Serfdom was not necessarily the original status of the Russian peasant. In fact, it was one of the results of the Tartar demolition during the 13th century when peasants became homeless and resided on the land of rich Russians. Russian peasants came under the complete control of the rich Russians who own the land (landowner) by the end of the 16th century and in the middle of the 17th century, serfdom became patrimonial. The situation became proportionate to that of slaves and they could be passed on to another master in families or per se.
The happening of Crimean War then made Alexander II realize that Russia was not a great military power anymore and his advisers stated that Russia’s serf-based economy could not compete with industrialized nations anymore. Alexander II considered the probability of eradicating serfdom in Russia. He announced that serfdom would be eradicated and all peasants would be able to afford land from their masters.
Russian authors were known for their nationalistic nature which they incorporate it to their writing. Slavery is one of the most notable events in Russian history so it is no surprise that we can find a lot of slavery-themed books written by Russian authors. Here are 4 popular books of slavery written by Russian authors.
- Sketches from A Hunter’s Album by Ivan Turgenev
The story illustrates the young author’s liberalism, his affront for the serf system sustaining a luxurious lifestyle for some and penury and privation for most. They were hailed by his fellow liberals and entered the canon of Russian literature on the strength of that lure. But generations of readers will testify that what keeps people reading these schemes is a certain knack and facility with characters and descriptions that are so intense that it even survives translation.
This book will transport you back to the old Russia of the 1850s. Turgenev is different from Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, yet they are equal in stature, a true master of prose. His book depicts the life of peasants and masters in pre-1850 which was before serfdom was eradicated in Russia. It is revealed from the eyes of a nobleman hunter, always on the move, as he passes through all forms of life, observing with serenity and keenness, all sorts of cruelty, dire plight, and quirks and drawbacks of people around him. While he views them very much through the lens of a country gentleman, his insights, empathy, and resonance of the human condition breaks into class and makes for some remarkable moments.
- Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
It is a story about a crook, Pavel Ivanovich Tchitchikov who has an extraordinary idea to make a fortune by redeeming dead souls. In ancient Russia, the peasants or dead souls, as they were called, were considered to be a security. They were sold, bought, and the master paid a tax per male and adult male head. The census was held every ten years so that in the meantime, he continued to pay tax on all deceased serfs on his property. The clever and brilliant idea of Tchitchikov was to buy in good and due dead souls since the last census. The master would be happy to give a fictive good and to free themselves of a real tax and everyone would find his account. There was nothing illegal in this transaction and when the buyer possessed a few thousand serfs, he carried his contracts to a bank in Moscow or St. Petersburg to borrow a large sum of money on these securities. As a result, he would be rich and able to buy peasants of flesh and bones.
The horrible use of these dead serfs is brilliant as it underlines the inhumanity of feudal Russia. It is much more than a biting satire of a corrupted society. It is a criticism of a whole system of power in which corruption is only one of the many bad side-effects.
- A Life Under Russian Serfdom: The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii, 1800 – 1868 by Boris B. Gorshkov
It is one of very few Russian serfs’ memoirs. It tells a story about Savva Purlevskii who recollects his life in Russian serfdom and the life of his parents, grandparents, and fellow provincials. He describes communal life and the serfs’ daily interaction with their masters and authorities. Purlevskii was born into an initially wealthy family that later became impoverished. Early in his childhood, his father passed away. Purlevskii had no chance to get a formal education. He lived under Russian serfdom until 1831 when at the age of 30, he escaped his enslavement.
Gorshkov’s introduction to the story provides some essential knowledge about Russian serfdom and generates the most recent scholarship. Besides its lure to scholars of peasant studies, Russian history, or servile systems such as serfdom and slavery, the depictions and the conversational style will make this book highly suitable for everyone.
- Up from Serfdom: My Childhood and Youth in Russia, 1804 – 1824 by Aleksandr Nikitenko
This book is a great addition to the Russian literature on serfdom, Russian history in the early 19th century, pre-reform provincial society in a rural area, and the development of sociopolitical thought among non-elite groups during the said period. The translation of this book is smooth and idiomatical, the depictions concerning provincial society are extremely evocative, and the maps also come in handy. It truly is an intriguing account with a most helpful introduction written by Peter Kolchin. The preface and the expository endnotes provide useful background.
However, some people might think that it is probably a bit downplayed as it was written after he had received his freedom and was working for the state but it still gave some interesting insight into the life of a Russian serf and the how the Russian class system worked a few hundred years ago.
So, those are 4 popular books of slavery written by Russian authors.