A Life under Russian Serfdom: Memoirs of Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii, 1800-1868

By Boris B. Gorshkov | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Savva Dmitrievich Purlevskii, a former serf from Yaroslavl’ prov- ince, wrote his memoirs shortly before his death in 1868. The liter- ary and political journal Russkii vestnik (Russian messenger) pub- lished them in 1877.1 Their publication epitomized the intellectual interest in the life of common people during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In this era several serf memoirs ap- peared in Russian literary journals or were published as books.2 But Purlevskii’s memoirs stand somewhat apart. Unlike most ex- serf memoirists, such as the famous Aleksander Vasil’evich Niki- tenko who gained freedom from serfdom at the age of eighteen and became a distinguished statesman and academician, Purlevskii

1 “Vospominaniia krepostnago, 1800–1868,” Russkii vestnik: Zhurnal literaturnyi i politicheskii 130 (July 1877), 321–47, and ibid. 130 (Septem- ber 1877), 34–67.

2 During this time the Russian literary journal Russkaia starina (Russian antiquity) published a series of ex-serf memoirs; among them were the diaries of A. V. Nikitenko, recently translated with a fine intro- duction by Peter Kolchin. See Aleksandr Nikitenko, Up from Serfdom: My Childhood and Youth in Russia, 1804–1824, transl., Helen Saltz Jakobson, intro. by Peter Kolchin (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001). Others were “Istoriia moei zhizni i moikh stranstvii: Rasskaz by- vshago krepostnago krest’ianina N. N. Shipova, 1802–1862,” Russkaia starina 30 (1881); “Vospominaniia krepostnago,” Russkii arkhiv 6 (1898); and M. E. Vasilieva, “Zapiski krepostnoi,” Russkaia starina 145 (1911). Vasilieva’s memoirs are also available in English: see “Notes of a Serf Woman,” transl. John MacKay, Slavery and Abolition 22 (April 2000).

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