In This Review

Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia: The Pleasure and the Power
Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia: The Pleasure and the Power
By Richard Stites
Yale University Press, 2005, 640 pp

In this magisterial account of music, theater, and art during the last century of serfdom, Stites transports the reader from the glittering private salons of the St. Petersburg and Moscow gentry, where Schumann conducted, Liszt played, and Glinka rehearsed, to the provincial town playhouses and country manor art collections. Serf orchestras, the playwright offspring of minor officials, local merchant patrons, the artist son of a stable boy -- all populate a surprisingly fecund and active set of interlocking circles stretching from estate to town to the great cultural centers of the capital cities. Traveling with Stites, one begins to see the depth and range of creativity that prepared the way for the giants who strode onto the scene in the last third of the nineteenth century, not least by moving the arts from private to public view and by enriching and broadening their subject matter.