Durova, Nadezhda Andreyevna

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(17831855), cavalry officer and writer.

Nadezhda Durova ("Alexander Alexandrov," "Cavalry Maiden") served in the tsarist cavalry throughout Russia's campaigns against Napoleon. Equally remarkably, in the late 1830s she published memoirs of those years (The Cavalry Maiden [Kavalerist-devitsa ], 1836; Notes [Zapiski ], 1839) and fiction in the Gothic/Romantic vein drawn from her military experience, much of it narrated by a female officer. At first she masqueraded as a boy, but in December 1807 Alexander II learned of the woman soldier in his army and, impressed by accounts of her courage in the East Prussian campaign, gave her a commission in the Mariupol Hussars under his name, Alexandrov. In 1811 Durova transferred to the Lithuanian Uhlans. During the Russian retreat to Moscow in 1812 she served in the rear guard, engaging in repeated clashes with the French. Bored with peacetime service and annoyed at not receiving promotion, Durova resigned her commission in 1816. She became briefly famous after The Cavalry Maiden was published, an experience she described laconically in "A Year of Life in St. Petersburg" (God zhizni v Peterburge, 1838), before retreating to provincial obscurity in Yelabuga, where she was known as an amiable eccentric woman with semi-masculine mannerisms and dress. Durova's memoirs omit inconvenient facts (an early marriage; the birth of her son), but she was a gifted storyteller, and her tales are rich in astute, humorous observations of military life as an outsider saw it. Her biography, heavily romanticized, became a propaganda tool during World War II, but The Cavalry Maiden was reprinted in full in the Soviet Union only in the 1980s.

See also: french war of 1812; military, imperial era; napoleon i


Durova, Nadezhda. (1988). The Cavalry Maiden, ed. and tr. Mary Fleming Zirin. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gheith, Jehanne. (1999). "Durova." In Russian Literature in the Age of Pushkin and Gogol: Prose, ed. Christine A. Rydel. Dictionary of Literary Biography, 1999. Detroit: Gale Research.

Mary Zirin