Breaking the Ties That Bound

Breaking the Ties That Bound: The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 296
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    Breaking the Ties That Bound
    Book Description:

    Russia's Great Reforms of 1861 were sweeping social and legal changes that aimed to modernize the country. In the following decades, rapid industrialization and urbanization profoundly transformed Russia's social, economic, and cultural landscape. Barbara Alpern Engel explores the personal, cultural, and political consequences of these dramatic changes, focusing on their impact on intimate life and expectations and the resulting challenges to the traditional, patriarchal family order, the cornerstone of Russia's authoritarian political and religious regime. The widely perceived "marriage crisis" had far-reaching legal, institutional, and political ramifications. In Breaking the Ties That Bound, Engel draws on exceptionally rich archival documentation-in particular, on petitions for marital separation and the materials generated by the ensuing investigations-to explore changing notions of marital relations, domesticity, childrearing, and intimate life among ordinary men and women in imperial Russia.

    Engel illustrates with unparalleled vividness the human consequences of the marriage crisis. Her research reveals in myriad ways that the new and more individualistic values of the capitalist marketplace and commercial culture challenged traditional definitions of gender roles and encouraged the self-creation of new social identities. Engel captures the intimate experiences of women and men of the lower and middling classes in their own words, documenting instances not only of physical, mental, and emotional abuse but also of resistance and independence. These changes challenged Russia's rigid political order, forcing a range of state agents, up to and including those who spoke directly in the name of the tsar, to rethink traditional understandings of gender norms and family law. This remarkable social history is thus also a contribution to our understanding of the deepening political crisis of autocracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6069-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Dates and Names
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-13)

    “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Thus begins Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy’s great novel of contemporary life, which appeared in installments from 1875 to 1877. It concludes with the death of its beautiful high-society heroine, who flings herself beneath the wheels of an onrushing train. Anna’s flight from an arranged and loveless marriage and into the arms of the dashing Count Vronsky had brought only short-lived happiness. Ostracized by members of her former social circle, deprived of her beloved son, and dependent for her position on the passionate attachment of...

  7. 1 The Ties That Bound
    (pp. 14-47)

    That September day, Olga Pantiugina took a step she would regret for many years. Thirty-two years old and already twice widowed, she agreed to marry for the third time a virtual stranger, whom she had met in the railroad town of Bologoe, Novgorod. Why she took such an incautious step remains unclear. Her second marriage to a merchant had left her economically independent, if barely, the recipient of three hundred rubles a year in dividends from investments, an amount roughly equal to the annual wages of a textile worker. Olga Pantiugina also owned a house in Kolpino, a suburb of...

    (pp. 48-79)

    “When I finished my studies at the pension in 1888, at the age of seventeen, . . . I became aware that my father wanted to marry me off as soon as possible,” began the 1890 petition of Olimpiada Sergunina, daughter of the Moscow merchant Ivan Kozlov. “Completely subject to my father’s will and inexperienced, I married according to his wishes the Moscow merchant Petr Sergunin, having seen him exactly twice before the marriage. Feeling neither love nor sympathy for him, I hoped that both would develop as we lived together.” In her detailed follow-up narrative, Sergunina related how her...

  9. 3 Money Matters
    (pp. 80-100)

    In April 1906, the Civil Cassation Department of the State Senate, Russia’s highest court of appeals, denied a suit brought by Marfa N. with the goal of evicting her disreputable husband and his children from her home. Mrs. N. had based her claim on the law that guaranteed the right of a married woman to own, manage, and dispose of property separately from her husband. Her right to manage her own property, her suit contended, included the right to remove occupants of her property who disturbed the peace, among them her husband and his offspring from a previous marriage. The...

  10. 4 Disciplining Laboring Husbands
    (pp. 101-130)

    “I’ve been married for six years and my husband treats me very cruelly.” Thus began the 1891 petition of the townswoman Evdokia Eremeeva, wife of a St. Petersburg metalworker. “Returning home every night to our apartment, he finds fault with me for trifles and beats me cruelly, for which the two attached medical certificates serve as evidence. I’ve turned to the local police several times to get him to stop, and each time he swore he’d stop beating me, but within two or three days he’d break his vow and begin again and more recently, he’s threatened to kill me.”¹...

  11. 5 Earning My Own Crust of Bread
    (pp. 131-156)

    In 1897, the townswoman Anastasia Petrova, having completed a dressmaking course in St. Petersburg and obtained her diploma, headed south to the city of Baku, located on the shore of the Caspian Sea in what is now Azerbaijan but was then the thriving center of petroleum production for the entire Russian Empire. There she found work as a dressmaker and seamstress and, “being very literate,” as she put it, supplemented her earnings by working as a clerk for several enterprises in the city. Then, in January 1902, she made the “big mistake” of marrying Aleksei Petrov, a man she barely...

  12. 6 Cultivating Domesticity
    (pp. 157-200)

    Thus read the petition submitted on June 8, 1901, by Varvara Kupriianova, wife of the Moscow merchant Nikolai Kupriianov, a trader in manufactured goods and hereditary honored citizen. The investigation that followed indicated that, if anything, Kupriianova had understated her husband’s high-handed behavior. Upholding her allegations and providing telling detail, witness after witness portrayed a man who had abused his marital authority to an extraordinary degree, while reducing his wife to a state of utter abjection. To take one of the most glaring examples, Kupriianov was in the habit of coming home at three or four in the morning, waking...

  13. 7 The Right to Love
    (pp. 201-231)

    On October 2, 1882, the twenty-year-old Liubov Aleksandrova, former telegraph worker, appealed for separation from her husband of two years, Platon. A widower forty-four years her senior, retired soldier, and member of the hairdressers’ guild in the city of Novgorod, Platon had been chosen by Liubov’s widowed mother in a marriage arranged by the widow, a townswoman who earned her living by renting rooms to boarders. After the marriage, Platon beat and mistreated his wife and insulted her in public, Liubov alleged in her petition. Once he even declared in the presence of others that she led “an adulterous life.”...

  14. 8 The Best Interests of the Child
    (pp. 232-259)

    Late in the spring of 1914, the wife of a well-to-do Moscow businessman appeared in the office of Vasilii I. Mamantov, director of the Imperial Chancellery for Receipt of Petitions. Relating a heartbreaking story of abuse at her husband’s hands, the woman pleaded for assistance. Her marriage had become a nightmare. Her husband had taken to drinking and carousing and running around with other women, all the while “tyrannizing” his wife. Most recently, he had become involved with a well-known operetta singer, with whom he set up housekeeping in St. Petersburg, using up the remains of his once-substantial fortune. To...

    (pp. 260-270)

    The change in the passport law of March 12, 1914, ended the chancellery’s role in resolving marital disputes. The revised law granted married women the right to obtain a passport without a husband’s permission, and if living apart from the husband (although not if cohabiting), to take a job or enroll in school, also without requiring permission. These changes, which made marital separation possible de facto but not de jure, brought additional adjustments to the law. It was modified to incorporate earlier decisions concerning such related matters as alimony, child support, and child custody and to specify the grounds on...

  16. APPENDIX A. Archival Sources
    (pp. 271-272)
  17. APPENDIX B. Major Cases Used in the Book
    (pp. 273-276)
  18. Index
    (pp. 277-282)