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Article

Sex in the City that Peter Built: The Demimonde and Sociability in Mid-Eighteenth Century St. Petersburg

Slavic Review. 2017. Vol. 76. No. 4. P. 907-930.

This article uses the materials of the Drezdensha affair, a large-scale investigation of “indecency” in St. Petersburg in 1750, to explore unofficial sociability among the Imperial elite, and to map out the institutional, social, and economic dimensions of the post-Petrine “sexual underworld.” Sociability and, ultimately, the public sphere in eighteenth century Russia are usually associated with loftier practices, with joining the ranks of the reading public, reflecting on the public good, and generally, becoming more civil and polite. Yet, it is the privately-run, commercially-oriented, and sexually-charged “parties” at the focus of this article that arguably served as a “training ground” for developing the habits of sociability. The world of these “parties” provide a missing link between the debauchery and carousing of Peter I’s era and the more polite formats of associational life in the late eighteenth century, as well as the historical context for reflections on morality, sexual licentiousness, foppery, and the excesses of “westernization.”