Conscription, Communal Life, and Conflict: The Soldatka as a reluctant social disruptor in Alison K. Smith’s “Authority in a Serf Village”

  • Pier Olivia Brown


Between 1705 and 1825, two million Russian peasants were recruited to spend their remaining lifetime in the Imperial army. Once a soldier left the village he was unlikely to be heard from again, but a soldier’s wife, a soldatka, was also thrust into an unenviable role: a single woman with no prospects of remarriage could scarcely be lower in the village social order. This study follows the aftermath of an 1819 recruitment levy in the village of Chmutovo, Kostroma Province using archival correspondence translated and presented in Alison K. Smith’s “Authority in a Serf Village: Peasants, Managers, and the Role of Writing in Early Nineteenth Century Russia.” This microhistory illustrates the larger themes of gender, authority, patronage, and communal responsibility which might emerge in any discussion of Imperial Russian social history. However, it is the unique voice of the soldatka - who Beatrice Farnsworth called “The quintessential outsider in a community based on married couples,” - and the shifting attitudes of others towards her that reveal unexpected dynamics in village life.