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Open Letters

Open Letters: Russian Popular Culture and the Picture Postcard 1880-1922

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Open Letters
    Book Description:

    InOpen Letters, the most comprehensive study of Russian picture postcards to date, Alison Rowley uses this medium to explore a variety of aspects of Russian popular culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6715-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: More than “Wish You Were Here”
    (pp. 3-14)

    The mutilated postcard offers a stark commentary on Russian Emperor Nicholas II’s prowess as a military commander. Having replaced his cousin, the popular Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, as commander-in-chief, in August 1915, Nicholas oversaw a seemingly endless series of defeats and the eventual disintegration of the Russian Army. His failures contributed greatly to the revolution that, in February 1917, swept him from his throne.

    Disappointment with Nicholas as a military leader is palpable when you hold in your hands the postcard shown here as Figure I.1. It was published in Riga by the firm of V.A. Zol’man, and the original...

  6. Chapter One The Market for Picture Postcards in Russia
    (pp. 15-44)

    In his memoirs, Soviet writer and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg described how, as a teenager, he used to buy pictures postcards of chorus girls, in his words “preferably naked ones,” at a stationer’s in Moscow. He decorated his room with postcard reproductions of artistic works, and when, in 1907, the tsarist secret police searched the lodgings of this student convert to Bolshevism, they found he had more than just art postcards. The official report showed that some revolutionary postcards, as well as a musical score for the Russian “Marseillaise,” were confiscated from Ehrenburg.¹ These three tidbits of information tucked within Ehrenburg’s...

  7. Chapter Two The Landscapes of Russian Imperialism
    (pp. 45-75)

    The words hung in the air. “Wow, that is so postcard!” This was the first thought of a rather jaded tourist looking at Victoria Falls for the first time.¹ Despite the banality of the comment, it does suggest that an irrevocable bond was established between picture postcards and visions of landscapes over the century separating the first purchasers of postcards from this modern tourist. In this chapter, we return to when postcards were new and the images they presented could still provoke a sense of wonder. By offering images of territories absorbed over the course of the nineteenth century, picture...

  8. Chapter Three Gender and Celebrity Culture via the Lens of the Picture Postcard: The Case of Vera Kholodnaia, the “Queen of the Russian Screen”
    (pp. 76-104)

    “I remember,” wrote Nina Berberova, “covers of magazines with whiskered men, and the expanded nostrils of Vera Kholodnaya, snake-woman, bird-woman, fairy-woman, lioness-woman, into whom some of my classmates dreamt of transforming themselves but who only threw me into a state of panic.”¹ Berberova’s repulsion is not the subject of this chapter; the dreams of her school classmates are. The following pages explore the rise of celebrity culture in late Imperial Russia. The emphasis is on visual materials featuring images of performers, images that showed bodies defying traditional norms of representation, although not in such an explicit way as the erotic...

  9. Chapter Four Bodies on Display: Romantic and Erotic Postcards in Fin-de-Siècle Russia
    (pp. 105-135)

    When discussing the postcards of chorus girls that he used to buy as a teenager, Soviet writer Ilya Ehrenburg singled out one in particular. “I remember a photograph of Natasha Trukhanova, a famous beauty who drove me wild.” Imagine Ehrenburg’s surprise when “a quarter of a century later, in Paris, I met A.A. Ignatyev, formerly military attaché in France, then a member of the staff of our trade delegation. His wife turned out to be the Natasha who had enchanted me in my adolescence. I told her about the old picture postcard and my story made her laugh.”¹ Ehrenburg’s honesty...

  10. Chapter Five Monarchy and the Mundane: Picture Postcards and Images of the Romanovs
    (pp. 136-170)

    In mid-nineteenth century Europe, the emerging market for new paper products allowed for the widespread circulation of mass-produced depictions of royalty for the first time. This chapter uses picture postcards to examine this process of commodification as well as some of the implications of it. In particular, the focus is on the depiction of members of the Romanov dynasty and the unwitting desacralization that accompanied their efforts to employ a new form of mass media. From objects of awe, the Romanovs were transformed into something much more mundane: an ordinary bourgeois family. Existing scholarship has looked at this shift in...

  11. Chapter Six Beyond Patriotic Discourse: Picture Postcards and Russia’s First World War
    (pp. 171-200)

    InFighting Different Wars: Experience, Memory, and the First World War in Britain, Janet Watson describes how the story of the disillusioned trench soldier eventually came to overwhelm all other perspectives on the war.¹ That process attempted to impose a uniformity on the wartime experience. It silenced and marginalized the stories of other groups, notably those of women who had served as nurses and of men who had found happiness in their new role as soldiers. Watson convincingly argues that by recovering their stories, we can see how different people fought what she terms “different wars” depending on their gender...

  12. Chapter Seven Picture Postcards and the Russian Revolution, 1905–1922
    (pp. 201-237)

    Nikolai Nabokov was an indifferent student. This nephew of Duma member Vladimir Nabokov and future chief cultural assistant to the American Military Government in Berlin in his own right passed only one subject the first year he attended a formal educational institution. His parents resorted to the traditional remedy of the Russian elites – the hiring of special tutors to coach the boy during his holidays – but they may have gotten more than they bargained for during the last year before the February Revolution. Judging by his uniform, the tutor was a sergeant of the Petrogradoborona, a group that supplemented...

  13. Epilogue: Picture Postcards across the Revolutionary Divide
    (pp. 238-256)

    On 14 October 1941, Soviet art historian and critic Nikolai Punin received a postcard relaying some important news from his former wife, the famous poet Anna Akhmatova. The postcard informed Punin that another cultural icon known to both of them, the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, had committed suicide.¹ That Akhmatova chose to convey her news via a postcard was not particularly surprising for the Punin family had sent important communications that way for decades, most notably during Punin’s first and last arrests in 1921 and 1951, respectively. Like pre-revolutionary political prisoners, the jailed Punin was often restricted to postcards for his...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 257-290)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-310)
  16. Index
    (pp. 311-323)