This article is a close reading of an 1859 court case from Moscow, in which a young orphaned noblewoman accused a much older, wealthier, and better-connected man. It situates the case in its cultural context among the striving middling classes of Moscow on the eve of the Great Reforms, revealing deeply fractured understandings of respectability, civic versus private spaces, masculine violence, and personal safety that permeated Russia's urban classes. Legally, the trial's outcome is not as surprising as the sharply conflicted reasoning of pre-reform judges. Each of the three tiers in the court system produced a radically different decision, pitching the obvious facts of the case against the state's pressure to convict the rapist and pre-reform Russia's supposedly archaic—but actually quite flexible—evidence law. Ultimately, the article argues that this noblewoman was able to use notions of female honor and domesticity in her favor, while the accused's status did not entirely serve to protect him where the need to protect male status conflicted with concerns over the dangers of westernization and modernization.
1 Tsentral΄nyi istoricheskii arkhiv Moskvy (TsIAM), f. 16, op. 23, d. 440 (Delo o zhalobe dvorianki M. Il΄inoi na iznasilovanie ee nadvornym sovetnikom Vul΄fom), and f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409 (O nadvornym sovetnike Nikite Petrove Vul΄fe). Below these two cases are cited by their file numbers only.
2 No single case can explain the workings of an entire legal system; that said, imperial-era legal professionals found this case illustrative. Soon after the 1864 Reform was implemented, a multi-volume selection of pre-reform cases included a short account of the Vul΄f case, omitting important details that would have attracted attention from the public. Liubavskii, Aleksandr D., Russkie ugolovnye protsessy, vol. II (St. Petersburg, 1867), 226–36.
3 For example by Edgar Allan Poe and Émile Gaboriau. These works were translated into Russian, but this “lens,” unlike the other two, is used more for comparison to western conceptions of police investigation and justice that inform historiographical expectations.
4 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 29 ob., 33, 39 ob.
5 The most significant issues in the literature on nineteenth-century rape were differences in class and race/ethnicity between accused and accuser, on one hand, and newspaper and public perceptions of such cases, on the other. The literature on sexual violence in imperial Russia is still in its infancy; see Laura Engelstein, “Gender and the Juridical Subject: Prostitution and Rape in Nineteenth-Century Russian Criminal Codes,” The Journal of Modern History 60, no. 3 (September 1988): 472–78, Oberländer, Alexandra, “Shame and Modern Subjectivities: The Rape of Elizaveta Cheremnova,” in Steinberg, Mark D. and Sobol, Valeria, eds., Interpreting Emotions in Russia and Eastern Europe (DeKalb, 2011), 82–101; and Oberländer, Alexandra, Unerhörte Subjekte: Die Wahrnehmung sexueller Gewalt in Russland, 1880–1910 (Frankfurt am Main, 2013). Engelstein’s overview of the law on nineteenth-century rape is discussed below; Oberländer’s work examines cases from after the 1864 Reform and focuses on jury trials and newspaper treatments of such cases.
6 Lokhvitskii, Aleksandr, quoted in Nussbaum, I., Cherty iz zhizni prestupnikov (nabliudeniia ochevidtsa) (Zhitomir, 1900), 19.
7 Conley, Carolyn A., “Rape and Justice in Victorian England,” Victorian Studies 29, no. 4 (Summer 1986): 519–34, 532.
8 Friedman, Rebecca, Masculinity, Autocracy and the Russian University, 1804–1863 (New York, 2004), esp. 30–32 and 44–46; Reyfman, Irina, Ritualized Violence Russian Style: The Duel in Russian Culture and Literature (Stanford, 1999); see also Clements, Barbara, Friedman, Rebecca, and Healey, Dan, eds. Russian Masculinities in History and Culture (New York, 2002).
9 For the most critical accounts, see Wirtschafter, Elise Kimerling, “Russian Legal Culture and the Rule of Law,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 7, no. 1 (Winter 2006): 61–70; Murav, Harriet, Russia’s Legal Fictions (Ann Arbor, 1998); Engelstein, Laura, “Combined Underdevelopment: Discipline and the Law in Imperial and Soviet Russia,” The American Historical Review 98, no. 2 (April 1993): 338–53; and LeDonne, John P., Absolutism and Ruling Class: the Formation of the Russian Political Order, 1700–1825 (Oxford, 1991), 179–235.
10 Abbott, Robert J., “Police Reform in the Russian Province of Iaroslavl, 1856–1876,” Slavic Review 32, no. 2 (June 1973): 292–302, here 301. See also his “Police Reform in Russia, 1858–1878,” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1971).
11 Podolskaia was a Catholic of minor provincial gentry background, a second lieutenant’s wife. She had previously served as a housekeeper at a gymnasium in Kursk for nine years. See TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 22 ob and 33 ob. Russia’s Penal Code of 1845 required that rape be reported before the end of the day. Svod zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii, vol. 15 /2, art. 312 (St. Petersburg 1857).
12 According to Vul’f΄s servants, Vul΄f’s undergarments could not be accounted for during the week in question and they were all suspiciously unable to guess their master’s whereabouts at any given time. See TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 10–10 ob.
13 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 2–5 ob.
14 Orphanages were taken particularly seriously by the state since Catherine the Great and her Enlightenment-inspired impulse to use wellborn orphans as an experiment in molding young people in the state’s image, to the state’s purposes. On the Nikolaevskii Institute, for orphans of more modest backgrounds, see Selivanov, V., Obzor Moskovskogo vospitatel΄nogo doma (Moscow, 1866), 29–38. On the Imperial Orphanage, see Ransel, David L., Mothers of Misery: Child Abandonment in Russia (Princeton, 1990).
15 For Maria’s testimony, see TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 2–3ob.
16 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 23–23ob.
17 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1342 (Delo ob iznasilovanii Moskovskoi meshchanki Marii Pavlovoi volokolamskim kupecheskim synom Pavlom Glebovym), (1860).
18 As historians of sexual violence in Victorian Britain have also noted, rape cases had far better outcomes when victims were assisted by well-to-do patrons. Conley, Carolyn, The Unwritten Law: Criminal Justice in Victorian Kent (Oxford, 1991); Emsley, Clive, Crime and Society in England, 1750–1900 (New York, 2005); Wiener, Martin J., Men of Blood: Violence, Manliness, and Criminal Justice in Victorian Britain (Cambridge Mass., 2006).
19 In March 1859, a 24-year old peasant man from a village in the Ruza district bargained with the mother of his victim, a 20-year old deaf and “feeble-minded” peasant woman. His offer of ten silver rubles was not accepted, resulting in legal proceedings, TsIAM, f. 50, op. 4, d. 5546. In 1858, civil servant Mikhail Snegiriov, a general’s son, was accused of raping his teenage serf chambermaid, but was able to induce the victim to drop the charges by promising not to treat her severely and to send her back to the village and her parents. TsIAM, f. 50, op. 4, d. 5547. In 1863, prominent serf owner and cavalry officer Ivan Mikhailovskii-Danilevskii was accused of raping Praskovia Lebedeva, the wife of his former estate manager. The husband, later accused of bribing witnesses and other misconduct, apparently tried to induce the accused to pay 500 rubles to settle the case. TsIAM, f. 50, op. 4, d. 7944.
20 It is surprising that they did not involve the gendarmes as mediators. See, for example, the case of Matvei Volkov, a civil servant from Petersburg, who complained about the rape of his sister by his acquaintance, another official, Stanislav Vysotsky, in 1871. GARF f. 109, op. 101 d. 615. In that case, Vysotsky refused to negotiate and the case proceeded to trial.
21 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 3 ob., 8.
22 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 12ob.-13.
23 See Wagner, William G., Marriage, Property, and Law in Late Imperial Russia (Oxford, 1994); Engel, Barbara Alpern, Breaking the Ties That Bound: The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia (Ithaca, 2011); and Marrese, Michelle Lamarche, A Woman’s Kingdom: Noblewomen and the Control of Property in Russia, 1700–1861 (Ithaca, 2002).
24 See especially Thyrêt, Isolde, Between God and Tsar: Religious Symbolism and the Royal Women of Muscovite Russia (DeKalb, 2001) and Kivelson, Valerie A. and Greene, Robert H., eds., Orthodox Russia: Belief and Practice under the Tsars (University Park, 2003).
25 Kaiser, Daniel, “‘He Said, She Said’: Rape and Gender Discourse in Early Modern Russia,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 3, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 197–216, esp. 206. Technically rape cases at that time should have been prosecuted by the Church, though in reality they were often tried in the secular courts as crimes of physical assault, and this practice was formally legislated under Peter the Great. See Kollmann, Nancy Shields, Crime and Punishment in Early Modern Russia (Cambridge Eng., 2015), 220.
26 Donovan, James M., Juries and the Transformation of Criminal Justice in France in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Chapel Hill, 2010), 104. This was a common myth also shared by the Aulic Court (the first-tier court that tried Vul΄f), which requested Moscow’s medical examiner to clarify whether Vul΄f could have held Il΄ina and raped her at the same time.
27 Emsley, Crime and Society, 105–6.
28 Morgan, Gwenda and Rushton, Peter, Rogues, Thieves and the Rule of Law: The Problem of Law Enforcement in North-East England, 1718–1800 (London, 1998), 56.
29 Morgan and Rushton, Rogues, Thieves, 57.
30 Conley, The Unwritten Law, 83.
31 Conley, “Rape and Justice,” 530.
32 The obvious differences between Britain and Imperial Russia make direct comparison problematic. While there is substantial literature on rape around the nineteenth-century world, the literature on law and rape is far better developed in the Anglo-American context, so that it serves as the most detailed outside frame of reference. Since imperial Russian authorities and intellectuals continually compared themselves to such western powers, either unfavorably or while insisting on their place as a fellow great power alongside these countries, and since the “imperial social project” to transform Moscow that we refer to here was specifically defined in part as an attempt to make Moscow more like western capitals, London prominent among them, the comparison is not irrelevant. Finally, rape cases from mainland Britain do share some key features with the Russian case under discussion—urban settings, an absence of racial disparities, and notions of respectability and domesticity within a privileged, propertied class.
33 Wyatt-Brown, Bertram, Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (Oxford, 1982), 53–54. Thus, Wyatt-Brown points out that “rape constituted only one-half of one percent of all arraignments in antebellum South Carolina,” which must be far lower than the actual incidence of rape (292). However, white southern women who consensually had sex with black men were incentivized to claim rape. Further comparisons to the antebellum South, often useful given pre-Reform Russia’s similarly agricultural society based on unfree labor and vast wealth inequality, break down, since much of the contemporary concern and scholarly discussion considers how racial attitudes informed understandings of and prosecutions of rape cases. The same is true for many colonial societies.
34 On the wider roles sometimes played by Russian women property owners and the reasons for the difference, see Marrese, A Woman’s Kingdom and for a microhistorical account of how women’s property ownership affected roles and relationships in a single family, Antonova, Katherine Pickering, An Ordinary Marriage: The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia (Oxford, 2013).
35 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 5 ob.—6 ob.
36 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 11 ob.
37 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 3.
38 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 10 ob.
40 Despite Vul΄f’s outward signs of respectability such as possession of land with serfs, leisure, and a highly-ranked brother, he was either poorly regarded to start with or lost his respectability during the criminal proceedings: there is no evidence of any friends, relatives, or acquaintances petitioning or testifying on his behalf. A procuracy official, Ogarev, noted that Vul΄f was not well known because he only recently came to Moscow. TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 40 ob. Only the Marshal of the Nobility from Tver΄ Province, where his estate was, wrote to the Moscow governor with a request to learn about the charges against Vul΄f. The Moscow governor emphasized the confidential (i.e., potentially damaging) nature of this information. TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 21—21 ob. After it was resolved to release Vul΄f, only Podolskaia agreed to serve as his surety, i.e., to personally guarantee that he would remain in the city and appear in court whenever required. TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 1 ob. Contrast this to Britain, where even after a rape conviction men were unlikely to lose their respectability, except in cases where they served time with lower-class offenders. See Emsley, Crime and Society, 106; Conley, “Rape and Justice,” 528–30.
41 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 27—27 ob.
43 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 8 ob.
44 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 9 ob.
45 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 33 ob.
46 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 34.
47 Martin, Alexander M., Enlightened Metropolis: Constructing Imperial Moscow, 1762–1855 (Oxford, 2013).
48 Wortman, Richard S., Scenarios of Power: Myth and Ceremony in Russian Monarchy, Vol 1: From Peter the Great to the Death of Nicholas I (Princeton, 1995).
49 TsIAM f. 50, op. 4, d. 3837. The girl’s father was a British subject.
50 GARF f. 109, op. 83, d. 267.
51 Morgan and Rushton, Rogues, Thieves, 57.
52 Conley, “Rape and Justice,” 525.
53 A schematic diagram of their floor of the building is included in case files, which was common in such cases. TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 12 ob.—13.
54 For these servants’ testimony, see TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 6 ob.—9 ob.
55 For Ivanov’s testimony, see TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 8 ob.-9 and d. 1409, l. 18–19.
56 After the rape, while Podolskaia was consulting with her daughter, Vul΄f reappeared and was confronted at the door by the maid, Ekaterina. She was unable to prevent him from entering, but her presence did inhibit Vul΄f from further assaulting Maria: he apparently begged her again to go with him to the Hermitage and offered her a box of candy, and she begged him to leave her alone. They spoke in French, so Ekaterina could not corroborate Maria’s account of the words exchanged, but she did attest to the tone of their voices matching Maria’s story. Having confronted Vul΄f at the door and been pushed aside, Ekaterina may have been especially supportive of Maria’s story from a sense of having been insulted and threatened to a lesser degree herself. TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 7 ob—8.
57 In literature on rape in Britain, domestic space tends to be treated by historians only when it comes to crimes committed against servants by masters (masters were unlikely to be held accountable). See Conley, “Rape and Justice,” 526. On alternative domestic spaces in a later period, see Terri Mullholland, British Boarding Houses in Interwar Women’s Literature: Alternative Domestic Spaces (Routledge, 2016).
58 The maid Ekaterina was a serf but did not belong to Podolskaia; she was working for a salary, presumably paid to her master in the provinces as obrok. TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 6 ob.
59 For more on the provincial Russian village in this light, see Antonova, An Ordinary Marriage, 47–73. This point is also illustrated by a “small but characteristic” case from 1890 narrated by Yekaterina Kozlinina. The case involved a young provincial woman who came to Moscow to complete her musical education and due to inexperience or lack of money stayed in the disreputable Hotel Montenegro. Its manager, Frolov, while drunk with friends, decided to visit his pretty lodger and tried to break through the locked door. To escape him the woman jumped out of the window into the snow below and was injured. She was fortunate to be represented by Russia’s leading defense lawyer, Fedor Plevako, who emphasized her willingness to risk her life rather than lose her honor. Frolov was convicted of abusing his authority and punished to the full extent of the law. See Kozlinina, E. I., Za polveka, 1862–1912 gg.: Vospominaniia, ocherki i kharakteristiki (Moscow, 1913), 359–62.
60 On Official Nationality, see Riasanovsky, Nicholas, Nicholas I and Official Nationality in Russia, 1825–1855 (Berkeley, 1967); Zorin, Andrei, By Fables Alone: Literature and State Ideology in Late-Eighteenth–Early-Nineteenth Century Russia (Boston, 2014), esp. 325–58; Wortman, , “Ofitsialnaia narodnost΄ i natsional΄nyi mif rossiiskoi monarkhii xix veka,” Rossia/Russia 3 (Moscow, 1999): 233–44.
61 Martin, Enlightened Metropolis, 5–6.
62 On the 1864 reform and the development of legality in Russia, see Wortman, Richard S., The Development of a Russian Legal Consciousness (Chicago, 1976); Baberowski, Jörg, Autokratie und Justiz: Zum Verhältnis von Rechtsstaatlichkeit und Rückständigkeit im ausgehenden Zarenreich 1864–1914 (Frankfurt am Main, 1996). On pre-1864 legal practice, see Sergei Antonov, Bankrupts and Usurers of Imperial Russia: Debt, Property, and the Law in the Age of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (Cambridge, Mass., 2016) and, for an earlier period, LeDonne, John P., Absolutism and Ruling Class: The Formation of the Russian Political Order, 1700–1825 (New York, 1991).
63 For a discussion of rape in rural Russia in the post-reform period see Frank, Stephen P., Crime, Cultural Conflict, and Justice in Rural Russia, 1856–1914 (Berkeley, 1999), 159–66. Frank notes that sexual crime was widespread but rarely prosecuted. According to official statistics for 1860, there were 2,133 men prosecuted for “violating a woman’s honor,” as compared to 3,282 men tried for arson, 3,085 for counterfeiting, 8,046 for murder, and 124,724 men for theft. See Statisticheskii vremennik rossiiskoi imperii. Vol. 1 (St. Petersburg, 1866), otd. III, 6. The numbers for convictions were 228 for rape (10.7% rate), 499 for arson (15.2%), 132 for counterfeiting (4.3%), 1,283 for murder (15.9%), and 19,440 for theft (15.6%). Ibid., 10.
64 GARF, f. 109, op. 90, d. 557. Even for sexual crimes categorized as non-violent, Siberian exile was a real possibility. For instance, in 1867 art teacher Andrei Vyrypaev was sent to penal settlement in Siberia for deflowering his stepdaughter, GARF, f. 109, op. 95, d. 329.
65 For a more general argument partially “rehabilitating” pre-1864 law, see Antonov, Bankrupts and Usurers
66 Svod Zakonov Rossiiskoi imperii: Zakony ugolovnye, Vol. 15 (St. Petersburg, 1857), 2: Art. 312.
67 Svod Zakonov, vol. 15/2 (1857), Art. 316–48.
68 On medical experts before and after the Great Reforms, see Elisa M. Becker, Medicine, Law and the State in Imperial Russia (Budapest, 2010).
69 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 5; d. 1409, l. 3–6, 12 ob., 29 ob.-32.
70 The tearing of the hymen in a girl under fourteen (the age of consent) was in itself a prosecutable crime (“rastlenie”) after 1845. By all the various estimates given to the court, Maria was of age and therefore the fact that she had been a virgin could be considered only as aggravating a crime of rape, and to prove rape the victim had to prove that she had resisted intercourse. As Laura Engelstein has discussed at length, the meaning of the various legal terms related to rape were under considerable debate in the nineteenth century, invoking as they did a variety of cultural assumptions and attitudes about women’s status, chastity, and legal rights. See her “Gender and the Juridical Subject.”
71 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 3.
72 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 5.
73 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 440, l. 5—5 ob.
74 Conley, “Rape and Justice,” 536.
75 On judges’ discretion under the system of formal proofs, see Antonov, Bankrupts and Usurers, 302–8.
76 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 37–38.
77 There was no allegation of blackmail but it is a persistent western cultural myth that women often make rape allegations to blackmail men. See Simpson, Antony E., “The ‘Blackmail Myth’ and the Prosecution of Rape and its Attempt in 18th Century London: The Creation of a Legal Tradition,” The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 77, no. 1 (Spring 1986): 101–50.
78 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 37–39.
79 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 39 ob.—40.
80 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 48 ob.—53.
81 Svod zakonov, vol. 15/1 (St. Petersburg 1857). Article 2078 prescribed that a person convicted of raping a woman or a maiden over fourteen years of age be stripped of his estate privileges and sentenced to between four and eight years of hard labor and, if eligible, be subjected to corporal punishment and branding. This punishment was severe, but it generally corresponded to punishments for non-sexual assault and physical injury, rather than such crimes as arson (which entailed up to 15 years with aggravating factors), counterfeiting (up to 10 years), or homicide (could result in a life sentence of penal labor).
82 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 54.
83 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 66.
84 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 71–90.
85 TsIAM, f. 16, op. 23, d. 1409, l. 31 ob.-32.
86 See Oberländer, “Shame and Modern Subjectivities”; Koni, Anatolii F., Sobranie sochinenii v 8 tomakh, vol. 3 (Moscow, 1967), 427–47, 510–13.
87 Wiener, Men of Blood, 89.
88 Unexpected, that is, to contemporary critics then absorbed in the Reform project and to subsequent historians who have accepted their narrative of pre-Reform corruption and arbitrariness and relatively unproblematic rule of law after it rather uncritically. That narrative is being challenged in recent works, however. See Antonov, Bankrupts and Usurers, Marrese, A Woman’s Kingdom, and Kollmann, Crime and Punishment.
89 On press reactions to scandalous public trials after the Great Reforms, see McReynolds, Louise, Murder Most Russian: True Crime and Punishment in Late Imperial Russia (Ithaca, 2016), and Oberländer, “Shame and Modern Subjectivities” and Unerhörte Subjekte
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