Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Books Make the Woman: Princess Dashkova's Moscow Library

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Books Make the Woman: Princess Dashkova's Moscow Library

Article excerpt

Princess Ekaterina Romanovna Dashkova devoted much of her life to the printed word. She wrote poetry, plays, essays, travelogues, and an autobiography; edited a dictionary and academic journals; published fiction, nonfiction, and scholarly works; and collected the important books of her time. According to contemporary accounts, her library at the end of the eighteenth century was one of the great private collections in Russia; it included volumes in French, Russian, English, Italian, and German. For a long time it was thought that virtually no record had remained of the titles in her holding, but in 1993, while working at the Alupka Museum in the Crimea, I came across an extensive catalogue of her Moscow library.1 This discovery has made it possible to define more precisely Dashkova's main areas of interest, to isolate the works that shaped her own literary and scholarly output, and to establish sources that created patterns of influence for Dashkova and her contemporaries.

The catalogue is in fact an inventory of Dashkova's collection; it was compiled when the books were moved after her death in 1810.There is no consistency in the way the volumes are recorded: often, sets are not listed together and the order is neither alphabetical nor chronological. Entries are written in the same, unknown hand; titles and authors are abbreviated or omitted entirely, making precise identification impossible.2 Also, it is difficult to determine with any certainty how many of these books Dashkova actually read or how she related to them. As a bibliophile, she might have considered buying any new publication worthy of note, whether it appealed to her personal interests or not. Her employment of Ivan I. Shuvalov, an enthusiastic patron of learning and the arts, as a purchasing agent for "all the literary novelties," and her eager acquisition of a large section of her late uncle Mikhail I.Vorontsov's library, do not suggest careful discrimination.3 Later, as director of two Academies-the Imperial Academy of Sciences and Arts in St. Petersburg and the Russian Academy-Dashkova would certainly expect to receive copies of their publications and might well attract random presentation copies. Nevertheless, by comparing titles in the catalogue with Dashkova's memoirs and other writings, it is possible to match some of the holdings of her library to her specific areas of interest and professional activity.

In the memoirs, Dashkova informs us that at an early age she threw herself into reading:"Bayle, Montesquieu,Voltaire, and Boileau were my favourite authors."4 The Catalogue supports Dashkova's statement (Extrait du Dictionnaire de Bayle; Montesquieu's De l'Esprit des lois; Oeuvres de Boileau}, but, judging by the number of works, Voltaire was most influential (Oeuvres de Voltaire [66 vols.]; Voltaire, Romans; Voltaire; Pièces de Voltaire; La Vie de Voltaire). Somewhat unexpectedly,Voltaire's dominance in the area of French literature and thought is rivaled only by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Emile ou De l'éducation; Esprit et maximes; Rousseau; Pensée de Rousseau; Julie ou La Nouvelle Héloïse), whom Dashkova openly disliked. Her public disdain for the man and his ideas grew even more pronounced after the French Revolution. In the memoirs she admits that a certain aspect of Rousseau's sophism appealed to her as a young adult, but she then goes on to agree with Empress Catherine II that he is a dangerous thinker.5 Martha Wilmot, an Irish friend and guest of Dashkova's while she was writing the memoirs, wrote: "The P.[rincess] never saw Rousseau. She had too much contempt for him."6 It is interesting then that so many of Rousseau's writings are recorded in the catalogue; indeed, it seems to suggest that the French author exerted a fair amount of influence on Dashkova's formative years.

Dashkova recalls rereading Claude Adrien Helvétius's De l'esprit in 1757. As is often the case in the memoirs, her memory seems to fail her when it comes to chronological accuracy, for De l'esprit was published in 1758. …

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