"a bleary, incredibly wrinkled old woman (born a slave around 1830)"

Tsar Alexander II is credited for emancipating the serfs (or slaves) in Russia in 1861, thus liberating approximately twenty three million people. Five years later in 1866, state-owned serfs, who worked on Imperial properties, were also given plots of land with their freedom.

 

Count Leo Tolstoy photographed in 1908 by Prokudin-Gorsky
Public DomainCount Leo Tolstoy photographed in 1908 by Prokudin-Gorsky - Credit: Prokudin-Gorsky

Serfs feature a great deal in Russian literature of the 19th century. The nobly-born writer Leo Tolstoy was fascinated by peasant life, and a champion of serfs' rights. He felt that the key to the Russian soul lay in its peasant folk, in their communal life and uncorrupted spiritual values. Tolstoy even went so far as to adopt peasant dress and to found thirteen schools for serfs' children near his country estate.