Advice Literature, Polite Culture, and Gender from Catherine to Yeltsin
Advice literature (etiquette manuals, guides to hygiene and house management, and treatises on upbringing) enjoyed massive popularity in Russia between the late eighteenth and the late twentieth centuries. It reflected changing attitudes to appropriate behaviour in private and public, to the acquisition of possessions, and not least to national identity (for many Russians, reading how-to books was seen as a way of 'learning how to be a Westerner'). Written or
translated by members of the cultural elite trying to encourage what they saw as civilized behaviour, advice literature was also a conduit for changing views of mass readers and of their place in society.
This important and engaging book is the first systematic exploration of this hitherto neglected genre of popular printed text. It examines the evolution of advice literature from the Enlightenment to the post-Soviet era, from translations of Fénelon and Madame de Lambert in the 1760s and of Samuel Smiles in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to tracts by Gogol and Tolstoi, Soviet pamphlets on 'how to be cultured', and post-Soviet guides to 'window treatments'. It draws on
a huge range of sources - memoirs, 'novelised conduct books' such as Anna Karenina, parody advice literature, letters, and reviews - to examine the broader significance of how-to books, and their
relationship with daily life (byt) as construct and as lived reality. The result is a book that not only makes a major contribution to the study of popular culture, but also throws an unexpected and revealing light on Russian history more broadly.