Yelizaveta Raykhlina, “The Expanded Readership of Two Early 19th Century Russian Periodicals”

Yelizaveta Raykhlina (Ph.D. candidate in History at Georgetown University)

“The Expanded Readership of Two Early 19th Century Russian Periodicals”

In the few decades before the Great Reforms, critics and literary elites bemoaned the appearance of a new kind of reader of periodicals. These readers were usually described as unsophisticated provincials or petty bureaucrats with poor taste who read the conservative newspaper The Northern Bee (Severnaia pchela) cover to cover and enjoyed the diversity of content in the journal The Library for Reading (Biblioteka dlia chteniia). These two periodicals and their editors/publishers have been extensively analyzed in literary history, mainly as opponents to canonical writers like Pushkin, Gogol, and Belinsky and their respective periodicals. However, I propose a change of optics – namely, to examine the Bee and the Library through the lenses of consumption and social class.

My presentation examines the rhetoric of social class in selections from The Northern Bee (1825-1864) and The Library for Reading (1834-1865), as well as in selected correspondence and published articles from both proponents and opponents of these periodicals. I contrast how those involved in publishing the Bee and the Library described their expanding audience (both direct subscribers and the general readership) with how critics presented them. I also discuss how certain documented readers from the middle estates (composed of low-rank civil servants, professionals, merchants, provincial gentry, and women of respective rank) described their experiences reading the Bee and the Library. My conclusion analyzes these three distinct points of view in the context of society under Nicholas I (1825-1855) as well as the evolving commercial literary marketplace.

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