LIFE ON THE RUSSIAN COUNTRY ESTATE: A Social and Cultural History by Priscilla Roosevelt

LIFE ON THE RUSSIAN COUNTRY ESTATE: A Social and Cultural History

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lively and lavishly illustrated account of social relations and material culture on the 18th- and 19th-century Russian estate. Roosevelt, a fellow of the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, has made a major contribution to scholarship with this groundbreaking study of the Russian estate and its seminal role in the development of Russian culture. Working with the limited sources available to her (much was destroyed or made inaccessible by the Soviets), Roosevelt recreates in elaborate but never dull detail this almost forgotten world. Her impartial and intriguing picture is of interest to both scholars in a variety of fields (history, literature, art, and architecture) and to lay readers whose interest has been piqued by the writings of Tolstoy and Chekhov. Not one to shrink from ugly details, Roosevelt discusses the dark side of estate life, such as the ""barbarities of serf ownership"": beatings, separation of families, harems, rape, and the denial of freedom. She also renders the fascinating cultural and artistic roles that serfs were made to fill according to the peculiar whims of their masters. Educated at their master's dictate and expense, serfs became accomplished actors, opera singers, craftsmen, woodworkers, and painters. Some even used their skills to purchase their freedom. It was largely through the estates' nurturing of artisan skills and cultural pastimes, the author convincingly argues, that Russian culture took the course that it did. Roosevelt also focuses on the estate owners' search for self-definition as expressed in their material surroundings, capturing in the world of the estate the dichotomy between East and West that permeated Russian culture and politics after the Petrine reforms. Roosevelt's book will fascinate readers and prove priceless to renewed efforts in Russia to reclaim this neglected chapter of the country's heritage.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.