Manuscript on paper, 4to, pp. 116 (likely lacking two final leaves), 30 lines to a page in a clear and regular cursive in brown ink, in French; very well preserved in the original cloth-backed burgundy boards, brass cornerpieces; a few surface abrasions, textblock partially detached from case.
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Voyage en Russie.
A fascinating and substantial personal diary offering an insight into the experiences of a woman travelling from France to Russia and the Caucasus at the end of the nineteenth century.
Having left Paris from the Gare du Nord at the end of July 1891, with a party heading for the French Exposition in Moscow that year, the lady visits Berlin and Warsaw briefly, before reaching St Petersburg and Moscow for a longer stay. Characteristically joining small-detail observations with broad-brush remarks, she finds occasion to compare the ‘vieille Russie’ picturesque ambience of Moscow with the feel of Cordoba and Granada in Spain, in contrast with the contemporary, commercial life she perceives within the solemn settings of St Petersburg. She remarks on the seemingly extraordinary architecture of the Kremlin, noting with savviness that, as a structure, it is in fact a rather common form of fortification. In describing churches and rituals in detail she admits to having developed, since the beginning of the journey, an interest in the history and features of Orthodox Christianity. Our lady then embarks on the more adventurous leg of her experience: navigating the Volga she traverses Central and Southern Russia to reach the Caspian Sea, the splendid Southern outpost of Astrakhan (with a lively description of the fish and caviar market), and Baku, where she tours the famous oil factory which Ludvig and Robert Nobel had set up in 1876. Notes on her surroundings and shrewd understanding of the importance of oil extraction are complemented with accounts of memorable meals.
Tiflis in Georgia, then the seat of the Caucasus Viceroyalty for Russia, features next in the lady’s travels, with much admiration for the city’s beauty and its favourable geographic situation. She reports that its population is around 120,000 and remarks on their many races and cultures, describing the sites as a ‘place of contrast’ and the ‘encounter between Europe and Asia’. Within a week she is in Sevastopol, where she visits the cemetery of the fallen of the Crimean War, describing the relative ease of access that is granted to French nationals to such a contested site. She then embarks upon a return journey via Krakow and Vienna – where the diary is cut short by (likely) two missing pages.
The abrupt end notwithstanding, this diary stands as a rare witness to the twilight days of Tsarist Russia, seen through the alert, competent and sensitive eyes of a woman.
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