A Letter to the Capital (Vasili Golinsky, no date (1880s-90s?)
Firstly, I would like to give a reason for my “Englishing” of the title of this work. Literally, it is A Letter to Piter. The usage of “Piter” rather than “Pyotr” or “Petya” is a strong implication that the letter is not a personal family letter to a loved one in the army or prison. “Piter” is Russian slang for “St Petersburg”, the imperial capital at the time. The other two usages are the proper name “Peter” and the Russian equivalent of “Pete”. Therefore, I went for meaning rather than literalism. All those who disagree may establish their own websites and label the work differently there. I shall not argue the point. My choice was taken to make the meaning of the title clear to the average English-speaking reader. Translation is not a picnic, even simple things such as titles!
The composition of the painting makes it clear that an illiterate peasant woman is asking the local school-teacher to write an official letter for her. Her husband is not with her, so, it is clear that the letter concerns him. Is she a war widow from the Russo-Turkish War or is she the wife of a soldier on active service? Is her husband is in prison? Has he gone to the “big city” to find work? That is not obvious. Note the fruits and eggs on the red cloth on the table, these are, obviously, a gift to the teacher for writing the letter. The middle-class woman is obviously not of the nobility, for her clothing and the tell-tales in the house stamp her as one of the official class or the merchantry.
It is clear that the peasant woman and her child are very ill-at-ease in the teacher’s house. However, in Russia, at least, the nobles, officials, merchantry, and peasantry all shared the same faith, so, there was a common point of reference. In Galicia and Carpatho-Russia, the nobles, officials, and merchantry were of a different faith than the peasants, which led to misunderstanding and “poaching” by the “superior” Roman Catholics. It is why many of the peasants returned to Orthodoxy once they arrived in America. If you doubt me, ask the people at St Mary’s parish in Minneapolis MN. They would tell the tale far better than I could!