The memoirs of Anna Evdokimovna Labzina, a noblewoman during the reign of Catherine the Great, might be expected to contain numerous references to the salon of St. Petersburg and the fashions of the time. Titled Days of a Russian Noblewoman, her account is remarkable for its religious tone and adherence to virtues and morality. The first part of her work is an extensive memoir written in 1810 which focuses on her married life with her first husband, Alexander Karamyshev, whom she married in 1772 at the age of thirteen. The latter part is a diary written from 1818-1819, after she had married her second husband Alexander Labzin, a prominent Petersburg Freemason. Labzina had a difficult time adjusting to life with Karamyshev and his infidelities, and the majority of her memoir documents her struggles with him. Although her second marriage was happier, the diary describes more of the strains she experienced as a religiously idealistic woman trying to understand the noble class.
[...] In a way, Labzina's writing, like that of many writers in the Russian literary tradition, was somewhat subversive. It was a forum for her to question the injustices that she saw and experienced in the world. She describes how she cannot talk about her husband's indiscretions because doing so would reflect badly on her, but she writes about those same things in her memoir. Clearly she was at odds with the norms of society even if they required her to preserve “public appearances.” Since she had no benefactors when writing her diary, she appeals directly to God as an escape from the constraints and pressures around her in her work. [...]
[...] She lived in a time when Catherine had increased the official power of the nobility through the Charter to the Nobility, and as a noble Labzina was traditionally responsible for ruling and caring for all those below her. She did her best to be a benefactress, providing what she could of spiritual or material aid. This was a continuation of the role given her in childhood by her birth mother. When she was young, Labzina and her mother would go out regularly to the prisons and to the poor to perform works of charity, making many sacrifices to those in need. [...]
[...] Days of a Russian Noblewoman focuses on Labzina's struggle to reconcile religion and worldly attitudes, starting with her antithetical husband and ending with her general efforts to maintain the Dying Sphinx lodge. But from her writing can be derived many ideas on private life and the views of society, especially on marriage and sex, obedience and family ties. Labzina viewed the nobility as a sort of great family which she could endear herself to, in the role of an “orphan.” Also prevalent is her understanding of herself as a benefactress and to those below her. [...]
[...] She did not involve herself with affairs there or concern herself particularly about Enlightenment values but remained a part of the vast majority of Russians who were still deeply religious in their convictions. When they moved to Siberia Labzina continued her practice of seeking paternal benefactors, this time turning to the vice governor of the province where her husband was working. When she had met Kheraskov she was still very young but by the time of this move she was definitely a grown woman and yet she still preferred paternal relationships to relationships between equals or friends her age. [...]
[...] After her marriage, Labzina was urged by her dying mother to treat her mother-in-law as her new mother, and in the text Labzina gradually relaxes her language and replaces the distant term for her “mother-in-law” with simply or mother.” Titled Days of a Russian Noblewoman, her account is remarkable for its religious tone and adherence to virtues and morality Although Kheraskov was socially much higher than her, she was much closer and more intimate with him than with others similar to her in station. [...]
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