The first half of the 19th century marked Russia with a "feudal backwardness" for much of the Western Europe. It was considered more a component of Asia than a representative of European thinking. During the beginning of the century, indeed, peasants ("serfs") lead their miserable lives and were treated as the property of their feudal masters and could be easily bought and sold. However, they had a few more rights than slaves and gained their freedom only in 1861.
Nevertheless, as state secondary school and university education became more promptly available, the number of educated aristocracy grew. These members of the higher class enjoyed a gracious way of life, but they took an enthusiastic interest in cultural revolutions happening in the West and often prolonged representative works of Western writers.
The gentry of Russia turned its look to the West for ideals and tendencies since the early 18th Century, when Peter the Great had set up a series of reforms for renovating the country.
Russian nobility traveled widely in Western Europe and embraced French as the language of elegant dialogue. They read French and English literature and philosophy, followed Western trends, and generally considered themselves a part of modern Europe.
In 1721 St. Petersburg was made the new capital of Russia, and remained the most west-oriented city of Russia. The German-born Catherine the Great, czarina who reigned from 1762 to 1796, followed with Voltaire and fancied herself an Enlightenment monarch; but her plans for liberal reforms failed, and she became better known as arrogant autocrat.
With its general degradation Russian society was opened to the West and had profound influences on its literature throughout the 19th Century. More to say, the achievements of language and literature were outstanding. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, the Russian language achieved...