Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia

The Pleasure and the Power
Stites, Richard
Date published: 
January 2006

Serf-era and provincial Russia heralded the spectacular turn in cultural history that began in the 1860s. Examining the role of arts and artists in society’s value system, Richard Stites explores this dramatic shift in a groundbreaking history of visual and performing arts in the last decades of serfdom. Provincial town and manor house engaged the culture of Moscow and St. Petersburg while thousands of serfs and ex-serfs created or performed. Against this background, Mikhail Glinka raised Russian music to new levels and Anton Rubinstein struggled to found a conservatory. Long before the itinerants, painters explored town and country in genre scenes of everyday life. Serf actors on loan from their masters brought naturalistic acting from provincial theatres to the imperial stages. .

Drawing on extensive archival research, Stites’s richly detailed book re-visualises the culture of a flamboyant era and offers new perspectives on the origins of Russia’s nineteenth-century artistic prowess.