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An Improper Profession: Women, Gender, and Journalism in Late Imperial Russia

Article excerpt

Barbara T. Norton, and Jehanne M. Gheith, eds. An Improper Profession: If-'omen, Gender, and Journalism in Late Imperial Russia. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2001. xiii, 321 pp. Bibliographic Essay. Checklist of Women Journalists in Imperial Russia. Index. $59.95, cloth. $19.95, paper.

This impressive collection of essays fills an important lacuna in the study of late imperial Russia. While Russia's pre-revolutionary "woman question" has received much treatment and the era's journalism has been the subject of much recent attention, the combination of these two topics has been relatively unexplored. The contributors to Gheith and Norton's volume all do a fine job in this task. One of the book's strengths is that it is remarkably free from the jargon and assumptions that have biased many critics against gender studies. Using solid research methodologies, the authors reveal much new important information about the status of Russian women, about the politics of the women's liberation movement, and about the layers and textures of civil society in Late Imperial Russia.

This collection is very coherent. Each essay flows into the next, following a loosely chronological structure. The choice of topics creates a rich tapestry that does much to further our understanding of the complexities of both women and journalism in the period. Several chapters are broadly conceptual, focusing on particular issues that raise larger questions. Miranda Remnek's analysis of female readership reveals that women formed a substantial-and increasing-component of the Russian reading public as early as the reign of Nicholas 1. Christine Ruane's study of the growing fashion press, a medium which previous observers have thought frivolous and superficial, tells us that it broadly reflected many of the general press's debates and influenced conceptions of

Russian national identity and perceptions of the West. The Crimean War and the antiFrench fashion trends it caused, for example, made many Russians ask whether their cultural distinctiveness was separable from the clothes they wore. …