From the rye field and the threshing barn to the local gentry and the village court, A.N. Engelgardt's Letters painted the most lively, entertaining, and insightful portrait of Imperial Russia's rural countryside. Now translated into English for the first time, judiciously abridged, and fully annotated for the modern reader, Engelgardt's account stands revealed both as a major primary source on nineteenth-century Russia and as an ever-more-timely analysis of a peasant culture in the wake of reform.
A distinguished chemist at the St. Petersburg Agricultural Institute, Engelgardt was also an eloquent spokesman for liberty and reform, especially on behalf of Russia's peasant majority. Accused of conspiratorial activities by the Tsarist government, he was exiled in 1871 to his modest estate in impoverished Smolensk province, where, under police surveillance, he wrote his Letters for publication in St. Petersburg. With scientific precision, Engelgardt produced the first comprehensive eye-witness account of the peasant's daily affairs and environment, with detailed descriptions of land reform and collectivization, reflections on the role of peasant women and the effects of emancipation, discussions of local agriculture and the economy, and vivid accounts of peasant attitudes about everything from the Russo-Turkish War to anti-semitism. With an extensive introduction and copious notes, this translation is ideal for anyone interested in Russian history and peasant studies.