chapter  5
21 Pages

NARODNICHESTVO, NATIONALISM, AND NEURASTHENIA Polina Strepetova as populist icon

Strepetova, a strident supporter of both populist (narodnichestvo) and Slavophile (slavianofilstvo) ideals, provoked considerable controversy during the period. An oddity among starring actresses, her ideological and aesthetic convictions distinguished her from even moderate advocates of Westernization like Mariia Savina and Mariia Ermolova. Riding on a rising tide of populist fervour, Strepetova became, for a brief period in the 1870s and early 1880s, the most popular actress in Russia.2 In contrast to her most successful competitors in the provincial and capital theatres, Strepetova refused to capitulate to Western trends in ideology, art, theatre, or fashion. Given her resistance to the growing Westernization of Russian theatre, it is curious that many critics, both contemporaneous and current, credit Strepetova with assisting in the "process of women's emancipation" in Russia.3