Russia’s Big Fedora.

I’m reading Markevich’s 1873 Марина изъ Алаго-Рога (Marina from Aly Rog) and was perplexed by the following passage (young Marina, radicalized by a teacher, is arguing politics with a couple of aristocrats, and has just asked why it was necessary to “save Russia”):

— Вы хотѣли бы… чтобы Россіи не было?…
— Нѣтъ, не то, чтобъ ея совсѣмъ не было, объясняла она пресерьезно,– а для чего быть ей такой огромной… Ѳедорой такой! примолвила она, смѣясь. А чтобъ были все маленькія общины, а главное съ народнымъ правленіемъ, чтобы граждане сами управляли собой…

“You would rather… that Russia didn’t exist?”

“No, I don’t mean that it shouldn’t exist at all,” she explained very seriously, “but why does it need to be so huge… such a Fedora!” she added, laughing. “But that it should consist entirely of small communes, and the main thing is popular rule, so that the citizens would rule themselves…”

Who or what is this Fedora? It’s obviously not the hat, which wasn’t so called for another decade (see this LH post), and I don’t see how the Byzantine empress would fit here. Did the name have a particular connotation in Russia of the 1870s?


  1. Cyrillic presumably sent my post off to moderation limbo, so trying again with translit:

    Just a guess, but there’s a Russian proverb “Velika Fedora, da dura, a Ivan mal, da udal.” Possible Marina is suggesting Russia is great but foolish?

  2. I think that must be it, many thanks! (I don’t know what happened to your comment; it’s neither in the moderation queue nor in spam hell.)

  3. January First-of-May says

    I don’t see how the Byzantine empress would fit here

    If nothing else, her name would almost certainly end up as Ѳеодора and not Ѳедора
    (Incidentally, I’d have expected the link to refer to the 11th century empress regnant rather than the 6th century empress consort, but I guess the 6th century one is probably better known, to the extent that either is known at all.)

    But yes, I agree, the proverb is probably the most likely reference. Велика Федора, да дура is how I recall it (very vaguely) – don’t recall the second half at all (though it does make sense).

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    I don’t know what the relative prominence of the various Byzantine Theodoras (Theodorae? Theodorai? — in any event wikipedia has at least seven of them not even counting the ones in Trebizond …) would have been in the Russian popular or proverb-reciting mind in the 19th century, but I wouldn’t overlook the 9th-century one whose role in the religiously-significant events of A.D. 843 means lots of Russians would hear her praised by name in church every year on the first Sunday in Lent, who is covered by Russian wikipedia here:

  5. laowai’s version is probably the likeliest.
    there is a competing version of the same proverb, one that gives a better rhyme: велика Федула да дура (veliká Fedúla da dúra). Theodula is another saint in the Orthodox pantheon.
    In this proverb, Fedora is also a phonetic substitute for ‘фигура’ – figure, body, sculpted image, attested in Russian from 17 Century.

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