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Reading Russia, vol. 1

Damiano Rebecchini
Raffaella Vassena


Damiano Rebecchini et Raffaella Vassena

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  • 1   Pages 13-16 and 31-42 were written by Damiano Rebecchini, pages 17-30 by Raffaella Vassena. The e (...)
  • 2   D. Rebecchini, R. Vassena (eds.), Reading in Russia. Practices of Reading and Literary Communicat (...)

11. These volumes originate in two gatherings convened at Milan State University in 2013 and 2017 which brought together an international group of scholars of the history of literature, publishing history, and social history, with a view to exploring the phenomenon of reading in Russia from a broad and multidisciplinary perspective. The first occasion was a conference entitled ‘Reading Russia. Places and Manners of Reading, 1760-1930’, which was followed by the publication, in 2014, of Reading in Russia. Practices of Reading and Literary Communication (Milan, Ledizioni).2 The second was instead a workshop with the more ambitious title ‘Towards a History of Reading in Russia’, from which the project represented by these volumes emerged. Our aim was to put together a first history of reading in Russia intended not only for experts in Russian Studies, but also for scholars interested in the history of reading and book history in Europe. After sharing drafts of numerous chapters with colleagues, the majority of the authors met together for three days at Gargnano, on Lake Garda, to discuss issues needing resolution in the various chapters, and the overall structure of the project.

2In light of the above, a first important clarification is called for: these three volumes are not constructed on a common theoretical basis or with a shared methodological procedure. Each author has brought to the table his or her own historical and methodological expertise, which has been thus enabled to dialogue with those of the others, while maintaining the writers’ own individual scholarly identities. If the divergence of procedures among the contributors might seem at first sight to be a weakness, we believe it is rather one of the strongpoints of this work: a phenomenon as fluid and elusive, as hard to pin down, as reading acquires a degree of substance and clarity as the authors of these volumes investigate its dynamics, each from a different critical perspective, deploying the methodologies of their own disciplines and their own interpretive approaches.

  • 3   G. Cavallo, R. Chartier (eds), A History of Reading in the West, tr. by L. G. Cochrane (Amherst, (...)

3Given the methodological diversity among us, our starting point was an extremely broad definition of reading. By ‘reading’ we mean above all that process of ‘visual encounter with a written text’ in which some level of interpretation is present. Such a wide conception of reading has allowed our authors a considerable latitude in choosing their sources and defining their material for analysis. The following chapters contain analyses of the reading of written texts from very diverse media: from inscriptions on triumphal arches to shop signs, manuscripts, typed samizdat productions, film scripts, as well as, naturally, books, newspapers and journals, which will undoubtedly occupy the lion’s share of this story of Russian reading. The result is an attempt to throw some light on the processes of familiarisation and appropriation of the written word on the part of Russian readers which derive from the specific cultural and social circumstances characterising the Russian, or Soviet, ambience over the last three and a half centuries. If reading is indeed a “practice that is always realized in specific acts, places and habits” (G. Cavallo, R. Chartier), shared by specific “interpretive communities” (S. Fish), the scope of these volumes has been to identify and define, within each chronological section, the main transformations that have influenced the form and significance of those acts, spaces and habits in relation to the communities that produced them.3

4Our giving particular attention to the visual encounter with the written word has not meant that we have lost sight of the important role played by orality in the process of interpreting texts. It was especially true of a country like Russia, where literacy spread more slowly and patchily than in many other European countries, that the culture of the spoken word and the culture of the written word were strong influences on one another. As Daniel Waugh has emphasised, without considering the various non-written ways a text might be transmitted, it would be difficult to assess accurately the real impact of any written text on its readers. Regarding the Russian eighteenth century, for example, Gary Marker speaks of a genuine “symbiosis of text and orality,” underlying the continual interaction between educated readers and a receptive public of widely varying levels of literacy. It will not surprise, then, to find that reading aloud is central to several chapters, whether in the public sense of a master reading to his pupils or events before a mass audience, or the private one of familial, cultural or literary gatherings.

5In a cultural environment such as Russia’s, where until the end of the nineteenth century illiteracy was less the exception than the rule, the importance not only of orality but also of images in influencing the reading of texts should not be underestimated. The authors of a number of chapters have tried to give due weight to the importance of pictures in preparing, guiding, contextualising, sometimes even misdirecting the interpretation of the written word in different times and places: from the images on the covers of early nineteenth-century novels to the vignettes of satirical journals towards the end of that century, from caricatures to the black-and-white photographs of early Soviet publications, from the didactic illustrations of Stalin-era schoolbooks through the moving images of cinematic adaptations of the classics of Russian literature to the pictures supplied for new digital ‘readers-authors’ or ‘wreaders’ on modern Russian digital platforms.

  • 4   For a popular overview of the birchbark texts, see V. L. Ianin, Ia poslal tebe berestu… (Moscow, (...)

6When deciding on a chronological framework for this work, we initially wanted to embrace a temporal arc rather broader than the one that we settled on, which runs from the last decades of the seventeenth century to our own day. Given that the history of reading is clearly one of longue durée, in which a certain resistance on the part of readers tended to reduce the impact of political and technological ‘revolutions’ that transformed the production and circulation of texts, an ampler perspective would have enabled us to track more precisely the emergence of a series of modes and practices of reading whose roots were often to be found in the more distant past. In the end, however, we had to give way in the face of a particular historiographical circumstance. As Daniel Waugh makes clear in his introductory chapter to the first volume, for the period prior to Peter the Great’s reign, we simply do not have sufficient sources available to us for the reconstruction of a plausible overall picture of Russian readers and reading, however fragmentary. Nearly two centuries of philological studies have succeeded in clarifying a number of aspects of the manuscript production of Slavic texts in the Russian context between the eleventh and the seventeenth centuries, showing how these were largely texts linked to the concerns of the Church and Orthodox faith. Research in more recent decades has revealed a rich trove of texts written on birchbark that testify to a written secular culture alongside the written one already thriving in Kievan Rus’.4 For a period stretching from the fifteenth century to the first half of the seventeenth, it has also been possible to reconstruct some of the mechanisms for circulating texts between monasteries and other writing centres. And yet, as Waugh shows, a good deal remains to be discovered about the identity of readers in Muscovy over those three centuries, and on how and why those readers engaged with the texts.

7In the period we are looking at—from the end of the seventeenth century until our own day—first the Tsarist empire, then the Soviet State, and now the Russian Federation were or are multi-ethnic, multilingual and multi-confessional entities. Any history of reading that fails to take into account these three dimensions must perforce be an incomplete one, as indeed inevitably is this one in certain respects. We would have liked to dedicate more space to the reading lives of the many national, linguistic and religious minorities making up the Russian and Soviet Empires —from the Islamic and Protestant communities to the remaining ‘Old Believers’—but not all the scholars we consulted were able to contribute to this part of the story. In the end we were compelled to settle for a history of reading that concentrated largely on the reading performed by Russian readers of predominantly Russian texts.

8It would also have been interesting to analyse the reading of Russian texts beyond the confines of the Russian and Soviet spaces, and especially to investigate the particular relationship with reading Russian texts that evolved among the many diaspora communities in Western Europe and elsewhere in the world in the course of the twentieth century. Most likely this would have involved a different relationship with the written word than that experienced by their fellow nationals in the mother country. But here too, we have been unable to go as far as we would have liked: we must trust to further future research in this area. This is not to say that many of the contributors to these volumes have not dedicated a good deal of attention to the changing nature of the geography of reading in Russia. Susan Smith Peter, for example, describes in detail the cultural dynamics that led to the birth of a first daily newspaper in the city of Kazan and to the formation of a first local reading public in an Eastern region of Russia inhabited by a significant Muslim minority. Simon Franklin reconstructs the kaleidoscopic topography of the urban ‘graphosphere’ of the early nineteenth century and the impact of shop-signs on contemporary readers and observers, from the gaudy signage in the centre of St. Petersburg, with its sophisticated polyglot lexicon, to the barely grammatical announcements in the suburbs. Tat’iana Golovina looks into the channels of access and modes of circulation of books between two small landed estates in the Vladimir Oblast in the mid-nineteenth century. Denis Kozlov traces with some precision the circulation of the main literary journals during the Khrushchev Thaw, not only in the major cities and principal republics of the Soviet Union—from Ukraine to Belarus and the Baltic and Caucasian republics—but also in the more remote constituent republics of the Buryats and the Bashkirs or the Altai Republic. Given the uneven development of communication routes—canals, major roads, railway networks—and the variable efficiency of the postal and book distribution systems, we are confronted with an extremely variegated geography of reading in a cultural situation where geographical distances were an important conditioning factor.


92. These three volumes, in their four-part development, aim to reflect the different phases of the transformation of reading in Russian history over time. In order to take account of the differing paces of evolution and differing temporalities of reading in Russia in relation to epochs and geographical contexts, we have alternated long panoramic chapters embracing considerable timespans with briefer case studies that attempt to photograph the situation of the Russian reader in different geographical areas and/or cultural and socio-economic circumstances from a synchronic perspective. If the panoramic chapters trace a more or less linear evolution of reading in Russia, the case studies point to a more complex and contradictory state of affairs, where tradition persisted side by side with innovation and continuity was to be found together with breaks from it. With the help of the case studies we have tried to present a stratification of the tastes of the Russian people and their expectations in given periods or geographical areas, thereby demonstrating the weight of tradition and inquiring into the resistance or relative openness to the intrusion of the new.

10The First Part describes the slow evolution that took place between the reign of Peter the Great and that of Paul I, or from 1682 to 1801. During this ‘very long Russian eighteenth century’, such change as occurred had its roots in the second half of the seventeenth century but is seen to have particularly speeded up during the reign of Catherine II, in the last decades of the eighteenth, amounting to something of a first ‘revolution’ in reading. The Second Part covers the successive evolution that ensued during the ‘long Russian nineteenth century’, in a period stretching from the beginning of Alexander I’s reign in 1801 to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. In this phase, transformations that had begun in the last twenty years of Catherine’s reign became more rapid and evident, both in terms of a widening social base of the reading public and in the scale of the success of popular genres. This evolution further accelerated, following the reforms of Alexander II which allowed millions of peasants to engage personally and directly with the written word, often for the first time, while in the cities a genuine ‘mass readership’ began to form. The Third Part and Fourth Part, which share the third volume, embrace even more rapid and profound changes. In the Third Part we analyse the violent life changes imposed on the Russian public in the ‘short twentieth century’ (1917-1986). The transformations ushered in by the Bolshevik authorities led on the one hand to an extraordinary growth in literacy among the population, but on the other with ever more sophisticated and pervasive controls over what could be read. Fastest of all were the changes that took place in the last, post-Soviet and contemporary phase, covered in the Fourth Part, due to the coinciding in the 1990s of a political revolution—the fall of communism and the opening towards a form of capitalism—and a technological one—the digital revolution. These overlapping ‘revolutions’ at last made accessible to the Russian public not only a much wider range of available texts but new aids to reading capable of profoundly transforming the contemporary Russian reader’s manner of reading.

11In the first of the contributions on the eighteenth century, Gary Marker tackles a few methodological and conceptual issues relating to the study of reading in Russia in this period and provides an in-depth overview of the current state of play. Underlining the importance of the interaction between older and new reading practices, Marker details the perspectives afforded by recent studies and outlines possible directions for future research, in particular a number of crucial questions, including the language in which readers read (Russian as opposed to Latin, German or French); the influence of orality and images on eighteenth-century readers; the differing approaches of reading communities, especially within the monastic world; the coalescing of secular readers into a modern reading public; various practices of ‘self-inscription’ in both private and public library books; the use of sources such as subscription lists for both books and periodicals at the end of the eighteenth century.

12The changes described in the First Part initially concerned a very limited number of readers from court circles, the higher aristocracy, the Academy and the ecclesiastical world. In the period between 1682 and 1762, from the reigns of Peter the Great through to that of his daughter Elizabeth, when the printing presses were almost entirely in state hands, reading was seen by the authorities as more than anything a tool for the education of the subject populace. In this phase a series of stand-offs between secular and religious knowledge shaped new prescriptive visions of reading adopted by the diverse reading communities associated with the court or with the principal cultural institutions. As Kirill Ospovat shows, reading was seen by the Tsar and the leading ideologists of the new state as a potent means of regulating the conduct of the people, not only via the consumption of a certain kind of manuals and instructional literature, but also through the assimilation of literary and theatrical behavioural models emanating largely from court circles. In this context the very idea of ‘reading for pleasure’ was put before readers as an officially sanctioned element of life conduct proper to the loyal subject.

  • 5Baudin, “Reading in the Times of Catherine II,” vol. 1, 156.

13As Rodolphe Baudin shows, the last thirty years of the eighteenth century saw rapid and profound changes overtake Russian reading and readers. It was in fact during Catherine the Great’s reign that signs of substantial change from the Petrine and immediate post-Petrine era become evident. In this period we find, directly encouraged by the Empress, a boom in translating foreign works and the first appearance of a vibrant independent publishing industry. In the wake of a rising demand for books among the nobility, and thanks to the emergence of private publishing firms, we see a rapid growth in secular printing. From 1762 to 1800 more than 7000 non-religious titles were published in Russia, as compared to an overall production of 928 titles for the decades 1725-1755. This period was witness to the formation of a literate lay public, still for the most part composed of nobles, but with a certain autonomy with respect to the community of readers connected to the court or the academies. The energy of the new private publishers was also a boost to the spread of reading not only in the major cities but also in the provinces, among the lesser nobility and the better-off merchant class. This phase saw too the formation of new categories of readers, bringing distinct markets for feminine and children’s literature, groups with their own specific cultural requirements, as witnessed by the appearance of dedicated journals. Needless to say, this new dynamism generated a degree of tension in the cultural sphere. As Baudin puts it, the history of reading in this phase “is very much a history of the tension between the dynamics of a growing number of readers and a liberalisation of both literary forms and forms of literary consumption on the one hand, and the attempts made by Court and the literati to support yet control this general progress on the other.”5

  • 6Zorin, “A Reading Revolution?,” vol. 1, 221.

14The aristocratic public in this period began to establish its autonomy from the culture of the court, finding an alternative legitimisation in, for example, European masonic culture. With Catherine II’s encouragement, the publication and diffusion of large numbers of foreign works in translation led to nothing less than a ‘Europeanisation’ of the Russian reading nobility. While the reading of literary and theatrical texts had been deployed by the government in the Petrine and post-Petrine era as a powerful instrument for regulating the behaviour of its subjects, the dissemination of new texts, particularly of a fictional or semi-fictional nature (letters, diaries, epistolary novels, etc.) and new habits of shared reading, now contributed to the Russian reader’s forming an interior world adapted to the ‘Age of Sensibility’. As Andrei Zorin writes, “having Europeanized their appearance, manners, and practices of everyday life, members of the Russian upper class began attending to the Europeanisation of their inner selves.”6 Following Robert Darnton, Zorin emphasises how the reading ‘revolution’ that occurred in Russia at this time, was—as in other European countries—not so much a passage from an intensely focused reading of a limited number of religious texts to the wider ranging consumption of a greater range of works of fiction, as a search on the reader’s part for a similar level of intensity to that typical of religious reading applied to texts dealing with other areas of human life: friendship, love, approaches to nature and to art.

15Contemporaneously in the ecclesiastical world, among the new readers educated in the seminaries of Catherine II’s time, the borders between religious and secular culture tended to blur. As Ekaterina Kislova shows, a study of the inventories and catalogues of the seminaries and other ecclesiastical institutions, between the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, suggests that, influenced by the Tsarina’s outward-looking cultural policy, the new generation of Orthodox clergy began to read secular works both in Russian and in foreign languages. New acquisitions and donations meant that new genres begin to appear in the seminary catalogues alongside the traditional liturgies, theological and philosophical works: contemporary lyric poetry and drama, novels and historical verse, newspapers and literary journals. Of course, the presence of such works in the catalogues does not prove whether or how they were read, but significant confirmation can be gleaned from other sources: the loan records of seminary libraries, for example, show that it was just these kinds of secular texts that leaders often failed to return —a confirmation of the fascination they exerted not only over the students, but also over the teaching staff and the librarians themselves.

16Analysing the Russian journals of the period, Bella Grigoryan shows that Catherine’s era constitutes a sort of hyphen with the succeeding century, anticipating a series of cultural dynamics that would be developed in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Studying how the Russian reader is represented in the pages of Russian newspapers and journals from the 1770s to the 1830s, Grigoryan highlights a whole series of topoi relating to the Russian public and reading which would remain constant throughout the period. More and more often the readership of these publications around the turn of the century is pictured as a lively and enquiring public, increasingly active and socially diverse. While in the journals of the earlier part of Catherine’s reign, this portrait appears something of a case of cultural wishful thinking rather than a reality, with the passage of years such rhetorical constructions seem to acquire a certain historical solidity, as demonstrated by the increasing numbers and the widening social extraction of the subscribers to the journals of the 1830s.

17In a contribution embracing nearly the whole chronological arc of the three volumes, Simon Franklin shows us the weight of familiarity in the Russian citizenry’s daily encounters with the written word in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg at three different points of imperial and Soviet history: at the beginning of the eighteenth century, halfway through the nineteenth century, and in the 1930s. These encounters were controlled and directed by the state, by turns attracted and irked by the new market imperatives. Relying on a variety of sources, Franklin considers the often barely decipherable Latin and Russian inscriptions on triumphal arches in Moscow from Peter the Great’s time; analyses the messages of shop signs in the two cities, from the French notices in the smarter streets to the chaos of incorrect Russian in the humbler districts in the mid-nineteenth century; and describes the demoralising impact of the uniform grey graphics of 1930s shop signage on the Soviet citizen, in strident contrast with the varied and eye-catching slogans on the political posters and placards which punctuated Soviet streets.

18In the Second Part we see the profound changes that take place during the ‘long nineteenth century,’ between 1801 and 1917, both in the social make-up of the Russian reading public and in the published genres that impact on the taste of the Russian reader. These were transformations that had already manifested themselves during Catherine the Great’s reign but which in this phase become more rapid and evident. It was particularly in the first three decades of the century, during the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of Russian literature, that in certain cultivated and/or noble circles of the two capitals a sophisticated and original culture of poetic reading developed which, reappropriating certain practices and models from the Age of Sensibility, would leave profound traces in the subsequent development of poetry reading in Russia. Daria Khitrova shows how the reading of poetry was practiced among a restricted group of noble literati as a form of ‘emotive complicity’ between writer and reader. The new reading practices tended to cancel the gap between those writing and those reading, creating a communicative landscape in which the reading of poetry assumed naturally a position in an emotional continuum extending through conversation, recital, singing and writing. With their underlinings, inscriptions, comments, quotations and copying into private diaries or albums to be shared with family and friends, the noble readers of the Golden Age ‘performed’ on the template created by the poet, personalising it and enriching it with new contents and meanings.

19At the same time, thanks to an improvement of economic conditions generally, to a fall in the price of books and to a degree of social mobility, the Russian reading public continued to grow over the first decades of the nineteenth century, to include not only the urban nobility, but in ever greater numbers the middling and lesser provincial nobility, clerks, retailers and the better-off artisans. It was in this phase that the first public libraries begin to appear in many provincial cities along with a certain number of local newspapers with a specific local audience. In her close analysis of one of these new daily papers, Kazan News (1811-1821), Susan Smith-Peter highlights the role played by the new institutions promoted by Alexander I, such as the provincial universities and local periodicals, in creating new local cultural identities within the Empire. Thanks to the new paper, we are witnesses to the birth of a particularly active and dynamic public in Kazan, who prove to be not only ‘consumers’ of information emanating from the capital—as was the government’s intention—but producers themselves of a new variety of autonomous regional news, contributing to the establishment of a specific regional identity. Smith-Peter’s contribution thus demonstrates the unwittingly contradictory nature of tsarist cultural policy, which favoured the rise of relatively autonomous regional institutions capable of undermining the hegemony of the central power.

20It is into this panorama of social mobility and a changing public that the success of the novel bursts. If in the first decades of the century it was chiefly English, German and French novels that captured the attention of the public, distracting it from the old chapbooks and chivalrous romances of lubok literature, from the 1830s the Russian novel began to make its mark. Damiano Rebecchini describes how, in the first thirty years of the century, thanks to the many translations of European novels in circulation, the Russian reader became familiar with typically Western heroes, behaviour and milieux. The narrative genres of the European sentimental novel, the Gothic novel, the bandit novel stimulated a degree of identification with the protagonists of such texts and their emotions, but with the success of Walter Scott’s historical romances, the Russian public gradually acquired a less mimetic approach to reading. As well as their evident function as escapist reading, Scott’s novels stimulated more analytic reading attitudes, as well as a greater tendency to compare the past with the present and the western world with the Russian one. The 1830s, in fact, saw a great number of Russian historical romances invade the market, imitative of Scott but substituting more typically Russian heroes and situations. The success of so many novels dedicated to Russia’s past helped to create a shared historical imagery, composed for the most part of national stereotypes that —contrastingly with Western models—reinforced a sense of cohesion among readers belonging to different social and cultural worlds. Hard on the heels of this homogenising phase, however, in the 1840s there occurred a contrary movement of division, fragmentation and ideological radicalisation of the readership in concomitance with a period of economic crisis. The appearance of two important novels on contemporary Russia—Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time and Gogol’s Dead Souls—divided the public into opposing halves, provoking different reactions from readers largely along generational lines. At the same time, the success of the new publishing phenomenon, the ‘thick journal’, also contributed to a greater segmentation of the public, creating new communities of readers and radicalising their opinions. From then on, for most of the nineteenth century these journals promoted new ways of reading and shaped new generations of readers. It was in their pages that the public would discover the novels of Turgenev, Tolstoi and Dostoevskii, published in instalments with the accompaniment of commentaries by the critics of the moment. Increasingly diverse in their aesthetic and ideological stances, the thick journals carved up the public into distinct communities of readers, united by similar interests, tastes and ideological positions. Generational differences were accentuated, social ones attenuated. Reading in their journals of choice the same literary texts and opinion pieces on the most debated issues of the day—be they ‘the feminine question’ or nihilism, crime reports or the condition of the peasantry—the new readers moved steadily further away from the tastes and ideas of their parents and radicalised their aesthetic and ideological positions.

21The high season of the novel is also the concern of the case studies investigated by Katherine Bowers and Tatiana Golovina. Bowers describes the impact of the Gothic novel which, having arrived in Russia in the 1790s courtesy of translations of Radcliffe, Walpole and Lewis, was imitated in the decades following by such Russian writers as Karamzin, Narezhnyi and Gnedich, provoking lively debates among the literary critics of the day. As Bowers suggests, the critics’ concerns about the baleful consequences that the reading of Gothic literature might have on the Russian public helped to create a stereotype of the Gothic novel reader (characterised by an excess of sensitivity and emotional fragility, weak nerves, masochistic tendencies) which would persist into the subsequent decades. Golovina, for her part, examines the role of reading in the life of a family of small landowners in Vladimir province, some 120 miles east of Moscow, in the 1830s and 1840s. The apparent cultural isolation of these readers intensified their relationship with the by no means negligible number of books that they managed to procure through the libraries of the nearest cities, travelling salesmen and a busy network of exchanges with their neighbours. Their reading embraces both Russian and foreign authors, moral, satirical and historical novels, travel writing and the leading newspapers and magazines. Studying their correspondence, Golovina shows that romantic and sentimental texts in particular profoundly influenced their vision of the world, shaped their values and emotions, educated their aesthetic and critical sensibilities. She concludes that for these lesser landowners, brought up in a masonic environment, reading was less a pastime than a form of self-improvement, an irreplaceable source of knowledge of themselves and of the world around them.

22The major reforms initiated by Tsar Alexander II in the 1860s, following the liberation of over twenty million serfs, favoured the capitalist development of the publishing market and introduced a widening section of the population to the written word. With the gradual establishment of a vast network of elementary schools in the countryside, reading ceased to be a privilege of the few, becoming a precious opportunity offered to the many of integrating themselves into the new social conditions and new urban lifestyles. Large publishing houses, often backed by foreign capital, exploited new technological advances in printing, transport and communications to step up production, amplify their distribution channels and develop new commercial networks. As Abram Reitblat shows, a rapid increase in book production occurred in the space of a few years, rising from 18.5 million copies in 1887 to 56.3 million in 1901. The opening of many local libraries and the launch of hundreds of circulating libraries, accessible to the less well-off, made it possible to read novels by Russian and foreign authors in the thick journals, as well as historical, scientific and socio-political texts, even clandestine ones on occasion. In the 1870s and ’80s, alongside these bulky publications, typically with a pronounced ideological leaning and intended for an educated public, there began to appear mass-circulation newspapers and cheap illustrated weekly magazines aimed at a huge audience of semi-educated readers who had already outgrown the popular chapbooks of lubok literature but lacked the education to fully appreciate some of the contents of the thick journals. Thanks to these weekly magazines, middle- and lower-ranking employees, country priests, shopkeepers, junior officers, elementary school teachers and others of some but limited educational attainment were able to read for themselves the latest news in fields such as science, fashion, literature and the arts in easily digestible form, where the texts (novels and folk-tales in instalments, dramas, biographies of important figures, travel accounts, informative scientific, technical artistic and ethnographic articles, etc.) were accompanied by a wealth of illustrations (portraits, landscapes, reproductions of artworks…).

23Often these weekly magazines would come with free supplements which, thanks to the high print runs and low cost of the periodicals, became an important path for the dissemination of the Russian classics among the less educated readers. Raffaella Vassena provides an example of the process with her contribution on Dostoevsky’s evolving readership between the 1860s to the early 1900s. After the writer’s death in 1881, his wife Anna Grigor’evna made a deliberate effort to tailor new editions to the needs of sections of the public previously unfamiliar with her husband’s work. Throughout the 1880s and ‘90s she produced not only various editions of Dostoevsky’s complete works, sometimes in the form of free supplements to inexpensive magazines, but even early adaptations aimed at children and adolescents, as well as ‘popular’ editions. At the same time public readings were organised of the writer’s works for audiences of the peasant class, provoking criticisms from some who thought his works unsuitable for the humbler reader. Dostoevsky’s case shows how writers at the end of the nineteenth century could be elevated to the status of moral authorities and acquire a public well beyond the confines of that for which the works were originally intended. Another example is provided by Marcus Levitt who traces the evolution of Pushkin’s status as national poet through a study of the different editions of his collected works that appeared between 1855 and 1887. Levitt shows how, in a period of great social tension, Pushkin’s work became a field of conflict for various groups (the liberal intelligentsia, radical critics and popular activists, the tsarist authorities) wishing to instrumentalise his works to influence the masses. As Levitt observes, the ‘public’ tended to remain—as much for the established authorities as for cultured society—an ‘imagined community’ shaped according to their own ideological objectives. A similar process can be seen in the case of the readers of daily newspapers, which achieved extraordinary levels of circulation in Russia at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. In her case study devoted to the image of Tolstoy presented by the Russian newspapers in 1908 and the reading public’s reaction to his 80th birthday celebrations, Raffaella Vassena shows how, in a context of notable technological development and massive expansion of readership, the new media informed readers’ practices and functioned as creators of new models of reference which challenged the traditional ones.

24The discrepancy between ministerial dictates and school practice—and the resulting tensions—are the focus of the substantial contribution by Roman Leibov and Aleksei Vdovin dealing with reading in the Russian schools in the nineteenth century. Their chapter describes in some detail the evolution of the methodology and aids deployed on the syllabuses of the gymnasiums and technical schools in imperial Russia between 1840 and 1917, and how norms were actually put into practice. What emerges is a mixed picture that shows, on one side, the meddling of the tsarist government in the teaching of literature, which remained for a long period subordinate to Russian language teaching, and, on the other, the importance of extracurricular and clandestine reading as a form of resistance to the instructions of the Education Ministry in the late nineteenth century. Authors such as Tolstoi, Turgenev and Dostoevskii enjoyed an increasing popularity among younger readers alongside ‘classics’ such as Pushkin and Gogol, despite their exclusion under the 1871 ‘classicist’ reforms introduced by Education Minister Dmitrii Tolstoi. The growing ‘symbolic capital’ of contemporary writers, simultaneously with a loosening of the grip of tsarist censorship, allowed a slow but inexorable emancipation of Russian literature, which would eventually be granted autonomy as a discipline with the educational reforms of 1912.

25At the end of the nineteenth century, a new type of limited circulation magazine appeared next to the thick journals, small in format and boasting sophisticated graphics, trumpeting the advent of modernism. Mir iskusstva was the emblematic first example: manifestos of an artistic programme as exclusive as it was innovative, such modernist journals were aimed at an elite of insiders able to make the new European aesthetic sensibility their own, and more interested in the aesthetic enjoyment of a work than in its moral and ideological implications. As Jonathan Stone shows, alongside the traditionalist reader—who tended to attack or mock the new fin-de-siècle literature—there emerged a new sort of modernist reader, who aspired to be more than a passive recipient, but almost the co-author of symbolist texts: invested with the same tautological capacity the reader and writer would assume simultaneously the roles of producer and consumer of the artistic work. Roman Timenchik sketches a lively pen-portrait of a ‘school’ of Silver Age poetry readers: readers with distinct features and habits, rooted in modernist culture, but who nevertheless, in their recourse to a performative, totalising and quasi-idolatrous reading of the poetic text cannot fail to recall those of the Golden Age described by Daria Khitrova.

26A chapter apart is dedicated to reading in the peasant world in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although the beneficiaries of the literacy campaigns promoted by the reforms of Alexander II and cultural initiatives by the populist intelligentsia, the peasantry maintained an ambivalent attitude towards reading, legacy of a patriarchal tradition still solidly grounded in Orthodox Christianity: while religious texts were regarded with respect and devotion, secular works were initially seen as a source of temptation and sin. As Reitblat recounts, this situation began to change in the last twenty years of the nineteenth century, as the peasant world’s percentage of readers rose rapidly, especially among the younger generation, and with it the production and circulation of lubok literature. Among the lubok genres most popular with the peasant readership, other than the lives of saints, were, Reitblat shows, chivalric and adventure stories, folk fables and songs, adaptations of novels and historical tales. Such texts lent themselves to collective reading, which might take place either in private houses or in public meeting places, where the rural communities shared books, listening to them over and over, often ending by committing them to memory, and treating them as a refuge from their exhausting and monotonous lives. Important channels of distribution for such books were the new people’s libraries and the elementary schools set up by the new local administrations (zemstva), which played a key role in the education of the children of the peasantry—increasingly resistant to accepting their parents’ values and keen to leave the village for the big city. By the turn of the century the tastes of these younger readers became more demanding to the extent that many were turning to the classics of Russian and foreign literature.

27The Third Part of this history of reading, entitled “After the Bolshevik Revolution,” describes the turbulent transformations that took place in the Russian ‘short twentieth century’ (1917-1991). In the years immediately following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik, later Soviet power sponsored a change of gear in the mass literacy campaign and in book production. As Dobrenko and Reitblat demonstrate, the social structuring of the Russian public changed markedly, with an extension of the popular reading base accompanying a progressive reduction of the cultural elite (who emigrated or died during the civil war). Under the new political arrangements, reading became a potential vehicle for involving the peasantry and urban working class, and to this end was promoted at all levels. The proliferation of new libraries and reading rooms in the cities and villages suggests that the composition of the 1920s public was relatively dynamic and varied. Made up for the post part of workers, urbanised peasants, Red Army soldiers and party functionaries, the new Soviet audience acquired a utilitarian conception of reading, which became a means of adapting to the new living conditions: moral, religious or entertainment literature was replaced by newspapers, political and technical manuals, as well as literary texts by contemporary Soviet authors, these too often treated as ‘how to’ guides to the new Soviet reality.

28Three voices that broke ranks with the new public described by Dobrenko and Reitblat are the subject of Lekmanov’s case study. The diaries of these three readers reveal profiles rather different from the ‘ideal Soviet reader’ that the government was trying to shape in those years. They testify to the important space that nineteenth-century and modernist literature maintained in a system which —as suggested in the title of Jeffrey Brooks’s contribution—was still “adjusting to a new normal.” As Brooks shows, the dismantling of the old system and the creation of a new media apparatus that effectively met propaganda requirements was a slow and gradual process, only completed with Stalin’s rise to power at the end of the 1920s and through into the 1930s. Only then did it become clear what particular category of reader was to be the main target of the ideological project promoted by the Party: children.

29The issue of children’s reading during the Stalinist era is pursued by Olga Malinovskaya, who looks at the prescriptive aspect through an analysis of Soviet school curricula. Focusing on Russian literature programmes for secondary schools, Malinovskaya notes a move from the ‘formal’ approach of the 1920s, which favoured a stylistic and poetic analysis of the literary text to a ‘social/historical/economic’ one from the early 1930s, which aimed to inculcate a class consciousness in the student, encouraging a strongly critical attitude towards the classics and the bourgeois and religious values they embodied. After 1936 the scholastic programme underwent further modification, this time in the direction of providing Soviet students principally with the tools for self-analysis. Authors and literary characters became models against which to compare and evaluate their own ideological soundness and correct any falling-short that process might reveal in the development of their political consciousness. Through such techniques as expressive reading, acting out and memorisation, and with the help of illustrations of positive and negative literary ‘types,’ young Soviet pupils were prompted to involve themselves emotionally and ‘visualise’ the protagonists of the classics of Russian and Soviet literature, measuring their own responsiveness to Party directives by comparison.

30Thomas Lahusen’s contribution also focuses on the Stalin era, using a plethora of ego-documents, such as diaries, letters and interviews to investigate the reading tastes and practices of Soviet citizens of different social extractions and educational levels. He shows how socialist realist literature influenced readers’ mindsets in varying measure, sometimes leaving open small gaps for a critical spirit to emerge through. Lahusen discovers that the 1930s Soviet public was far from homogenous or aligned compactly with the dictates of socialist realism and that even children’s reading could sometimes escape the cramped “horizon of expectation” forged by Soviet ideologues, thanks perhaps to a surviving well-furnished family library or a schoolmistress teaching her pupils to ‘read between the lines.’

31Denis Kozlov’s field of investigation is the geographical circulation of periodicals during the Thaw. If the increasing demand for magazines, literary or otherwise, on the part of the Soviet public could only be satisfied up to a point, due to paper shortages and a distribution system that was still overcentralised, the 1960s saw a significant rise in circulation, reaching levels never previously achieved in the history of imperial and Soviet Russia. Kozlov looks at the circulation and subscription levels for dozens of literary journals, highlighting the divergences between the different regions of Russia and the various republics of the USSR, and finds a considerable disparity between the great urban centres and the remoter provinces. This, Kozlov reminds us, should not necessarily be taken to indicate a feebler interest in reading on the part of the latter: many other factors need to be considered, as for example the inefficiency of the distribution system for printed material in the more distant regions, or the persistence in certain areas of the Soviet Union of ‘old-fashioned’ usages like collective readings and shared subscriptions to periodicals. As Kozlov rightly emphasises, in tracing the intellectual history of Russia, statistics can only take us so far, and need to be tempered with other, empirical sources that more adequately reflect the specificity of contexts and different forms of interaction between literature and society.

32Josephine Von Zitzewitz’s contribution investigates the clandestine circulation of samizdat texts—typescript texts run off in secret during the 1960s and 1970s. Using a questionnaire distributed online, she traces circulation networks, reading practices and the sorts of text most widely distributed. Although samizdat is generally associated with political dissent in the USSR following the Thaw, Von Zitzewitz makes clear that it was a practice which arose initially from an urgent desire to read texts, literary as much as political, that were simply hard to find on the open market. The replies of her interviewees map a very varied panorama of motivations and degrees of engagement on the part of samizdat readers, and no less of reading places and practices, not to mention genre preferences, inclining decidedly towards literary texts, and only subordinately to journalistic works of political and social hue. Notwithstanding the variety of responses, the questionnaire reveals clearly enough the specificity of the samizdat phenomenon, closely connected to the social networks that generated and sustained it: the samizdat consumer is defined as “much more than just a reader,” on account of his or her active participation and strong sense of being responsible for the efficient functioning of each link of the chain of communication.

33In Catriona Kelly’a case study we see instead the impact of Soviet film adaptations of great Russian classics on an essentially more passive public, the cinema audience. Taking as an example the film The Queen of Spades (1982) by director Igor Maslennikov, based on Pushkin’s short story of the same name, Kelly explores the specific reading dynamics inherent in the process of adapting a classic for the screen, showing how these can challenge previous interpretations of the text ingrained in the public consciousness.

34In the Fourth (and final) Part, entitled ‘Towards a digital revolution,’ we look at a very short, and still ongoing, post-Soviet and contemporary period, in which an acceleration of changes in reading is brought about by the overlap of a local political revolution—the collapse of the USSR—and a global technological upheaval, the digital revolution. Birgit Menzel analyses the issues from a diachronic perspective, identifying four phases of reading mutations, taking place between 1986 and 2017. The first phase, covering the perestroika years, is characterised by a loosening of Soviet censorship and a boom in readers’ interest in previously banned literature, which is reflected in print runs of millions of copies of the main literary magazines; in 1991, the end of the USSR and the swift collapse of the Soviet publishing system, ushers in a phase of rapid privatisation and the enormous success of Russian and imported commercial literature (historical novels, fantasy, mystery, hard-boiled detective novels, female detective novels…); from the turn of the millennium a new phase begins, marked by the relative prosperity of the reading public, a revival in book production and the rise of new publishing phenomena, soon overtaken, in more recent times, by the return of a controlling strong and centralised state; finally, from 2008, there is a new decline in book consumption, due both to an economic downturn and to the booming popularity of social networks. The digital revolution of the new century has undoubtedly signalled a decline in traditional reading institutions and a fragmentation of the public, once again divided by social, geographic and generational barriers.

35While it is true that the educational and cultural initiatives sponsored by the Putin government to restore the ‘great literature of Russia’ to its traditional position of authority have only partially managed to invert the tendency, the decline of the printed book needs to be reconsidered in the light of the rise of new electronic formats and new reading practices. The contributions of Henrike Schmidt and Birgitte Beck Pristed are dedicated to this issue. Schmidt explores the cultural, social, economic and legal implications of reading on the Russian-language web (the ‘Runet’), providing a survey in the round of digital libraries, e-book commercial platforms, self-publication portals, literary blogs and social networks. These reading sites are important for a number of reasons: on the one hand, they make up for the shortcomings of the physical libraries surviving in the Russian Federation; on the other, they create new virtual communication spaces that generate new supralocal and global interpretive communities of great importance to diaspora Russian readers; finally they facilitate sharing and discussion among users, as well as the spontaneous production of new texts, free from the interference of traditional normative groups such as publishers, critics or censors. This very absence of barriers creates the conditions for a new digital intimacy between readers and their literary favourites, as demonstrated by, say, the Facebook page of a popular writer such as Tatyana Tolstaya. Although subject to governmental restrictions and control, the Runet has none the less become the furthest frontier of a new ‘public sphere’, as Birgitte Beck Pristed’s essay confirms. Taking as her models the cases of social reading platforms such as, Beck Pristed illustrates the campaigns of Russian web entrepreneurs to promote reading by associating it with fun and friendship, or more generally with the pleasant and comfortable life, adapting their promotion strategies to groups of internet users previously given little consideration by the print publishing market. In Russian social reading networks, the act of reading, often associated with domestic images like an armchair and a cup of coffee, becomes an invitation to take a regenerating pause from the stress of the daily routine; alternatively, reading can be linked to a set of more dynamic and competitive images and by association with sporting equipment be presented as a game or competition, so that troops of Stakhanovite new readers are challenged to read more and more books and register their ‘likes’. As Beck Pristed suggests, the compensatory practices facilitated by these digital platforms, such as discussion forums, second-hand book exchanges, campaigns to raise funds for district libraries, should not be seen as in opposition to, but rather in continuity with a long and well-established tradition of cultural activities ancillary to shared reading.


  • 7   Cfr. J.-F. Gilmont, “Protestant reformation and reading,” in Cavallo, Chartier (eds.), A History (...)
  • 8   Gilmont, “Protestant reformation and reading,” 215-217.
  • 9   G. Marker, Publishing, Printing and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700–1800 (Prince (...)
  • 10   According to Jeffrey Brooks, “nearly 350,000 copies were published by the Synod for the Great Bri (...)
  • 11   Ibid., 25-27.
  • 12 Ibid., 301.
  • 13   Ibid., 306-311.

363. The wider scale chapters of this history of reading are heavy with the names of a series of political figures: Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Alexander II, Lenin, Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, Mikhail Gorbachev, Vladimir Putin, and there is no doubt that the central power in Russia, perhaps more than elsewhere in Europe, had a certain weight in determining the reading choices of the population. In contrast, too, to the situation prevailing in other countries it was, for a number of historical reasons, more the state than the Church which influenced the habits of Russian readers. Perhaps on account of the low levels of literacy of most of the population during the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth century, the Orthodox Church seems to have encouraged reading among the faithful to a lesser extent than the Catholic Church and less still than the Protestant Churches.7 For a long time, for example, the Russian Orthodox Church, as indeed the Catholic, discouraged the faithful from direct access to sacred texts, unlike the Calvinists, Puritans and Pietists.8 From the mid-seventeenth to the first half of the nineteenth century, the Bible circulated in Russia only in Church Slavonic and remained on the whole restricted to the clergy.9 The first complete translation of the Bible into modern Russian dates to 1876, some 340 years after Luther’s German translation and the earliest Italian, French, English and Dutch versions. Bibles in modern Russian reached a wide public circulation only during the second half of the nineteenth century, and would again disappear from domestic bookshelves and bookshops from 1917 to 1991.10 It was left to the religious minorities, such as the Old Believers and a few rationalist sects (for example the Molokans) to encourage, as far as was possible in defiance of persecutions, the direct reading of sacred texts and other religious material by their followers.11 The attitude of the Church hierarchy towards literacy and reading remained for a long while distinctly suspicious. We read, for example, in an official document produced by the Holy Synod as late as 1851 “literacy by itself in the hands of the ignorant only increases the possibilities of mistakes and errors.”12 Only from the 1860s, and particularly from the last decades of the century through to the 1917 revolution, do we see a massive circulation of religious texts (chiefly lives of saints, the New Testament, and psalters) among the ordinary people, printed on the initiative both of the Orthodox Church and of private publishers.13

  • 14   Yu. Tatsumi, T. Tsurumi (eds.) Publishing in Tsarist Russia. A History of Print Media from Enligh (...)
  • 15   Ch. Ruud, Fighting words. Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906, 2nd edition (Toro (...)
  • 16   E. Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader. Social and aesthetic contexts of the reception of So (...)
  • 17   On the circulation of manuscript literature in Russia in the nineteenth century, see f. i. A. I. (...)

37The influence of the state on Russians’ reading was exercised in different ways in different periods, but with a notable persistence and over a much longer arc of time than in the other European countries, first and foremost through a tight control over printed texts that could effectively end up in the hands of the Russian people. From the time of Peter the Great it was the State authorities more than the Church that promoted publishing and reading, and then only in the forms it judged to be in its interest. As Yukiko Tatsumi and Taro Tsurumi have recently noted, “publishing in Russian was launched at the beginning of the eighteenth century as a state project.”14 From the reign of Peter the Great at least until that of Catherine II, the state had almost complete control over what was printed, and only in 1783 did it begin to concede, on its own initiative, a little room for private publishing. Prior censorship—not, to be sure, the only, but perhaps the most effective, means of control—was first abolished in England, for the majority of publications, in 1695; in France it was abolished repeatedly (only to be reimposed), in 1789, in 1814, in 1848 and in 1881; in Prussia it was first lifted in 1850. In Russia, however, a first, partial step toward abolition was made only in 1865, and then only for the thick journals and major collections, while briefer publications, and particularly those aimed at a mass audience, were for a long time still subject to prior inspection by the authorities. The complete abolition of prior censorship had to wait until 1905, but it would reappear in 1914 for the First World War and be reinforced from 1917 under the Bolshevik and then Soviet regimes, lasting through until 1990.15 In a decree concerning the printed media promulgated in the first months of the Revolution, Lenin claimed that the very idea of the freedom of the press was a bourgeois trick at the expense of the proletariat. Consequently, by the mid-1930s the whole process of the publishing, publicising and distribution of books was brought entirely the control of the Soviet state.16 For the greater part of the twentieth century readers in the Soviet Union had access to a considerably smaller range of texts than their counterparts in the West. More broadly speaking, in the last three centuries, with the exception of brief periods of relatively greater publishing freedom—for example between 1783 and 1796, 1865 and 1881, and more completely from 1905 to 1917 and from 1990 to our own day—state control of printed works was generally profound and pervasive. As a result, for at least a good part of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries there was a considerable circulation of manuscript and typewritten clandestine texts, even in periods of high circulation of printed works, as documented in many of the chapters of these volumes.17

  • 18   See f. i. V. Infantes, F. Lopez, J.-F. Botrel (eds.), Historia de la edición y de la lectura en E (...)
  • 19   On the history of the book and of the press in Russia, apart from the Kniga. Issledovaniia i mate (...)
  • 20   For studies on the printing of books in other languages than Russian within the Russian Empire, s (...)

38Given the control exercised by Russian and Soviet censorship, even in periods when there was a greater degree of liberty elsewhere in Western Europe, we have not dedicated the close attention to the history of publishing in relation to reading history that has been thought appropriate in the case of other nations.18 There are two reasons for this: in the first place, both Russian and Western scholars have for many years been producing valid works describing in detail the outlines and evolution of book production in Russia,19 recently also dedicating attention to the print production of the linguistic minorities present in the Russian Empire.20 Secondly, the history of reading often proceeds at a different rhythm to the history of the book and of publishing and its key transformative moments do not always coincide with those of publishing history. In the light of the degree of state control, it seems especially wrong to suggest that the relation between the production of texts and their consumption is a linear or immediate one: often, in fact, it turns out to be complex and contradictory. The story of reading in Russia in the twentieth century is proof of as much. Not infrequently, works published at the beginning of the century can circulate and be read by a wide public only decades later, as was the case for example with the great success that Silver Age poetry enjoyed in the perestroika years and the early 1990s. At various points, readers in the Soviet Union complained of a lack of books or magazines that interested them, giving rise to a phenomenon known as knizhnyi golod (‘book hunger’) and stimulating an increased circulation of clandestine literature and various forms of ‘hidden’ or secret reading.


  • 21   B. N. Mironov, “The Development of Literacy in Russia and the USSR from the Tenth to the Twentiet (...)
  • 22   On the creation of this myth, see S. Lovell, The Russian Reading Revolution. Print Culture in the (...)

394. In order to understand exactly how the state was able to exercise an influence over Russian readers, apart from controlling the kind of works published, it is worth thinking about where those readers actually read their preferred books and magazines. One of the institutions in which the state had a ready opportunity to shepherd the reader, influencing his or her ideas and emotions, was obviously the school. It was in the public schools that the majority of Russians learned to read. Thanks to the reforms of elementary schooling initiated by Alexander II in 1865 and again by the Soviet government immediately after the revolution, illiteracy was drastically reduced over the whole country from the later nineteenth through the twentieth century. According to Boris Mironov, literacy rose from about 28% of the overall population in 1897 to 44% in 1920, 56% in 1926, 87% in 1939, reaching 98% by 1959.21 And it was exactly the rapid increase in literacy in the first decades of the USSR that contributed to the myth of Russia as “the nation that reads most in the world.”22 As well as establishing a well-defined canon of acceptable authors, with numerous exclusions, schools were able to promote specific modes of interpretation that would profoundly influence how Russian readers would continue to read texts in later life. The importance of this factor has induced us to dedicate considerable space in these volumes to educational procedures, including regulation, bearing on reading—within eighteenth-century seminaries (see Kislova in the present volume), in nineteenth-century schools under the tsars (see Leibov-Vdovin in volume 2), and in Soviet schools (see Malinovskaya in volume 3). Even if the specific phenomenon of children’s reading often eludes the net of history in its actual day-to-day practice, due to lack of sources, reconstructing the shaping of the school canons and the main interpretative procedures taught to pupils in Russian and Soviet schools is an indisputably valuable contribution provided by these essays.

  • 23   Among the studies of public libraries in the Tsarist empire see N. Rubakin, Etiudy o russkoi chit (...)
  • 24   Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki, 25-28, 30, 37. In the few cases in which the state granted extra (...)
  • 25   Rubakin, Etiudy o russkoi chitaiushchei publike, 35-36. Matveev gives a figure for 1908 of 552 pu (...)
  • 26   On circulating libraries in Russia see A. I. Reitblat, “Biblioteki dlia chteniia i ikh chitatel’, (...)

40Less attention has been paid in these volumes to another important physical space where readers encounter texts: libraries.23 In this case the hand of the state is manifested in the failure in the first place to provide sufficient funds for the financing of public libraries, and subsequently—from the 1870s—in the application of measures aimed at managing the acquisition of stock. The establishment of a network of public libraries in the main provincial cities (gubernskie biblioteki) dates, in fact, only to the 1830s, but due to a chronic lack of financing, the beginning of a more comprehensive service had to wait for the 1860s and the founding of a series of district libraries (uezdnye biblioteki) in addition to those of the governorships. For many readers, however, access to books remained limited, on account of a number of factors: the public libraries demanded a subscription fee, were often open for only two or three hours a day, and the acquisition of new books was largely left to the initiative, and pockets, of local administrations and/or local associations or institutions.24 Even in the late nineteenth century, the development of public libraries in Russia was still seriously underfunded in relation to demand, but they were also quantitively considerably fewer than in other major European countries, or even the more developed areas of the New World, from the United States to Australia. According to such an alert contemporary observer as Nikolai Rubakin, by the end of the nineteenth century, European Russia possessed fewer than 600 public libraries, while Germany had more than 1600, Sweden over 1800 and Switzerland over 2000.25 The paucity of public libraries was moreover only partly made good by the quite numerous private circulating libraries, which were primarily commercial enterprises (biblioteki dlia chteniia) and demanded higher access fees.26

  • 27   Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki, 31, 52-54; A. I. Reitblat, “Zemskie sel’skie ‘narodnye biblioteki (...)
  • 28   See Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader, 181-235.

41From the 1860s onwards, following the educational reforms of 1864, the establishment of improved school libraries, and, in the subsequent decades, of various kinds of people’s libraries (gorodskie narodnye biblioteki, zemskie sel’skie narodnye biblioteki and narodnye chital’ni) provided the state not only with a means of disseminating culture but also with a vehicle for directing the reading of the Russian citizenship. Even if these new libraries were the result of local authority initiatives, and financing, rather than central government projects, lists of banned titles, and guidelines for book acquisitions generally, were issued by the Ministry of the Interior, clearly demonstrating the central power’s concern over the range of books that it thought safe to allow into the hands of the populace.27 In the Soviet era, as Evgeny Dobrenko has shown, the libraries were a space in which not only had the state drastically reduced the number of available titles, in part through the creation, in the 1920s and ‘30s of reserved collections (spetskhrany) closed to ordinary readers, but had also set up a framework of regulations which were aimed, with the collaboration of the librarians, to guide, if not control, the Soviet reader.28 Although during the Soviet period the public library was at least one of the places where the reader enjoyed a certain access to books, it was an access limited to the titles approved by the dominant ideology and closely monitored by the authorities.

  • 29   M. Alexander, “Das Beispiel eines russischen Diskussions- und Lesezirkels. Die ‘Petrashevtsy’ 184 (...)
  • 30   See J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category o (...)
  • 31   According to Geoffrey Eley, “Nineteenth-century Russia provides an excellent counterexample for t (...)
  • 32Smith-Peter, “The Struggle to Create a Regional Public,” vol. 2, 347-375.
  • 33   For the era of Nicholas I, Bella Grigoryan speaks of “a pre-political public sphere” (Grigoryan, (...)
  • 34   S. Lovell, How Russia Learned to Talk. A History of Public Speaking in the Stenographic Age, 1860 (...)
  • 35   See Bradley, Voluntary Associations in Tsarist Russia. On public readings see A.I. Prugavin, Zapr (...)
  • 36   McReynolds, The News Under Russia’s Old Regime, 3-4, 11-18
  • 37   Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader, 171-180.
  • 38   Ibid., 82-145, 228-235.
  • 39Von Zitzewitz, “Reading Samizdat,” vol. 3, 239.

42Comparing the situation on Russia with that in Western countries, it is evident that a series of intermediate cultural institutions which between the eighteenth and the twentieth centuries promoted and encouraged reading—such as the Lesegesellschaften (reading societies) in Germany, the Netherlands and Central Europe, the reading circles and book clubs of England and the United States—failed to develop in Russia in the same way. As Manfred Alexander writes “The organised Lesegesellschaften like those in Germany or other countries have no equivalent in Russia before the end of Nicholas I’s reign.”29 The Lesegesellschaften, reading circles and book clubs were forums where the reader not only had easy access to books but was also able to discuss them with like-minded folk and, as Jürgen Habermas and others have argued, they made no small contribution to the emancipation of the middle class and the development of a public sphere in the West.30 In Russia, by contrast, with the exception of a few learned societies frequented by the nobility, public spaces for open debate on books, such as those described by Habermas, developed to a much more limited extent and were generally monitored, when not closed down, by the authorities.31 Sometimes, as Susan Smith-Peter shows, these debates found a home in the provincial universities or in the pages of local newspapers such as those in Kazan’ or Kharkiv provinces, but only for the limited periods of time allowed by the government.32 In general in this period, if we exclude the odd coffee-house and some of the new circulating libraries in the big cities, it was above all the private and protected space of the home, rather than book clubs or other cultural associations or institutions, that was able to host free discussion of what was being read.33 For a while—in the 1860s and ‘70s—Alexander II’s reforms permitted a greater freedom of debate on books in the pages of the thick journals or in public forums.34 In these two decades reading acquired a more public character. Institutions such as universities, scientific societies, voluntary cultural associations were able for some years to stimulate a wider debate on recently published books and not infrequently organised public readings attended by large audiences.35 Simultaneously, in the last decades of the century, the success of mass-circulation newspapers favoured the embryonic development of a public sphere.36 None the less, if we exclude the 1860s and ‘70s, the public spaces in which Russian readers could not only read but also freely discuss what they had read remained limited. This situation did not improve in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution; if anything, it worsened. During the 1920s, with its great literacy campaign, the Soviet authorities initiated a drive to get readers out of their houses. Factory and trade-union libraries were opened, mobile libraries and ‘reading huts’ (izby-chital’ni) for country readers; working men’s clubs were set up where book discussions could be held and in many cities lectures were organised after which readers could meet Soviet authors and discuss their latest books with them.37 For a brief period, in the mid-1920s, the Bolshevik authorities saw the ordinary Soviet reader as the most reliable critic of the new Soviet literature, but it did not take the public long to realise that the institutions set up to stimulate reading were in fact mechanisms for controlling readers.38 In the course of the twentieth century, readers tended increasingly to retire to the private space of their own rooms and to hide their reading from the eyes of a dangerously intrusive state, which might assume the form of a fellow student, a co-worker or a neighbour, ready to denounce them for deviant choices. As time went on, readers in the Soviet Union were inclined to share their reading and their thoughts regarding it only with a restricted group of trusted friends. If during the first years of the Thaw collective public reading made a brief comeback and between the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, mass public readings were improvised by young enthusiasts in symbolic sites in different cities, such as at the Maiakovskii monument in Moscow, or even in stadiums packed with passionate fans, the phenomenon was soon brusquely terminated halfway through the 1960s, while the wide circulation of samizdat and tamizdat (foreign published) texts emphasised the distinction between readings to admit to and those not to admit to. As a witness who as a child saw samizdat texts being passed on by his parents remembers “we weren’t allowed to tell anybody about it, and during the week that the book was at ours we weren’t allowed to bring any friends home.”39 Khrushchev’s building programme, which led in the early 1960s to the construction of a large number of single-family units replacing crowded shared apartments, afforded a significant boost to the reading and circulation of samizdat and tamizdat literature. As the pervasiveness of these clandestine texts indicates, the preferred reading of Russians in the late Soviet period became increasingly a private matter.


  • 40 Ibid., 251.

435. It was precisely because of the numerous forms of control over reading exercised by the state, that reading communities in Russia tended to take a different form to those of other Western countries. Rather than being open and inclusive groupings, sharing their reading experiences with the widest possible number of fellow citizens with similar literary tastes and cultural interests, they were inclined to be socially restricted associations which, for reasons of self-protection would as far as possible exclude other readers. It was in fact the private and as may be clandestine nature of these shared readings that helped to ensure, even augment, the emancipatory and group-identity-reinforcing aspects of the act. The shared reading of the Silver Age poets, for example, whose works had been banned by the Soviets, took on over the course of the twentieth century, as Roman Timenchik shows, a quasi-religious value for some groups of readers. The reading and committing to memory of the poems of Gumilev, Akhmatova and Mandel’shtam became something of a cult, transforming the readers into closed circles of proselytes ready to fight for their banned or fallen heroes. Small gestures, like copying out a poem, binding a volume in an original fashion, collecting their works or keeping them in a special place or order, or pressing flowers or pine needles between the pages, constituted a symbolic entry into an imaginary community of adepts of a cultural sect, and were like initiation rites. Thus, while one part of the physical community of readers became increasingly closed off within tight groups of trusted friends and acquaintances who shared the same artistic, poetic or musical tastes (kruzhki or tusovki), another formed ideal communities uniting readers distant in time or space, but adhering to the same poetic cult, who could recognise one another from a slight hint, gesture or quotation in their initiates’ language. As some of the samizdat readers questioned by Josephine Von Zitzewitz recalled, “samizdat rallied, brought together and, one could say, created a stratum of people who understood each other by the merest hint and trusted each other”; or again, that samizdat “brought together people who were close to each other in spirit.”40 In this sense the reading of samizdat texts, for all that it involved only certain segments of society, created cultural networks that reinforced a sense of alternative identity, in opposition to the official culture. Participating represented becoming aware of the growing internal emancipation of Soviet society in relation to the authorities.

  • 41Lekmanov, “The ‘Other’ Readers of the 1920’s,” vol. 3, 286.
  • 42   Ibid.

44The presence of omnipresent state control in Russia favoured the development of every kind of ‘hidden’ or clandestine reading, which is described in detail in the third volume of this work: night reading, reading matter concealed behind fake covers, ‘by tomorrow’ high-speed reading; reading and copying, sometimes to dictation, sometimes with music at full volume to hide the noise of the typewriter. Naturally, between the 1920s and the mid-1980s the pressure of the dominant ideology varied considerably according to period, and with it the response of readers and the ‘hidden reading’ practices adopted. This would be a good moment to cite two hidden reading cases concerning actual representatives of the ruling party, cited in two different chapters of this history: that of Militsa Nechkina, who was for a long time one of the top soviet historians and choir leader of hardline Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy, and that of Egor Ligachev, second secretary of the CPSU during Gorbachev’s perestroika. As Oleg Lekmanov writes, to judge from her diary Nechkina “would represent an exemplary intellectual reader as formed by the Soviet State,” were it not for a whole strand of readings recorded in the diary in the early 1920s.41 From that document there emerges a genuine passion for the Silver Age poetry of Alexander Blok, Anna Akhmatova, Innokentii Annenskii and others, a passion strong enough to cast some doubt on the purity of Nechkina’s Marxist faith in those years. As Lekmanov puts it, what set the budding historian on the Marxist road “was not so much the personal inclinations of young Nechkina as her understanding of the logic of social order.”42 From that realisation, halfway through the 1920s, mention of her reading of modernist poetry suddenly disappears from Nechkina’s diary. At the opposite end of the Soviet historical parabola, sixty years on, we find the case of Egor Ligachev, second-in-command of the Communist Party, “the most orthodox of the orthodox,” as described by Roman Timenchik. In 1988 Ligachev invited into his office Vitaly Korotich, the publisher of the first Soviet edition of Gumilev’s poetry, which had been banned for the previous seventy years. Ligachev showed him a small bookshelf tucked away above the door to his office, on which some strange-looking samizdat volumes of Gumilev’s poetry were neatly arranged —this senior high official of the Communist Party had secretly copied them out over the years and bound them in fine leather covers. After sixty years, those habits of secret reading, all the more precious perhaps because forbidden, were now beginning to disappear.


  • 43   A good example of regional history paying attention to the relationship between reading and mater (...)

456. We will conclude with a few remarks on the sources that have been most often used in these volumes and on others which might in future be consulted to further our knowledge of the history of reading in Russia. One can note a certain tension in this history between the contributions which tend to emphasise the educational and disciplining function of reading and those which rather emphasise its emancipatory function with respect to the dominant ideology, and this may have something to do with the sources adopted. We might ask, indeed, whether another set of sources might have provided a different picture. A quantitative analysis of the circulation of books based on sources such as wills and private library catalogues, such as those conducted by French and German historians for the anciens régimes of their countries, might provide us with a more varied and complete overview of the geography of reading in Russia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Unfortunately, wills and private library catalogues have been preserved in a very piecemeal fashion in Russian archives and tend in any case to ignore cheaper publications such as magazines and the popular lubok literature booklets. Then again, even the quantitative study of much more recent sources such as the subscriptions and print runs of the main Soviet Thaw journals may, as Denis Kozlov shows, only tell us a small part of the story of their reading, and it would require a close analysis of reading practices in different geographical, social and cultural contexts to furnish a more complete picture of what was actually read. A more thorough study of the material culture and day-to-day life of Russians, particularly in relation to local history and the social history of the middle and lower classes, together with an analysis taking greater account of factors such as improvements in communication networks (the postal service, road and rail connections, etc.), changes in the organisation of daily life (the structuring of the domestic economy, the balance between work and leisure time, the physical arrangement of homes, types of lighting, etc.) might help us to better understand the real circulation of books and where and how texts were effectively read.43

  • 44   See A. Iu. Samarin, Chitatel’ v Rossii vo vtoroi polovine XVIII veka (Moscow, 2000); M. Beaven Re (...)
  • 45   R. Vassena, Reawakening National Identity. Dostoevskii’s Diary of a Writer and its Impact on Russ (...)
  • 46Timenchik, “Early Twentieth-Century Schools of Reading Russian poetry,” vol. 2, 247-248.
  • 47   See f. i. D. Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past (Cambridge (...)

46The subscription lists not only of thick journals but also of books have been an important source for establishing the identities of Russian readers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.44 In this period, in fact, publishers would often print at the end of the last volume of a work a list of its subscribers, with their name, civil or military rank and city of residence. Such a source, however, as Gary Marker has emphasised, only provides us with the identity of wealthier readers (or rather, purchasers), who had ordered the book before publication, and paid the full price, whereas more often than not volumes would continue to circulate subsequently, even among much less well-off—though no less important—readers. Other chapters make use of source texts of a programmatic nature (introductions, review articles, scholastic manuals, etc.) which tend to emphasise the disciplining benefits of reading. Conclusions drawn from these could be usefully enhanced by studying the private correspondence or the diaries of readers of the time, or sources generally that provide evidence of the actual effect of the reading. Letters of readers to writers—from those sent to Dostoevskii and Tolstoi through to those send by the inmates of forced labour camps to Soviet writers—are another interesting source for tracing the influence of their public’s feedback on writers’ work.45 In this area, as Roman Timenchik notes, much work still remains to be done, for example, on the letters sent to poets of the Silver Age, such as those received by Alexander Blok and Valerii Briusov at the beginning of the twentieth century, and those sent to Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak in the 1950s and ‘60s, which are still undisturbed in the Russian archives and would repay careful study.46 No less valuable are the letters from readers to the editors of newspapers and magazines, from those sent in the mid-nineteenth century to the first thick journals to the numerous letters from Soviet readers.47 Finally, an increasingly important role is today being played, especially in investigating reading in the late Soviet period, by the sources typical of oral history, such as interviews, postal or online questionnaires, manuscript memoirs and diaries, as Josephine Von Zitzewitz’s work on samizdat reading shows.

  • 48   A good example of how some iconographic sources can throw light on the study of reading and its s (...)

47While readers’ memoirs tend to describe reading as a completed act, whose significance is by then fixed, and often emphasise its emancipatory effect, diaries allow us to watch close-up the dynamic process by which Russian readers constructed day by day the meanings of the stories they were reading in relation to the evolution of the reading ‘I’, whether they registered a growing awareness of the dominant ideological discourse, or whether they marked its opposite: that same ideology becoming an internalised habit. Even allowing that self-censorship, as we saw in Nechkina’s case, should not be underestimated, diaries represent a privileged source precisely because they help us to see the reading and interpretation of a work as a dynamic process and not as something stable. The recording of Russians’ reading in diaries shows us something of the functioning of the ideology over time in relation to a wide range of contextual factors and to the gradual construction of the reader’s personal identity. This is a source that can usefully be supplemented with iconographic material, and in the 20th century particularly by photographs, which provide us with precious information helping us to home in on the reader’s sense of self and the significance of his act48. While written sources confine the evanescence and indeterminacy of reading within the rigid norms of writing —linearity, consequentiality, a conventional set of meanings, and the coherence of the meanings that ‘I’ constructs—photography counterbalances this effect by restoring the indeterminacy and opening of the senses that a text always unfolds before the eyes of the reader. Furnishing simultaneously all kinds of concrete details about the reader, from facial expression to position of hands, from the clothes worn to books and objects surrounding him, with an exactitude that no written description could aspire to, photographs not only give us important details on those “acts, places and habits” in which reading has always taken place, but also help us to evoke the opening out of meaning in relation to the world he inhabits which the text unfurls before the eyes of the reader.


1   Pages 13-16 and 31-42 were written by Damiano Rebecchini, pages 17-30 by Raffaella Vassena. The editors wish to thank the reviewers who agreed to appraise anonymously the contributions to these three volumes. Especial thanks to Joachim Klein, Irina Paperno, William Mills Todd III, and Yuri Tsivian for their valuable advice. We also thank Daniel Brooks for his revision of the English texts.

2   D. Rebecchini, R. Vassena (eds.), Reading in Russia. Practices of Reading and Literary Communication, 1760-1930 (Milano, 2014) Open access:

3   G. Cavallo, R. Chartier (eds), A History of Reading in the West, tr. by L. G. Cochrane (Amherst, MA, 1999), 2; S. Fish, Is there a Text in this Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities (Cambridge MA, London, 1999).

4   For a popular overview of the birchbark texts, see V. L. Ianin, Ia poslal tebe berestu… (Moscow, 1965).

5Baudin, “Reading in the Times of Catherine II,” vol. 1, 156.

6Zorin, “A Reading Revolution?,” vol. 1, 221.

7   Cfr. J.-F. Gilmont, “Protestant reformation and reading,” in Cavallo, Chartier (eds.), A History of Reading in the West, 213-237; D. Julia, “Reading and the counter-reformation,” ibid., 238-267. See also L. Artiaga, Des torrents de papier. Catholicisme et lectures populaires au XIXe siècle (Limoges, 2007); J. T. Zalar, “Reading in an Age of Censorship: The Case of Catholic Germany, 1800-1914,” in S. Towheed, W.R. Owens (eds.), The History of Reading. Volume 1: International Perspectives, c. 1500-1990 (Basingstoke, 2011), 133-144.

8   Gilmont, “Protestant reformation and reading,” 215-217.

9   G. Marker, Publishing, Printing and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700–1800 (Princeton, 1985), 65; J. Brooks, When Russia Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular Literature. 1861-1917 (Princeton, NJ, 1985), 24. In the early nineteenth century, the clandestine distributers of some books of the bible in Russian were rigorously persecuted by the ecclesiastical authorities. See G. Florovskii, Puti russkogo bogosloviia (Paris, 1983), 194.

10   According to Jeffrey Brooks, “nearly 350,000 copies were published by the Synod for the Great Britain and Foreign Bible Society between 1828 and 1854, and approximately 10.5 million in the fifty years that followed.” Brooks, When Russia Learned to Read, 306.

11   Ibid., 25-27.

12 Ibid., 301.

13   Ibid., 306-311.

14   Yu. Tatsumi, T. Tsurumi (eds.) Publishing in Tsarist Russia. A History of Print Media from Enlightenment to Revolution, (London, NY, Oxford, New Delhi, Sydney), 1.

15   Ch. Ruud, Fighting words. Imperial Censorship and the Russian Press, 1804-1906, 2nd edition (Toronto, Buffalo, London, 2009), 5-16, 137-226.

16   E. Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader. Social and aesthetic contexts of the reception of Soviet literature, translated by J.M. Savage (Stanford, 1997), 163.

17   On the circulation of manuscript literature in Russia in the nineteenth century, see f. i. A. I. Reitblat, “Pis’mennaia literatura v Rossii v XIX veke, ee sotsiokul’turnye funktsii i chitateli,” in D. Rebecchini, R. Vassena (eds.), Reading in Russia. Practices of Reading and Literary Communication. 1760-1930 (Milano, 2014), 79-97. On the relationship between the reading of manuscript and of printed texts in the Muslim communities present in the Russian Empire between the eighteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, see D. Ross, “A collateral cultural revolution: Russia’s state-driven papermaking and publishing efforts and their effects on Volga-Ural Muslim book culture, 1780s-1905,” in Tatsumi, Tsurumi (eds.), A History of Print Media from Enlightenment to Revolution, 141-170.

18   See f. i. V. Infantes, F. Lopez, J.-F. Botrel (eds.), Historia de la edición y de la lectura en España 1472-1914 (Madrid, 2003).

19   On the history of the book and of the press in Russia, apart from the Kniga. Issledovaniia i materialy series (which has now reached over 116 numbers) for the eighteenth century see among others: S. P. Luppov, Kniga v Rossii v XVII veke (Leningrad, 1970); S. P. Luppov, Kniga v Rossii v pervoi chetverti XVIII veka (Leningrad, 1973); S. P. Luppov, Kniga v Rossii v poslepetrovskoi epokhi (1725–1740) (Leningrad, 1976); G. Marker, Publishing, Printing and the Origins of Intellectual Life in Russia, 1700–1800 (Princeton, 1985); A. Iu. Samarin, Tipografschchiki i knigochety: ocherki po istorii knigi v Rossii vtoroi poloviny XVIII veka (Moscow, 2013). On the nineteenth century, see f. i. M. N. Kufaev, Istoriia russkoi knigi v XIX veke (Moscow, 1927; 2nd edit. 2003); M. V. Muratov, Knizhnoe delo v Rossii v XIX i XX vekach: ocherk istorii knigoizdatel’stva i knigotorgovli, 1800–1917 gody (Moscow, Leningrad, 1931); Kniga v Rossii, 1861-1881, volls. 3 (Moscow, 1988-1991); Kniga v Rossii, 1881-1895 (St. Petersburg, 1997); I. E. Barenbaum, Knizhnyi Peterburg: tri veka istorii. Ocherki izdatel’skogo dela i knizhnoi torgovli (St. Petersburg, 2003); R. N. Kleimenova, Knizhnaia Moskva pervoi poloviny XIX veka (Moscow, 1991); L. McReynolds, The News under Russia’s old regime. The Development of a Mass-Circulation Press (Princeton, NJ, 1991).

20   For studies on the printing of books in other languages than Russian within the Russian Empire, see for example A. Benningsen, C. Lemercier-Quelquejeay, La presse et le mouvement national chez les musulmans de Russie avant 1920 (Paris, 1964); A. G. Karimullin, Tatarskaia kniga poreformennoi Rossii (Kazan’, 1983); S. P. Luppov (ed.), Frantsuzskaia kniga v Rossii v XVIII veke. Ocherki istorii (Leningrad, 1986); M. Lott, A Brief History of the Estonian Book (Tallinn, 2000); S. Abrevaya Stein, Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires (Bloomington, 2004); L. Khachaturian, Cultivating Nationhood in Imperial Russia: The Periodical Press and the Formation of a Modern Armenian Identity (New Brunswick, London, 2009); Yu. Tatsumi, T. Tsurumi (eds.), A History of Print Media from Enlightenment to Revolution (London, New York, Oxford, New Delhi, Sidney, 2020).

21   B. N. Mironov, “The Development of Literacy in Russia and the USSR from the Tenth to the Twentieth Centuries,” History of Education Quarterly, vol. 31, 2 (Summer, 1991), 243.

22   On the creation of this myth, see S. Lovell, The Russian Reading Revolution. Print Culture in the Soviet and Post-soviet Eras (London, 2000), 21-35.

23   Among the studies of public libraries in the Tsarist empire see N. Rubakin, Etiudy o russkoi chitaiushchei publike. Fakty, tsifry, nabliudeniia (St. Petersburg, 1895), 42-76; M. Iu. Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki vo vtoroi polovine XIX – nachale XX veka (St. Petersburg, 2014), 18-39.

24   Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki, 25-28, 30, 37. In the few cases in which the state granted extra funding for the purchase of Russian books this was for public libraries in cities where Russian speakers were in a minority, for example in Tbilisi, Vilnius, Riga, Tashkent or Askhabad, that is, as part of a Russification programme (see Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki, 27).

25   Rubakin, Etiudy o russkoi chitaiushchei publike, 35-36. Matveev gives a figure for 1908 of 552 public libraries in Russia, as against 733 in England in the same year, and 1126 in the USA, but he emphasises that the financing of Russian libraries was enormously inferior to, for example, American ones. See Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki, 36, 305. On public libraries in France and in England, see f.i. M. Lyons, Le Triomphe du livre. Une histoire sociologique de la lecture dans la France du XIXe siècle (Paris, 1987), 169-191; R. Altick, The English Common Reader. A Social History of the Mass Reading Public, 1800-1900 (Chicago, London, 1957), 213-239.

26   On circulating libraries in Russia see A. I. Reitblat, “Biblioteki dlia chteniia i ikh chitatel’,” in Idem, Ot Bovy k Bal’montu i drugie raboty po istoricheskoi sotsiologii russkoi literatury (Moscow, 2009), 54-72; Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki, 39-46.

27   Matveev, Rossiiskie biblioteki, 31, 52-54; A. I. Reitblat, “Zemskie sel’skie ‘narodnye biblioteki’ i ikh auditoriia,” in Idem, Ot Bovy k Bal’montu, 169-186; B. Eklof, “The Archeology of ‘Backwardness’ in Russia: Assessing the adequacy of libraries for Rural Audiences in Late Imperial Russia,” in M. Remnek (ed.), The Space of the Book: Print Culture in the Russian Social Imagination (Toronto, 2011), 108-141.

28   See Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader, 181-235.

29   M. Alexander, “Das Beispiel eines russischen Diskussions- und Lesezirkels. Die ‘Petrashevtsy’ 1844-1849,” in O. Dann (ed.), Lesegesellschaften und bürgerliche Emanzipation. Ein Europäischer Vergleich (München, 1981) 239.

30   See J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, translated by Th. Burger (Cambridge, MA, 1993), 57-73; O. Dann (ed.), Lesegesellschaften und bürgerliche Emanzipation (München, 1981).

31   According to Geoffrey Eley, “Nineteenth-century Russia provides an excellent counterexample for the growth of the public sphere. It displayed an absence of all those processes —particularly the emancipatory impulse of free associational initiative, which under Tsarism was precluded by a combination of social backwardness and repressive state authority—that Habermas’s concept of Öffentlichkeit presupposed.” G. Eley, “Nations, Publics, and Political Cultures: Placing Habermas in the Nineteenth Century,” in C. Calhoun (ed.), Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA, London, 1996) 325. A viewpoint that partly contradicts Eley’s claim, at least with regard to the scientific associations of the second half of the century, can be found in J. Bradley, Voluntary Associations in Tsarist Russia: Science, Patriotism, and Civil society (Cambridge, 2009). On the difficulties of applying Habermas’ interpretive paradigm to the Russian situation, see A. Schönle, “The Scare of the Self: Sentimentalism, Privacy, and Private Life in Russian Culture, 1780-1820,” Slavic Review, 57, 4 (Winter 1998), 727; M. Velizhev, “The Moscow English Club and the Public Sphere in Early Nineteenth-Century Russia,” in A. Schönle et al. (eds.), The Europeanized Elite in Russia, 1762–1825: Public Role and Subjective Self, (Ithaca, New York, 2016), 220-237.

32Smith-Peter, “The Struggle to Create a Regional Public,” vol. 2, 347-375.

33   For the era of Nicholas I, Bella Grigoryan speaks of “a pre-political public sphere” (Grigoryan, “The Depiction of Readers and Publics,” vol. 1, 237). On private salons as a space of free discussion see M. Aronson, S. Reiser, Literaturnye kruzhki i salony (Moscow, 2001), 47-49, 183-296; N. L. Brodskii (ed.), Literaturnye salony i kruzhki. Pervaia polovina XIX veka (Moscow, 2001); A. S. Bodrova, “Literaturnye obshchestva v Rossii pervoi poloviny XIX veka: problemy mezhdistsiplinarnogo opisaniia,” Russkaia Literatura, 1 (2021), 5-18.

34   S. Lovell, How Russia Learned to Talk. A History of Public Speaking in the Stenographic Age, 1860-1930 (Oxford, 2020), 21-96.

35   See Bradley, Voluntary Associations in Tsarist Russia. On public readings see A.I. Prugavin, Zaprosy naroda i obiazannosti intelligentsii v oblasti umstvennogo razvitiia i prosveshcheniia (Moscow, 1890), 53-81; Aronson, Reiser, Literaturnye kruzhki i salony, 315-320; R. Vassena, “Publichnye literaturnye chteniia epokhi Velikikh reform kak primer kommunikativnoi (ne)udachi,” in Rebecchini, Vassena (eds.), Reading in Russia, 165-187.

36   McReynolds, The News Under Russia’s Old Regime, 3-4, 11-18

37   Dobrenko, The Making of the State Reader, 171-180.

38   Ibid., 82-145, 228-235.

39Von Zitzewitz, “Reading Samizdat,” vol. 3, 239.

40 Ibid., 251.

41Lekmanov, “The ‘Other’ Readers of the 1920’s,” vol. 3, 286.

42   Ibid.

43   A good example of regional history paying attention to the relationship between reading and material culture might be W. J. Gilmore, Reading Becomes a Necessity of Life. Material and Cultural Life in Rural New England, 1780-1835 (Knoxville, 1989).

44   See A. Iu. Samarin, Chitatel’ v Rossii vo vtoroi polovine XVIII veka (Moscow, 2000); M. Beaven Remnek, The Expansion of Russian Reading Audiences, 1828-1848, PhD dissertation (Berkeley, 1999).

45   R. Vassena, Reawakening National Identity. Dostoevskii’s Diary of a Writer and its Impact on Russian Society (Bern, 2007); T. Lahusen, How Life Writes the Book. Real Socialism and Socialist Realism in Stalin’s Russia (Ithaca, London, 1997).

46Timenchik, “Early Twentieth-Century Schools of Reading Russian poetry,” vol. 2, 247-248.

47   See f. i. D. Kozlov, The Readers of Novyi Mir: Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past (Cambridge, MA, 2013).

48   A good example of how some iconographic sources can throw light on the study of reading and its spaces can be found in S. Colclough, “Representing reading spaces,” in R. Crone, S. Towheed, The History of Reading. Volume 3: Methods, Strategies, Tactics (Basingstoke, 2011), 99-105.


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