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Sex in the City that Peter Built: The Demimonde and Sociability in Mid-Eighteenth Century St. Petersburg

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 January 2018

Abstract

This article uses the materials of the Drezdensha affair, a large-scale investigation of “indecency” in St. Petersburg in 1750, to explore unofficial sociability among the Imperial elite, and to map out the institutional, social, and economic dimensions of the post-Petrine “sexual underworld.” Sociability and, ultimately, the public sphere in eighteenth century Russia are usually associated with loftier practices, with joining the ranks of the reading public, reflecting on the public good, and generally, becoming more civil and polite. Yet, it is the privately-run, commercially-oriented, and sexually-charged “parties” at the focus of this article that arguably served as a “training ground” for developing the habits of sociability. The world of these “parties” provides a missing link between the debauchery and carousing of Peter I's era and the more polite formats of associational life in the late eighteenth century, as well as the historical context for reflections on morality, sexual licentiousness, foppery, and the excesses of “westernization.”

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Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies 2018 

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References

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16. Ibid. On libertinage, see also materials in Libertinage and Modernity,” Yale French Studies no. 94, (1998)Google Scholar.

Ibid

17. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 8–8 ob., 10, 92; Polnoe sobranie zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii. Pervoe sobranie. 1649–1825 (St. Petersburg, 1830)Google Scholar, (hereafter PSZ), vol. 13, №9789. For reasons of space, the women detained by the Commission could not be profiled here in any detail. For detailed profiles, see Roldugina, “Kalinkinskaia komissiia,” 75–82; and Roldugina, “An Attempt at Social Disciplining.” The Commission’s scribes mercilessly distorted and Russified the names of most of the foreign detainees, to the extent that guessing the original spelling is often impossible. Additionally, some detainees were referred to by nicknames derived from their place of origin, such as Drezdensha, or Kenigsbersha. In other cases, a -sha ending was added to their husbands’ names, as in Gaksha, or Berensha. In still other cases, rather than calling the girls by their father’s last names, the scribes made up a patronymic of sorts derived from the Russified names of their fathers, while the girls’ own first names were also Russified. Thus, there appeared “Maria Semenova, a foreigner,” and so forth.

18. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 8–11 ob., 110

19. Ibid., ll. 10–10 ob., 13, 15, 45, 47, 52, 55, 60, 72.

Ibid

20. Ibid., ll. 52–52 ob.

Ibid

21. Ibid., ll. 50–55 ob.

Ibid

22. Ibid., ll. 49, 55.

Ibid

23. Ibid., l. 137.

Ibid

24. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 119, ll. 1–25 (The case of Osip Trezzini).

25. 121 kabaks selling vodka as well as 65 piteinyi pogrebs selling “grape drinks” (i.e. wine). Bogdanov, Andrei I., Opisanie Sanktpeterburga, eds., Logachev, K. I., and Sobolev, V. S. (St. Petersburg, 1997), 198200 Google Scholar; Kosheleva, Liudi sankt-peterburgskogo ostrova, 375–77; Rossiiskii Gosudarstvennyi Voenno-Istorcheskii Arkhiv (RGVIA), f. 314, op. 1, d. 1632, l. 64; PSZ, vol. 8, №5333, §48; vol. 9, №6947.

26. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, ll. 10, 21–21 ob. (Regarding parties held in St. Petersburg with the permission from the police). A sample of a permission ticket issued by the police is in ibid., l. 29.

27. Ibid., l. 12.

Ibid

28. On living arrangements and rental practices among the lower classes in St. Petersburg in a somewhat earlier period, see Kosheleva, Liudi sankt-peterburgskogo ostrova, 133–39, 363–79.

29. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, l. 6 ob.

30. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, l. 8.

31. Ibid., l. 19.

Ibid

32. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 1–1 ob., d. 10, l. 7.

33. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, ll. 4 ob., 5 ob., d. 31, l. 8 ob. (The case of Maria Pashkeeva).

34. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, l. 4.

35. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 132, l. 13 ob. (The case of Johann [Peter] Gints).

36. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, ll. 13, 23; Semenova, Lidia. N., Byt i naselenie Sankt-Peterburga: XVIII vek (Moscow, 1998), 126 Google Scholar. Not surprisingly, recent studies treat them as a straightforward case of organized prostitution; see Keenan, St Petersburg and the Russian Court, 55–56; Roldugina, “‘Bliatskie domy i nepotrebnye zhenki i devki,’” in Gendernye aspekty, ed. D. B. Vershinina.

37. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 31, l. 8.

38. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, ll. 12, 2.

39. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 128, ll. 2–7 (The case of Andrian Pomlin).

40. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 132, ll. 13 ob.–15 ob., 27–27 ob., 38–39 ob.

41. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 29, l. 3 (The case of Charlotte Stein).

42. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, l. 23 ob.

43. Ibid., l. 26. The institutionalization of this domain is emphasized in Roldugina, “‘Bliatskie domy i nepotrebnye zhenki i devki,’” in Gendernye aspekty, ed. D. B. Vershinina.

Ibid

44. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, l. 1 (The case of Anna Felkner, also known as Drezdensha).

45. Ibid., ll. 1–3 ob.

Ibid

46. For more on Belosel΄skii, see Berkh, N. V., Zhizneopisaniia pervykh rossiiskikh admiralov ili оpyt istorii rossiiskogo flota, vol. 2 (St. Petersburg, 1832), 377–90Google Scholar; Alekseevskii, B., “Belosel΄skii Mikhail Andreevich,” in Russkii biograficheskii slovar΄, vol. 3: Betankur-Biakster, ed. Polovtsоv, A. A. (St. Petersburg, 1908), 651–52Google Scholar; Kurukin, I. V., Biron (Moscow, 2006), 118215 Google Scholar. Belosel΄skii’s own extremely laconic life chronicle has been published as Zapisnaia knishka pokoinogo kniazia Mikhaila Andreicha Belasel΄skogo,” Rossiiskii arkhiv: Istoriia otechestva v svidetel΄stvakh i dokumentakh XVIII-XX vv., vol. 14 (Moscow, 2005), 7173 Google Scholar.

47. A detailed list of these women was provided by one Matvei Kosulin, a pimp. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 129, ll. 20–22 (The case of Matvei Kosulin).

48. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 10, ll. 22–23 ob.; Keenan, St Petersburg and the Russian Court, 109.

49. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, l. 9; d. 10, l. 23.

50. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, l. 5.

51. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, ll. 3 ob.–4.

52. Ibid., ll. 4–4 ob.

Ibid

53. On the social composition of cadets and the guards, see Fedyukin, Igor, “Nobility and Schooling in Russia, 1700s–1760s: Choices in a Social Context,” Journal of Social History 49, no. 3 (Spring 2016): 558–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the Emancipation, see Jones, Robert E., The Emancipation of the Russian Nobility, 1762–1785 (Princeton, 1973)Google Scholar; Faizova, Irina V., “Manifest o vol΄nosti” i sluzhba dvorianstva v XVIII stoletii (Moscow, 1999)Google Scholar.

54. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, ll. 3 ob.–6.

55. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d.10, ll. 4, 22 ob., 23.

56. Ibid., ll. 22–23 ob.; also RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 35, l. 16 (The case of Ekaterina Izvoshchikova); d. 129, l. 22.

Ibid

57. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, l. 44.

58. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, ll. 2 ob.–3, 6–6 ob.

59. Catherine II, Zapiski, 369.

60. Danilov, “Zapiski,” 317. For a different version, see Pyliaev, Staryi Peterburg, 146.

61. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, l. 110

62. Ibid., 1. 8.

Ibid

63. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, 1. 123 ob. (cf. Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Shepherdess,” for example).

64. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, ll. 55–55 ob.

65. Danilov, “Zapiski,” 316.

66. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 12, 1. 3 ob.

67. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 1–1 ob.

68. The Commission even requested the statistics on the numbers of foreign passengers who arrived in St. Petersburg by sea in the previous five years, and the data emphasizes the surprisingly negligible scale of passenger traffic between Russia and Europe: 137 women arrived in 1746, 56 in 1747, 50 in 1748, 37 in 1749, and only 8 in the first six month of 1750. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 13–13 ob., 17–25 ob., 55, 65, 76 ob.–77, 78, 116.

69. On July 10 the Commission reported that it had detained around seventy individuals, including fifteen Russians. By September 26, the Commission had 90 “foreigners” and 88 Russians under lock, while a further 12 Russian “whores” and 23 foreign ones were still at large. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 49, 59, 137. “Foreigners” eventually made up 36% of all those arrested by the commission. Roldugina, “An Attempt at Social Disciplining,” 102.

70. Keenan, St Petersburg and the Russian Court, 4.

71. Keenan, St Petersburg and the Russian Court, 93.

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77. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, l. 97.

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88. Ibid., 100.

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89. Robert Collis, “Hewing the Rough Stone: Masonic Influence in Peter the Great’s Russia, 1689–1725,” in A. Önnerfors and R. Collis eds., Freemasonry and Fraternalism, 52. On Elagin’s masonic activities, see Faggionato, Raffaella, A Rosicrucian Utopia in Eighteenth-Century Russia: The Masonic Circle of N.I. Novikov (Dordrecht, 2005), 1627 Google Scholar.

90. Otdel pis΄mennykh Istochnikov Gosudastvennogo Istoricheskogo Muzeia (Moscow), f. 17, op. 2, ed. 304, ll. 54–55 ob. I am grateful to M.B. Lavrinovich for making me aware of this document.

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92. Crawford, Katherine, European Sexualities, 1400–1800 (Cambridge, 2007), 205 Google Scholar. On the Parisian demimonde, see, most recently, Kushner, Erotic Exchanges.

93. Lilti, Antoine, Le monde des salons: sociabilité et mondanité à Paris au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, 2005)Google Scholar.

94. D’Ezio, Marianna, “Sociability and Cosmopolitanism in Eighteenth Century Venice: European Travellers and Venetian Women’s Casinos,” in Sociability and Cosmopolitanism: Social Bonds on the Fringes of the Enlightenment, eds., Scott Breuninger and David Burrow (London, 2012), 45–57, here 52Google Scholar.

95. Ibid., 52.

Ibid

96. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 133–133 ob.

97. Ibid.

Ibid

98. RGADA, f. 8, op. 1, d. 2, ll. 133–133 ob.

99. Roldugina, “An Attempt at Social Disciplining,” 57.

100. PSZ, vol. 13, № 9824.

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