The University of Wisconsin Press

The Worlds of Russian Village Women
Tradition, Transgression, Compromise
Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva

A groundbreaking folkloric study of generations of Russian village women

Awarded the Chicago Folklore Prize by the American Folklore Society
Awarded the Elli Köngäs-Maranda Prize by the Women’s Section of the American Folklore Society

Russian village women have been depicted as victims of oppressive patriarchy, celebrated as symbols of inherent female strength, and extolled as the original source of a great world culture. Throughout the years of collectivization, industrialization, and World War II, women played major roles in the evolution of the Russian village. But how do they see themselves? What do their stories, songs, and customs reveal about their values, desires, and motivations?

Based upon nearly three decades of fieldwork, from 1983 to 2010, The Worlds of Russian Rural Women follows three generations of Russian women and shows how they alternately preserve, discard, and rework the cultural traditions of their forebears to suit changing needs and self-conceptions.  In a major contribution to the study of folklore, Laura J. Olson and Svetlana Adonyeva document the ways that women’s tales of traditional practices associated with marriage, childbirth, and death reflect both upholding and transgression of social norms. Their romance songs, satirical ditties, and healing and harmful magic reveal the complexity of power relations in the Russian villages.

Laura J. Olson is associate professor in the department of Germanic and Slavic languages and Literatures at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Svetlana Adonyeva
is professor of folklore and theory of literature at St. Petersburg State University in Russia.


“A gendered presentation of life in the twentieth-century Russian village, with its interplay of power and tradition . . . Industrialization, collectivization, and three wars took a catastrophic toll on the male population. A major result was the feminization of musical culture, including group singing. . . . This innovative study [is] an unprecedented appreciation of women’s contributions to Russia's village life.”
The Historian

“This work is a good combination of richly contextualized ethnographic descriptions and interpretive analysis. It opens the world of rural Russia to English-speaking readers.”
—Mariya Lesiv, Slavic and Eastern European Journal

“Rather than constructing an outsider's image of the Russian countryside, as has been done countless times before, the authors instead capture the self-images of Russian village women themselves, achieving a nuanced portrait of their multi-layered, self-constructed modern identities.”

The Worlds of Russian Village Women is a boon to scholars and students of Russian folklore, literature and gender. . . . The book is well written and engaging.”
Russian Review

“Richly contextualized ethnographic descriptions and interpretive analysis.”
Slavic and East European Journal

“This meticulous, intelligent and illuminating book is a must-read for anyone studying the Russian countryside.”
Slavic Review

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

Of Related Interest:
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“Sutcliffe lifts women’s writing out of a category to which it was long consigned and shows how their works, grounded in everyday life, address larger issues in Soviet and post-Soviet society that transcend the gender divisions within Russian and Soviet literature.”—Adele Barker, University of Arizona
A 2009 Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title

January 2013
LC: 2012016670 HQ
382 pp.   7 x 9.5   12 b/w photos

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Paper $39.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-29034-4
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“Olson and Adonyeva skillfully interweave fieldwork data with historical background, theoretical connections, and interpretation. In-depth and balanced, the book covers a number of important topics: the village life cycle, magic and healing, gossip and consumption of mass media, and women’s relationship to both traditional and popular music.”
—Sibelan E. S. Forrester, Swarthmore College


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Updated January 13, 2013

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