Custine, Astolphe Louis Leonor

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(17901857), French writer and publicist.

Astolphe de Custine's fame rests upon his book Russia in 1839, a voluminous travelogue depicting the empire of Nicholas I in an unfavorable light; it became an oft-quoted precursor to numerous subsequent works of professional "Sovietologists" and "Kremlinologists." Custine was born into an old aristocratic family; both his father and grandfather were executed during the French Revolution. Originally a staunch political conservative, Custine traveled to Russia determined to provide French readers with the positive image of a functioning monarchy. However, the three months spent in the empire of Tsar Nicholas Iwhom he met in personturned Custine into a constitutionalist. Russia's despotic, incurably corrupt order that entitled the state to any intrusions into its citizens' lives shocked the European observer with its innate violence and hypocrisy. Custine particularly faulted the Russian establishment for its quasi-military structure introduced by Peter I. Most astounding among his conclusions was the prediction that Russia would face a revolution of unprecedented scope within the next half century.

When Russia in 1839 was published in four lengthy volumes in 1843, it became an immediate bestseller and was translated into English, German, and Danish. Russian diplomats and secret agents tried their utmost to discredit the book and its author; the tsar himself reportedly had a fit of fury while reading Custine's elaborations. On the other hand, Alexander Herzen and other dissidents praised Russia in 1839 for its accuracy, and even the chief of Russia's Third Department conceded that the ungrateful French guest merely said out loud what many Russians secretly were thinking in the first place.

Astolphe de Custine, who also wrote other travelogues and fiction, died in 1857.

See also: autocracy; nicholas i.


Custine, Marquis de. (1989). Empire of the Czar: A Journey through Eternal Russia. New York: Doubleday.

Grudzinska Gross, Irena. (1991). The Scar of Revolution: Custine, Tocqueville, and the Romantic Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Peter Rollberg