readme.txt: “Quand le français gouvernait la Russie. L’éducation de la noblesse russe 1750-1880”

Reading, writing and publishing are the core of being a researcher in the humanities. In the readme.txt section we present texts published by scientists of the Max Weber Foundation. Four short questions and answers will make you want to read them!

In this issue, Vladislav Rjéoutski, research fellow at Deutsches Historisches Institut (DHI) in Moscow, offers a general idea of his book “Quand le français gouvernait la Russie. L’éducation de la noblesse russe 1750-1880”:

What question will the reader be able to answer after reading your book?

The main focus of the book is the history of the education of the nobility. This was a global, pan-European phenomenon and the Russian nobility followed the trends which had been developed in other European countries. So this book is about how the ideas and practices of noble education travelled across the European continent and how they became acclimatized on the periphery of Europe, in Russia. The reader will understand to what extent the Russian aristocracy was a European corporation, because the education of nobility in Europe was at the core of the reflection of the Russian nobility on its social and cultural identity. At the same time, the reader will see, through a wide range of concrete examples, how these European ideas and practices were adapted to the Russian context and will therefore grasp a certain idea of Russian cultural distinctiveness.

What was the most surprising discovery or the most stunning finding you came across when writing the book?

The most striking discovery was probably the enormous preoccupation of Russian aristocrats with the education of their children. In many big families there was a constant effort to educate the children according to the highest standard possible by inviting various tutors, mostly of foreign origin, and by organizing very costly travels abroad, the so-called ‘Grand Tour’. But this was by no means the only important discovery of the research. The central role of the French language in big aristocratic families determined the whole process of education. The title of the book is by no means just a play on words: the French language was a central element in the education of the Russian nobility, and the transmission of ideas in this field was much facilitated by the acceptance of French as the main language of the social elite in Russia. In those families, most subjects, including those not connected with a particular language, like mathematics or history, were learned in French or, more rarely, in German, thus contributing to the integration within the nobility of a wide range of concepts. Moreover, the Roman and Greek heritage, as well as English culture, were discovered by the Russian nobles mainly in French; some features, which were central to the identity of a nobleman or a noblewoman, such as politeness, were acquired through the medium of French as well.

Who would be your favourite author for a preface?

There is an introduction, but no preface in this book, for a variety of reasons, but if I had had a chance to do it again, I would probably have asked Daniel Roche or Wladimir Berelowitch to write a preface. Daniel Roche is indeed a great specialist of the Enlightenment who has rightly seen the importance of the question of the education of the nobility for our understanding of the culture of European elites and, more broadly, of the social changes in Europe from the time of Enlightenment to the industrial era. Roche has devoted one of his major books to the role of migration in the European space, which is an essential aspect for the history of the education of the nobility in Russia, because the educators were mostly of French, Swiss, German and English origin. Wladimir Berelowitch is probably the scholar who has the best and the most nuanced understanding of the process of elite education in Russia, to which he has devoted a whole range of studies.

Which three hashtags summarize your book best?

It is a difficult question: it is as if you were asking me to describe in three words what took years to research and to understand, reducing to a strict minimum the wealth which constitutes the main value of the book. But if I had no choice. :)

I would probably use the following hashtags: #EuropeanElite Culture #EducationOfTheNobility # FrenchLanguage

Vladislav Rjéoutski: Quand le français gouvernait la Russie. L’éducation de la noblesse russe 1750-1880, Paris: L’Harmattan 2016, ISBN 978-2-343-08540-1.


Vladislav Rjéoutski graduated from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and defended his PhD at the Institute of History, Russian Academy of Sciences (2003). He taught Russian history and translation in various French universities and worked on a research project on the social history of the French language in Russia at Bristol University. He is currently a research fellow at the German Historical Institute in Moscow. His research deals with the history of education, social history of languages, emigration and the press in Russia in the eighteenth – early nineteenth centuries. He has recently edited/coedited: European Francophonie (with D. Offord and G. Argent, Oxford, 2014); French and Russian in Imperial Russia (with D. Offord, L. Ryazanova-Clarke and G. Argent, Edinburgh, 2015, 2 vols). He is currently working on a book on the social, political and literary history of French in Russia, coauthored with Derek Offord and Gesine Argent (to be published by the Amstardam University Press).

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