and agricultural year. With basic literary skills, a newly literate Russian could move smoothly from the traditional culture into which he or she was born to the rapidly changing and secularised civic culture of late imperial Russia. The transformation was neither unidirectional nor entirely complete for most individuals, but it was significant none the less.22
Even the Bible became a contested piece of literature in both its availability and its interpretation. Although a modern Russian translation of the entire holy book was not sanctioned by the holy synod until i876, shortly after the appearance of the first translation of Karl Marx's Capital, the New Testament and non-approved versions of the Bible were already becoming widely available in the i860s. Concerned that the Holy Scriptures in the hands of ordinary believers untrained in theology would lead to incorrect, personal interpretation and challenges to ecclesiastical authority reminiscent of the Lutheran revolution, church officials vigorously sought to control the distribution of the Bible. Groups such as the Society for the Dissemination of Holy Scripture in Russia (est. i863) and the British and Foreign Bible Society developed an extensive colportage system that helped to distribute nearly i million bibles annually by the end ofthe nineteenth century. Old Believers and sectarian leaders were often blamed by ecclesiastical authorities for duping the peasantry through their biblical exegesis while ordinary believers merely expressed a logical curiosity in the basic texts of their faith. Religious renegade and erstwhile author Leo Tolstoy collaborated with Vladimir Grigor'evich Chertkov in the distribution of religious and secular tracts written at levels easily comprehended by individuals with basic literacy skills. Rather than view peasants' thirst for religious knowledge in a positive light, Orthodox leaders preferred to see challenges to their authority.23
As Russia was learning to read, folk culture provided familiar themes, artistic forms and storylines for theatre and, after i908, cinema. Modern theatre was introduced into Russia in the mid-eighteenth century and developed rapidly during the reign of Catherine the Great. Influenced by Enlightenment thinkers, the Russian theatre of the eighteenth century was highly stylised and secular, and remained so with a few exceptions until the fall of the house of Romanov. As theatrical productions spread to the countryside in the last half of the nineteenth century, peasants experienced for the first time organised productions of unfamiliar themes. Often, these productions were staged
22 Chulos, Converging worlds, ch. 6.
23 S. K. Batalden, 'Colportage and the distribution of the Holy Scriptures in late imperial Russia', in Christianity and the eastern Slavs, 11, Russian culture, 83-92; Chulos, Converging worlds, 85-6.
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