Marriage Customs in Imperial Russia

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In the novel Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, the Russian society in the late 19th century, particularly the nobility and aristocracy, is epitomized by their various social etiquettes and formalities that predominated the European continent during this time period. Perhaps the most intriguing theme perpetrated by Tolstoy during the entire novel is that of adultery and the moral and social contract a nobleman and noblewoman are bound to by the highly supercilious and elite aristocratic society. Adultery is committed by nearly every major character in the novel; including, of course, Anna herself, and the effects of this lewdly considered crime are evident in each of their marriages, families, and social relationships. But the changes in societal views and newly forming relationships don’t stop at “new” explosion of illegitimacy and adultery. Indeed, adultery and infidelity were a grandiose part of the European, in this case Russian, aristocracy, but the rise of capitalism and the putting-out in the mid 18th century and the Industrial Revolution of the early 19th century saw a tremendous change in marriage customs and attitudes towards children. Hence, reflecting upon the relationships of the characters in Anna Karenina, one can attest that many of the notions of love and matrimony held by the modern world stem from this time period, although they were mostly applicable to just the elite and wealthy. However, there were some traditions which were radically different from what the modern world today acknowledges as “love marriages”; nevertheless, the bond of holy matrimony is a long and tedious process for the aristocracy, and it was challenged and broken often, although tiding with some opposition from either spouse for the most part. A young woman, especially a member of the nobility like Kitty Shtcherbatsky, was expected to marry at a fairly young age, just a few years after she emerged as a debutante in society. Her mother, Princess Shtcherbatsky,...
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