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Alleged Sex and Threatened Violence
Doctor Russel, Bishop Vladimir, and the Russians in San Francisco, 1887-1892

Terence Emmons


1997

268 pp.
13 illus.
ISBN: 9780804727679
Cloth $62.50

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"Emmons fascinating essay . . . serves to bring down to earth the master narrative of grand history . . . by giving it concrete human meaning."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

This book deals with a sequence of lively and often bizarre episodes within San Francisco's Russian community set in motion in early 1888 by the arrival in San Francisco of a new Russian Orthodox bishop—and his entourage, which included some twenty clergymen and eleven boys.

It did not take long for the bishop to clash with Dr. Nicholas Russel, a colorful Russian revolutionary exile who was one of the leaders of the Russian community. They became bitter enemies, and Bishop Vladimir's three-and-a-half-year tenure in San Francisco was punctuated by a series of remarkable scandals and lawsuits, by an excommunication, by an unconsummated duel, and by a host of lurid allegations that received extensive local publicity—including charges of arson, perjury, attempts to hire potential assassins, bigamy, and, most sensationally, sodomy and child abuse.

All of this centered around the combative bishop and his church administration, and eventually involved, in one way or another, a large part of San Francisco's Russian community, as people took sides with either the bishop or his tireless antagonist, Dr. Russel. These local furors reverberated in high places in St. Petersburg, as the procurator-general of the Holy Synod and officials of the Russian autocracy sought, in vain for the most part, to curb the bishop and bring peace to the local community.

This vivid example of "microhistory" sheds light on a number of intriguing issues, notably the workings of the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia, the nature of European ethnic communities in late-nineteenth-century America, the mentality of the two protagonists (who represented widely different Russian social groups), Russian church-state relations, and nineteenth-century legal and sexual mores.

Terence Emmons is Professor of History at Stanford University. He has written extensively on Russian history and on the Russian-American connection, most recently (with Bertrand M. Patenaude) War, Revolution, and Peace: The Passages of Frank Golder, 1914-1927.



Subject links:
    History — United States
    History — European

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