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Society Woman: Days of a Russian Noblewoman

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  1. Introduction
  2. Trying to understand her husband's nature
  3. The move to Siberia
  4. The role of an obedient 'orphan'
  5. Her old-fashioned beliefs
  6. Her old-fashioned practices
  7. Labzina's insights into the Freemasons
  8. Disregarding Labzina for her religious tangents
  9. Conclusion
  10. Works cited

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. [...]

[...] In Nerchinsk the household servants were all convicts, a particularly pronounced example of what Marc Raeff describes as perennial Russian shortage of qualified personnel to take care of the new local institutions? which ?forced the government to rely on local participation? (239). Quarters were small and far from luxurious and the population was sparse. Labzina could not be selective in such circumstances, and received members of all classes of society in her home: from the Governor to the paymaster's wife to exiled noblemen such as Nikolai Ozerov. [...]

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