The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia

The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia

The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia

The Keys to Happiness: Sex and the Search for Modernity in Fin-de-Siècle Russia

Synopsis

[Engelstein's] sensitivity to the interplay of conceptions of gender and class with politics and science makes the book valuable not only to Russianists, but to historians of culture and society in general.... Laura Engelstein has made a remarkable contribution to the scholarly literature.-Journal of the History of Sexuality

Excerpt

Sex was a political subject in late imperial Russia. When Alexander Herzen wrote the novel Who Is to Blame? (1846) about the injustices of Russian society under serfdom andNikolai Chernyshevskii wrote What Is to Be Done? (1863) about how to pursue the fight for justice after the system had been abolished, both centered their narratives on the domestic relationship of women and men. Both examined the conflict between personal autonomy and conventional social relations; both used the hierarchy of sexual power and subordination to represent structures of domination and submission in the larger social world. When Leo Tolstoy indicted the corrupt values of a modernizing society under a coercive old regime, he invoked the specter of gender confusion and sexual debauch: Anna Karenina (1877), The Kreutzer Sonata (1889), and Resuection (1899) embody the problem of moral decline in the shape of privileged women who smoked and indulged their sensual passions, of common women victimized by male lust and driven to prostitution, and of men destroyed by their own desires. When the eccentric Christian philosopher Vasilii Rozanov attacked the spiritual ridigity of the Orthodox Church, he assailed its sexual puritanism and hailed the supposed earthiness of the pagan and Jewish traditions in vividly sensual, unorthodox prose. When the meager political results of the 1905 revolution created widespread disappointment, intellectuals, professionals, and the reading public focused on sexual themes, in compensation for lost civic hopes and as a challenge to the puritanical anti-individualism of the radical left. Young people turned to Mikhail Artsybashev brazen Sanin (1907) andAnastasiia Verbitskaia melodramatic Keys to Happiness (1910-13) for tales celebrating the power of sexual desire.

The Russian secular elites drew their cultural vocabulary from the . . .

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