Griboedovedenie: An Introduction

Angela Brintlinger

 

In his Crimean travel notes of 25 June 1825, Alexander Griboedov de­scribes an animated, magical landscape where he and his fellow travelers are mere observers:

A pink stripe across gloomy clouds, the play of the evening sun; a pike shows blue in the distance; a ship in Alushta seems to hang in the air; the sea blends into the sky. We find a sheepfold on the eastern heights, facing south. Whey to eat; the air is cold; I warm myself. I lie down on my horse’s blanket with the saddle at my head, listening to the bleating of goats and sheep whose pen hangs over the rapids. In the night I rise, the moon swims over the sea between the two capes. A star emerges from behind a black cloud. Another careens above me. What genius has caught it?[1]

These romantic descriptions of the Black Sea region in June of the year that will end with the Decembrist Revolt in St. Petersburg include views of Bakhchiserai, of Chatyr-Dag, Sably, and Alupta. Regardless of political rumblings and events in his personal and professional life, Griboedov took the time to sketch these mountains and their people, the valleys, the rela­tionship between sky and water; he strove to capture in words the con­trasts of light and color, air and altitude, of physical sensation and the stirrings of imagination.

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Griboedov's Project of the Transcaucasian Company and the Ideas of the European Enlightenment

Anna Aydinyan

 

God! How come it did not strike him
before: Transcaucasia, you know,
is a colony![1]
—Yuri Tynianov


 

The project of the Russian Transcaucasian Company was written in 1828 in Tiflis by Alexander Griboedov, who at the time served as Russian min­ister plenipotentiary in Persia, and Petr Zaveleisky, the vice-governor of Tiflis.[2] The text of the project is lost except for two surviving pieces: “A Note on the Founding of the Russian Transcaucasian Company” and “In­troduction to the Project of the Charter” of the Russian Transcaucasian Company.[3] However, General Mikhail Zhukovsky’s critique of the project on ethical and economic grounds, entitled “Comments on the Note about the Founding of the Agricultural, Manufacturing, and Trade Company,” gives us a good idea of the project’s main points.[4]

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Griboedov in Bed: Meyerhold's «Woe to Wit» and the Staging of Sexual Mores in the NEP Era

Jennifer Louise Wilson

 

Following the success of his modern adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s The In­spector General (1925), Vsevolod Meyerhold turned his attention to Alex­ander Griboedov’s play in verse, Woe from Wit (Gore ot uma; 1823). Like The Inspector General, Griboedov’s play satirized the vain and materi­alistic culture of the early nineteenth-century Russian aristocracy. Woe from Wit tells the story of Chatsky, a young man who, after spending three years wandering throughout Western Europe, returns home to Mos­cow with the intention of proposing marriage to his childhood love, Sofya. Chatsky’s newly acquired liberal, Western views, however, make him the object of ridicule in Muscovite high society, which in turn threatens to ruin his chances of winning back Sofya. For his adaptation of the famous Griboedov play, Meyerhold took a number of liberties with the original script. Almost half of the scenes in Woe to Wit (Gore umu) are entirely new additions penned by Meyerhold.[1] On his decision to largely rewrite the original script, Meyerhold insisted that a “play is simply the excuse for the revelation of its theme on the level at which that revelation may appear vital today.”[2] In that vein, he recast the story in a contemporary setting, replacing Griboedov’s nineteenth-century aristocracy with “NEP-men,” the new Soviet aristocracy. The biggest change, however, is Meyerhold’s re­configuration of the “obscene” sexual mores of Muscovite society.

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Anticipating Chekhov: The Tragicomic Elements in Griboedov's «Woe from Wit»

Justin Wilmes

 

[Woe from Wit] is considered a comedy.
A num­ber of scenes in it completely justify
that style. But in this great play there
is much of the author’s bitter grief for
his country and his people… The great
Russian classic dramatists showed their
deep love for their people and their country
by bringing out the tears which are hidden
in laughter—a characteristic expres­sive
of many Russian works of art.
— Konstantin Stanislavsky

[Why must actors try] to convince me at
all costs that Chatsky, who spends much
time talk­ing to fools and who loves a
foolish woman, is a very intelligent man…
— Anton Chekhov, A Dreary Story


 

In its nearly 200-year history, scholarship on Griboedov’s play Woe from Wit has been dominated by ideological readings. In the first few years of the play’s circulation, it sparked debate between conservative critics and Decembrist-Romantic writers about its depiction of Moscow society. The progressive critics of the mid- to late nineteenth century, such as Vissa­rion Belinsky and Nikolai Dobroliubov, praised the work as one of the first sobering depictions of Russian reality, a tradition that, according to them, was continued by Pushkin and Gogol. Soviet critics would later canonize this reading of Woe from Wit in the twentieth century. The political reading has indeed been predominant—many critics have viewed the work as a Decembrist manifesto and its hero Chatsky as the most articulate spokesmanof that movement. Even the Formalist Yuri Tynianov focused on the historical prototypes for the play’s characters rather than its innovative formal aspects. Western scholarship about the play is relatively limited, but has included some re-evaluation of the play’s characters and analyses of its meter and language.[1] However, the main feature of the play—its mixing of the tragic and comedic, or rather its status as a tragicomedy—has to my knowledge received little attention. This paper therefore provides a reading of Woe from Wit as a tragicomedy and, in doing so, shows how it anticipated many of Chekhov’s dramatic techniques: an undermined raisonneur and concomitant authorial distancing, a domino effect of unrequited love, constant miscommunication and disconnect be­tween all characters, and the incorporation of elements of commedia dell’arte. This reading opposes the view of Chekhov’s dramaturgy as anomalous and unprecedented in Russian letters and instead suggests an evolution of the tragicomic genre, which had its earliest roots in Denis Fonvizin’s The Minor, was developed further in Griboedov’s Woe from Wit and Gogol’s The GovernmentInspector,and culminated in Chekhov’s plays.

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