To Squeeze a Lemon Dry: How Princess Dashkova’s Memoir Reveals Common Themes Among Russia’s History
Princess Ekaterina Dashkova was an intelligent, impressive woman who, at 18 years old (an age when many modern teenagers are still living at home with their parents), helped to stage a coup d’ etat for Catherine Alexeyvna, who was destined to become Catherine the Great.1 Ekaterina was actually called Catherine the Little2, because both women held the same saint namesake and both were considered intelligent and instrumental in the change of the government from Peter III to Catherine the Great. Princess Ekaterina Dashkova’s memoir addresses power struggles, gender inequality, and the disparities between different ethnicities in a multi-ethnic empire. Through her remembrances, Dashkova reveals how unstable court life was; in an instant, an individual could rise or fall from the ruling tsar’s graces, becoming either blessed or forever ruined. She also unknowingly shows how autocracy was rigid but brittle, thus easily broken; throughout her memoir Dashkova unknowingly shows just how weak a government that prides itself on absolute authority really is. As a woman, Dashkova would have been extremely repressed in Europe; luckily, Russia had a unique brand of feminism and women’s roles that allowed Dashkova to work outside the sphere of men while effectively bringing about change.
Princess Dashkova reveals the unique status of women in 18th century Russia. European women in the 18th century, particularly Victorian women, were expected to remain chaste, pure, and pious individuals, which impeded their freedoms. For example, women were viewed (by whom?) as delicate and as needing protection from men, and therefore any important positions in government and most jobs (other than maid or housewife) were denied to them (only the Queen seemed to be able to step outside this status quo, as long as she did not marry).3 Russian women, on the other hand, enjoyed impressive freedoms for their time period in social life, sexuality (Catherine had many lovers, and Russian women in general were allowed and encouraged to gossip about their significant others), and government position. Jehanne M. Gheith, a professor and expert of all things Russian, explains that “Dashkova was not bound by conventional solutions…” because she was a woman. He goes on to argue that “[Dashkova] affected a change that those in (officially) powerful positions declined to bring about.” One example that stands out is when Dashkova goes behind the back of both the Charge d’Affaires and military commander to censor a painting which shows a historically accurate battle where the Russians lost to the Prussians. Dashkova is told by both men that they do not have to authority to command that the painting be changed to depict the Russians winning, so Dashkova buys paint and changes the painting herself. If she had been in one of the official positions of the men, Dashkova could have faced severe reprimand, but because she was a women without “consequence,” Dashkova was able to bring about the change she wanted without any major negative backlash. One of the reasons Russia differed so vastly from Europe in the expected station of women was because Peter the Great enacted many reforms, some of which forced women to begin enduring social changes that brought them to the forefront. Eva Stachniak, a Russian native and expert, deftly explains that Peter the Great “…forcibly removed them from their secluded position inside the home (terem), brought them into salons, dressed them in Western clothes and fostered their participation in the social life”4 with such decrees as his 1722 “All married women assume rank according to their husbands 1722.”5 In Dashkova’s memoir, Dashkova reveals that she travels Europe, meets intellectuals such as Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, and eventually is appointed the head of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, a notable feat in an...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document