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Breaking the Ties That BoundThe Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia$
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Barbara Alpern Engel

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449512

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449512.001.0001

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The Right to Love

The Right to Love

(p.201) 7 The Right to Love
Breaking the Ties That Bound

Barbara Alpern Engel

Cornell University Press

During the reign of Tsar Alexander III, chancellery officials demonstrated an almost obsessive concern with the sexual behavior of wives. Although officials were exceedingly cautious in their judgments, once they decided that a woman was sexually “immoral,” they treated her as irredeemable. This concern extended to all women, but women of the laboring classes were the primary targets, as they were deemed more prone to unruliness than their better-bred and privileged sisters. If a wife was found to have engaged in extramarital sexual relations, it served as sufficient grounds to deny her requests for separation even when every allegation against the husband proved true, or when there was compelling evidence that the conduct officials viewed as immoral had ceased. This chapter discusses how officials' stringent definition of “immorality” underwent a perceptible if subtle shift toward the end of the nineteenth century. Expanding the parameters of acceptable female sexual conduct, the shift reflected changes in popular and elite attitudes toward women's sexuality and a growing acceptance of women's capacity for self-governance and agency in the sexual sphere as in others.

Keywords:   adultery, married women, sexual conduct, sexual behavior, wives, immorality, women's sexuality, self-governance, agency

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