Poverty is regarded to be one of the lowest statuses of life of people living in the world. Most individuals are not privileged enough to be of equal status as compared to those of higher status in life; thus, usually they are treated with contempt and they end up living miserable lives.
In some cases, they have ended up serving as slaves because of they are considered not to be human beings. Usually, the poor are forced to depend on those of higher status quo in life for them to earn a living and this makes them to be unfortunate individuals living in the world. This practice was more prevalent in the past though it is still a norm in some places around the world. During the late nineteenth century in Russia, “peasants were deprived of the light of knowledge, and they suffered an oppressive poverty” (Tian-Shanskaia, 169). In the book, Village Life on Late Tsarisat Russia, the authors, Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia and David L. Ransel, depict the poverty situation in Russia before the revolution. In writing the book, the authors had a desire to represent the life story of peasant life in Russia.
The life background of Tian-Shanskaia reveals that he had this interest beforehand. She was born in 1863 into one of the very famous and scientific families of that time. Her father, Pytor Pertovich Semyonova, was a prominent geographer, explorer and statistician; thus, he instilled these skills to his children from an early age, Tian-Shanskaia included. Worth mentioning, through the investigations he championed, he was recognized by the nation’s authorities and given many titles. Most importantly, Pytor Pertovich Semyonova role was instrumental in the life of the peasants living before the revolution since he championed the passing of rules that were intended to guarantee the Russian peasants of their freedom.
Thus, one of his children, Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, had the desire to continue doing this by illustrating the deplorable condition of peasantry life during the late Tsarist Russia. The social history of peasants in Russia during the pre-revolutionary period is detailed in the book. Tian-Shanskaia, an ethnographer and a painter, vibrantly illustrates the harsh living conditions of the Russian peasant families. She spent close to four years during the 1890s studying the way of life of the people in a central Russian province before coming up with one of the best ethnographic portraits of this situation. The author describes the common practice at the turn of the twentieth century in which women and children were not treated with respect (Tian-Shanskaia, 142).
She also tackles some other issues such as marriage engagement, sexual habits, child mortality, giving of birth, raising of children, employment issues, dietary customs, and investments among the people. In direct opposition to the habit of depicting peasant families as living a good life by most high-class observers, the book, which is a firsthand portrait of peasant family life, illustrates the deplorable living conditions of the peasants. In addition, the book also indicates that there is usually brutality in the peasant families (Tian-Shanskaia, 148).
One element of the peasant life that is worth mentioning is the type of houses they dwelt in. The pre-revolutionary peasants lived a life that was full of insufficiency and there was evident lack of sophistication in their lives (Tian-Shanskaia, 1). More so, their conditions of living were generally unhygienic. Their places of residences were most of the time polluted, lacked good ventilation, and did not receive enough light. Most of their houses were made such that there was a main structure for spending the night and dining. Other structures outside the main building, such as barn and cellar, were also constructed. Since the peasants relied so much on keeping of livestock, they often build a lawn for this sake, and all their houses were constructed from either wood or clay, as they were the most readily available materials.
Worth mentioning, the roof of every building in the complex was made of thatches, and the sharing of the houses between animals and people led to unhygienic living conditions. The author makes this clear, “like the houses, threshing barns are covered with thatched roofs; the roof framing, however, is supported by studs rather than by rafters as in a house” (Tian-Shanskaia, 123). The peasant houses were made to be one large room and the common characteristic of these houses was that they had a stove that was employed in cooking and increasing the temperature of the houses, especially during cold conditions (Tian-Shanskaia, 119). In a situation in which the stoves lacked a chimney, the houses would be filled with smoke from the burning fuel and this worsened the hygienic conditions of the dwellings; however, the places of residence that had chimneys were cleaner, less stuffy, and well aerated. The dwellings of the Russian peasants had a red or attractive corner in which they placed copies of Orthodox Byzantine icons for performing religious duties (Tian-Shanskaia, 12).
Concerning their sleeping arrangements, the stoves were constructed with sleeping places for at least two members of the household while the other members spent the night in a loft or on benches inside the house. They used straws for sleeping before using them as fuel in the morning; thus, it was a major source of the unhygienic living conditions that the pleasant houses were known of (Tian-Shanskaia, 119). More so, the peasants brought in their animals inside the houses during cold temperatures and this worsened the condition further. Comparing the deplorable living conditions of the Russian peasants to that of the modern Russia seems to be full of irony.
The author says, “Russia in the late nineteenth century was a society in crisis” (Tian-Shanskaia, xi). However, during the twentieth century after the successful revolution, Russia rose to become one of the most respected countries globally. Currently, it is still being considered as one of the nations with the best living conditions. The country takes pride in having averagely high earnings per employed person and the minimum amount of wage for its workforce is among the highest in the world. Before the turn of the century, the living condition of the Russian peasants is described as follows: “A small hut about twelve feet (3.6m) square – with a door through which a medium-sized man can only go by stooping – the floor made of earth, the ceiling so low that a tall man cannot stand upright, tiny windows letting in little light . . .
the whole building made of thin wood . . .
the entire family lives in this room, sleeping on benches and on the floor all together, men, women, children and cattle”(“Modern History”, para. 3). However, these conditions of living are incomparable with the modern housing that Russians take pride in. Currently, an average Russian stays in a house that is adequately equipped with all the necessities of life.
The children, both boys and girls, are usually given their own rooms. The parents usually have spacious rooms. In addition, the kitchen and the dining room are also well equipped with modern housing facilities. And, if the family has animals, they never share the same roof as they are usually have their own shades away from the residential area. This situation is generally diametrically opposite to how the peasants of the late nineteenth century lived their lives. In conclusion, the book, Village Life on Late Tsarisat Russia, gives an interesting and captivating depiction of the living condition the peasants in Russia before the turn of the twentieth century.
More so, it is important to note that the book is an important basis for measuring the progress that country of Russia underwent during the better part of the twentieth century. Currently, the thought of visiting Russia is a dream that many would like to achieve. The background of the writer together with her desire to illustrate this condition makes the account to be credible since he observed the happenings personally. In general, the book plays a pivotal role in historical evaluation of the ancient Russia and the Russia today. In the former, poverty was outstanding. The peasants were living in abject poverty beyond what would be regarded to be reasonable in Russia today (Tian-Shanskaia, 139). Thus, poverty is the outstanding theme in the book as all other misgivings tend to revolve around this theme. Poverty is the only justifiable ground to portray the deplorable standards of living illustrated by the writer.
“Modern History.” Sdehs. Sidney Distance Education High School, 2003. Web. 10 March 2011. http://www.
ssdec.nsw.edu.au/history/romanovs/peasants.html Tian-Shanskaia, Olga Semyonova. Village life in late tsarist Russia.
Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1993. Print.