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A Russian Merchant's Tale

The Life and Adventures of Ivan Alekseevich Tolchënov, Based on His Diary

David L. Ransel

Publication Year: 2009

Based on the rare diary of an 18th-century Russian provincial merchant, A Russian Merchant's Tale presents a revealing portrait of Russia's little-known commercial class. By recording his daily contacts with a wide array of individuals from lords to laborers for more than 40 years, Ivan Alekseevich Tolchënov opened a window onto the education, work, birth, death, marriage, business, civic, holiday, and religious practices of a social group about which little has been known. Using the tools of microhistory to interpret the diary, David L. Ransel vividly brings to life Tolchënov's self-construction, his relations with family and society, and his entire world of aspirations, achievements, and failures. Challenging prevailing stereotypes of Russian merchants as tradition-bound and narrow-minded, A Russian Merchant's Tale offers important new insights into the social history of imperial Russia.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I first want to thank the Swedish historian Claes Peterson, who introduced me to the diary of Ivan Tolch

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pp. xi-xxvi

On March 16, 1797, in the city of Dmitrov, 80 kilometers north of Moscow, Ivan Alekseevich Tolch


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pp. xxvii-xxx

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1 The Setting, Education, Youth, and Marriage

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pp. 1-23

Ivan Tolch

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2 Local Politics during Ivan’s Youth

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pp. 24-45

Local politics and administration placed burdens on merchant families. Russia was a centrally governed state, and each province and district was subject to the power of government-appointed police and administrative officials: governors-general and governors at the provincial level and voevody (singular voevoda) at the district level. ...

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3 Junior Member of the Family Firm: Merchant Life in Dmitrov

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pp. 46-72

Ivan’s marriage in January 1773 signaled the end of his apprenticeship in the family business. While he remained a junior partner in an enterprise dominated by his energetic father, Ivan was now regarded as capable of directing transport and trading operations on his own, ...

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4 Young Paterfamilias

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pp. 73-106

The death of his father plunged Ivan into a flurry of activity. Responsibility for arranging the rituals of prayer and remembrance for his father, for the operation of the family’s grain trade and other businesses, and for the family members themselves, including his stepmother, the widow left by his father’s untimely death ...

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5 Leading Citizen

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pp. 107-151

Ivan’s position as a government and business leader propelled him toward an ever more expansive personal life. The major physical expression of his status and aspirations was a large new home constructed of brick and finished on the outside in stucco in the style of the finest noble townhouses. ...

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6 Eminent Trickster

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pp. 152-189

The diary passage starting this section covers the first weeks of Ivan’s month-long trip to Petersburg in the fall of 1789 with his son Pëtr. In his later year-end summaries for this period, Ivan lamented that the key to his financial difficulties, apart from his expansive living, was the slow collection of receipts in Petersburg, ...

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7 Moscow Townsman

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pp. 190-222

Ivan mentioned ‘‘the abundance of new things that happened’’ in Moscow during his first year there as helpful in distracting him from his troubles. The most important of these new things were the entry into the city and coronation of Emperor Paul. The interplay between Ivan’s immediate reaction to the events of the coronation ...

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8 A New Equilibrium

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pp. 223-251

In the excerpt above from 1802 we find Ivan continuing his daily mass attendance at a wide variety of churches, a practice that he had begun in penance for the financial manipulations associated with his bankruptcy and which he had intensified in response to his devastating illness. ...

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pp. 252-256

The story of Ivan Tolch

Appendix: Genealogical Table for the Family of Boris Tolch

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pp. 257-262


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pp. 263-290


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pp. 291-304


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pp. 305-320

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000767
E-ISBN-10: 0253000769
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253352361

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos, 5 maps
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies