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A Life Under Russian Serfdom

Boris B. Gorshkov

The Memoirs of Savva Dmitrevich Purlevskii, 1800–1868


N. Shcherban

Texte intégral

  • 1 The 1861 edict issued by Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia by freeing millions of landl (...)

1This is the autobiography of a serf who came from an initially prosperous but then impoverished family. It tells the story of a peasant who knew sorrow in his youth, who fled beyond the Danube, and who, because of the All-Merciful Manifesto,1 returned to end his life in Moscow as a guild merchant. In this capacity he was the agent of a large enterprise, a person known in all stock ex-change and commercial circles and respected by all. This is an authentic chronicle, written by the author in the twilight of his life. Although many former serfs became outstanding for one or another reason, there is probably no other example of a person who, having just escaped serfdom, remained close to the peasant and petty bourgeois environment and wrote his own memoirs. For this reason alone the pages that follow are worthy of our attention. Alongside the historical significance and curious details of the memoir, of general interest are the author’s independent attitudes about the “lords” and the peasant brotherhood, as well as the gentleness and sense of his judgments.

2Unfortunately, the manuscript could not be printed in its original form, firstly because it comprises an apparently unfinished draft, and secondly because it abounds in repetitions and is at times unnecessarily wordy, something that is quite natural for intelligent and literate but poorly educated people. It was therefore necessary to clarify the text in order to make it simpler and more accessible, as the author himself would have done had he had greater writing skills. However, while editing the text and omitting repetitions, I added hardly a single word of my own and tried to preserve the author’s unique style.

3The original manuscript (112 large-format pages covered in small handwriting) was presented to me by a close Moscow acquaintance of mine, I. D. Gv., a great friend of the deceased author, who, just before his death, placed the manuscript at Gv.’s disposal.

1. Meeting of a peasant commune

2. Blessing of a betrothal of a peasant couple


1 The 1861 edict issued by Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom in Russia by freeing millions of landlords’ peasants. The edict marked a new era in Russian history known as the period of great reforms. For further discussion of the abolition of serfdom, see David Moon, The Abolition of Serfdom; and Emancipation of the Russian Serfs, Terrence Emmons, ed. (New York: International Thompson Publishing, 1970).

Table des illustrations

Légende 1. Meeting of a peasant commune
Fichier image/jpeg, 288k
Légende 2. Blessing of a betrothal of a peasant couple
Fichier image/jpeg, 275k


Editor of Russkii vestnik

© Central European University Press, 2005

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