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Article

A Retired Brigadier Caught between Feelings and Social Hierarchy. The Concept of Friendship in a Late 18th-Century Epistolary Exchange

Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History. 2020. Vol. 21. No. 2. P. 293-317.

The paper examines social differences in the understanding of the concept of ‘friendship’ in late 18th – early 19th century Russia deployed in the unpublished correspondence of Count Aleksandr Vorontsov, a member of the social elite of the Catherinean Age, and Aleksei D´iakonov, an obscure official who was Vorontsov’s client. While letter exchange was a kind of freemasonic practice, and both correspondents were members of a Masonic lodge, Vorontsov used sentimentalist language and addressed his client as “friend,” trying to erase or at least obscure the social boundaries between them. Social equality, even as a rhetorical formula, was progressively becoming possible between an aristocrat and an educated commoner such as D´iakonov, and it unfolded in rhetorical terms. D´iakonov adopted vis-à-vis his patron an attitude that reflected their respective positions on the hierarchical ladder, thus conforming to the traditional behavior of a Russian official and avoiding Western (Masonic, or sentimentalist) rhetoric of equality.