Russian Women's Studies: Essays on Sexism in Soviet Culture

By Tatyana Mamonova; Margaret Maxwell | Go to book overview

2
The Two Catherines

There were many tsars and tsarinas in Russia, but only Peter I and Catherine II were called "the Great." It is no surprise that these two powerful leaders inspired greatness and its recognition in many of their contemporaries.One such person was Catherine Dashkova.During the period of Catherine II's reign, Dashkova became the first woman President of two Academies.She seemed to blossom in the shadow of her royal model. Alexander Herzen, an admirer of Dashkova, described the influence of Catherine II and Peter I on Dashkova's growing personal and public strength:

In Dashkova the Russian female personality ( Herzen's emphasis), awakened by Peter's shake-up of society, emerges from its seclusion, proclaims its capabilities, and demands a role in statesmanship, in science, in changing Russia and boldly takes its place at Catherine's side.In Dashkova, one senses the same, almost irrepressible strength that yearned to break out of the mold of Moscovite stagnation toward a more expansive life. There was something powerful, versatile, and energetic in her — reminiscent of Peter the Great and Lomonosov* — but it was mitigated by aristocratic breeding and femininity." 1

In the center of Leningrad, a statue of Catherine II has been preserved — one of the few that survived the 1917 Revolution. Catherine is sculpted full height with the attributes of royal power, the world sphere and the sceptre, in her hands.Her favorites are gathered at her feet, and among them is Dashkova.There is no doubt that only an intelligent woman of power could have shared Catherine's friendship and fame. Dashkova turned out to have no less influence on Russia in the eighteenth century than the Empress herself.While Radischev called the century "reckless and wise", the intense and rich life of these two women at that time was not coincidental.

Dashkova became known as "Catherine the Little". She was only fifteen years old when she first met Catherine, who at that time was still a

____________________
*
Michael Lomonosov ( 1711-1765), linguist, poet, historian, scholar, and scientist proficient in many disciplines, was founder of the first Russian university.
Alexander Radischev, ( 1749-1802) wrote the famous book Journey from St.Petersburg to Moscow exposing the evils of serfdom, corruption, and despotism.He was sentenced to death, but exiled to Siberia.

-9-

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