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Breaking the Ties That Bound

The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia

by Barbara Alpern Engel

Publication Year: 2011

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

During the twelve years that this book has been in progress, I have benefited from the friendship, support, and scholarly assistance of many institutions and individuals. I am very pleased to acknowledge and thank them here. Grants from the International Research and Exchanges Board, with funds provided by the U. S. Department of State ...

Note on Dates and Names

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pp. ix-x

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Marriage and Its Discontents

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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. ...

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1. The Ties That Bound

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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. ...

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2. Making Marriage: Romantic Ideals and Female Rhetoric

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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, ...

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3. Money Matters

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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, ...

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4. Disciplining Laboring Husbands

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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. ...

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5. Earning My Own Crust of Bread

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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. ...

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6. Cultivating Domesticity

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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. ...

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7. The Right to Love

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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, ...

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8. The Best Interests of the Child

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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. ...

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Conclusion: The Politics of Marital Strife

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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. ...

Appendix A. Archival Sources

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pp. 271-272

Appendix B. Major Cases Used in the Book

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pp. 273-276


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pp. 277-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460692
E-ISBN-10: 0801460697
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801479090
Print-ISBN-10: 0801449510

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 732957183
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Breaking the Ties That Bound

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Subject Headings

  • Marriage -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Marriage -- Russia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Divorce -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women -- Family relationships -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Women -- Family relationships -- Russia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Family policy -- Russia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Family policy -- Russia -- History -- 20th century.
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