Aleksandr Vasilevich Sukhovo-Kobylin

Sukhovo-Kobylin, Aleksandr Vasil’evich

 

Born Sept. 17 (29), 1817, in Moscow; died Mar. 11 (24), 1903, in Beaulieu, near Nice, France. Russian playwright. Academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (1902).

Sukhovo-Kobylin was from an old noble family. He graduated from the department of physics and mathematics of the faculty of philosophy at Moscow University in 1838 and studied philosophy in Heidelberg and Berlin.

In 1850, Sukhovo-Kobylin was accused of the murder of his French mistress, Louise Simon-Demanche. He was arrested twice, was tried, and was kept under indictment for seven years. The case was eventually dismissed for lack of proof. Nevertheless, Sukhovo-Kobylin had to pay bribes to blackmailing officials during the investigation and trial, and to the end of his life he was believed to have committed the crime. His innocence was proved by Soviet researchers who studied the legal archives.

From 1852 to 1854, Sukhovo-Kobylin wrote his first comedy, Krechinskii’s Wedding; it was staged at the Malyi Theater in 1855 and published in 1856. Krechinskii’s Wedding dealt with the moral degradation of the Russian dvorianstvo (nobility or gentry). The characters Krechinskii and Raspliuev are remarkable comic creations. Krechinskii is a typical adventurer and man of fashion, a cynical and brazen gambler. Raspliuev is his constant companion, a parasite and a personification of the shamelessness of vice and the complacency of evil.

Sukhovo-Kobylin’s satirical drama The Lawsuit (published 1869, staged 1882), which was long forbidden by the censor, denounced the bureaucratic system of autocracy, from minister to clerk. The play depicted many details of Sukhovo-Kobylin’s own court case. The central figures in The Lawsuit are the official Varravin, an experienced, cruel, merciless, and self-confident blackmailer, and Tarelkin, a less skilled but more aggressive man who is a greedy and shamelessly rapacious taker of bribes. The positive hero, a “private individual,” is the upright nobleman Muromskii, who is ruined by the “army of officials” depicted in the drama.

In 1869, Sukhovo-Kobylin completed his comedy The Death of Tarelkin and published his three plays as a dramatic trilogy entitled Scenes of the Past. He then devoted himself to the study of philosophy.

Each of Sukhovo-Kobylin’s plays is in a different genre. Krechinskii’s Wedding is a satirical comedy, The Lawsuit a satirical drama, and The Death of Tarelkin a grotesque and phantasmagoric satirical farce. The Death of Tarelkin was the first Russian play to satirize the chief support of the state, the police; it was also the first to expose police tyranny and the complete impotence of all ranks and classes in the face of this tyranny. The staging of The Lawsuit and The Death of Tarelkin was forbidden for a long time, and the complete versions were performed only after 1917.

Sukhovo-Kobylin’s plays have been staged by the most outstanding Soviet directors with the foremost Soviet actors. The productions of Krechinskii’s Wedding and The Lawsuit were made into films.

WORKS

Trilogiia. [Introductory article by L. Grossman; afterword by V. Sakhnovskii.] Moscow-Leningrad, 1927.
Trilogiia. [Foreword and commentary by K. Rudnitskii.] Moscow, 1966.

REFERENCES

Grossman, L. Teatr Sukhovo-Kobylina. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Rudnitskii, K. A. V. Sukhovo-Kobylin: Ocherk zhizni i tvorchestva. Moscow, 1957.

K. L. RUDNITSKII

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