Friday book # 26: Duelling Russian Style

This week’s book examines the history of duelling following its introduction into Russia in the 18th century. Author Irina Reyfman proposes the thesis that duelling served to protect individual rights. As the cover blurb says:

The book argues that the Russian duel acquired its enduring prestige because it served to define and to defend personal autonomy in a hierarchical state that lacked legal guarantees against corporal punishment. To fight a tradition that tolerated superiors’ punching and slapping their subordinates, Russian duelists embraced raw violence and incorporated it into dueling procedure, thus replacing the hierarchical – and therefore humiliating – violence of corporal punishment with the equalizing violence of the duel.


4 thoughts on “Friday book # 26: Duelling Russian Style”

  1. Not especially different, though the Russians did very occasionally engage in something called the ‘American duel’, in which the two duellists would draw lots and the person who lost would have to commit suicide! The most famous American duel was between the Governor General of Poland, Count K.K. Lambert, and the Military Governor of Warsaw, A.D. Gershtevtsveig, in 1861. The latter lost, and killed himself. The point of doing things that way was that duelling was strictly speaking illegal, and it would be scandalous for two senior officials to fight each other. Such ‘duels’ were, though, very rare. Most were like those in Western Europe. A particular oddity in Russia was that under the terms of a military regulation of 1894, officers could be dismissed from the service by a Court of Honour for failing to fight a duel, even though duelling was actually against the law!


    1. I don’t mean technically, I meant in this pop-psych sense: “to defend personal autonomy in a hierarchical state”, etc. Since dueling was a common phenomenon in western societies, having to do, as I understand, with aristocratic honor, why would the Russian version require some special/different psych-explanation?


      1. Why, to show how those Russians are all totally not like Pure Blooded Europeans! Oh, and that they were always “oppressed” by their “tyrannical” Regime. Why waste an opportunity to dehumanize dem Ruskis when you have a chance?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s