chapter  8
34 Pages

LITTLE GIRL LOST: The deification of Vera Kommissarzhevskaia

According to Aleksandr Kugel, her unprecedented popularity was based not upon conscious artistry, but upon the carefully cultivated image of "a fragile, suffering child of our times."l Although Kommissarzhevskaia has been compared by critics and historians to both Ermolova and Strepetova, she was neither a classical heroine nor a true neurasthenic. For several reasons, however, the comparison is legitimate: like her predecessors, Vera Fedorovna tended to approach acting as an extension of self rather than a process of creating discrete characters; she was the focus of a personality cult; and she relied primarily on inspiration rather than craft. Although critics leveled charges of inflexibility and monotony against Ermolova, Strepetova, and Kommissarzhevskaia, their capacity for suffering and astonishing ability to

Ermolova, Strepetova, and Kommissarzhevskaia also resembled each other in the sense that their extraordinary popularity was based, for the most part, on the needs of particular social and political environments rather than on purely artistic accomplishments. Strepetova was a product of populism; Ermolova appealed to a spirit of social protest current during the 1870s and 1880s; Kommissarzhevskaia's popularity was a response to the growing confusion surrounding the collapse of Imperial Russia. Her celebrity coincides chronologically with the fin de sii:cie and the Silver Age of art and literature. This transitional period was marked by political agitation, social unrest, and escalating conflict within the artistic, literary, and theatrical communities. The fragile peace between the autocracy and its restive constituents was rapidly crumbling. Dissatisfaction with the existing social order eventually culminated in the failed uprising of 1905 and the successful revolution of 1917. The desire among university students and representatives of the progressive intelligentsia for fundamental structural change in the social, political, and cultural life of the country was reflected in the world of art. The "theatre crisis" (krizis teatra) that began in the late 1890s and was resolved, at least temporarily, by the revolution, was part of a broader trend in Russian art that paralleled current social and political tensions.