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Serfs Who Are Snobs

Catherine Merridale: Aleksandr Nikitenko, 29 November 2001

Up from Serfdom: My Childhood and Youth in Russia 1804-24 
by Aleksandr Nikitenko, translated by Helen SaltzJacobson.
Yale, 228 pp., £20, June 2001, 0 300 08414 5
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... Aleksandr Nikitenko’s memoir is unusual: the fact that it exists is odd enough. Nikitenko was a serf, born in 1804 or 1805 in the village of Alekseevka, in the Ukrainian province of Voronezh. Few people from his background would have been able to write their own names, let alone a full-scale history of their lives. The thirty million serfs of the Russian Empire were little more than slaves – they followed their own trade but nothing they earned belonged to them – and their masters for the most part believed that too much education might turn them into rebels ...

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