The opening of the Russian archives following the collapse of the Soviet regime has wrought the summary demise of much scholarly work on the history of the twentieth century. It is not in Soviet studies alone that the effect has been felt, however, as restored intellectual freedom begins to realise the vast range of treasures becoming accessible. Soviet obscurantism meant that nineteenth century and earlier history had also been occluded by censorship or official discretion.
A disproportionate number of great Russian writers and artists were drawn from the ranks of the nobility. Anton Chekhov was, like Gorki, a relative exception, since he came from very humble origins indeed. His grandfather Egor had managed by dint of hard work and lack of scruple to amass sufficient