Denis Fonvizin and the Concept of Nobility: An Eighteenth-century Russian Echo of a Western Debate

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Abstract

The article examines the contribution made by Denis Fonvizin, one of the major men of letters of the age of Catherine the Great, to debate about the status and function of the eighteenth-century Russian nobility. This contribution is set in the context of changes in the balance between the nobility's obligations to the state and the privileges it enjoyed and in the context of contemporary court politics. Aware of western debates on the subject, Fonvizin approves of engagement by the nobility in commerce and prefers personal merit to heredity as a criterion for ennoblement and retention of noble status. He uses his conception of nobility (which is bolstered by the notions of virtue and honour that he draws from foreign sources) to perpetuate a sense of obligation among the Russian educated elite even though that elite had in 1762 ceased to be formally required to serve. At the same time he begins in effect to redirect the allegiance of the elite away from the state and towards the nation.
Translated title of the contributionDenis Fonvizin and the Concept of Nobility: An Eighteenth-century Russian Echo of a Western Debate
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-38
Number of pages29
JournalEuropean History Quarterly
Volume35
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2005

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Sage

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