20. The Poster Girl of Russian Serf Abuses
Russian noblewoman Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova (1730 – 1801) was born into a family that was well-connected to prominent aristocratic clans such as the Tolstoys, the Pushkins, and the Davidovs. Other than a penchant for gloominess, there was nothing sinister about her as she grew up, nor in her early married life. She was known for her piousness, and for her generous donations to monasteries and other religious establishments. Behind that pious façade, however, lurked a monster. Saltykova became a poster girl for the abuses that accompanied the de facto slavery that was Russian serfdom, and became infamous as a sadist who tortured and murdered hundreds of serfs, most of them female.
Saltykova was widowed young and inherited from her deceased husband a vast estate with over 600 serfs. That was bad news for the serfs, whose drab and downtrodden lives suddenly got spiced up with a generous dollop of the horrific. Some years into her wealthy widowhood, Saltykova met and was swept off her feet by a handsome, younger, and poorer man, Nikolay Tyutchev. She carried on a torrid affair with him, which raised her usually gloomy spirits. Unfortunately, Saltykova discovered that, behind his Sugar Momma’s back, her lover had an affair with a younger woman. Worse, that Tyutchev had secretly married the other woman.