Ideals and Realities of Russian Literature

Peter Kropotkin



ITS Origin-The Tsars Alexis and Peter I.-Sumarókoff-Pseudo-classical Tragedies: Knyazhnin,
Ozeroff-First Comedies-The First Years of the Nineteenth Century-Griboyedoff-The Moscow Stage in the Fifties-Ostrovskiy; his first Dramas- "The Thunderstorm"-Ostrovskiy's later Dramas-Historical Dramas: A. K. Tolstóy-Other Dramatic Writers.

THE Drama in Russia, as everywhere else, had a double origin. It developed out of the religious "mysteries" on the one hand and the popular comedy on the other, witty interludes being introduced into the grave, moral representations, the subjects of which were borrowed from the Old or the New Testament. Several such mysteries were adapted in the seventeenth century by the teachers of the Graeco-Latin Theological Academy at Kieff for representation in Little Russian by the students of the Academy, and later on these adaptations found their way to Moscow.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century-on the eve, so to speak, of the reforms of Peter I.-a strong desire to introduce Western habits of life was felt in certain small circles at Moscow, and the father of Peter, the Tsar Alexis, was not hostile to it. He took a liking to theatrical representations, and induced some foreigners residing at Moscow to write pieces for representation at the palace. A certain GREGORY undertook this task and, taking German versions of plays, which used to be called at that time "English Plays," he adapted them to Russian tastes. The Comedy of Queen Esther and the Haughty Haman, Tobias, Judith, etc., were represented before the Tsar. A high functionary of the Church, SIMEON PÓLOTSKIY, did not disdain to write such mysteries, and several of them have come down to us; while a daughter of Alexis, the princess Sophie (a pupil of Simeon), breaking with the strict habits of isolation which were then obligatory for women, had theatrical representations given at the palace in her presence.

This was too much for the old Moscow Conservatives, and after the death of Alexis the theatre was closed; and so it remained a quarter of a century, i. e., until 1702, when Peter I., who was very fond of the drama, opened a theatre in the old capital. He had a company of actors brought for the purpose from Dantsig, and a special house was built for them within the holy precints of the Kremlin. More than that, another sister of Peter I., Nathalie, who was as fond of dramatic performances as the great reformer himself, a few years later took all the properties of this theatre to her own palace, and had the representations given there-first in German, and later on in Russian. It is also very probable that she herself wrote a few dramas-perhaps in collaboration with one of the pupils of a certain Doctor Bidlo, who had opened another theatre at the Moscow Hospital, the actors being the students. Later on the theatre of Princess Nathalie was transferred to the new capital founded by her brother on the Neva.

The répertoire of this theatre was pretty varied, and included, besides German dramas , like Scipio the African, Don Juan and Don Pedro, and the like, free translations from Molière, as also German farces of a very rough character. There were, besides a few original Russian dramas (partly contributed, apparently, by Nathalie), which were compositions drawn from the lives of the Saints, and from some Polish novels, widely read at that time in Russian manuscript translations.

It was out of these elements and out of West European models that the Russian drama evolved, when the theatre became, in the middle of the eighteenth century, a permanent institution. It is most interesting to note, that it was not in either of the capitals, but in a provincial town, Yarosláv, under the patronage of the local tradesmen, that the first permanent Russian theatre was founded, in 1750, and also that it was by the private enterprise of a few actors: the two brothers Vólkoff, Dmitrévsky, and several others. The Empress Elisabeth-probably following the advice of Sumarókoff, who himself began about that time to write dramasordered these actors to move to St. Petersburg, where they became "artists of the Imperial Theatre," in the service of the Crown. Thus, the Russian theatre became, in 1756, an institution of the Government.

SUMARÓKOFF (1718-1777), who wrote, besides verses and fables (the latter of real value), a considerable number of tragedies and comedies, played an important part in the development of the Russian drama. In his tragedies he imitated Racine and Voltaire. He followed strictly their rules of "unity," and cared even less than they did for historical truth; but as he had not the great talent of his French masters, he made of his heroes mere personifications of certain virtues or vices, figures quite devoid of life, and indulging in endless pompous monologues. Several of his tragedies (Hórev, written in 1747, Sináv and Trúvor, Yaropólk and Dílitza, Dmítri the Impostor) were taken from Russian history; but after all their heroes were as little Slavonian as Racine's heroes were Greek and Roman. This, however, must be said in favour of Sumarókoff, that he never failed to express in his tragedies the more advanced humanitarian ideas of the times-sometimes with real feeling, which pierced through even the conventional forms of speech of his heroes. As to his comedies, although they had not the same success as his serious dramas, they were much nearer to life. They contained touches of the real life of Russia, especially of the life of the Moscow nobility, and their satirical character undoubtedly influenced Sumarókoff's followers.

KNYAZHNÍN (1742-1791) followed on the same, lines. Like Sumarókoff he translated tragedies from the French, and also wrote imitations of French tragedies, taking his subjects partly from Russian history (Rossláv, 1784; Vadím of Nógorod, which was printed after his death and was immediately destroyed by the Government on account of its tendencies towards freedom).

OZEROFF (1769-1816) continued the work of Knyazhnín, but introduced the sentimental and the romantic elements into his pseudo-classical tragedies (Oedipus in Athens, Death of 0lèg). With all their defects these tragedies enjoyed a lasting success, and powerfully contributed to the development of both the stage and a public of serious playgoers.

At the same time comedies also began to be written by the same authors (The Brawler, Strange People, by Knyazhnín) and their followers, and although they were for the most part imitations of the French, nevertheless subjects taken from Russian everyday life began to be introduced. Sumarókoff had already done something in this direction, and he had been seconded by CATHERINE II., who contributed a couple of satirical comedies, taken from her surroundings, such as The Fête of Mrs. Grumbler, and a comic opera from Russian popular life. She was perhaps the first to introduce Russian peasants on the stage; and it is worthy of note that the taste for a popular vein on the stage, rapidly developed-the comedies, The Miller by ABLESÍMOFF, Zbítenshik (The Hawker), by Knyazhnín, and so on, all taken from the life of the people, being for some time great favourites with the playgoers.

VON-WIZIN has already been mentioned in a previous chapter, and it is sufficient here to recall the fact, that by his two comedies, The Brigadier (1768) and Nédorosl (1782), which continued to be played up to the middle of the nineteenth century he became the father of the realistic satirical comedy in Russia. Denunciation (Yábeda), by KAPNIST, and a few comedies contributed by the great fablewriter KRYLÓFF belong to the same category.


During the first thirty years of the nineteenth century the Russian theatre developed remarkably. The stage produced, at St. Petersburg and at Moscow, a number of gifted and original actors and actresses, both in tragedy and in comedy. The number of writers for the stage became so considerable that all the forms of dramatic art were able to develop at the same time. During the Napoleonic wars patriotic tragedies, full of allusions to current events, such as Dmítri Donskói (1807), by Ozeroff, invaded the stage. However, the pseudo-classical tragedy continued to hold its own. Better translations and imitations of Racine were produced (KATÉNIN, KOKÓSHKIN) and enjoyed a certain success, especially at St. Petersburg, owing to good tragic actors of the declamatory school. At the same time translations of KOTZEBUE had an enormous success, as also the Russian productions of his sentimental imitators.

Romanticism and pseudo-classicalism were, of course, at war with each other for the possession of the stage, as they were in the domains of poetry and the novel; but, owing to the spirit of the time, and patronised as it was by KARAMZÍN and ZHUKÓVSKIY, romanticism triumphed. It was aided especially by the energetic efforts of Prince SHAHOVSKÓY, who wrote, with a good knowledge of the stage, more than a hundred varied pieces-tragedies, comedies, operas, vaudevilles and ballets-taking the subjects for his dramas from Walter Scott, Ossian, Shakespeare, and Púshkin. At the same comedy, and especially satirical comedy, as also the vaudeville (which approached comedy by a rather more careful treatment of characters than is usual in that sort of literature on the French stage), were represented by a very great number of more or less original productions. Besides the excellent translations of HMELNÍTZKIY from Molière, the public enjoyed also the pieces of ZAGÓSKIN, full of good-hearted merriment, the sometimes brilliant and always animated comedies and vaudevilles of Shahovskóy, the vaudevilles of A. I. PÍSAREFF, and so on. True, all the comedies were either directly inspired by Molière or were adaptations from the French into which Russian characters and Russian manners had been introduced, but as there was still some original creation in these adaptions, which was carried a step further on the stage by gifted actors of the natural, realist school, it all prepared the way for the truly Russian comedy, which found its embodiment in Griboyédoff, Gógol and Ostróvskiy.


GRIBOYÉDOFF (1795-1829) died very young, and all that he left was one comedy, Misfortune from Intelligence (Góre ot Umá), and a couple of scenes from an unfinished tragedy in the Shakespearean style. However, the comedy is a work of genius, and owing to it alone, Griboyédoff may be described as having done for the Russian stage what Púshkin has done for Russian poetry.

Griboyédoff was born at Moscow, and received a good education at home before he entered the Moscow University, at the age of fifteen. Here he was fortunate enough to fall under the influence of the historian Schlötzer and Professor Buhle, who developed in him the desire for a thorough acquaintance with the world-literature, together with habits of serious work. It was consequently during his stay at the University (1810-1812) that Griboyédoff wrote the first sketch of his comedy, at which he worked for the next twelve years.

In 1812, during the invasion of Napoleon, he entered the military service, and for four years remained an officer of the hussars, chiefly in Western Russia. The spirit of the army was quite different then from what it became later on, under Nicholas I.: it was in the army that the "Decembrists" made their chief propaganda, and Griboyédoff met among his comrades men of high humanitarian tendencies. In 1816 he left the military service, and, obeying the desire of his mother, entered the diplomatic service at St. Petersburg, where he became friendly with the "Decembrists" Tchaadáeff (see Ch. VIII.), Ryléeff, and Odóevskiy (see Ch. I. and II.).

A duel, in which Griboyédoff took part as a second, was the cause of the future dramatist's removal from St. Petersburg. His mother insisted upon his being sent as far as possible from the capital, and he was accordingly despatched to Teheran. He travelled a good deal in Persia, and, with his wonderful activity and liveliness, took a prominent part in the diplomatic work of the Russian Embassy. Later on, staying at Tiflís, and acting as a secretary to the Lieutenant of the Caucasus, he worked hard in the same diplomatic domain; but he worked also all the time at his comedy, and in 1824 he finished it, while he was for a few months in Central Russia. Owing to a mere accident the manuscript of Misfortune from Intelligence became known to a few friends, and the comedy produced a tremendous sensation among them. In a few months it was being widely read in manuscript copies, raising storms of indignation amongst the old generation, and provoking the greatest admiration among the young. All efforts, however, to obtain its production on the stage, or even to have it represented once in private, were thwarted by the censorship, and Griboyédoff returned to the Caucasus without having seen his comedy played at a theatre.

There, at Tiflís, he was arrested a few days after the 14th of December, 1825 (see Ch. I.), and taken in all speed to the St. Petersburg fortress, where his best friends were already imprisoned. It is said in the Memoirs of one of the Decembrists that even in the gloomy surroundings of the fortress the habitual brightness of Griboyédoff did not leave him. He used to tell his unfortunate friends such amusing stories by means of taps on the walls that they rolled on their beds, laughing like children.

In June , 1826, he was set free, and sent back to Tiflís. But after the execution of some of his friends-Ryléeff was among them-and the harsh sentence to hard labour for life in Siberian mines, which was passed upon all the others, his old gaiety was gone forever.

At Tiflís he worked harder than ever at spreading seeds of a better civilisation in the newly conquered territory; but next year he had to take part in the war of 1827-1828 against Persia, accompanying the army as a diplomatic agent, and after a crushing defeat of the Shah, Abbas-mirza, it was he who concluded the well-known Turkmanchái treaty, by which Russia obtained rich provinces from Persia and gained such an influence over her inner affairs. After a flying visit to St. Petersburg, Griboyédoff was sent once more to Teheran-this time as an ambassador. Before leaving, he married at Tiflís a Georgian princess of remarkable beauty, but he felt, as he left the Caucasus for Persia, that his chances of returning alive were few: "Abbas, Miraz," he wrote, "will never pardon me the Turkmanchái treaty"-and so it happened. Afew months after his arrival at Teheran a crowd of Persians fell upon the Russian embassy, and Griboyédoff was killed.

For the last few years of his life, Griboyédoff had not much time nor taste for literary work. He knew that nothing he desired to write could ever see the light. Even Misfortune from Intelligence had been so mutilated by censorship that many of its best passages had lost all sense. He wrote, however, a tragedy in the romantic style, A Georgian Night, and those of his friends who had read it in full rated extremely high its poetic and dramatic qualities; but only two scenes from this tragedy and the outline of its contents have reached us. The manuscript was lost-perhaps at Teheran.

Misfortune from Intelligence is a most powerful satire, directed against the high society of Moscow in the years 1820-1830. Griboyédoff knew this society from the inside, and his types are not invented. Real men gave him the foundations for such immortal types as Fámusoff, the aged nobleman, and Skalozúb, the fanatic of militarism, as well as for all the secondary personages. As to the language in which Griboyédoff's personages speak, it has often been remarked that up to his time only three writers had been such great masters of the truly Russian spoken language: Púlshkin, Krylóff, and Griboyédoff. Later on, Ostróvskiy could be added to these three. It is the true language of Moscow. Besides, the comedy is full of verses so strikingly satirical and so well said, that scores of them became proverbs known all over Russia.

The idea of the comedy must have been suggested by Molière's Misanthrope, and the hero, Tchátskiy, has certainly much in common with Alceste. But Tchátskiy is, at the same time, so much Griboyédoff himself, and his cutting sarcasms are so much the sarcasms which Griboyédoff must have launched against his Moscow acquaintances, while all the other persons of the comedy are so truly Moscow people-so exclusively Moscow nobles-that apart from its leading motive, the comedy is entirely original and most thoroughly Russian.

Tchátskiy is a young man who returns from a long journey abroad, and hastens to the house of an old gentleman, Fámusoff, whose daughter, Sophie, was his playmate in childhood, and is loved by him now. However, the object of his vows has meanwhile made the accquaintance of her father's secretary-a most insignificant and repulsive young man, Moltchálin, whose rules of life are: First, "moderation and punctuality," and next, to please everyone in the house of his superiors, down to the gatekeeper and his dog, "that even the dog may be kind to me." Following his rules, Moltchálin courts at the same time the daughter of his principal and her maid: the former, to make himself agreeable in his master's house, and the latter, because she pleases him. Tchátskiy is received in a very cold way. Sophie is afraid of his intelligence and his sarcasm, and her father has already found a partner for her in Colonel Skalozúb-a military man full six feet high in his socks, who speaks in a deep bass voice, exclusively about military matters, but has a fortune and will soon be a general.

Tchátskiy behaves just as an enamoured young man would do. He sees nothing but Sophie, whom he pursues with his adoration, making in her presence stinging remarks about Moltchálin, and bringing her father to despair by his free criticism of Moscow manners-the cruelty of the old serfowners, the platitudes of the old courtiers, and so on; and as a climax, at a ball, which Fámusoff gives that night, he indulges in long monologues against the adoration of the Moscow ladies for everything French. Sophie, in the meantime, offended by his remarks about Moltchálin, retaliates by setting afloat the rumour that Tchátskiy is not quite right in his mind, a rumour which is taken up with delight by Society at the ball, and spreads like wildfire.

It has often been said in Russia that the satirical remarks of Tchátskiy at the ball, being directed against such a trifling matter as the adoration of foreigners, are rather superficial and irrelevant. But it is more than probable that Griboyédoff limited himself to such innocent remarks because he knew that no others would be tolerated by the censorship; he must have hoped that these, at least, would not be wiped out by the censor's red ink. From what Tchátskiy says during his morning call in Fámusoff's study, and from what is dropped by other personages, it is evident that Griboyédoff had far more serious criticisms to put into his hero's mouth.

Altogther, a Russian satirical writer is necessarily placed under a serious disadvantage with foreigners. When Molière gives a satirical description of Parisian society this satire is not strange to the readers of other nations: we all know something about life in Paris; but when Griboyèdoff describes Moscow society in the same satirical vein, and reproduces in such an admirable way purely Moscow types-not even typical Russians, but Moscow types ("On all the Moscow people," he says, "there is a special stamp")-they are so strange to the Western mind that the translator ought to be half-Russian himself, and a poet, in Order to render Griboyédoff's comedy in another language. If such a translation were made, I am sure that this comedy would become a favourite on the stages of Western Europe. In Russia it has been played over and over again up to the present time, and although it is now seventy years old, it has lost nothing of its interest and attractiveness.


In the forties of the nineteenth century the theatre was treated everywhere with great respect-and more than anywhere else was this the case in Russia. Italian opera had not yet reached the development it attained at St. Petersburg some twenty years later, and Russian opera, represented by poor singers, and treated as a step-daughter by the directors of the Imperial Theatres, offered but little attraction. It was the drama and occasionally the ballet, when some star like Fanny Elsler appeared on the horizon, which brought together the best elements of educated society and aroused the youth of all classes, including the university students. The dramatic stage was looked upon-to speak in the style of those years-as "a temple of Art," a centre of far-reaching educational influence. As to the actors and actresses, they endeavoured, in their turn, not merely to render on the stage the characters created by the dramatist; they did their best to contribute themselves, like Cruickshank in his illustrations of Dickens's novels, to the final creation of the character, by finding its true personification.

Especially at Moscow did this intellectual intercourse be. tween the stage and society go on, and a superior conception of dramatic art was there developed. The intercourse which Gógol established with the actors who played his Inspector-General, and especially with SCHÉPKIN; the influence of the literary and philosophical circles which had then their seat at Moscow; and the intelligent appreciation and criticism of their work which the actors found in the Press-all this concurred in making of the Moscow Mályi Teátr (Small Theatre) the cradle of a superior dramatic art. While St. Petersburg patronised the so-called "French" school of acting-declamatory and unnaturally refined-the Moscow stage attained a high degree of perfection in the development of the naturalistic school. I mean the school of which Duse is now such a great representative, and to which Lena Ashwell owed her great success in Resurrection; that is, the school in which the actor parts with the routine of conventional stage tradition, and provokes the deepest emotions in his audience by the depth of his own real feeling and by the natural truth and simplicity. of its expression-the school which occupies the same position on the stage that the realism of Turguéneff and Tolstóy occupies in literature.

In the forties and the early fifties this school had attained its highest perfection at Moscow, and had in its ranks such first-class actors and actresses as Schépkin-the real soul of this stage-MOTCHÁLOFF, SADÓSK1Y, S. VASÍLIEFF, and MME. NIKÚLINA-KOSSÍTSKAYA, supported by quite a pleiad of good secondary aids. Their répertoire was not very rich; but the two comedies of Gógol (Inspector-General and Marriage), occasionally Griboyédoff's great satire; a comedy, The Marriage of Kretchínsky, by SUKHOVÓ-KOBÝLIN, which gave excellent opportunities for displaying the best qualities of the artists just named; now and then a drama of Shakespeare,1 plenty of melodramas adapted from the French, and vaudevilles which came nearer to light comedy than to farce-this was the ever varied programme of the Small Theatre. Some plays were played to perfection-combining the ensemble and the "go" which characterise the Odéon with the simplicity and naturalness already mentioned.

The mutual influence which the stage and dramatic authors necessarily exercise upon each other was admirably illustrated at Moscow. Several dramatists wrote specially for this stage-not in order that this or that actress might eclipse all others, as happens nowadays in those theatres where one play is played scores of nights in succession, but for this given stage and its actors as a whole. OSTRÓVSKIY (1823-1886) was the one who best realised this mutual relation between the dramatic author and the stage, and thus he came to hold with regard to the Russian drama the same position that Turguéneff and Tolstóy hold with regard to the Russian novel.


Ostróvskiy was born at Moscow in the family of a poor clergyman, and, like the best of the younger generation of his time, he was from the age of seventeen an enthusiastic visitor of the Moscow theatre. At that age, we are told, his favourite talk with his comrades was the stage. He went to the University, but two years later he was compelled to leave, in consequence of a quarrel with a professor, and he became an under clerk in one of the old Commercial tribunals. There he had the very best opportunities for making acquaintance with the world of Moscow merchants-a quite separate class which remained in its isolation the keeper of the traditions of old Russia. It was from this class that Ostróvskiy took nearly all the types of his first and best dramas. Only later on did he begin to widen the circle of his observations, taking in various classes of educated society.

His first comedy, Pictures of Family Happiness, was written in 1847, and three years later appeared his first drama, We shall settle it among Ourselves, or The Bankrupt, which at once gave him the reputation of a great dramatic write. It was printed in a review, and had a great vogue all over Russia (the actor Sadóvskiy read it widely in private houses at Moscow), but it was not allowed to be put on the stage. The Moscow merchants even lodged a complaint with Nicholas I. against the author, and Ostróvskiy was dismissed from the civil service and placed under police supervision as a suspect. Only many years later, four years after Alexander II. had succeeded his father-that is, in 1860-was the drama played at Moscow, and even then the censorship insisted upon introducing at the end of it a police officer to represent the triumph of justice over the wickedness of the bankrupt.

For the next five years Ostróvskiy published nothing, but then he brought out in close succession (18S3 and 1854) two dramas of remarkable power-Don't take a seat in other People's Sledges, and Poverty-No Vice. The subject of the former was not new: a girl from a tradesman's family runs away with a nobleman, who abandons and illtreats her when he realises that she will get from her father neither pardon nor money. But this subject was treated with such freshness, and the characters were depicted in positions so well-chosen, that for its literary and stage-qualities the drama is one of the best Ostróvskiy has written. As to Poverty-No Vice, it produced a tremendous impression all over Russia. We see in it a family of the old type, the head of which is a rich merchant-a man who is wont to impose his will upon all his surroundings and has no other conception of life. He has, however, taken outwardly to "civilisation"-that is, to restaurant-civilisation: he dresses in the fashions of Western Europe and tries to follow Western customs in his house-at least in the presence of the acquaintances he makes in the fashionable restaurants. Nevertheless, his wife is his slave, and his household trembles at his voice. He has a daughter who loves, and is loved by, one of her father's clerks, Mítya, a most timid but honest young man, and the mother would like her daughter to marry this clerk; but the father has made the acquaintance of a more or less wealthy aged man-a sort of Armenian money-lender, who dresses according to the latest fashion, drinks champagne instead of rye-whiskey, and therefore plays among Moscow merchants a certain rôle of authority in questions of fashion and rules of propriety. To this man the girl must be married. She is saved, however, by the interference of her uncle, Lubím Tortsóff. Lubím was once rich, like his brother, but he was not satisfied with the dull Philistine life of his surroundings, and seeing no way out of it and into a better social atmosphere, he took to drink-to unmitigated drunkenness, such as was to be seen in olden times at Moscow. His wealthy brother has helped him to get rid of his fortune, and now, in a ragged mantle, he goes about the lower class taverns, making of himself a sort of jester for a chance glass of gin. Penniless, dressed in his rags, cold and hungry, he comes to the young clerk's room, asking permission to stay there over night.

The drama goes on at Christmas time, and this gives Ostróvskiy the opportunity for introducing all sorts of songs and Christmas masquerades, in true Russian style. In the midst of all this merriment, which has been going on in his absence, Tortsóff, the father, comes in with the bridegroom of his choice. All the "vulgar" pleasures must now come to an end, and the father, full of veneration for his fashionable friend, curtly orders his daughter to marry the man he has chosen for her. The tears of the girl and her mother are of no avail: the father's orders must be obeyed. But there enters Lubím Tortsóff, in his rags and with his jester's antics-terrible in his degradation, and yet a man. The father's terror at such a sight can easily be imagined, and Lubím Tortsóff, who during his wanderings has heard all about the Armenian's past, and who knows of his brother's scheme, begins to tell before the guests what sort of man the would-be bridegroom is. The latter, holding himself insulted in his friend's house, affects great anger and leaves the room, while Lubím Tortsóff tells his brother what a crime he is going to commit by giving his daughter to the old man. He is ordered to leave the room, but he persists and, standing in the rear of the crowd, he begins piteously to beg: "Brother, give your daughter to Mítya" (the young clerk) : "he, at least , will give me a corner in his house. I have suffered enough from cold and hunger. My years are passing: it becomes hard for me to get my piece of bread by performing my antics in the bitter frost. Mítya will let me live honestly in my old age." The mother and daughter join with the uncle, and finally the father, who resents the insults of his friend, exclaims: "Well, do you take me, then, for a wild beast? I won't give my daughter to that man. Mitya, marry her!"

The drama has a happy end, but the audience feels that it might have been as well the other way. The father's whim might have ended in the life-long misery and misfortune of the daughter, and this would probably have been the outcome in most such cases.

Like Griboyédoff's comedy, like Gontcharóff's Oblómoff, and many other good things in Russian literature, this drama is so typically Russian that one is apt to overlook its broadly human signification. It seems to be typically Moscovite; but, change names and customs, change a few details and rise a bit higher or sink a bit lower in the strata of society; put, instead of the drunkard Lubím Tortsóff, a poor relation or an honest friend who has retained his common sense-and the drama applies to any nation and to any class of society. It is deeply human. This is what caused its tremendous success and made it a favourite on every Russian stage for fifty years. I do not speak, of course, of the foolishly exaggerated enthusiasm with which it was received by the so-called nationalists, and especially the Slavophiles, who saw in Lubím Tortsóff the personification of the "good old times" of Russia. The more sensible of Russians did not go to such lengths; but they understood what wonderful material of observation, drawn from real life, this and the other dramas of Ostróvskiy were offering. The leading review of the time was The Contemporary, and its leading critic, Dobrolúboff, wrote two long articles to analyse Ostróvskiy's dramas, under the significant title of The Kingdom of Darkness; and when he had passed in review all the darkness which then prevailed in Russian life as represented by Ostróvskiy, he produced something which has been one of the most powerful influences in the whole subsequent intellectual development of the Russian youth.


One of the best dramas of Ostróvskiy is The Thunderstorm (translated by Mrs. Constance Garnett as The Storm). The scene is laid in a small provincial town, somewhere on the upper Vólga, where the manners of the local tradespeople have retained the stamp of primitive wildness. There is, for instance, one old merchant, Dikóy, very much respected by the inhabitants, who represents a special type of those tyrants whom Ostróvskiy has so well depicted. When. ever Dikóy has a payment to make, even though he knows perfectly well that pay he must, he stirs up a quarrel with the man to whom he is in debt. He has an old friend, Madame Kabanóva, and when he is the worse for drink, and in a bad temper , he always goes to her: "I have no business with you, " he declares, "but I have been drinking." Following is a scene which takes place between them:

Kabanóva: I really wonder at you; with all the crowd of folks in your house, not a single one can do anything to your liking.

Dikóy: That's so!

Kabanóva: Come, what do you want of me?

Dikóy: Well, talk me out of my temper. You're the only person in the whole town who knows how to talk to me.

Kabanóva: How have they put you into such a rage?

Dikóy: I've been so all day since the morning.

Kabanóva: I suppose they've been asking for money.

Dikóy: As if they were in league together, damn them! One after another, the whole day long they've been at me.

Kabanóva: No doubt you'll have to give it them, or they wouldn't persist.

Dikóy: I know that; but what would you have me do, since I've a temper like that? Why, I know that I must pay, still I can't do it with a good will. You're a friend of mine, and I've to pay you something, and you come and ask me for it-I'm bound to swear at you! Pay I will, if pay I must, but I must swear too. For you've only to hint at money to me, and I feel hot all over in a minute; red-hot all over, and that's all about it. You may be sure at such times I'd swear at anyone for nothing at all.

Kabanóva: You have no one over you, and so you think you can do as you like.

Dikóy: No, you hold your tongue! Listen to me! I'll tell you the sort of troubles that happen to me. I had fasted in Lent, and was all ready for Communion, and then the Evil One thrusts a wretched peasant under my nose. He had come for money, for wood he had supplied us. And, for my sins, he must needs show himself at a time like that! I fell into sin, of course; I pitched into him, pitched into him finely, I did, all but thrashed him. There you have it, my temper! Afterwards I asked his pardon, bowed down to his feet, upon my word I did. It's the truth I'm telling you, I bowed down to a peasant's feet. That's what my temper brings me to: on the spot there, in the mud I bowed down to his feet; before everyone, I did.2

Madame Kabanóva is well matched with Dikoóy. She may be less primitive than her friend, but she is an infinitely more tyrannical oppressor. Her son is married and loves, more or less, his young wife; but he is kept under his mother's rule just as if he were a boy. The mother hates, of course, the young wife, Katerína, and tyrannises over her as much as she can; and the husband has no energy to step in and defend her. He is only too happy when he can slip away from the house. He might have shown more love to his wife if they had been living apart from his mother; but being in this house, always under its tyrannical rule, he looks upon his wife as part of it all. Katerína, on the contrary, is a poetical being. She was brought up in a very good family, where she enjoyed full liberty, before she married the young Kabanóff, and now she feels very unhappy under the yoke of her terrible mother-in-law, having nobody but a weakling husband to occasionally say a word in her favour. There is also a little detail-she has a mortal fear of thunderstorms. This is a feature which is quite characteristic in the small towns on the upper Vólga: I have myself known well educated ladies who, having once been frightened by one of these sudden storms-they are of a terrific grandeur-retained a life-long fear of thunder.

It so happens that Katerína's husband has to leave his town for a fortnight. Katerína, in the meantime, who has met occasionally on the promenade a young man, Borís, a nephew of Dikóy, and has received some attention from him, partly driven to it by her husband's sister-a very flighty girl, who is wont to steal from the back garden to meet her sweethearts -has during these few days one or two interviews with the young man, and falls in love with him. Borís is the first man who, since her marriage, has treated her with respect; he himself suffers from the opression of Dikóy, and she feels half-sympathy, half-love towards him. But Borís is also of weak, irresolute character, and as soon as his uncle Dikóy orders him to leave the town he obeys and has only the usual words of regret that "circumstances" so soon separate him from Katerína. The husband returns. and when he, his wife, and the old mother Kabanóva are caught by a terrific thunderstorm on the promenade along the Vólga, Katerína, in mortal fear of sudden death, tells in the presence of the crowd which has taken refuge in a shelter on the promenade what has happened during her husband's absence. The consequences will best be learned from the following scene, which I quote from the same translation. It also takes place on the high bank of the Vólga. After having wandered for some time in the dusk on the solitary bank, Katerína at last perceives Borís and runs up to him.

Katerina: At last I see you again! (Weeps on his breast. Silence.)

Borís: Well, God has granted us to weep together.

Katerina: You have not forgotten me?

Borís: How can you speak of forgetting?

Katerina: Oh, no, it was not that, not that! You are not angry?

Borís: Angry for what?

Katerina: Forgive me! I did not mean to do you any harm. I was not free myself. I did not know what I said, what I did.

Borís: Don't speak of it! Don't.

Katerina: Well, how is it with you? What are you going to do?

Borís: I am going away.

Katerina: Where are you going?

Borís: Far away, Kátya, to Siberia.

Katerina: Take me with you, away from here.

Borís: I cannot, Kátya. I am not going of my free will; my uncle is sending me, he has the horses waiting for me already; I only begged for a minute, I wanted to take a last farewell of the spot where we used to see each other.

Katerina: Go, and God be with you! Don't grieve over me. At first your heart will be heavy, perhaps, poor boy, but then you will begin to forget.

Borís: Why talk of me! I am free at least; how about you? what of your husband's mother?

Katerina: She tortures me, she locks me up. She tells everyone, even my husband: "Don't trust her, she is sly and deceitful." They all follow me about all day long, and laugh at me before my face. At every word they reproach me with you.

Borís: And your husband?

Katerina: One minute he's kind, one minute he's angry, but he's drinking all the while. He is loathsome to me, loathsome; his kindness is worse than his blows.

Borís: You are wretched, Kátya?

Katerina: So wretched, so wretched, that it were better to die!

Borís: Who could have dreamed that we should have to suffer such anguish for our love! I'd better have run away them),

Katerina: It was an evil day for me when I saw you. Joy I have known little of, but of sorrow, of sorrow, how much! And how much is still before me! But why think of what is to be! I am seeing you now, that much they cannot take away from me; and I care for nothing more. All I wanted was to see you. Now my heart is much easier; as though a load had been taken off me. I kept thinking you were angry with me, that you were cursing me. . . .

Borís: How can you! How can you!

Katerina: No, that is not what I mean; that is not what I wanted to say! I was sick with longing for you, that's it; and now, I have seen you. . . .

Borís: They must not come upon us here!

Katerina: Stay a minute! Stay a minute! Something I meant to say to you! I've forgotten! Something I had to say! Everything is in confusion in my head, I can remember nothing.

Borís: It's time I went, Kátya!

Katerina: Wait a minute, a minute!

Borís: Come, what did you want to say?

Katerina: I will tell you directly. (Thinking a moment.) Yes! As you travel along the highroads, do not pass by one beggar, give to everyone, and bid them pray for my sinful soul.

Borís: Ah, if these people knew what it is to me to part from you! My God! God grant they may one day know such bitterness as I know now. Farewell, Kátya! (Embraces her and tries to go away.) Miscreants! monsters! Ah, if I were strong!

Katerina: Stay, stay! Let me look at you for the last time (gazes into his face). Now all is over with me. The end is come for me. Now, God be with thee. Go, go quickly!

Borís: (Moves away a few steps and stands still.) Kátya, I feel a dread of something! You have something fearful in your mind? I shall be in torture as I go, thinking of you.

Katerina: No, no! Go in God's name! (Borís is about to go up to her.) No, no, enough.

Borís: (Sobbing.) God be with thee! There's only one thing to pray God for, that she may soon be dead, that she may not be tortured long! Farewell!

Katerina: Farewell!

(Borís goes out. Katerina follows him with her eyes and stands for some time, lost in thought.)


KATERINA (alone).

Where am I going now? Home? No, home or the grave-it is the same. Yes, home or the grave! . . . the grave! Better the grave. A little grave under a tree . . . how sweet . . . . The sunshine warms it, the sweet rain falls on it . . . in the spring the grass grows on it, soft and sweet grass . . . the birds will fly in the tree and sing, and bring up their little ones, and flowers will bloom; golden, red and blue . . . all sorts of flowers, (dreamingly) all sorts of flowers . . . how still! how sweet! My heart is as it were lighter! But of life I don't want to think! Live again! No, no, no use . . . life is not good! . . . And people are hateful to me, and the house is hateful, and the walls are hateful! I will not go there! No, no, I will not go! If I go to them, they'll come and talk, and what do I want with that? Ah, it has grown dark! And there is singing again somewhere! What are they singing? I can't make out. . . . To die now. . . . What are they singing? It is just the same whether death comes, or of myself . . . but live I cannot! A sin to die so! . . . they won't pray for me! If anyone loves me, he will pray . . . they will fold my arms crossed in the grave! Oh, yes . . . .I remember. But when they catch me, and take me home by force. . . . Ah, quickly, quickly! (Goes to the river bank. Aloud) My dear one! My sweet! Farewell! (Exit.)

(Enter Mme. Kabanóva, Kabanóv, Kulíghin and workmen with torches.)

The Thunderstorm is one of the best dramas in the modern répertoire of the Russian stage. From the stage point of view it is simply admirable. Every scene is impressive, the drama develops rapidly, and everyone of the twelve characters introduced in it is a joy to the dramatic artist. The parts of Dikóy, Varvára, (the frivolous sister), Kabanóff, Kudryásh (the sweetheart of Varvára), an old artisan-engineer, nay even the old lady with two male-servants, who appears only for a couple of minutes-each one will be found a source of deep artistic pleasure by the actor or actress who takes it; while the parts of Katerína, and Mme. Kabanóva are such that no great actress would neglect them.

Concerning the main idea of the drama, I shall have to repeat here what I have already said once or twice in the course of these sketches. At first sight it may seem that Mme. Kabanóva and her son are exclusively Russian types-types which exist no more in Western Europe. So it was said, at least, by several English critics. But such an assertion seems to be hardly correct. The submissive Kabanóffs may be rare in England, or at least their sly submissiveness does not go to the same lengths as it does in The Thunderstorm. But even for Russian society Kabanóff is not very typical. As to his mother, Mme. Kabanóva, every one of us must have met her more than once in English surroundings. Who does not know, indeed, the old lady who for the mere pleasure of exercising her power will keep her daughters at her side, prevent their marrying, and tyrannise over them till they have grown grey-haired? or in thousands or other ways exercise her tyranny over her household? Dickens knew Mme. Kabanóva well, and she is still alive in these Islands, as everywhere else.


As Ostróvskiy advanced in years and widened the scope of his observations of Russian life, he drew his characters from other circles besides that of the merchants, and in his later dramas he gave such highly attractive, progressive types as The Poor Bride, Parásha (in a beautiful comedy, An Impetuous Heart), Agniya in Carnival has its End, the actor Neschastlívtseff (Mr. Unfortunate) in a charming idyll, The Forest, and so on. And as regards his "negative" (undesirable) types, taken from the life of the St. Petersburg bureaucracy or from the millionaire and "company-promoters" circles, Ostróvskiy deeply understood them and attained the artistic realisation of wonderfully true, coldly-harsh, though apparently "respectable" types, such as no other dramatic writer has ever succeeded in producing.

Altogether Ostróvskiy wrote about fifty dramas and comedies, and every one of them is excellent for the stage. There are no insignificant parts in them. A great actor or actress may take one of the smallest parts, consisting of perhaps but a few words pronounced during a few minutes' appearance on the stage-and yet feel that there is material enough in it to create a character. As for the main personages Ostróvskiy fully understood that a considerable part in the creation of a character must be left to the actor. There are consequently parts which without such a collaboration would be pale and unfinished, while in the hands of a true actor they yield material for a deeply psychological and profoundly dramatic personification. This is why a lover of dramatic art finds such a deep aesthetic pleasure both in playing in Ostróvskiy's dramas and in reading them aloud.

Realism, in the sense which already has been indicated several times in these pages-that is, a realistic description of characters and events, subservient to ideal aims-is the distinctive feature of all Ostróvskiy's dramas. As in the novels of Turguéneff, the simplicity of his plots is striking. But you see life-true life with all its pettinesses-developing before you, and out of these petty details grows insensibly the plot.

"One scene follows another, and all of them are so commonplace, such an everyday matter!-and yet, out of them, a terrible drama has quite imperceptibly grown into being. You could affirm that it is not a comedy being played before you, but life itself unrolled before your eyes-as if the author had simply opened a wall and shown you what is going on inside this or that house." In these just words one of our critics, Skabitchévskiy, has described Ostróvskiy's work.

In his dramas Ostróvskiy introduced an immense variety of characters taken from all classes of Russian life; but he once for all abandoned the old romantic division of human types into "good" and "bad" ones. In real life these two divisions are blended together and merge into another; and while even now an English dramatic author cannot conceive a drama without "the villain," Ostróvskiy never felt the need of introducing that conventional personage. Nor did he feel the need of resorting to the conventional rules of "dramatic conflict." To quote once more from the same critic:

" There is no possibility of bringing his comedies under some general principle, such as a struggle of duty against inclination, or a collision of passions which calls forth a fatal result, or an antagonism between good and evil, or between progress and ignorance. His comedies represent the most varied human relations. just as we find it in life, men stand in these comedies in different obligatory relations towards each other, which relations have, of course, their origin in the past; and when these men have been brought together, conflicts necessarily arise between them, out of these very relations. As to the outcome of the conflict, it is, as a rule quite unforeseen, and often depends, as usually happens in real life, upon mere accidents."

Like Ibsen, Ostróvskiy sometimes will not even undertake to say how the drama will end.

And finally, Ostróvskiy, notwithstanding the pessimism of all his contemporaries-the writers of the forties-was not a pessimist. Even amidst the most terrible conflicts depicted in his dramas he retained the sense of the joy of life and of the unavoidable fatality of many of the miseries of life. He never recoiled before painting the darker aspects of the human turmoil, and he has given a most repulsive collection of family-despots from the old merchant class, followed by a collection of still more repulsive types from the class of industrial "promoters." But in one way or another he managed either to show that there are better influences at work, or, at least, to suggest the possible triumph of some better element. He thus avoided falling into the pessimism which characterised his contemporaries, and he had nothing of the hysterical turn of mind which we find in some of his modern followers. Even at moments when, in some one of his dramas, life all round wears the gloomiest aspect (as, for instance, in Sin and Misfortune may visit everyone, which is a page from peasant life, as realistically dark, but better suited for the stage, than Tolstóy's Power of Darkness), even then a gleam of hope appears, at least, in the contemplation of nature, if nothing else remains to redeem the gloominess of human folly.

And yet, there is one thing-and a very important one-which stands in the way of Ostróvskiy's occupying in international dramatic literature the high position to which his powerful dramatic talent entitled him, and being recognised as one of the great dramatists of our century. The dramatic conflicts which we find in his dramas are all of the simpler sort. There are-none of the more tragical problems and entanglements which the complicated nature of the educated man of our own times and the different aspects of the great social questions are giving birth to in the conflicts arising now in every stratum and class of society. But it must also be said that the dramatist who can treat these modern problems of life in the same masterly way in which the Moscow writer has treated the simpler problems which he saw in his own surroundings, is yet to come.


At a later period of his life Ostróvskiy turned to historical drama, which he wrote in excellent blank verse. But, like Shakespeare's plays from English history, and Púshkin's Borís Godunóff, they have more the character of dramatised chronicles than of dramas properly speaking. They belong too much to the domain of the epic, and the dramatic interest is too often sacrificed to the desire of introducing historical colouring.

The same is true, though in a lesser degree, of the historical dramas of Count ALEXÉI KONSTANTÍNOVITCH TOLSTÓY (1817-1875). A. K. Tolstóy was above all a poet; but he also wrote a historical novel from the times of John the Terrible, Prince Serébryanyi, which had a very great success, partly because in it for the first time censorship had permitted fiction to deal with the half-mad Tsar who played the part of the Louis XI. of the Russian Monarchy, but especially on account of its real qualities as a historical novel. He also tried his talent in a dramatic poem, Don Juan, much inferior, however, to Púshkin's drama dealing with the same subject, but his main work was a trilogy of three tragedies from the times of John the Terrible and the imposter Demetrius: The Death of John the Terrible, The Tsar Theódor Ivánovitch, and Borís Godunóff.

These three tragedies have a considerable value; in each the situation of the hero is really highly dramatic, and treated in a most impressive way, while the settings in the palaces of the old Moscow Tsars are extremely decorative and impressive in their sumptuous originality. But in all three tragedies the development of the dramatic element suffers from the intrusion of the epical descriptive element, and the characters are either not quite correct historically (Boris Godunóff is deprived of his rougher traits in favour of a certain quiet idealism which was a personal feature of the author), or they do not represent that entireness of character which we are accustomed to find in Shakespeare's dramas. Of course, the tragedies of Tolstóy's are extremely far from the romanticism of the dramas of Victor Hugo; they are, all things considered, realistic dramas; but in the framing of the human characters some romanticism is felt still, and this is especially evident in the construction of the character of John the Terrible.

An exception must, however, be made in favour of The Tsar Theódor Ivánovitch. A. K. Tolstóy was a devoted personal friend of Alexander Il. and, refusing all administrative posts of honour which were offered him, he preferred the modest position of a Head of the Imperial Hunt, which permitted him to retain his independence, while remaining in close contact with the Emperor. Owing to this intimacy he must have had the best opportunities for observing, especially in the later years of Alexander II.'s reign, the struggles to which a good-hearted man of weak character is exposed when he is a Tsar of Russia. Of course the Tsar Theódor is not in the least an attempt at portraying Alexander II.-this would have been beneath an artist-but the weakness of Alexander's character must have suggested those features of reality in the character of Theódor which makes it so much better painted than either John the Terrible or Boris Godunóff. The Tsar Theódor is a really living creation.


Of other writers for the stage, we can only briefly mention the most interesting ones.

TURGUÉNEFF wrote, in 1848-I851, five comedies, which offer all the elements for refined acting, are very lively and, being written in a beautiful style (Turguéneff's prose!) are still the source of aesthetic pleasure for the more refined playgoers.

SUKHOVÓ-KOBÝLIN has already been mentioned. He wrote one comedy, The Marriage of Kretchínskiy, which made its mark and is still played with success, and a trilogy, The Affair, which is a powerful satire against bureaucracy, but is less effective on the stage than the former.

A. PÍSEMSKIY, the novelist (1820-1881), wrote, besides a few good novels and several insignificant comedies, one remarkably good drama-A Bitter Fate, from the peasants' life, which he knew well and rendered admirably. It must be said that Leo Tolstóy's well known Power of Darkness-taken also from peasant life-notwithstanding all its power, has not eclipsed the drama of Písemskiy.

The novelist A. A. POTYÉKHIN (1829-1902) also wrote for the stage, and must not be omitted even in such a rapid sketch of the Russian drama as this. His comedies, Tinsel, A Slice Cut-off, A Vacant Situation, In Muddy Waters, met with the greatest difficulties as regards censorship, and the third was never put on the stage; but those which were played were always a success, while the themes that he treated always attracted the attention of our critics. The first of them, Tinsel, can be taken as a fair representative of the talent of Potyékhin.

This comedy answered a "question of the day." For several years Russian literature, following especially in the steps of SCHEDRIN (see Ch. VIII.), delighted in the description of those functionaries of the Government boards and tribunals who lived (before the reforms of the sixties) almost entirely upon bribes. However, after the reforms had been carried through, a new race of functionaries had grown up, "those who took no bribes," but at the same time, owing to their strait-laced official rigorism, and their despotic and unbridled egotism, were even worse specimens of mankind than any of the "bribe-takers" of old. The hero of Tinsel is precisely such a man. His character, with all its secondary features-his ingratitude and especially his love (or what passes for love in him)-is perhaps too much blackened for the purposes of the drama: men so consistently egotistical and formalistic are seldom, if ever, met with in real life. But one is almost convinced by the author of the reality of the type-with so masterly a hand does he unroll in a variety of incidents the "correct" and deeply egotistic nature of his hero. In this respect the comedy is very clever, and offers full opportunity for excellent acting.

A dramatic writer who enjoyed a long-standing success was A. I. PALM (1823-1885)- In 1849 he was arrested for having frequented persons belonging to the circle of Petrashévskiy (see DOSTOYÉVSKIY), and from that time his life was a series of misfortunes, so that he returned to literary activity only at the age of fifty. He belonged to the generation of Turguéneff, and, knowing well that type of noblemen, whom the great novelist has depicted so well in his Hamlets, he wrote several comedies from the life of their circles. The Old Nobleman and Our Friend Neklúzheff were till lately favourite plays on the stage. The actor, I. E. TCHERNYSHÓFF, who wrote several comedies and one serious drama, A Spoiled Life, which produced a certain impression in 1861; N. SOLOVIÓFF, and a very prolific writer, V. A. KRYLOFF (ALEXÁNDROFF), must also be mentioned in this brief sketch.

And finally, two young writers have brought out lately comedies and dramatic scenes which have produced a deep sensation. I mean ANTON TCHÉHOFF, whose drama Ivánoff was a few years ago the subject of the most passionate discussions, and MAXÍM GÓRKIY, whose drama, The Artisans, undoubtedly reveals a dramatic talent, while his just published "dramatic scenes," At the Bottom-they are only scenes, without an attempt at building a drama-are extremely powerful, and eclipse his best sketches. More will be said of them in the next chapter.


1. Shakespeare has always been a great favourite in Russia, but his dramas require a certain wealth of scenery not always at the disposal of the Small Theatre.

Taken from the excellent translation of Mrs. C. Garnett (The Storm, London, Duckworth & Co., 1899).

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