. Like the male poet in Western love poems, the narrator in Sentimentalist literature is mainly occupied with ‘defining his own self’, as Jan Montefiore observes.49 For Montefiore, the male narrator’s introspective examination of his soul’s emotional capacities turns out to be a narcissistic activity in which the ‘other’ helps to construct a reflection of the self.

To be ‘sentimental’ in the sense of ‘sensitive’ therefore meant different things to men and women. While it was a means of expressing man’s intellectual freedom, it was considered to be a woman’s inherent trait. Women were conceptualised as sensitive and passive beings who had to suffer without being able to overcome misery either through intellectual reflection or concrete actions. The gender distinction had a strong impact on the Sentimentalist conception of female death, which male writers tended to associate with concepts of virtue. Because women were considered to be the bearers of moral integrity, their lives could not go on once they had come into conflict with the requirement to epitomise innate goodness. When threatened, their virtue came even more to the fore. This idea could be found frequently in French literature of the 18th and early 19th century, as the following examples show.

In Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s (1773–1814) novel, Paul et Virginie (Paul and Virginia, 1788), the female protagonist chooses to drown with a sinking ship rather than be saved, since to be rescued, she would have to remove her heavy dress. ← 66 | 67 → She dies, hand placed on her heart and her gaze directed heavenwards—the very picture of a saint. François René de Chateaubriand’s novel, Atala (1801), which was the precursor of his apology for Christianity, Le Génie du Christianisme (The Genius of Christianity, 1802), also reproduces the image of a young woman as a self-sacrificing pious virgin. Atala, a Christian girl raised in America, falls in love with a native. Just as they are about to consummate their love, however, Atala decides to poison herself in order to comply with her mother’s wish that she should remain a virgin. Rousseau’s Julie in Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse (Julie, or the New Heloise) dies after saving one of her children from drowning, death apparently being her only way to avoid the temptation of committing adultery.50

Russian literature reproduced these notions of female virtue and death, the most prominent example being Karamzin’s novella, Poor Liza. As Natal´ia Kochetkova suggests, the story epitomises the Sentimentalist clash between the ideal and real worlds, a conflict in which woman is the epitomy of the ideal, usually with tragic consequences. In this case, Liza commits suicide after being seduced and abandoned. Her death, however, is preceded by a state of saint-like sublime religious illumination. As Christo Manolakev observes, Liza’s is the first of quite a number of women’s suicides in Russian literature across the following two centuries, from Alexander Ostrovskii’s Katerina in Groza (Thunderstorm) to Lev Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina.51 In Sentimentalist discourse, this type of female death was considered to be a kind of moral victory. In Karamzin’s novella Iulia (Julia), the female protagonist owes her life to the fact that she has preserved her innate goodness without falling short of the requirements of female virtue. Julia is torn between feelings of passion and virtue, each of which is symbolised by a different man. At the end, Julia’s sense of duty and virtue prevails and she finds happiness in a secluded life and fulfilment in her role as a selfless mother and woman. Female death is also glorified in Karamzin’s verse epos, Alina (1790), in which the female protagonist must die—even though, a devoted wife, she has adhered to the strictest principles of virtue—when her husband Milon feels attracted to another girl. Unlike her husband, Alina has preserved her innate goodness and is ready to sacrifice her life so he may be happy. Her self-sacrificial ← 67 | 68 → intention rekindles Milon’s feelings for her, but Alina has already poisoned herself and dies.52

Worship of nature as an earthly paradise

The conception of woman as the epitome of goodness, an expectation she had to live up to, was related to the equation of woman with nature. In the course of the 18th century, Sensationalism had prepared the ground in the field of philosophy for an elevated regard for, not to say worship of, nature in both Western Europe and in Russia; the notion was becoming increasingly popular that the human senses were better suited than the human mind to acquire knowledge and truth. It had originally been expounded by philosophers including John Locke (1632–1704), Etienne Bonnot de Condillac (1714–1780), and Charles Bonnet (1720–1793). As a result of Sensationalism’s philosophical position, and in reaction against Enlightenment rationalism, early-19th-century literature increasingly began to regard nature as a source of spirituality, which is why nature was held in particularly high esteem.

The trend was intensified by the religious current of Deism, which tried to prove God’s existence without reference to the Bible, a cultural phenomenon endorsed by many Western European and Russian writers in the latter half of the 18th century. According to Deism, the individual finds confirmation for religious feelings in his or her own observations of nature. In his novel Émile (Emile), Rousseau outlines his concept of religion as ‘inner feelings’. In the section entitled, Profession de foi du vicaire Savoyard’ (The Profession of Faith of a Savoyard Vicar), he explains that people are capable of sensing divinity without a need for external rites. It is arguably this section which prompted Catherine the Great to prohibit the translation of Rousseau’s Emile. Nevertheless, it became known among Russian readers, who were either able to read the French original, or because translations of the section included in other works managed to escape the censors.53

Pantheism was another influential religious and philosophical current at the end of the 18th century. Being present in Western European as well as Russian ← 68 | 69 → thought, it contributed considerably to the worship of nature common in Sentimentalism. A pantheistic approach to life requires the individual to discern God’s existence in various manifestations of nature. The Bible contains pantheistic features in some of the psalms, which encourage the believer to celebrate God’s greatness in every manifestation of Creation, such as the sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans, the mountains, the woods, the meadows, every living thing, all of which carry a spark of paradise in them. Although pantheism and fascination with nature as an earthly paradise became particularly important at the beginning of the 19th century, they already existed in the Middle Ages, both in Russia and in the West. They persisted in the works of religious thinkers such as 17th-century philosopher Blaise Pascal. In his Les Pensées (Thoughts), in which he attempted to write an apology for the Christian religion, he tries to convince atheists to adhere to the Christian faith by making them aware of the variety of universes of which nature consists. Similarly, the narrator in Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Conversations about the Variety of the Worlds), published in France in 1686 and translated into Russian by Anna Trubetskaia in 1802, resorted to astronomy and science to explain the heliocentric planetary system to a lady during their night walks.54 The notion of a plurality of worlds is addressed frequently in early-19th-century Russian Sentimentalist literature. It is reflected, for instance, in the title of a chapter, ‘Mnozhestvo mirov’ (The Multitude of the Worlds), in Karamzin’s 1789 translation of Bonnet’s Contemplation de la Nature (Contemplations of Nature, 1764–1765).55

As a result of the deistic and pantheistic currents of culture, many Western European writers of the second half of the 18th century produced literary works which depicted nature as an earthly paradise or tried to demonstrate the existence of God in observations of nature. De Saint-Pierre’s novel Paul and Virginia, ← 69 | 70 → mentioned previously, is a pastoral set on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean, a paradise of innocent love and virtue in stark contrast with the corrupted culture in which the author lives. De Saint-Pierre’s Études de la nature (Studies on Nature), published between 1784 and 1788, were intended to demonstrate that nature was built according to God’s plan. The author provides careful observations of the various spectacles of nature, suggesting that they instil religious feelings in the viewer. Chateaubriand’s writings are part of a similar cultural trend. In his Genius of Christianity, published in 1802, he tries to convince his readers to accept the Christian faith by appealing to their feelings and personal experiences, and by providing descriptions of natural miracles. A further indicator of this cultural trend is the great popularity of a collection of poems by James Thomson (1700–1748), which draw on the Bible and on Virgil’s pastoral poems: a German translation of Thomson’s The Seasons (1726–1730) provided the libretto for the oratorio Die Jahreszeiten (1799–1801) by Joseph Haydn (1732–1803), the Classical composer.56

During the second half of the 18th century, Russian culture was fascinated with the notion of Paradise. The strong prominence of Freemasonry provides an intruiging example. Masonic thought was virtually obsessed with the idea of catching a glimpse of Paradise; Masonic lodges, often called ‘Paradise restored’, offered their members a sanctuary to experience ‘Paradise within’, the internal bliss enjoyed by Prelapsarian man. The Freemasons strove to recover the ‘higher wisdom’ with which man had been endowed in Paradise, so that they might once again understand God’s ‘Book of Nature’, a capacity lost upon Adam’s expulsion. In their lodges the Freemasons also attempted to perceive the ‘Eternal Light’ God had sent out to his chosen people.57

The fascination with the notion of paradise and with nature as its mirror was reflected in Russian literature. Under the influence of the cultural trends of deism, pantheism, fascination with Genesis, and Masonic thought, which shaped his ← 70 | 71 → thinking in his youth, Karamzin translated Christoph Christian Stürm’s (1740–1786) Unterhaltungen mit Gott (Conversations with God) as Besedy s bogom, published 1787–1789. Karamzin’s lyrical essay ‘Progulka’ (A Walk, 1789) is conceived in a similar spirit and clearly part of the literary tradition of describing ‘philosophical’ country walks, including Rousseau’s Les rêveries du promeneur solitaire (Reveries of the Solitary Walker, 1782), or Fontenelle’s night walks with a lady interested in astronomy. A further source of inspiration for ‘A Walk’ was Karamzin’s 1787 translation of Thomson’s Seasons mentioned above.58 Hammarberg suggests in her study that ‘A Walk’ describes the narrator’s impressions during a country walk, and the reflections arising from his contemplations. As in his Letters of a Russian Traveller, excerpts of which were published between 1791 and 1792, Karamzin’s aim is to record everything he sees, feels and hears. His nature studies sometimes include scientific elements, for example when he reflects on the infinity of the universe, wondering whether there is life on other planets. To create poetry is to imitate the idea of Creation. At night, when the protagonist cannot observe nature, he is given to philosophical thoughts about human virtue and life after death. The rising sun is greeted with hymns to Creation. His religious state of self-perception at night is reminiscent of Edward Young’s (1683–1765) Night-Thoughts (1742–1745), a book frequently referred to by Sentimentalist literary figures.59 ← 71 | 72 →

The narrator in Karamzin’s ‘A Walk’ is a sensitive man receptive to the beauty of Creation, a feature Karamzin describes in his essay, ‘Chto nuzhno avtoru?’ (What Does an Author Need?, 1794), where he suggests that a good writer must have a sensitive heart and high virtues. In this concept of the author, there has to be harmony between the external world of inspiration and the author’s emotional inner life. Karamzin’s essay expresses this view by claiming that a divine gift is spoilt and useless if the vessel which receives it is unclean. In these writings, goodness is an inherent part of a man’s character, a concept Karamzin had come to question, however, by the 1790s.60

Another way in which Karamzin responded to Sentimentalism’s worship of nature was in his reception of Salomon Gessner (1730–1788). The Swiss author wrote idylls populated by shepherds and shepherdesses who sit by the crystalline waters of brooks, or in shady groves, where they listen to the cooing of turtle-doves. Gessner’s works had been well-known in Russia since the 1770s. Interest in him, and in Russian translations of his idylls, peaked in the 1790s, but persisted until the 1820s. Joachim Klein argues that, in the 1770s, Gessner’s idylls began to eclipse Sumarokov’s mainly French-inspired eclogues, whose main topic is love. Gessner’s idylls, on the other hand, addressed a wider range of topics including friendship, family, childhood, youth, old age, birth and death, which rendered them appealing to many writers.61 Numerous works by Karamzin contain references to the Swiss writer, whom he considered the epitome of a virtuous author. Karamzin published his translation of Gessner’s idyll ‘Das hölzerne Bein’ (The Wooden Leg) in 1783; his translation of a Gessner biography appeared in 1792.62 ← 72 | 73 →

Sentimentalism’s symbolic elevation of nature is represented most clearly in the genre of the pastoral. Alluding to the idea of Horace’s Beatus ille, it celebrates the deliberate and peaceful pace of life in the country away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Horace opened his second ode with the words, ‘Beatus ille, qui procul negotiis…’, i.e., ‘Happy he who, far from the cares of business, …’. Russian imitations of this ancient model were frequent during the first two decades of the 19th century, especially in works by authors who combined an idealised Sentimentalist view of nature with neo-Classicist literary ideals. References to the mythological Golden Age, when humans lived in harmony with each other and with ‘Creation’, were frequent. The poem ‘Priiatnost´ sel´skoi zhizni’ (The Pleasures of Country Life) by Anna Volkova, for example, illustrates this tendency:

Лишь сельскаго коснусь я мыслию жилища,

Вся восхищаюся природы красатой,

Пленяюся ея прелестной пестротой:

Она дарует нам то щастие прямое,

Которое зовем мы время золотое.63

My thoughts touch only country life,

I delight forever in nature’s beauty,

Bewitched by her wondrous diversity:

She gives us that immediate joy

We call a golden time.64

The idealisation of nature was often associated with literary reflections on the transitoriness of life and its material aspects, such as wealth and rank. This kind of theme was particularly present in Masonic thought with its emphasis on inner values and life after death. Many works by Sumarokov and Kheraskov address the fleeting nature of human life. It is a tendency associated with the high value attributed to the neo-Stoic notion of spokoïstvie (tranquillity) in 18th-century Russia. The poem ‘Vodopad’ (The Waterfall), written by Gavrila Derzhavin (1743–1816) between 1791 and 1794, manifests the notion that a contemplative way of life is preferable to worldly goods and glory. The poem uses metaphors ← 73 | 74 → which originate in male domains, e.g. the image of a warlord eager to acquire immortal glory, whose efforts are compared to the noise and short lifespan of the waterfall: Derzhavin’s poem suggests that humans will fall from the height of their glory just as the water noisily cascades down the waterfall, which is unfavourably compared to the peaceful babbling of a brook, a literary device which adumbrates literary Sentimentalism.65

The equation of woman with nature

The idealisation of nature in Sentimentalist discourse was linked with specific gender patterns. Nature is an earthly paradise, God the world’s architect and craftsman, and man the agriculturalist who cultivates God’s garden. In panegyric odes, similar features are attributed to the ruler who imitates God’s example when restoring a terrestrial paradise in Russia.66 The myth of Peter the Great as tsar and carpenter is associated with these images. The place and role of woman, however, is different. Being the symbol of and in tune with nature, she does no work to transform the paradisiacal garden. And as the culture of her time has attributed to her an immaculate soul by virtue of her sex, her very being mirrors Creation. Panegyric odes reveal the difference: while the tsar is considered his country’s universal engineer, angelic features are often ascribed to the tsarina.67 ← 74 | 75 →

Karamzin reproduces Sentimentalism’s equation of woman with nature in his novella Poor Liza: Erast, the aristocratic male protagonist, flees from the allegedly corrupted world of civilisation, seeking refuge in the primordial goodness of nature. He falls in love with Liza, a peasant girl who epitomises Sentimentalism’s fascination with nature. The narrator comments on the unrealistic Sentimentalist view of women and nature in the following ironic terms:

He read novels, idylls; he had a vivid enough imagination and often transported himself mentally to those times (real or imagined), in which, if the poets are to be believed, all people endlessly wandered through meadows, bathed in pure springs, kissed like doves, rested beneath roses and myrtle and lived all their days in happy idleness. It seemed to him that in Liza he had found what his heart had long sought. ‘Nature calls me to her embraces, to her pure joys’ he thought, and decided—at least for a time—to leave the everyday world.69

In Sentimentalist literature, nature is often called the Creator’s ‘daughter’. Behind female nature stands a male deity turning nature into the motherless daughter of a patriarchal god whose will, authority and omnipotence manifest themselves in every single aspect of nature, no matter how minute or majestic. Such gender-specific connotations of nature and other natural phenomena are reflected in the works of many Sentimentalist writers, both male and female. In their collection of poems published in 1802, for instance, the sisters Mariia and Elizaveta Moskvina associate the earth with femininity. ‘Buria’ (The Storm) is a poem in which the earth, initially described in idyllic terms, is being attacked by a storm. Personified earth expresses ‘her’ suffering in direct speech: ← 75 | 76 →

И земля из недр рыдала,

Глас свой к небу простирала:

«Я жестоку казнь терплю!…

«Чем же так тебя гневлю?

«Долг свой верно исполняю,

«Всем дары я ристочаю,

«Не смеюся над трудом,

«А отплачена я злом.

And the world wept from its depths,

It raised its voice to the heavens:

‘I endure cruel punishments!…

How have I angered you so?

Faithfully I’ve done my duty,

Given gifts to everyone,

I do not laugh at work to do,

But I’m repaid with spite.’70

‘Luna i solntse’ (The Moon and the Sun), another poem by the Moskvina sisters, provides a further illustration of the Sentimentalist tendency to associate masculinity with symbols of authority from the natural world. It relates how the lyrical persona was initially fascinated by the beauty of the moon but came to understand the sun to be the true leader of the universe. In many late-18th-century poems, the sun features as a symbol of the Creator, and therefore carries masculine connotations.71

Images of woman associated with nature, spring and paradise go back to antiquity, to the Greek myth of Persephone, who is abducted into the Underworld by Hades and whose grief transforms the world into a barren, bleak and inhospitable place.72 A similar pattern occurs in the pastoral, where a young girl personifies happiness and spring’s Edenic nature. If the shepherd’s beloved reciprocates his feelings and is close to him, his heart is filled with happiness; nature seems to be an idyllic and pleasant place, or locus amoenus. Her absence, by contrast, causes torments described in images recalling depictions of hell; the world becomes a dark and desolate place, a locus terribilis.

In Chapter Four on Pospelova I will discuss the fact that late-18th-century descriptions of the locus terribilis surrounding the abject shepherd often included ← 76 | 77 → Gothic imagery such as graveyards and otherworldly visions of the beloved. Russian readers became acquainted with Gothic literature in the 1780s, which is when translations of Thomas Gray’s (1716–1771) ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’ (1751) began to appear. Karamzin’s 1792 adaptation of a poem by Ludwig Kosegarten, ‘Des Grabes Furchtbarkeit und Lieblichkeit’ (The Awesomeness and Loveliness of the Grave),73 was his response to the Gothic aesthetic outlined in German and English Romanticism; his 1794 novel, Ostrov Borngol´m (The Island of Bornholm), also reproduces Gothic imagery in its depiction of a tyrant who holds a young woman in a dungeon.74

Sumarokov and other classicist poets employ imagery from Petrarchan love lyrics to describe the shepherd’s emotional hell, describing the abject male lover’s heart as burning, with poison running through his veins, and the glances of the beloved person striking him like arrows. He cannot appreciate the beauty of blossoming nature while his beloved is absent; on the contrary, he suffers all the more acutely. Eventually, death seems to be the only escape from his pain.

In pastorals, it is usually the male shepherd who complains about unrequited love.75 The absence of his beloved causes him to express his feelings in abundant lyrical monologues. The underlying gender pattern functionalises woman insofar as her role is to create happiness. To test the authenticity of his feelings, and to demonstrate her virtuous character, she often feigns indifference towards the shepherd. Her own feelings, by contrast, remain unspoken; she never expresses despair in the face of unrequited love. She is a mute symbol of happiness and spring, always in tune with the beauty of Creation. ← 77 | 78 →

The female character of Fate in emerging Romanticism

The first two decades of the 19th century saw an increasing interest in folk culture, which found its reflection in literary works. Poets both male and female began to merge classical characters, including the uncontrollable force of Fate, with divinities from Russian folklore. Frequent references to the uncontrollable force of Fate during this period express the Romantic scepticism about the goodness of the (male) human heart, which had prevailed in Sentimentalist thought.

Evgenii i Iulia, (Eugene and Julia, 1784), is the first of Karamzin’s writings to focus on the influence of fate. Her destructive powers feature most distinctly, however, in his novella The Island of Bornholm (1793), where he expresses a pessimistic worldview insofar as his characters are incapable not only of moral self-improvement by means of education, but also of overcoming anti-social instincts. By now Karamzin has completely abandoned the belief in innate goodness adopted from Rousseau after his break from the Freemasons in his youth. His novella Moia ispoved´ (My Confession, 1802) is a sarcastic response to Rousseau’s Confessions.76

Russian literature from 1800 until 1820 presents Fate in a way that reveals some of the character’s evolutionary stages. As the personification of forces beyond human control, Fate is invariably female, appearing either—in antiquity—as a demi-goddess endowed with the authority to reign over life and death, or—in political ideology—as a disruptive element. In Greek and Roman mythology, the Fates are three women who spin, weave and cut the thread and fabric of human lives. The myth has survived Christianisation; as Mary Kelly has found in her study on ritual textiles among Slav village women, it crops up in Slavonic folk traditions:

In Bulgaria, when a baby (for example, a prematurely born infant) was in danger of dying, a magic ritual that echoes Russian practice was enacted. A shirt was made by three women who, in the darkness of night, stripped off their clothes and let their hair loose. Standing on the roof of the house, they had to weave a piece of cloth there and sew it into a baby’s shirt before the first rooster crowed. This magic shirt was then put ← 78 | 79 → immediately on the baby to keep it alive. […] Ukrainian tradition preserves a similar housetop ritual.77

There is a striking resemblance between the three Fates and the three women’s activity of weaving and being in charge of a human life. Their loose hair, moreover, is in keeping with the unbraided hair which, as Faith Wigzell observes, was an essential element in invocations of pagan (hence unclean) powers during divination rituals.78

Fortune as the personification of an indomitable power appears in a number of 18th- and early-19th-century Russian literary works by women and men. It is commonplace to complain about her unfairness and unpredictability. As in Volkova’s poem ‘K moei podruge’ (To My Lady Friend),79 the name of Fortune very often simply serves as a metaphor for (economic) wealth. Also quite frequent is the idea that one may be able to shield oneself from Fortune’s blows by retreating to a life of contemplation in the country—but only if one is receptive to nature’s beauty. When saying that nature has taught her to abhor the transitoriness of Fortune’s gifts, Volkova’s lyrical persona openly expresses her disdain for the high value attributed to wealth. In her view, Fortune (representing economic wealth) is opposed to nature; true happiness resides in a pure soul and can only be achieved through the appreciation of nature.80

The notion that a Horatian idealisation of the countryside helps people to develop inner strength and to grow indifferent to the upheavals of life also appears in the writings of Kheraskov, the author of a number of moralising poems. In ‘Spokoïstvie’ (Tranquillity), his narrator claims that man can only avoid being ‘Fortune’s slave’ by living far from the temptations of the city, for example on a nobleman’s estate. Here the Stoicist believes to have achieved such a degree of inner ← 79 | 80 → strength that he dares to challenge Fortune to try and upset his calm.81 However, his tone implies that he needs to rely upon (latent) aggression in his dealings with Fortune and her inconsistent machinations, a position which contradicts stoic indifference. Parallels with underlying gender-specific aspects related to republican ideals suggest that for man to be in control of his passions, he must suppress any female or feminine aspects.

In the works of Nikolai L´vov (1751–1803), a writer, architect and collector of Russian folk songs, Fortune is explicitly associated with sexual connotations. The lyrical persona in ‘Fortuna’ (Fortune), a poem written in 1797 from his country estate to a friend, shows respect for, as well as anger towards, the female character. He protests that he has been unable to catch this ‘fickle’, ‘flying’, ‘naked Madam’, to whom humans are as insignificant as toads or grass-snakes. Here, Fortune is not only sexually provocative (‘naked’), she can also fly like a witch. Any attempts at a rational, scientific explanation of her dealings are futile because hers is a dark, devilish force:

Зовет фортуной свет ученый

Сию мадам: но тут не тот

(Прости, господь) у них расчет:

Они морочат мир крещеный!

Поверь мне, друг мой, это черт82

The educated world call this lady

Fortune: but in this they have

(Forgive me, God), not reckoned right:

They do deceive the Christian world!

Believe me, friend, this is the devil…83

Well aware that Fortune will not be pleased to hear these words, the narrator tempers the sharpness of his outbursts pretending to have lost his mind. As in Kheraskov, the beneficial effect of the countryside is a panacea for the blows of Fortune. It also brings a Sentimentalist re-evaluation of the domestic sphere insofar as those fortunate enough to live in the countryside can spend their evenings in the company of their families, resting beneath lime trees. Rural domestic bliss is the reward for men who have renounced material pursuits such as a career in ← 80 | 81 → the city or at court. L´vov’s ‘Fortune’ presents a courtier who might well be Fortune’s ‘favourite’, but whose busy life brings him no happiness: he has no freedom, he is obliged to ‘dance’, and finds no time to sleep because to do so would lose him Fortune’s benevolence.

The description of a courtier’s hectic life illustrates a common scepticism in Sentimentalist culture towards careerism and Enlightenment ideals of activism in the pursuit of public virtue. The notion of service has begun to be associated with self-interest. Moreover, the character of Fortune as a woman who reigns at court and of whom men seek favour is reminiscent of Catherine the Great’s rule and favouritism, which often took on the guise of a gamble.84 The poem may well be an expression of male frustration at being unable to exert any influence in the public sphere of the state. Another feature which L´vov ascribes to Fortune is that of the evil and irresponsible mother (matushka chrezmerno bestolkova). Finally, in another poem, ‘Schast´e i Fortuna’ (Happiness and Fortune), L´vov associates Fortune with the notion of luxury when he depicts her as a wealthy bride, whose abundant dowry and need for social interaction render the life of her partner, Happiness, unbearable, compelling him to leave her to go and live in the family of Love.85

Explicit female connotations with Fortune also occur in the work of Ivan Dmitriev (1760–1837), a poet and friend of Karamzin’s. In ‘Iskateli Fortuny’ (Seekers of Fortune), having declared that Fortune is a woman (Fortuna zhenshchina), the male narrator advises the reader to treat her like any other woman: ignoring Fortune will force her to pay attention to him. In another poem, ‘Pustynnik i ← 81 | 82 → Fortuna’ (The Hermit and Fortune), Fortune is depicted as a wealthy woman of loose morals who attempts to lure him away from his faithful wife, destroying the protagonist’s peaceful family life in a humble cabin.86

One of the attributes of luxury associated with Fortune is the chariot, as illustrated by Volkova’s poem, ‘Razmyshlenie o prevratnosti i nepostoianstve shchastiia’ (Reflection on the Vicissitudes and Inconstancy of Luck). Here the lyrical persona muses about a world in which

каждый быв страстей в неволе

Клянет немилосердый рок,

Вздыхает в злополучной доле,

И горьких слез лиет поток;

Фортуны гордой к колеснице

Прикован в след ея течет,

Непостоянной сей Царице

Всечасно гимны в честь поет;

К ней длани робки простирая,

В душе сомнение храня,

Ея улыбки ожидая

Проводит дни свои стеня.87

All who’ve been in thrall to passions

Curse merciless fortune,

Sigh in their ill-received lot,

And weep a flood of tears;

Bound to follow in the wake

Of proud fortune’s chariot,

And to sing eternally

Hymns in praise of this protean Queen;

Stretching humble hands to her,

Nursing doubt within his soul,

Always waiting for her smile

His wretched days are filled with moans.88 ← 82 | 83 →

Here, even though there is none of the aggression and challenges which occur in the works by Kheraskov, L´vov or Dmitriev, Fortune is presented as a proud and inconsistent woman.

Urusova’s ‘K sud´be’ (To Fate, 1811) does not address Fortune, who delivers worldly goods, but Fate, who determines people’s lives. It displays aspects of late-18th-century pietistic and stoic tendencies. The way in which the lyrical persona confesses her guilt makes it clear that humans ought to accept Fate’s dealings:

Судьба! перед тобой виновна я была;

Тобой довольна быть я в жизни не могла;

Тебя винила я, против тебя роптала,

Тебя всех бедств моих причиною считала.

Fate! I was guilty before you;

Never satisfied with you in life;

I muttered accusations against you,

And thought you the cause of all my woes.89

These lines show respect for a female authority. In prayer-like words, the humble narrator asks to be forgiven for her complaints. Rather than Fortune, L´vov’s force of darkness, Fate is a source of light and enlightenment:

Ты тайно действуешь, премудро управляешь,

И нашу тьму своим сияньем разгоняешь.

Ты чистою себя любовью вспламеня,

Сражалась много раз со мною за меня.90

You work in secret, direct things most wisely,

And banish darkness with your radiance.

And blazing with your purest love,

You’ve often battled me for my own sake.91

Fighting for her protégés’ souls, Fate here symbolises Christian values; later on, she is described as beneficient and generous. Although the poem contains notions of a battle, it feels different from Kheraskov’s. Here, it is Fate herself who is struggling to prevent humans from vain pursuits, trying to protect them from these evils with her own hands, teaching detachment from worldly gains, and providing happiness ← 83 | 84 → and peace. Urusova’s Fate is perceived as a saviour, with whom the lyrical persona does not quarrel, submitting to her will instead.


Chapter Two has discussed some of the literary impacts of Sentimentalist gender conceptions in Russia. The feminisation of literary culture had a positive impact insofar as it made education more accessible to women, a tendency which manifested itself in the increase of boarding schools for girls, for instance. Sentimentalist interest in reading may have contributed to this development: Unlike during Classicism, when reading was the privilege of an elite, reading now became accessible to people from all social classes, including women. Novels and minor poetic genres became fashionable; they replaced drama and epic prose, the genres which had been most highly regarded during Classicism. Despite these tendencies towards democratisation, most people living in Russia were illiterate and excluded from these cultural achievements. A similar ambiguity can be found in the increase of women’s magazines. On the one hand, they provided women with reading material, helping them to participate in the cultural debates of their time. On the other hand, however, many of them focused on fashion rather than literature, and tended to trivialise women.

Literary salons, whose number began to increase during the first decades of the 19th century, offered women an opportunity to enhance their education and a platform for intellectual exchange. In the provinces, cultural centres and salons providing women with occasions to participate in culture also began to emerge. The major cities, however, remained the centres for this type of activity. Even though it became easier to embrace reading and culture, living in the provinces still presented a disadvantage for women who wished for recognition as writers.

Sentimentalism’s egalitarian principles were reflected in literary works, which began to discuss the notion of the unconditional value of all human beings. The institution of serfdom was criticised, especially after the nobles, released from state service, had returned to their estates, where they came into close proximity with the consequences of serfdom. The use of the genre of the pastoral reflected the dichotomy which resulted from this more direct observation of nature and serfdom. The figure of the agricultural worker in pastorals was used to criticise serfdom, whereas the figure of the shepherd represents the genre’s idealising tendencies. In the genre of the comic opera, the figure of the serf was even trivialised and functionalised.

Sentimentalism’s democratic tendency further manifested itself in discussions about women’s social inequality, in parts of Karamzin’s ‘Epistle to Women’, ← 84 | 85 → for example, which includes Decembrist vocabulary albeit applied to the woman question. The downside of the Sentimentalist elevation of feminity was that it objectified and functionalised women, whose alleged innate goodness was considered to be an ideal precondition for them to judge the quality of literary works, but not necessarily to become authors.

A typical feature of Sentimentalism was its worship of nature and its conception of nature as an earthly paradise, as manifested in Karamzin’s well known ‘A Walk’ and in his response to Gessner’s works. Nature was perceived in female terms, which reflected itself in many pastorals and also in Karamzin’s novella Poor Liza. Eventually, the character of Fate as an element which disrupts idyllic country life also appeared in many early Romanticist works. Fate was always perceived in female terms; in works written by men, references to her often carried sexual connotations.

1 Wendy Rosslyn: ‘Making their Way into Print. Poems by Eighteenth-Century Russian Women’. The Slavonic and East European Review 78, 2000, pp. 407–438;
Gitta Hammarberg: ‘Women, Critics and Women Critics in Early Russian Women’s Journals’. In: Rosslyn, Wendy (ed.): Women and Gender in 18th-Century Russia. Ashgate: Aldershot 2003, pp. 187–207;
Judith Vowles: ‘The “Feminization” of Russian Literature. Women, Language, and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Russia’. In: Clyman, Toby / Greene, Diana (eds): Women Writers in Russian Literature. Praeger: London 1994, pp. 35–60;
Gitta Hammarberg: ‘The Feminine Chronotope and Sentimentalist Canon Formation’. In: Cross, Anthony / Smith, Gerald (eds): Literature, Lives, and Legality in Catherine’s Russia. Astra: Cotgrave 1994, pp. 103–120;
Gitta Hammarberg: ‘Reading à la mode. The First Russian Women’s Journals’. In: Klein, Joachim et al. (eds): Reflections on Russia in the Eighteenth Century. Böhlau: Köln 2001, pp. 218–232;
Wendy Rosslyn: ‘Anna Bunina’s “Unchaste Relationship with the Muses”. Patronage, the Market and the Woman Writer in Early Nineteenth-Century Russia’. The Slavonic and East European Review 74, 1996, pp. 223–242;
Wendy Rosslyn: Anna Bunina (1774–1829) and the Origins of Women’s Poetry in Russia. Mellen: Lewiston 1997;
Karolin Khaider: ‘“V sei knizhke est´ chto-to zanimatel´noe, no…”: Vospriiatie russkikh pisatel´nits v Damskom zhurnale’. In: Shore, Elisabeth (ed.): Pol. Gender. Kul´tura. Nemetskie i russkie issledovaniia. Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Gumanitarnyi Universitet: Moscow 2000, pp. 131–153;
Carolin Heyder / Arja Rosenholm: ‘Feminization as Functionalisation. The Presentation of Femininity by the Sentimentalist Man’. In: Rosslyn, Wendy (ed.): Women and Gender in 18th-Century Russia. Ashgate: Aldershot 2003, pp. 51–71;
Viktor Zhivov: ‘Literaturnyi iazyk i iazyk literatury v Rossii XVIII stoletiia’. Russian Literature. Special Issue. 18th Century Russian Literature 52, 2002, pp. 1–53;
Wendy Rosslyn: ‘Zwischen Öffentlichkeit und Privatleben. Frauen und ihre Schriften im achtzehnten und frühen neunzehnten Jahrhundert in Russland’. In: Rosenholm, Arja / Göpfert, Frank (eds): Vieldeutiges Nicht-zu-Ende-Sprechen. Thesen und Momentaufnahmen aus der Geschichte russischer Dichterinnen. Göpfert: Fichtenwalde 2002, pp. 41–59;
Gitta Hammarberg: ‘Gender Ambivalence and Genre Anomalies in Late 18th–Early 19th-Century Russian Literature’. In: Russian Literature. Special Issue. 18th Century Russian Literature 52, 2002, pp. 299–326;
Carolin Heyder: ‘Vom Journal für die Lieben zur Sache der Frau. Zum Frauenbild in den russischen literarischen Frauenzeitschriften des 19. Jahrhunderts’. In: Parnell, Christina (ed.): Frauenbilder und Weiblichkeitsentwürfe in der russischen Frauenprosa. Materialien des wissenschaftlichen Symposiums in Erfurt 1995. Peter Lang Verlag: New York 1996, pp. 63–75;
Gerda Achinger: ‘Das gespaltene Ich – Äusserungen zur Problematik des weiblichen Schreibens bei Anna Petrovna Bunina’. In: Parnell, Christina (ed.): Frauenbilder und Weiblichkeitsentwürfe in der russischen Frauenprosa. Materialien des wissenschaftlichen Symposiums in Erfurt 1995. Peter Lang Verlag: Frankfurt a.M. 1996, pp. 43–61;
Arja Rosenholm / Irina Savkina: ‘“How Women Should Write”. Russian Women’s Writing in the Nineteenth Century’. In: Rosslyn, Wendy / Tosi, Alessandra (eds): Women in Nineteenth-Century Russia. Lives and Culture. Open Book Publishers: Cambridge 2012, pp. 161–207;
Gitta Hammarberg: ‘The First Russian Women’s Journals and the Construction of the Reader’. In: Rosslyn, Wendy / Tosi, Alessandra (eds): Women in Russian Culture and Society. 17001825. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke 2007, pp. 83–104;
Joe Andrew: ‘“A Crocodile in Flannel or a Dancing Monkey”. The Image of the Russian Woman Writer. 1790–1850’. In: Edmondson, Linda (ed.): Gender in Russian History and Culture. Palgrave: Basingstoke 2001, pp. 52–72;
Amanda Ewington (ed. and transl.): Russian Women Poets of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto: Toronto 2014, pp. 1–28.

2 Olga E. Glagoleva: Dream and Reality of Russian Provincial Young Ladies. 1700–1850. Carl Beck Papers: Pittsburgh 2000, pp. 11–12.

3 To some extent, the Smol´ny was inspired by the activities of Mme de Maintenon, the second wife of French king Louis XIV, who in 17th-century France had founded a boarding school for impoverished noble girls. Catherine did not, however, adopt Mme de Maintenon’s institution’s devotional orientation; see
Anna Kuxhausen: From the Womb to the Body Politic. Raising the Nation in Enlightenment Russia. University of Wisconsin Press: Madison 2013, pp. 140–143;
Christa Ebert: ‘Erziehung des idealen Menschen? Das Smol´ny-Institut – Katharinas Modellversuch für Frauenbildung in Russland’. In: Lehmann-Carli, Gabriela / Schippan, Michael / Scholz, Birgit / Brohm, Silke (eds): Russische Aufklärungsrezeption im Kontext offizieller Bildungskonzepte (1700–1825). Berlin Verlag: Berlin 2001, pp. 261–268;
Robin Bisha et al. (eds): Russian Women. 1698–1917. Experience and Expression. Indiana University Press: Bloomington 2002, pp. 159–231.
E. Likhacheva observes that while educational opportunities for women of the aristocracy as well as towns- and lower-class women were improving, they were still falling short, see
E. Likhacheva: Materialy dlia istorii zhenskago obrazovaniia v Rossii. 1796—1828. Vremia Imperatritsy Marii Fedorovny. Tipografiia M.M. Stasiulevicha: St Petersburg 1893, pp. 250–301.

4 Natal´ia Pushkareva, ‘Russian Noblewomen’s Education in the Home as Revealed in Late 18th- and Early 19th-Century Memoirs’. In: Rosslyn, Wendy (ed.): Women and Gender in 18th-Century Russia. Ashgate: Aldershot 2003, pp. 111–128 (113).

5 N. Brodskii: Literaturnye salony i kruzhki. Pervaia polovina XIX veka. Academia: Leningrad 1930; repr. Olms: Zürich 1984, pp. 81–87.

6 Natal´ia Kochetkova: Literatura russkogo sentimentalizma. Esteticheskie i khudozhestvennye iskaniia. Nauka: St Petersburg 1994, p. 157.
It has to be noted that belles-lettres accounted only for 20 to 30 percent of publications, as Gary Marker documents, see
Gary Marker: Publishing, Printing, and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia. 1700–1800. Princeton University Press: Princeton 1985, p. 230.

7 Olga Glagoleva: ‘Imaginary World. Reading in the Lives of Russian Provincial Noblewomen (1750–1825)’. In: Rosslyn, Wendy (ed.): Women and Gender in 18th-Century Russia. Ashgate: Aldershot 2003, pp. 129–146 (p. 131);
Natal´ia Kochetkova: ‘Geroi russkogo sentimentalizma. Chtenie v zhizni “chuvstvitel´nogo” geroia’. In: Russkaia literatura XVIII—nachala XIX veka v obshchestvenno-kul´turnom kontekste. Nauka: Leningrad 1983, pp. 121–142 (p. 140),
see also Catherine Evtuhov: Portrait of a Russian Province. Economy, Society, and Civlisation in Nineteenth-Century Nizhnii Novgorod. University of Pittsburgh Press: Pittsburgh 2011;
Iurii D. Levin: The Perception of English Literature in Russia. Investigations and Materials. Philips, Catherine (transl.). Astra: Nottingham 1994, pp. 175–178.

8 Glagoleva 2000, p. 71.

9 Liubov Krichevskaia: No Good without Reward. Selected Writings. A Bilingual Edition. Baer, Brian James (ed.): Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies: Toronto 2011.

10 Toby W. Clyman / Judith Vowles: Russia Through Women’s Eyes. Yale University Press: New Haven 1996, pp. 60–74.

11 Brodskii, p. 553.


ISBN (Book)
Open Access
Publication date
2016 (April)
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 357 pp.

Biographical notes

Ursula Stohler (Author)

Ursula Stohler, University of Zurich, has a PhD from the University of Exeter, UK. She specialises in gender and transcultural studies, education, digital humanities, Czech literature and Russian studies, and has done research at universities in several countries as well as giving numerous talks.


Title: Disrupted Idylls