The House in the Garden
The Bakunin Family and the Romance of Russian Idealism
"Aspiring thinkers require a stage for their performance and an audience to help give their actions distinction and meaning. To be made durable and influential, their charismatic stories have to be framed by supporting ideals, practices, and institutions. Although the biographies of the Empire's most famous thinkers have a comfortable platform in modern Russia's printed record, scholars have yet to explore fully the intimate context surrounding their activities in the early nineteenth century. There is, as a result, a certain homeless quality to our understandings of Imperial Russian culture, which this history of one extremely productive home will help us correct."—from The House in the Garden
The House in the Garden explores the role played by domesticity in the making of Imperial Russian intellectual traditions. It tells the story of the Bakunins, a distinguished noble family who in 1779 chose to abandon their home in St. Petersburg for a rustic manor house in central Russia's Tver Province. At the time, the Russian government was encouraging its elite subjects to see their private lives as a forum for the representation of imperial virtues and norms. Drawing on the family's vast archive, Randolph describes the Bakunins' attempts to live up to this ideal and to convert their new home, Priamukhino, into an example of modern civilization. In particular, Randolph shows how the Bakunin home fostered the development of a group of charismatic young students from Moscow University, who in the 1830s sought to use their experiences at Priamukhino to reimagine themselves as agents of Russia's enlightenment.
Some of the story Randolph tells is familiar to historians. The anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, whose early philosophical evolution Randolph describes, was born at Priamukhino, while the radical critic Vissarion Belinsky claimed to have been transformed by his experiences there. When Tom Stoppard sought to portray the spiritual history of the Russian intelligentia in his trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, he chose Priamukhino as the scene for act 1. Yet Randolph's research allows us to watch this drama from a radically different perspective. It shows how the culture of Russian Idealism—so long presumed to be a product of alienation—actually relied on the support provided by the cult of distinction that the Russian government had built around noble homes. It also allows us to see the other actors and agents of private life—and most notably, the Bakunin women—as participants in the creation of modern Russian social thought. The result is a work that revises our understanding of Russian intellectual history while also contributing to the histories of women, gender, private life, and memory in nineteenth-century Russia.