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Lower-Class Reading in Late Imperial Russia

Badcock, Sarah; Cowan, Felix


Felix Cowan


This article demonstrates widespread engagement of lower-class people with the written word in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russian Empire, in rural and urban locales, in homes, workplaces, and social spaces. We explore how lower-class people read: the daily habits, personal relationships, and social spaces that shaped engagement with texts, and especially collective reading, a widespread phenomenon that extended the reach of the written word to less or non-literate audiences. Many lower-class Russians experienced reading as a collective, public, aural activity, not a solitary, private, internal one. Reading was entwined with the rhythms of everyday social life and provoked critical thought and active engagement within countless lower-class reading groups, as evidenced by collective letter-writing and observations of post-reading discussions. This article therefore contributes to scholarship exploring lower-class Russians’ conscious and meaningful engagement with the textual world, and by association with late imperial Russia’s transforming social and political spheres.


Badcock, S., & Cowan, F. (in press). Lower-Class Reading in Late Imperial Russia. Russian Review,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 26, 2023
Deposit Date Jan 26, 2023
Journal Russian Review
Print ISSN 0036-0341
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Russia; literacy; nineteenth century
Public URL