Critical Context

Because only specialists in Russian children’s literature are likely to have heard of Catherine Almedingen apart from this book, and because her adult achievements are not part of the main narrative, Katia commands a place in biography for young people mainly through the portrait that it provides of nineteenth century life among the wealthy upper class in Russia.

The daughter of a Danish mother and a father of Austro-Bavarian parentage, Katia fit into the cosmopolitan culture that prevailed in the isolated society of Trostnikova and among many of the educated in Russia. At five years of age, she spoke four languages—though her Russian, learned mainly from servants, was not always acceptable to Sophie. The governess at Trostnikova was German, Nadia’s governess was English, Sophie had traveled widely, and even Aunt Marie read French novels. Dubky, though much nearer to Moscow, ironically presents another aspect of Russian society: a narrow provincialism and lack of intellectual interest among some of the gentry.

Although the narrative is easy to read as a story, it lacks the climax that is expected of a novel. Nevertheless, for younger readers who are not yet ready to tackle the great nineteenth century Russian novels of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevski, Katia furnishes a simple but authentic introduction to the society that they may meet later in more demanding works.