A Course in Russian History: The Time of Catherine the Great

A Course in Russian History: The Time of Catherine the Great

A Course in Russian History: The Time of Catherine the Great

A Course in Russian History: The Time of Catherine the Great

Synopsis

In this newly translated excerpt from his magisterial five-volume Course, Kliuchevsky (1841-1911) provides a colorful description of Russian court life in the eighteenth century, a dramatic narrative of the coup d'etat that brought Catherine II to power, a portrait of the empress herself, and an analysis of her foreign conquests and her major internal initiatives. While Kliuchevsky is critical of Catherine, he draws upon her memoirs and other writings and the accounts of her contemporaries to achieve a well-rounded and deeply human analysis of her character and personality. It is an extraordinary act of historical re-creation of the sort that brought Kliuchevsky such renown in his own time, and it remains so life-like that it fairly leaps off the page.

Kliuchevsky's examination of Western influence in Catherine's reign leads him to questions that were of urgent significance for Russia's development in his own day, and have remained so ever since: how to use Western ideas and practices to improve and enrich Russian life, without turning them into idle fashions or political bludgeons, and where to find the social leadership capable of performing such a delicate task.

Excerpt

Among the outstanding works of literature generated by the burgeoning culture of imperial Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a historical work,Vasily Kliuchevsky A Course in Russian History. It may seem odd to speak of a work of history--and in five volumes, no less--in the same breath as the great novels, stories, and plays that arose alongside it, but it is not inappropriate. In its cultural significance for Russia and even in its artistic qualities,Kliuchevsky Course is worthy of comparison with its fictional contemporaries. It constitutes a grand synthesis of ten centuries of Russian history, from the rise of the Kievan state in the ninth century to the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. More than any other single work, for much of the twentieth centuryKliuchevsky Course has shaped the conception of Russia's history in the minds of educated Russians and even, to a considerable degree, of non-Russians.

From its inception, the impact of the Course grew in ever widening circles, like a stone cast into a pond. At first its influence was confined to the students at Moscow University, where Kliuchevsky taught for over thirty years. Even there, it reached well beyond Kliuchevsky's own lecture hall (which was the largest at the university). Given the scarcity of printed textbooks, professors' lectures were frequently transcribed by students and disseminated in lithographed form. Sometimes the lithographed versions were authorized and connected by the professor, sometimes they were unauthorized. Numerous lithographed edi-

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