On the Paths of the Soul: Stanisław Przybyszewski and the Russian Stage. The Cases of Vera Komissarzhevskaia and Vsevolod Meierkhol'd (1900-1910)
Johnson, Michael Duane
University of Kansas
Slavic Languages & Literatures
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This dissertation inquires into the impact of the controversial Polish dramatist, essayist, and novelist Stanisław Przybyszewski on the theatrical innovations of two great Russian actor-directors of the early 20th century, Vera Komissarzhevskaia and Vsevolod Meierkhol'd. An erudite and prolific writer almost forgotten today, Przybyszewski has long been regarded as a major figure of Młoda Polska. His unique synthesis of metaphysics, occultism, eroticism, and aestheticism created great controversy in the fin-de-siècle Russian Empire, as the changing Russian theatrical landscape moved from realism and naturalism to less representational forms. My argument for a significant reception in the Russian theater rests on Przybyszewski's aesthetic theories, and particularly, his concept of the "path of the soul." I propose that this concept acted as a catalyst for change in the artistic and professional development of both Russian theatre figures. This dissertation is divided into three sections. The first section, Chapter I, provides a background on the state of Russian theatre at the end of the 19th century and reviews the early reception of Przybyszewski in the Russian press. The second section, Chapters II-IV, examines Komissarzhevskaia's reception of Przybyszewski within a historical-descriptive framework. After examining the possible origins of her affinity for Przybyszewski, Chapter II offers an analysis of textual parallels between Komissarzhevskaia's correspondence and a Russian translation of On the Paths of the Soul (1900). Chapter III draws on Austro-Romanian psychiatrist Jacob L. Moreno's theory of the "psychodrama" to speculate as to why Kommissarzhevskaia was drawn to Przybyszewski's dramas. It explores the hypothesis that Komissarzhevskaia experienced catharsis as she performed her psychologically demanding Przybyszewski roles. Chapter IV examines thematic parallels between Przybyszewski's 1902 theoretical essay On Drama and the Stage and comments that Komissarzhevskaia made in defense of her production of Przybyszewski's drama, Life's Banquet, in 1909. The third section, Chapters V and VI, examines Przybyszewski's reception in Meierkhol'd's writings and productions during his formative years as a member of the Association of New Drama (Tovarishchestvo Novoi Dramy). Chapter V sets forth the possible reasons for Meierkhol'd's affinity for Przybyszewski. Chapter VI argues that Przybyszewski's "path of the soul," with its focus on the soul as a reflection of the eternal, prescribed particular methods, such as synthesis and symbolization, which Meierkhol'd used to break from the confining traditions of naturalism. Chapter VI argues that Meierkhol'd's 1903 production of Snow represents one of his earliest experiments with non-representational (uslovnyi) forms. In support of this claim, this chapter provides an interpretive analysis of two articles by Aleksei Remizov and the production's combination of music, drama, and lighting.
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