Intelligentsia at Play

By Rocamora, Carol | The Nation, December 9, 2002 | Go to article overview

Intelligentsia at Play


Rocamora, Carol, The Nation


Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia

As a playwright who loves to travel through time, Tom Stoppard is unstoppable. There seem few boundaries to the daring theatrical voyages he takes, and little limit, either, to his imaginative configurations of historical events and characters.

Take Travesties (1974), for example, the play in which he united three thinkers who were all living in Zurich during World War I but who never actually met--James Joyce, Tristan Tzara and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Then there is Arcadia (1993), which he set simultaneously in 1809 and 1993 in the drawing room of Sidley Park, Derbyshire, while treating the topics of landscape architecture, iterative algorithms, the second law of thermodynamics, computer science, Lord Byron--oh, and don't forget sex--all in the same play. Most recently, there is The Invention of Love (1997), where he ferried the British poet A.E. Housman back and forth in time and space between Oxford University and Hell, via Charon's boat across the River Styx.

Now Sir Tom takes us on another time-traveling journey--perhaps his bravest and certainly his longest--covering a territory of Russian history that many of us detoured on our way to what we thought was "the destination" (i.e., the Russian Revolution), and introducing us to an extraordinary group of people in the early nineteenth century, all of whom remind us of Sir Tom himself in their passionate and unswerving devotion to ideas.

These would be the members of the Russian intelligentsia of the early 1800s--the very writers and thinkers for whom the word was coined, and from whom came the ideas that would shape much of world history for the next two centuries. Stoppard brings them to theatrical life in a trilogy of new plays called The Coast of Utopia, which (reports are not exaggerated) clocks over nine hours and involves a company of more than thirty actors, playing dozens of roles and charting their lives over four decades and almost as many continents. You can see the trilogy this fall at the Royal National Theatre in London on consecutive days, or all on a Saturday starting at 11 AM, if you're so inclined. Either way, it's both a mesmerizing history lesson and a theatergoing discovery, leaving you dazzled, dazed and off to the theater bookstore to delve into this period of history that Stoppard has rendered so moving as well as enlightening.

The voyage begins with Voyage--the first play, which spans the period 1834-44--as an evolving group of privileged young "twenty somethings" gather on the Bakunin estate and elsewhere in and around Moscow. There is the anarchist Michael Bakunin ("The passion to destroy is also a creative passion"), the philosopher Nicholas Stankevich ("Love is a religious experience"), the critic Vissarion Belinsky ("We have no national literature.... Literature can actually replace, can actually become Russia!") and the writer Ivan Turgenev ("We're all examples of the same disease ... a society based on serfdom"). Fueled by a youthful fanaticism to avenge the failed Decembrist revolution of 1825, to defy the repressive Czar Nicholas I and to solve the overwhelming problems of Russia ("We're stuck between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries"), they engage in a passionate debate about society, revolution, literature and art, while falling in and out of love with the four Bakunin daughters. The men talk heatedly of Schelling and Kant; the women talk rapturously of Pushkin and George Sand. Some are Germanophiles; others, Francophiles. All are members of the Philosophical Circle, and, intoxicated by a heady mix of ideas, they are euphoric with anticipation of a voyage "to a land of limitless possibilities, known intimately from our dreams." "Everything now depends on artists and philosophers," the young idealist Stankevich exclaims to his compatriots as they argue over a Russia whose destiny they are determined to define. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Intelligentsia at Play
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.