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Reviewed by:
  • An Improper Profession: Women, Gender, and Journalism in Late Imperial Russia
  • Harley D. Balzer
An Improper Profession: Women, Gender, and Journalism in Late Imperial Russia. Edited by Barbara T. Norton and Jehanne M. Gheith (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001. xiii plus 321 pp.).

Professions in Imperial Russia resembled the Continental model: they were education-based and state licensed. Unlike America, where professional associations fought for government recognition and the right to set their own standards, Russian professions struggled to reduce the state’s role while retaining recourse to the state’s economic and disciplinary resources. This meant that most professions were closed to women, who were barred from studying in the state higher education institutions. Women could earn money only in those occupations that did not require formal educational credentials. Writing and journalism represented “white collar” realms where women were able to work precisely because they were not formally recognized “professions.” This makes the volume edited by Barbara Norton and Jehanne Gheith a valuable contribution to our understanding of Russian society.

The editors have brought together a group of scholars who collectively stretch our perspective on women’s roles and contributions. In the Introduction, Jehanne Gheith emphasizes an agenda of posing new questions, setting out four large themes for the volume: determining what it meant to be a woman journalist in tsarist Russia; the situation of individual woman journalists; the nature and evolution of the women’s press; and what women’s roles in journalism might tell us about Russian professions. On at least the first three of these large topics, the volume significantly advances our understanding. [End Page 259]

Miranda Beaven Remnek incorporates the role of women as readers as well as producers of the written word, paying attention to the press as a vehicle for literature as well as news and other information. Her revisionist view of the era of Nicholas I amplifies the pioneering work by Bruce Lincoln and others that has already helped us to see the origins of the Great Reforms in Nicholas’s reign.

Jehanne M. Gheith focuses on the careers of Evgeniia Tur and Avdot’ia Panaeva, two women whose activity touched on a broad range of Russian life in the 19th century. Gheith draws on cultural approaches to the role of nondominant groups in realms controlled by those of different races to elucidate the role of different genders, while carefully avoiding stereotyping either the new entrants or the old practitioners. She invokes William Todd’s version of “professionalization,” yet also asserts that the entire cultural process surrounding journalism must be incorporated into an understanding of the journalistic profession. This asks us to contemplate a definition of profession that encompasses everything. The difficulty is that without filters to help us determine what is important, everything is equally important.

Christine Ruane has already made a major contribution to our understanding of Russian professions in her work on teachers. Here Ruane focuses on one aspect of her current research on fashion, exploring the development of a Russian fashion press in the mid-19th century. Her account of Elizaveta Safonova’s role in making Moda a going venture from 1851 to 1861 provides valuable insights on publishing as a business and women’s role as consumers.

Discussing “the rise of the Russian women’s magazine”, Carolyn R. Marks provides evidence for an increased role of the middle estates in the 1880s, and demonstrates the importance of professional skill and technology for successful publications. Marks’s material offers additional evidence that the 1880s was for the 1890s somewhat like the 1850s for the 1860s­a period when a seemingly authoritarian government laid the groundwork for significant change.

Adele Lindenmeyr deals with the fascinating and intensely personal story of one woman from a merchant family who found an outlet for her private disappointments in writing, and in part in journalism. Anna Volkova’s life demonstrates the variety and complexity of women’s involvement in journalism. At the same time, her position as a financially secure woman who engaged in philanthropy as well as writing and editing raises intriguing questions about the extent to which professional journalists made a living from their profession.

The chapters...

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pp. 259-261
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