chapter  9
9 Pages


Until recently, historians of twentieth-century Russia tended to represent a rural woman’s life as dark and backward prior to 1917, and as rapidly changing in favor of a more “enlightened” and free existence after 1917. This “before” and “after” periodization is partially justified by the dramatic revision of the family and marriage law after 1917. Yet despite such revision, there was more continuity than change in the real-life experiences of rural Russian women in the first half of the twentieth century; it would take the experiences and social transformations of World War II to drastically alter the fabric of rural life. One of the best examples of this continuity is the institution of marriage in the Soviet countryside. The common pattern of arranged marriages survived long after the establishment of the Soviet power, and a host of informal factors, such as rumors, shaped one’s choice when starting a family. Even though the wishes and desires of individual young people did matter in the question of choosing their life partners, and even though love affairs did take place and indeed resulted in lasting marriages, up until World War II such affections were either exceptions to the general rule or treated as wishes and suggestions rather than binding decisions, and were only taken seriously in cases of extreme disobedience of parents and tradition. The opinion of parents was immensely, if not primarily, important, as was the role played by rumors and public discourse in one’s village.1