The Performance of Maternal Sentiment in the Memoirs and Letters of Ekaterina Dashkova, or How ‘une mère, sagemente tendre’ Became Director of the Academy of Sciences




The emphatic professions of maternal sentiment found in the memoirs and correspondence of Ekaterina Dashkova indicate how important this was for her self-presentation. This article explores the pragmatics of these motherly effusions by examining their diverse functions – personal, rhetorical, social, and political – in the context of Dashkova’s account of taking her son to the University of Edinburgh in 1776. Making use of archival materials from the National Library of Scotland, we read Dashkova’s memoir version of negotiating with the University against the letters that she wrote at the time to principal William Robertson, and those written to him simultaneously by his friend Alexander Wedderburn which take Dashkova as their subject. We argue that Dashkova employed the epistolary performance of motherly tenderness both to integrate her son into a course of study in Edinburgh and to establish valuable personal connections of her own that would serve her well upon return to Russia.
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