Barbara Engel

Breaking the Ties that Bound

The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia

Cornell University Press 2011

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Divorce was virtually impossible in Imperial Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church monopolized matrimony, and it rarely granted divorce except in extraordinary cases of adultery,...

Divorce was virtually impossible in Imperial Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church monopolized matrimony, and it rarely granted divorce except in extraordinary cases of adultery, abandonment, sexual impotence, or exile. Marriage as an unbreakable religious sacrament still held. Yet, by the end of the nineteenth century, Russian perceived a “crisis of marriage” as social and economic change upset the traditions of wedlock and family life. Where, then, did a discordant couple turn?

As Barbara Engel shows in Breaking the Ties that Bound: The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia (Cornell UP, 2011), appealing to the Imperial Chancellery for the Receipt of Petitions served as an extra-legal means of marital separation. Through the Chancellery, supplicants, overwhelming of which were married women, could get the legal right to live separate from their husbands. But these appeals reveal much about married life in Russia. Through these cases, Engel spins a lively and intimate tale of marital conflict, gender identity, home life, and Russian women’s efforts to assert an autonomous selfhood and identity by challenging nuptial traditions.

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