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Esper Ivanych Implev

April 15, 2013

A typology of noblemen who sleep with female slaves:

Type 1 – Overflowing with masculinity, like Vishnevskii in Leskov’s “Ancient Psychopaths” (Старинные психопаты, 1885). These dominating men seem like they would find a way to sleep with many women even if they did not own women, but because they do, their children become their property and work in the fields for them.

Type 2 – Men unremarkable in their level of sexual desire, but who can’t resist the temptation posed by their families owning young, beautiful slaves. An example is the weak-willed but somewhat sympathetic Baklanov, who pursues the peasant Mar’ia before and after 1861 in Pisemskii’s Troubled Seas (Взбаламученное море, 1863).

Type 2a – Like type 2, but substitute “see no reason to resist temptation.” Rather than giving in to desire, they set out to take advantage of their position as efficiently as they can. If types 1 and 2 seem horrible to us, and for that matter to anti-slavery and post-emancipation Russians, type 2a was appalling to their non-abolitionist contemporaries.  Iona Mokeich, again in Troubled Seas, is nicknamed Iona the Cynic partly because of his harem of slaves. Avdot’ia Panaeva’s memoirs (1889) mention a man who built a two-story building to house his dozens of serf-girls and traveled with not one, but “some of them.” [Update: another 2a is the master of Krivtsovo in Pisemskii’s Men of the Forties (3.6), who takes the prettiest girls as “maids” for a few months, just as he takes the best of everything from each house; peasant men can’t stop him from taking their daughters and sisters, but an old peasant woman whose daughter is taken eventually poisons him and gets away with it.]

Type 3 – The phlegmatic, intellectual, proper Esper Ivanych in Pisemskii’s Men of the Forties (Люди сороковых годов, 1869). An aging bachelor who indulges his nephew Pavel (the main character, at least so far), is kind to children, and doesn’t get dressed until afternoon because he is busy reading, he is the opposite of Leskov’s Vishnevskii. He does not abuse his power when he and his mother’s beautiful young maid Annushka begin their long and monogamous affair; the two bashfully fall in love. Because of the difference in station, neither thinks of marriage. Instead both do all they can to hide the relationship, succeeding for ten years. Then:

But suddenly she began to be in danger of becoming a mother. At first she wanted to kill herself; Esper Ivanych did not say anything against this. He considered that it must be so; otherwise what could the two of them do to escape the shame; but, thank God, good sense won the day, and they decided that Annushka should pretend to be ill and go to her aunt’s to rest. […] Finally Annushka gave birth to a daughter; that same night that same aunt took the infant almost 200 versts away and left her with a relative of hers. Annushka, pale and thinner, again appeared at the old woman’s [Esper Ivanych’s mother’s] bed, and her former life began again with its former passion and its former concealment. (part 1, chapter 6)

If we trust the narrator, Annushka and Esper Ivanych came together through her will as much as his, and he apparently is more faithful to her than most of his peers were to their legal wives. And still he is willing to let her die, compels her to give up her child, and then has her come back as if nothing had happened. She remains an intimate but unequal member of his household, standing behind his chair at meals as a servant, but taking part in conversation with his guests. But he won’t, and she doesn’t dare, talk about their daughter. [Update: another candidate for type 3 is Plavin in Men of the Forties, who falls for a peasant girl. His mother craftily lets them be together in the provinces, but when he returns to Petersburg, his mother sells the girl to Plavin’s aunt. Plavin spirits her away; the aunt refuses to sell her to Plavin; and in the end the law takes her away by force (3.6).]

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