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By Ekaterina Nikolaevna Vinogradskaya

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His brother Alexander, the family’s first child, had been born in 1846. A second son, Boris, followed in 1848, twelve months before Sergei. Two sisters, Olga and Sofia, came after him. ‘I was the favorite of my grandfather and in the family as a whole they treated me lovingly but generally quite indifferently,’ he wrote in one of the few passages characterizing the emotional content of a childhood played out in the nursery, where a series of household servants and tutors replaced parents caught up in a swirl of service and social life.

But he would draw as well on other attributes of manhood to avoid the fate that had befallen the ‘nobleman Witte’. If civil officials shaped the boy’s understanding of masculinity, in these reminiscences of his earliest years Witte also dwelled on a third man, an older brother, who served in the army and plainly also shaped his ideas of manhood. ‘My oldest brother Alexander died after the last Turkish war’ (the great Eastern War of 1878–80), Witte remarked when he first remembered a man, three years his elder, whose entire life had been spent in the Caucasus.

Her genealogical connection to one of the ancient, princely clans of Rus’, as well as its involvement with the imperial state that Peter the Great had created in the early eighteenth century were not the only sources of her influence on Sergei Witte’s life. 20 boyhood and family in transcaucasia, 1849–1865 Telling this story, Witte also opened a window onto the history of the daily life (bytovaia istoriia) of the colonial service nobility that defined the status of this family. 8 Tblisi was the capital city of the medieval kingdom of Georgia, which had come under Russian dominion at the end of the eighteenth century.

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