The Coast of Utopia
The Coast of Utopia
In the three plays that compose the epic trilogy The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard demonstrates his style as a playwright on an impressive, elaborate scale. Stoppard specializes in complexly structured plays that explore philosophical and political ideas as well as other sophisticated concepts in verbally intricate ways. Comic touches are also a hallmark of his writing. All these elements can be found in Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage, which focus on leading Russian intellectuals and their lives in the mid-nineteenth century. Originally produced in London's West End in 2002, the trilogy made its New York debut in 2006 and set a record for most Tony Awards won by one play (it was awarded seven awards total). This entry focuses on the New York version of the play, revised from the original 2002 version. The New York version was published by Grove in 2006.
Stoppard had been thinking about writing on the subject of Russian radicals as early as 1968, reading nearly one hundred books to research the topic before beginning to write the plays in the late 1990s. At the center of The Coast of Utopia are the ideas of, as well as relationships and tensions between, Russian revolutionaries and idealists Alexander Herzen, Michael (Mikhail) Bakunin, Ivan Turgenev, and Vissarion Belinsky. While the men all want to improve Russia and other countries in Europe through revolution, their methodologies and philosophies differ and evolve over time. The plays that form The Coast of Utopia also offer insight into the family and romantic lives of the men.
Critics were divided on The Coast of Utopia, though the New York production was better received than the London version. While most commentators agreed that the trilogy was an impressive undertaking, a number believed that the plays were cumbersome and repetitive. One New York critic, David Cote of Salon.com, noted of The Coast of Utopia “Stoppard both honored the passion of his obscure subjects yet ironically underscored the fact that they lay the groundwork for Stalin.”
Born Tomas Straussler on July 3, 1937, in Zlin (now Gottwaldov), Czechoslovakia, Tom Stoppard was one of two sons of Eugene and Martha (Beckova) Straussler. His father worked as a physician for the Bata shoe manufacturing company. After the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, the Straussler family was deemed to have Jewish blood and the Strausslers moved to Singapore in 1939. The Japanese invaded four years later, and the family, save Dr. Straussler, left for India. Stoppard's father was lost at sea trying to reunite with his family after working to help the wounded in the conflict. Stoppard attended an American boarding school in Darjeeling until 1945, when his mother was remarried to British Army major Kenneth Stoppard.
In 1946 the family moved to Britain, where Tom's newly adoptive father worked in industry, and Stoppard became a naturalized British citizen. After completing his A-levels at the Yorkshire-based Pocklington School in 1954, Stoppard began his career in Bristol, England, as a writer for both the Western Daily Press and Evening World from 1958 to 1960. He spent the next three years as a freelance reporter before launching his script-writing career with Walk on Water, produced on British television in 1963.
In 1965, Stoppard's first play, The Gamblers, was produced in Bristol. He found more success the following year with Tango, first produced in London in 1966. Stoppard firmly established himself as a new playwriting talent with his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. First produced at the Edinburgh Festival in 1966 then on the West End and on Broadway in 1967, Stoppard's play focused on the titular minor characters in Hamlet and imagined Shakespeare's story through their eyes. He won a Tony Award for best play for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1968.
Stoppard continued to write plays prolifically for the next two decades. Through the late 1980s, he wrote and produced a play nearly every two years. Among his most acclaimed works were the Tony Award—winning Travesties (produced on the West End and Broadway in 1974), the Evening Standard Award—winning Jumpers (produced on the West End in 1972 and on Broadway in 1974), and the Tony Award—winning The Real Thing (produced on the West End in 1982 and on Broadway in 1984). He also tried his hand at directing in 1973, with a London production of Born Yesterday.
After Artist Descending a Staircase (produced on the West End in 1988 and on Broadway in 1989), Stoppard moved away from the theater for a few years. Radio, television, and film had also interested the writer for some time, and he wrote numerous scripts in all media over the years. Stoppard found the most success in film. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985 for cowriting the script for Brazil. In the early 1990s, Stoppard adapted his play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead for the screen and also directed the film. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1990.
Stoppard returned to playwriting in the mid-1990s with Arcadia. The Broadway production in 1995 led to a Tony Award nomination for best play. Though this play was Stoppard's only new theatrical production in the 1990s, he won an Academy Award for the screenplay he cowrote for Shakespeare in Love. By this time, Stoppard was working on his ambitious trilogy The Coast of Utopia, which took five years to write. First produced at the Royal National Theatre in London in 2002, the trilogy was also produced on Broadway four years later and won numerous Tony Awards. Stoppard followed The Coast of Utopia with Rock 'n' Roll. First produced in London in 2006, then Broadway in 2007, it links rock music to the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. As of 2008, Stoppard continues to make his home in England.
Voyage Act I Summer 1833
The first act of the trilogy The Coast of Utopia, Voyage, opens at the estate of the aristocratic Bakunin family in rural Russia in the summer of 1833. The closeness of the Bakunin family is displayed from the first. Ruled by sixty-five-year-old Alexander Bakunin, the family includes his forty-two-year-old wife Varvara; their four daughters, Liubov, Varenka, Tatiana, and Alexandra; and son Michael. Visiting the family is Baron Renne, a cavalry officer engaged to Liubov.
As the Baron prepares to leave, Michael arrives on a visit from Artillery School. The family celebrates his arrival. When Michael, Varenka, and Tatiana are left alone, they agree that Liubov does not love Baron Renne, but their sister would not disobey her father's wishes for her to marry the cavalry officer. Michael relates Liubov's lack of choice to radical philosophies about the Spirit, the Universal Idea, and real life not commonly found in “poor behind-the-times” Russia. He plans to talk to his father to stop the marriage.
Nearly two years later, Liubov is still unmarried, but Varenka has married a cavalry officer named Dyakov. She is now pregnant. The sisters are soon outraged by a letter they received from Natalie Beyer that tells them that Michael has been in Moscow and is in love with her. The sisters have their doubts about Natalie's attentions as Liubov observed her entangled with Nicholas Stankevich.
Varenka arrives for a visit with her husband, and intends to stay with her family for some months without him. Michael arrives as well. His sisters confront him about Natalie, and he puts off their concerns by telling them “I renounce all love except pure philosophical love.” He tells them that Natalie blames his sisters for his rejection of her. Alexander joins the conversation and informs them that Michael has deserted the army, though Michael says that he simply resigned his commission.
The now eight-months pregnant Varenka and Liubov are talking in the garden. It is revealed that Liubov regrets breaking off her engagement with Renne, which caused many fights within the family. As they wonder whether their loves will ever be like those of writer George Sand, Liubov admits her love for Stankevich, a member of their Philosophical Circle who is being tutored by Michael inside the house.
Inside, Michael tells his pupil that he is upset that his father is finding him a job in the civil service. When Liubov enters, Michael tells his sister that his philosophical work is more important than debts or jobs. He plans to go to Berlin with Stankevich and will support himself as a teacher of mathematics if need be. After a fight with his father, Michael ends Liubov and Stankevich's conversation and tells Stankevich they are going to Moscow immediately. Michael renounces his parents and exits.
Varenka is still with the family and now has a baby boy. Michael is back in the family fold to some degree. He works on the translation of a history book in the garden. Alexander is upset by his son's career choice, but is pleased that his son's philosophy of life has become more in line with his own. Tatiana is also not happy with Michael because he broke up her relationship with Count Sollogub. Liubov is concerned because Stankevich is ill and is recovering in another part of the country.
As the family is gathered together again, Varvara wonders why Varenka's husband is not with her or vice versa. Michael promises to take care of the problem. Michael's guest, the impoverished critic Belinsky, arrives and stumbles into the family's darkened dining room. Tatiana recognizes that Belinsky is a greater man than Michael or anyone else.
Belinsky and Alexandra return from a fishing expedition. He shares a story they want to publish in the Telescope about how Russia is backward compared to Europe but superior to the United States (because slavery is legal there). Belinsky almost gives her flowers but throws them away because she makes him feel awkward. Later that evening, Michael splits his history text to be translated into chunks for each of his sisters. Michael relays that Stankevich is back in Moscow, still likes Liubov, and believes that Varenka should leave her husband, something she seems to be planning to do.
The group's conversation moves to literature, then philosophy, and Belinsky's forthcoming article about how Russia is not quite yet in the nineteenth century. While Tatiana defends him to Alexander, Belinsky goes on to explain in detail his greater artistic philosophy and relates it to the kind of life lived in Russia. After he is finished, Belinsky's words have affected the entire family. Belinsky returns to report to Michael that the Telescope has been shut down and his rooms have been searched. Belinsky and Michael leave.
The sisters read letters from Michael and Stankevich, which inform them that the poet Alexander Pushkin was shot and killed in a duel. As they discuss the letter, Varenka expresses her frustration with Michael for his callous statements toward her husband. Liubov is still in love with Stankevich, but is unsure what to think as he has not proposed and is ill.
Michael has again changed his philosophical bearings. He has broken off his relationship with Belinsky. While Alexander wants him to study agriculture, Michael wants to go to Berlin and become qualified to be a professor. He begs his father for money, but Alexander refuses to give him any more, accuses him of meddling in his sisters' lives, and will not let him go to Berlin.
A friend of Michael's, Turgenev, is visiting the estate. It is revealed that Michael made it to Berlin after borrowing money from someone and that Stankevich had died while taking a cure in Italy. Liubov also has died from illness, and shortly before her death, Varenka finally ended her relationship with her husband and went to Berlin with her son. After Liubov's death, Varenka then became involved with Stankevich, who died in her arms. Turgenev, who seems interested in Tatiana, met Michael for the first time two weeks after Stankevich's death.
Act II March 1834
At the Zoological Gardens in Moscow, four young philosophical writers—Ogarev, Sazonov, Herzen, and Stankevich—are enjoying the day. Herzen speaks about thought repression in Russia. His thoughts trail off when Ketscher, an older mentor to the four, appears, and Polevoy, a writer and journalist, happens by a few moments later. Sazonov and Ogarev wear the French tricolors (a symbol of the French Revolution), and a discussion breaks out about their support of France as a center of civilization and revolution. The young men's vocal support of France makes Polevoy uncomfortable as he worries about government spies and his publication, The Telegraph, being banned.
Ketscher sees someone watching them and suggests they move. Herzen is not afraid, states his revolutionary status, and offends Polevoy by dismissing The Telegraph. After Polevoy leaves, Stankevich states that the man watching is waiting for him and dismisses Herzen's words to Polevoy. Herzen continues his philosophical rant about Russia. He remembers being thirteen, running to the top of Sparrow Hills with Ogarev, and vowing to avenge the Decembrists (a group of Russian revolutionaries). Stankevich disagrees with Herzen's philosophy, believing that reform must come from within.
As Belinsky enters, he shares his news that he has been offered a job translating French novels for The Telegraph, though he does not know French. Natalie Beyer, who has been skating nearby, enters and insists that Stankevich help her remove her skate with a skate key. Mrs. Beyer, Varvara, and Liubov return from their walk, and Mrs. Beyer insists that Liubov help Natalie with her other skate. It is revealed that Stankevich has been teaching Natalie philosophy once per week, but he has been quietly flirting with the shy Liubov.
Numerous writers, professors, and philosophers discuss literature and philosophical ideas at a house party given by Mrs. Beyer. Polevoy is rather drunk and reveals that The Telegraph was closed down for giving a play a bad review. Also, some of the men in the previous scene as well as other aspiring philosophers spent nine months in custody before being sentenced in secret to prison time or being sent into exile for loose talk at a dinner party. Herzen was sent the farthest away, though he was not present.
As Polevoy talks to Shevyrev, a young professor, Michael dances with his sister in his military uniform and his mother wonders why he is not with his regiment. Natalie confronts Stankevich, accusing him of leading her on and ignoring the fact that Liubov is in love with him. Michael comes by and meets Stankevich for the first time. After Michael accidentally insults Natalie, the men start taking about philosophy and find they have much in common. Michael later invites him to come to his family's estate.
Michael is talking with Natalie, who is embarrassed that neither man is interested in her. He relays a conversation he had with Stankevich. After he admits he finds her pretty, she kisses Michael and then writes a letter to his sisters objecting to their control over him.
At The Telescope office, Belinsky is working when the philosopher Chaadaev comes in to see Professor Nadezhdin. As he waits for him, Belinsky finds a manuscript sent in by the exiled Herzen. When Chaadaev makes a comment about Shevyrev, Belinsky extols on his beliefs about Russian literature and criticism. At the end of the scene, Chaadaev shows him the article he brought for submission.
Michael enters the same offices with an article he wrote for The Telescope about his discovery of a new philosophy, which he translated from German philosopher Johann Fichte. Michael wants immediate payment, revealing that he has not found any students as a self-described professor of mathematics, but Belinsky will not give it to him. When Natalie shows up, Michael goes into Nadezhdin's office where Kaminsky, a publisher of history books, is waiting. Michael later emerges from the office with a book to translate and money up front. He gives some to Belinsky to buy shoes so he has no excuse not to come to visit the family estate.
Inter-scene: November 1836
Stankevich and Liubov are playing a duet at the piano, and each admits they have kissed someone else. They do not kiss.
In Belinsky's room in Moscow, his lover Katya is in bed. Katya tells him about the police search, and he tells her that he was taken in for questioning. As he embraces her, he tells her about his experiences on the estate. Belinsky talks about his fight with Michael. Belinsky relates that Michael admitted he was jealous of Belinsky's attentions to his sister, Tatiana, a fact that Katya confirms.
Inter-scene: January 1837
A moment before Pushkin's death is reenacted.
An ill Belinsky is working in his cold room when Stankevich enters, bringing him funds collected to send him to the Caucasus for a few months as well as a book on German philosopher Hegel. Stankevich is also sick, and going to Germany to take the waters. They talk about philosophy and love.
Belinsky is now sharing his room with Michael and is writing until Michael barges in and interrupts. He informs Belinsky that he must go home because his father said he will pay his debts if he studies agriculture so he can properly run the family estate one day. Michael also tells him that they are no longer doing their own journal, the Moscow Observer, because “We haven't got the right to publish without a lot more study.” Belinsky, feeling liberated by Hegelian philosophy, cuts Michael down and informs him that he will still edit the publication.
Michael yells good-bye to Herzen and Russia from a riverboat.
Herzen introduces himself to Belinsky on a street in St. Petersburg. The Observer failed, and Herzen was not impressed by its content. They talk of Michael and his shameless use of people for money, before arguing about Hegel, philosophy, and exile.
At a masked ball, it is revealed that Varenka has returned and is back together with her husband, Dyakov. Belinsky and Chaadaev talk about the former's philosophical changes and embracing of Pushkin. Belinsky then reveals to Tatiana that he is getting married.
At the Bakunin estate, an aged Alexander watches the sunset. He informs his daughter that Michael has refused an official summons to return home from his socialist activities in Switzerland. Because of his refusal, he has lost his noble rank, he will be banished to Siberia, and his property will be confiscated.
Shipwreck Act I Summer 1846
Shipwreck opens at an estate near Moscow where Ogarev the poet is reading to Natalie Herzen from a journal called the Contemporary while Turgenev rests. Her children are running about, including her second son Kolya who is deaf. Ogarev and Natalie talk of time past, love, and how they met with their spouses. On that occasion, the four knelt down, held hands, and thanked God for their love. Ogarev's wife Maria is not there, but living in Paris with a painter. Natalie loves her husband, Herzen, but used to love him more, especially before he confessed a liaison with another woman.
When Kolya dirties himself, Natalie briefly leaves to clean him up. Turgenev and Ogarev talk about Belinsky and the Contemporary before Herzen returns with Granovsky, a historian. The pair were supposed to be gathering mushrooms, but have gotten into an argument. Because only one mushroom falls out of the basket, Natalie leaves to gather more. Other guests appear, including Ketscher and the Slavophil Aksakov. Both men have issues with Herzen, but while Ketscher and Herzen make up, Aksakov formally ends their friendship and dismisses nearly everyone present for their love of the West and dismissal of all things Russian.
After Aksakov takes his leave, Herzen and others admit that Aksakov was right about some things. Granovsky points out that Aksakov was right about Russians having no ideas of their own, for example. As their philosophical talk deepens, they debate where Russia is going and if Western culture, as transmitted by them, will help make changes.
During their talk, Herzen revealed that he and his family have applied for passports to go to Paris to seek treatment for Kolya. A policeman arrives with a letter that says that the Herzens are now allowed to travel abroad. Natalie, Herzen, and all present are happy for them.
In a small spa town in Germany, Salzbrunn, Belinsky, and Turgenev share rooms in a house. They talk about a recent, negative review written by Belinsky of a book written by Nikolai Gogol. Published in the Contemporary, a censor cut a third of his text and Gogol was insulted. Belinsky now has written a letter to the author explaining how much he loathes the book, but Turgenev thinks he should not send it. They get into a philosophical argument, which ends when the coughing Belinsky becomes physically distressed. Turgenev invites him to come to London with him, but Belinsky declines. The pair will go to Paris when he comes back.
Turgenev and Belinsky are in Paris at the Place de la Concorde. They talk of Herzen who has taken a grand home with a chandelier and servants.
At the Herzen home, Herzen and Natalie dress like Parisians instead of Russians. Belinsky and Turgenev are present, as are the radical poet George Herwegh and his wife Emma. Herzen acknowledges to Belinsky that his bourgeois life makes his Russian intelligentsia friends uncomfortable. Natalie and Turgenev talk of his week in London, and she is curious about the city.
Michael Bakunin appears and explains that he now refers to himself as an activist rather than a philosopher and is called by his last rather than first name. He tries to ask Turgenev for money, but is turned down, and compliments Belinsky on his letter to Gogol. Belinsky dismisses the blustery man's suggestion that hemove to Paris and publish without censorship. Belinsky believes that publishing is not serious in the city and his words, even censored, are more appreciated by his Russian audience. Bakunin hugs him, and Herzen leads the Russians in a toast to him.
Bakunin believes he is going home soon despite a sentence awaiting him there because he did not return when summoned. Bakunin believes a revolution is coming to Russia soon, and the tsar will be gone. Herzen thinks Bakunin is wrong as he is sure a revolution in Europe (most likely in France) will have to come first.
Bakunin assures them that a Polish independence is the first revolution that will happen in Europe. He then gossips about George, who is supported in his radical activism by his rich wife while having a mistress on the side. Herzen is offended by his gossip.
Herzen and Natalie get into a spat over Herwegh and Emma about their relationship and behavior. Natalie leaves for a moment, then returns to make up with her husband. All the while, the remaining men, save Herwegh, continue their philosophical discussion. Belinsky leaves, and the scene focuses on a deaf Kolya playing. There are sounds and sights of revolution to represent the fall of Louis Philippe's monarchy on February 24, 1848.
At Place de la Concorde, Bakunin and Turgenev meet up with Karl Marx, who gives them the first copy of his book The Communist Manifesto. They discuss the recent regime change. Bakunin reveals that he has been living with the Republican Guard, has met someone from the proletariat for the first time, and has been actively promoting the revolution. Marx leaves to berate Herwegh and Emma. Dressed in a military uniform, Herwegh is preparing to lead a brigade of exiles to march on Baden with high-end provisions supplied by Emma. As the scene ends, Natalie and her friend Natalie Tuchkov (called Natasha) enter to sounds of shooting and rioting as they speak out in support of the French Republic.
May 15, 1848
At a different apartment near the Arc de Triomphe, Natasha and Natalie are still ecstatic in their support of the republic as well as their close friendship. As the women leave, Sazonov and Turgenev enter. It is revealed that the Herzen family was in Italy until ten days ago, and Natalie met Natasha in Rome (Natasha's family are neighbors of Ogarev in Russia). The men share information about political events in France. Herzen does not believe the Republic will last because it is too much like the monarchy. Sazonov believes Russia will soon have a revolution, but Herzen does not believe the tsar will give up power. It is also revealed that Bakunin has gone to Poland on a fake passport created by a French official. Natalie and Natasha return with a nearly unrecognizable Herwegh, fresh from the German revolution with a price on his head.
Herwegh talks about his humiliation in Baden while walking down a boulevard with Natalie and Natasha. He reveals that Emma pushed him into a ditch when the enemy approached, and Herwegh wishes he had never gone to Baden.
June 21, 1848
At a street-side cafe, Turgenev is writing about the events of the previous day, in which the government of the Second Republic of France attacked workers. As he writes, Natalie and her entourage, including two of her children, talk about the omnibuses full of dead bodies. Herzen tells them to go inside as the revolutionary violence nears the house.
June 27, 1848
Inside his apartment, Herzen addresses the beggar who has been present for the two previous scenes. Herzen talks about the rapid changes in French government, believing it will all end in “universal bliss.” After a transition, the beggar is gone and Turgenev enters to visit with Herzen. They talk about what has just happened, with Turgenev noting life is nearly back to normal after four days of being locked inside for safety. Herzen is also reading a letter from Granovsky that informs him that Belinsky is dead. Both men are shocked.
September 1847 (Reprise)
Reprising the earlier scene set at this date, Belinsky and Turgenev's conversation is put front and center. Belinsky rants about his life, work, and feelings on a number of subjects. He states, “I'm sick of utopias. I'm tired of hearing about them.” Belinsky then leaves as before.
Kolya plays with his top and finally speaks his name.
Act II January 1849
In Paris, George is reading from The Communist Manifesto to Natalie and Herzen. As he reads and talks, Natalie smoothes his hair. George and Herzen talk about Communism, with Herzen preferring Bakunin's ideas. It is revealed that Emma no longer comes with George to the Herzens because he needs time away from family life. Emma has also lost her allowance from her wealthy family because of her husband's beliefs and activities.
The conversation drifts to the past and further philosophical musings. Herzen points out to Natalie that George is the only friend who has not abandoned him. Letters are brought to the Herzens, and Natalie has one from Natasha, who has returned to Russia. Herzen finds a letter that reveals that Ogarev is engaged to Natasha. George points out that Ogarev is still married to Maria.
Natalie visits Maria in an artist's studio. Maria tells her that she has no intention of divorcing her husband or marrying again. Natalie is unable to convince her. They talk of love, but Maria distances herself from discussing the key moment when Maria, Natalie, Ogarev, and Herzen met together for the first time, knelt down, and thanked God for their meeting. As she leaves, Natalie insults the nude painting of Maria hanging on the wall.
In a prison in Saxony, a chained Bakunin is talking to Franz Otto, his lawyer. Bakunin explains his revolutionary activities without shame. He is charged with treason, and his lawyer tries unsuccessfully to get him to change his story and avoid punishment.
Herzen complains to Turgenev and Emma about his brief detention after being part of a demonstration Sazonov convinced him to join. He has a borrowed Hungarian passport and intends to leave before being arrested like Bakunin. As Herzen talks, a naked Natalie flirts with George as they are ostensibly looking for mushrooms on a separate part of the stage. After she kisses him, Natalie wants to tell Emma about them, but George does not. When Herzen leaves to find his wife, Emma and Turgenev flirt more quietly. When Herzen and George return, George informs his wife that they will be sharing a house with Herzen and Natalie in Nice. George will escort Natalie and the children there while Emma has her baby in Paris.
In Nice at Herzen's large home, Herzen's writing is interrupted by Kolya practicing his speaking with his grandmother and father. It is revealed that he did attend the school in Zurich but was expelled because of his father's revolutionary activities. Herzen, however, hired away the school's best teacher to be Kolya's tutor. Herzen is happy his book, From the Other Shore, was offensive to those who lived in Zurich. He talks with his mother about his choices, including his lack of plans to return home.
After Herzen's mother leaves, Emma, her baby, and a heavily pregnant Natalie enter. Emma is still in love with George, but knows about her husband's affair with Natalie. Emma urges her to leave Herzen, but Natalie insists that he must not find out about the relationship. Natalie is pregnant by her husband, a situation that hurts George. Natalie rationalizes her situation in the spirit of love. George arrives at the end of the scene.
Natalie has had her child, a girl named Olga. Emma and George congratulate Herzen. Emma hints at the complicated nature of the relationship between her, Natalie, and George. Herzen is not completely sure of her meaning.
Natalie shows Herzen the painting she posed for. He is angry because the painting is a New Year's gift for George, and the couple gets into an argument. Herzen wants her to be honest about what is happening. She will not answer him directly at first, but finally admits that she and George are lovers. Natalie tries to undermine Herzen's anger, but it passes on its own. Emma enters, informing them that George wants Herzen to kill him. Instead, Herzen tells her he will pay her passage to Genoa as well as their local bills. Natalie will stay with her husband and says she will help convince George to take Emma with him.
The Russian consul in Nice visits Herzen and gives him a letter from Count Orlov. Though Herzen has been ordered to return to Russia, Herzen tells him he is not going. So as to not get the consol in trouble, Herzen writes a private letter to Orlov stating this fact. Later that evening, Natalie, with a little help from guest Sazonov, prepares for Kolya's homecoming. He has been traveling with his grandmother and tutor. Herzen returns alone and informs his wife that Kolya is dead. The boat was rammed and many people drowned, including their son and his tutor.
Herzen is crossing from England to France on a boat. An imagined (but physically real) Bakunin joins him on the rail. Herzen tells him that Natalie died three months ago, as did his son, mother, and his son's tutor before her. Herzen talks philosophically about the death of a child. Bakunin talks about his time in prison, where he learned English. Bakunin still believes a Russian revolution is coming. As Bakunin fades, Herzen expresses his opinions about the future of war in Europe. Herzen apologizes to Natalie.
Continuing the scene that began Shipwreck, Natalie is looking for Kolya as a storm is coming. Ogarev has the boy with him. As Natalie cleans up Kolya, Ogarev tells Sasha, Kolya's older brother, about a time in his youth when he and his father made promises to be revolutionaries.
Salvage Act I February 1853
In London, Herzen has set up a home in Hampstead with his three surviving children (Sasha, Tata, and Olga) and their German nanny, Maria Fomm. Herzen is dreaming that the nanny and children are seeing the sights in London, primarily Parliament Hill. He is there as well, but focused on a group of political refugees—both men and women—from a number of European countries. Their number includes such luminaries as Marx and (Polish Count) Worcell. They greet each other, and some insult others as they debate their relative positions. Just as their meeting gets started, Herzen is awakened from his dream by Malwida von Meysenbug, a German exile who was in his dream.
Herzen summoned her by letter to interview for the position of tutor for his daughter Tata. Malwida takes the post and joins the Kinkels and other attendees at a party in another part of the house. The attendees were all in Herzen's dream, and as they leave, he talks with a few of them about living in asylum in London, his past, and his current lack of activity. Worcell asks him about helping to start a free Polish press in London, a project which Herzen excitedly expands to include a free Russian press as well.
As Malwida prepares to teach Tata, she plays with Olga who is hiding under the table.
Herzen is having a party to celebrate the launch of the free Russian and Polish papers. Maria admonishes him because Sasha will not go to bed, and Tata has come downstairs. Herzen pays her no mind, but has Sasha read words aloud from his newspaper.
In the schoolroom, Malwida is having an English lesson with Tata and tries to keep her focused despite distractions. In the end, Tata has her way and stays off schedule.
Herzen and Sasha enter, happily having sold their first pamphlets. Malwida has just returned from vacation in Broadstairs and, after Sasha leaves, proposes that she take over all care for the three Herzen children and live in the home. Herzen agrees to the arrangement.
Before sitting down to the breakfast table, the much neater children are inspected by Malwida, who criticizes a choice made by Maria, who now has a lesser position in the household. Though the children display better manners, Malwida's efforts with them are undermined by Maria, and, to a lesser degree, by Herzen himself. Malwida asks him to add more order to their lives by only allowing visitors two nights a week. She also convinces him to move further from London, to Richmond.
Their discussion is interrupted by the arrival of two visitors: Worcell and his Polish associate Zenkowicz. The pair need money to fund a delegate's trip to Poland to distribute the papers, and Herzen resents the demands for money. Herzen gives them the money for Worcell's sake.
December 31, 1854
The Herzen house is now in Richmond. Maria is gone, replaced by an English nurse named Mrs. Blainey. There are a number of guests, including many male and female emigres like the Kinkels, the Jones, Ciernecki, the Polish printer, and Tchorzewski, the bookshop owner. There is a toast to victory for the British and French in the Crimea. Herzen cannot get over the freedom of the press in Britain. He is even more overjoyed when Ciernecki presents him with a copy of his book From the Other Shore, available in Russian for the first time. Herzen presents it to his son.
As midnight passes and the party moves outside to Richmond Park, Herzen talks about the past, including Kolya and Natalie, with Sasha and Tata. Tata is callous, and he cries out. After his children leave, the imagined Bakunin appears. Herzen talks about his present situation with Bakunin, who is really still in prison in Russia. Herzen tells him that the revolution really has not changed anything; no one important reads his work, nor asks for his help.
As their discussion continues, Herzen grows frustrated, telling him, “Bakunin, my heart breaks for you, but no wonder you never made sense. Revolution is for millions to live decent lives, with equality and justice. It's not for your Self to achieve harmony with the Universe.”
There is a celebration at the Herzen household because the tsar is dead. Herzen has hope because he once met the new tsar and believes he might change things.
At his new home in Finchley, Herzen is working on his new periodical, the Polar Star. He tells Worcell, who had been taking a nap in the room, that the Russian universities are open and there is much less censorship in the country. Herzen also offers Worcell a place to live, but Worcell refuses this as well as his offer to pay for time in the consumption hospital.
After Worcell leaves, Herzen talks with Malwida about his wedding ring, which broke in the night. A parlourmaid announces the arrival of a physically broken Ogarev with Natasha, who is now his wife. They see the children and talk of Natalie. Natasha breaks Malwida's rules, waking Olga, giving the children toys, which they are not allowed, and insisting that lessons be ditched in favor of sightseeing the next day. As the Russian adults catch up and debate events, Malwida's authority is lost.
Malwida leaves the Herzen household, saying goodbye to the children.
The Herzen household now includes Natasha and Ogarev, with Natasha taking charge of the children. One late evening, Natasha mentions Natalie, how happy she would have been with this life, and that untrustworthy Herwegh seduced Natalie. Herzen leaves the room, bringing back his deceased wife's picture and becoming overcome with emotion. In the course of the conversation, Ogarev reveals that he and Natasha got married after Maria died. Herzen and Ogarev decide to start their own paper, The Bell.
Herzen meets Blanc at the cemetery where a recently deceased Worcell is buried. They talk of his death and sacrifice, with Herzen wondering what he gained. When Blanc leaves, Natasha enters. After Herzen talks about Kolya and his death, he and Natasha share a long kiss.
Act II May 1859
In Herzen's garden, he brags to his son that thousands of copies of The Bell are circulating in Russia and that he and Ogarev are now considered the original socialists in Russia. Mrs. Blainey is present to care for Olga and Natasha's baby, Liza. When Ogarev enters, Natasha embraces him with emotion and starts to cry before she leaves with the children.
After Natasha leaves, Herzen and Ogarev talk of morality and their present situation. Herzen and Natasha have become intimately involved, and he is the father of Liza. Natasha is still in love with Ogarev as well and has many conflicting emotions on the matter. Liza was conceived the night that the Tsar appointed a commission on ending serfdom. While the event was joyous, emancipation has not yet taken place and Herzen hoped words would encourage the matter.
Turgenev enters, responding to a message from Natasha, and looking for Tata and Olga. He has been in Paris where he believes the Contemporary has gone downhill. After Ogarev goes inside, Turgenev tells Herzen that he will give his new novel to the Russian Herald because of his strained relationship with the Contemporary's current editors. Turgenev also dismisses The Bell because of their romanticizing of the Russian serf. After learning Sasha is going to medical school in Switzerland, Turgenev leaves with him.
Natasha has appeared, arguing with Olga and Tata. After the girls leave, Herzen tries to smooth things over with Natasha, but she becomes emotional at the effect their relationship has had on Ogarev. Natasha's husband is drinking more, but does not seem to care much about the affair. Natasha threatens to leave them both and go to Russia with Liza. Ogarev comes out with a letter that states that Bakunin has been released into exile and is complaining about The Bell. Ogarev has another letter from the Russian embassy formally summoning him to return home. Because he will not obey it, neither he nor Natasha can leave.
In a West End slum, Ogarev meets a working-class prostitute named Mary Sutherland. Ogarev promises to get a home for Mary and her son Henry.
In his garden, Herzen meets with Nicholas Chernyshvsky, one of the editors of the Contemporary. Chernyshvsky compliments Herzen on a recent article in The Bell in which he criticized the younger generation of Russian philosophical activists. Chernyshvsky, however, goes on to insult Herzen and his beliefs, arguing that an uprising is the only way to free the serfs.
As Ogarev enters, they argue further about Herzen's beliefs, with Ogarev noting there is nothing new in the conversation. Ogarev informs Herzen that he brought an ill Mary and her son to his home, then proceeds to express his dismay over Britain's combination of poverty and liberty. Natasha arrives with Liza, and Herzen finally understands that Mary and her son have moved in. Chernyshvsky is confused by what is going on and takes his leave. Natasha expresses her displeasure at Mary and Henry's presence.
Inter-scene: August 1860
The sound of waves crashing on rocks at Blackgang Chine, a ravine on the Isle of Wright where ships often wreck, is depicted as a Nihilist figure stands in the dark.
On the beach at Ventnor, Isle of Wright, Olga and Malwida are collecting shells and talking as they walk. Olga is with Malwida because Natasha is visiting her sister in Germany. Olga spots Turgenev sitting nearby. He is a frequent visitor to their home. Olga tells Malwida that she wants to live with her instead of her father, implying that she does not get along with Natasha.
When Olga and Malwida leave, the scene focuses on the Doctor, a Russian, and Turgenev. The doctor recognizes Turgenev and gets into a philosophical discussion with him about life. The doctor is a nihilist and dismisses Turgenev's reading material, Pushkin.
In Herzen's garden, Ogarev, Jones, Kinkel, Ciernecki, and others have gathered to congratulate Herzen as the tsar has announced the emancipation of the serfs. It is believed that Herzen's writing contributed to the change. They are all happy, and Natasha and Herzen kiss passionately.
Herzen and Natasha deal with their new twin babies and talk with Ogarev about how the emancipation of the serfs proved to be hollow. As they discuss the downturn in their publication's circulation, Bakunin appears, having escaped from prison and made his way to England with Herzen's financial support. Bakunin is ready to work on The Bell and start new revolutions.
At the Herzen home, Bakunin is leading plans to organize a Slav revolution with the help of Herzen, Turgenev, Ogarev, and others. Turgenev defends his recent book to Perotkin. Bakunin asks Turgenev for more money, but Turgenev turns him down telling him he could have gotten paid more by Le Monde. Herzen greets a few of his young radical guests, taking their admirations of The Bell in stride. He also tells Ogarev that he will print the Contemporary in London for Chernyshevsky if it is shut down.
After the younger group has left, Bakunin is critical of Herzen and Ogarev's direction. Herzen still believes in the way they have been supporting the revolution with ideas, while Bakunin wants to lead the whole underground network in Russia. Ogarev is siding with Bakunin on backing the young who are ready to take violent action. Turgenev agrees with everyone to some degree. Herzen promises to print Ogarev's piece on revolution, though he disagrees with the secret tactics he believes that Bakunin is setting up with some of his younger followers to start revolutions elsewhere, like Rumania. Because Herzen criticizes him, Bakunin breaks from his alliance and leaves.
When they have gone, Natasha asks Herzen if Tata will be allowed to join Olga in Italy. Malwida has taken her to Paris for the winter, but Herzen will not allow either of them to go. When the nearly eighteen-year-old Tata asks Herzen again, he says she and Olga may go. Natasha is upset when Herzen mentions Natalie and her children growing up.
Ogarev's call for revolution, Land and Liberty, did not have its desired effect. Vetoshnikov was arrested at the border, and Sleptsov evaded arrest. Ogarev and Herzen argue about the role of The Bell and its publishers, with Ogarev supporting the young revolutionaries while Herzen is more concerned with preserving The Bell as it is.
In overlapping conversations, Ogarev and Mary talk about Herzen wanting them to move to Geneva while Natasha tells Herzen she will be different there. Because there are many Russian exiles there, Herzen believes The Bell can be saved by printing a French edition. Ogarev will only go if Mary comes, and she is unsure.
Inter-scene: April 1866
A revolver shot rings out, symbolizing the attempted murder of the tsar.
In Geneva, Herzen meets with Sleptsov at a cafe-bar. Sleptsov tells him that no one is reading The Bell, and while he criticizes Herzen's wealth, he asks him for money to pay for the printing of a pamphlet on Karakozov's attempt to assassinate the tsar.
Sasha, his Italian wife Teresina, and their baby are visiting Herzen, Natasha, and Liza at their rented home in Switzerland. Natasha tells Teresina that she killed her twins by insisting on having her way and immediately going to Paris before Switzerland. The babies died of diphtheria. As Natasha deals with her problems, Tata appears. Tata is now her father's helpmate and tells Herzen that Olga, Bakunin, and Ogarev are coming.
When Bakunin and Ogarev arrive, Bakunin invites Herzen to join his new revolutionary group, the Social-Democratic Alliance. When Bakunin asks for money as well, Herzen offers the last copy of The Bell. Herzen regrets coming to Switzerland and finds the lack of support of young revolutionaries disheartening. He grows even more upset when Bakunin wants to link forces with Marx's group. Herzen does not want to join Marx's group, but Bakunin insists on telling him their goals. Herzen points out that Marx's International Working Men's Association are their enemy, but Bakunin proposes forming a secret revolutionary group answerable to him within it.
As Bakunin continues to press Herzen for money, Olga arrives with Malwida. Herzen focuses on his daughter. While the family reunites, Bakunin asks Sasha for money, then defines human happiness. Amidst the chatter, Herzen falls asleep. He dreams of Turgenev and Marx walking and talking about politics and philosophy. Herzen tries to interject, but is ignored. When he awakens a few moments later, he declares his philosophy: “Our meaning is in how we live in an imperfect world, in our time. We have no other.” The play ends with Natasha noting a storm is coming and related sounds echoing before a quick fade.
First appearing in Shipwreck, Konstantin Aksakov is a Slavophil who visits the summer home rented by the Herzens in Act I. He cuts off his friendship with Alexander Herzen and many in his circle because of his unabashed support of what he believes are “real” Russians and their way of life. Aksakov is disgusted by Herzen and some of his friends' use and idealization of French and other European ideas.
Appearing only in Voyage, Alexander Bakunin is the elderly patriarch of the Bakunin family and benevolently rules Premuskhino, the Bakunin estate. He is the husband of Varvara and father to Liubov, Varenka, Tatiana, Alexandra, and Michael, and holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Padua. While he educated and loves his daughters, Bakunin is often at philosophical odds with his son, whom he believes interferes too often with his sisters' lives and happiness. Bakunin also does not support Michael's career choices and stops giving him money. By the end of the play, Bakunin is blind, near the end of his life, and still deeply troubled by his son.
Alexandra Bakunin is the youngest daughter of Alexander and Varvara Bakunin. Like Tatiana Bakunin, she is also very close to her brother Michael and is also loyal to all of her older sisters. Alexandra eventually marries an unnamed man.
Liubov is the eldest daughter of Alexander and Varvara Bakunin. In Voyage, she becomes engaged to Baron Renne at the insistence of her father, though she does not love the baron. Encouraged by her brother Michael, Liubov acts on her feelings and breaks the engagement. She later develops a relationship with the young philosopher poet Nicholas Stankevich. Though the couple never becomes engaged, Liubov is in love with him until her early death from disease.
Michael Bakunin is a major character in The Coast of Utopia, a driving force through the story who is often in conflict with both his father and his philosophical brother, Alexander Herzen. In Voyage, Michael emerges as a passionate young man who abandons a military career and refuses to listen to his father as he forms, writes on, and lives out his beliefs about Russian life. As a budding philosopher and activist, Michael has no problem asking anyone and everyone for money to fund his sometimes ill-conceived plans, and uses everyone, including his sisters, as needed in all three plays.
Despite his many flaws, Michael's zeal allows him to live out his philosophical beliefs. Because of involvement in a Swiss-based socialist movement, the Russian government strips him of his noble title and sentences him to banishment in Siberia. Though Michael stays in Europe for years—visiting the Herzen family in Paris in Shipwreck—he gets caught doing revolutionary work in Dresden, where an uprising against the king of Saxony breaks out. Michael is extradited to Russia in chains and is imprisoned for some years.
After his release, Bakunin is sent into exile in Siberia, escapes, and shows up at Herzen's home in England in Salvage ready to start or contribute to the next European revolution. Staying with Herzen, Michael organizes Slav conspirators. Though his old friends do not see eye to eye with him, Michael has no problem asking for funding for his endeavors. Because Herzen dismisses his methodology, Michael leaves his home in London. Michael later visits Herzen and Ogarev in Switzerland, and tries to convince them to join his group, which will undermine Marx. Michael remains committed to this cause until the end of the trilogy.
Tatiana Bakunin is the third youngest daughter of Alexander and Varvara Bakunin. In Voyage, she is extremely close to her brother Michael, loyal to her sisters, and cares for her father at the end of the play. Michael interferes with her relationship with a suitor, writer Count Sollogub, ensuring they will not marry, and is jealous when he perceives that Belinsky is flirting with her.
Varenka Bakunin is the second daughter of Alexander and Varvara Bakunin. In Voyage, she marries Dyakov, a cavalry officer, whom she does not love. Though the couple has a son, Varenka lives at the Bakunin estate for much of her unhappy marriage. After she gives up on her marriage and Liubov dies, Varenka becomes involved with Nicholas Stankevich, a poet and philosopher, while living in Berlin with her son. After his death, Varenka eventually reconciles with her husband and returns to him.
In Voyage, Varvara Bakunin is wife of Alexander Bakunin and the mother of Liubov, Varenka, Tatiana, Alexandra, and Michael. Like her husband, she is frustrated by her son's beliefs and actions, especially as they interfere with her daughters' lives and upset her husband. Varvara also visits Moscow and Mrs. Beyer in Act II of Voyage, where she attends a party at the Beyer home.
Appearing in a series of post-1848 revolution Paris scenes of Shipwreck, the Beggar stays in the background while the main action of the scene progresses. He serves as a symbol that is open to various interpretations.
In Voyage, thoughtful literary critic Vissarion Belinsky is introduced as a friend of Michael Bakunin. Early in Act I, Belinsky has a brief, unrequited crush on Alexandra Bakunin and attracts the attentions of Tatiana Bakunin. The poor but talented Belinsky contributes to the Telescope. He later becomes its editor until it is shut down. However, Belinsky is not as educated as some of the others—he was kicked out of university for writing a play against serfdom and cannot read French. He wants to bring change to Russia and has a long speech in Act I in which he delineates his ideas about writing and literature.
Because of the controversial nature of Belinsky's ideas, the members of the Moscow philosophy circle raise funds to send him to the Caucasus for a few months to evade possible persecution by the government. Upon his return, Belinsky shares rooms with Michael in Moscow, and they start a magazine together, the Moscow Observer. While Belinsky initially sees Michael as a friend, he comes to share many of Herzen's opinions about Bakunin's flaws and later becomes Herzen's acquaintance as well.
In Shipwreck, Belinsky is ill but still a feisty critic who remains ardent about his hopes for Russia until his death from illness. He shares rooms with Ivan Turgenev at a spa town in Germany, then meets with him in Paris. Belinsky is critical of Herzen and the European-style life he leads, but still visits him. Belinsky returns to Russia from Paris, where he believes it is more satisfying to be a writer. He dies shortly thereafter of illness.
The wealthy Mrs. Beyer lives in Moscow, is the mother of Natalie Beyer, and has a friendship with Varvara Bakunin. In Act II of Voyage, she hosts regular open houses, which are attended by Varvara and her children as well as many writers, editors, and activists.
The daughter of Mrs. Beyer, Natalie Beyer is caught up in the personal intrigue in Voyage. Trying and failing to gain the romantic attention of both Nicholas Stankevich and Michael Bakunin, Natalie writes a letter to Bakunin's sisters accusing them of undermining her relationship with him.
Mrs. Blainey is the English nanny in Salvage who is hired to replace Maria Fomm. She remains in Alexander Herzen's employ after the Ogarevs arrive and Malwida von Meysenbug leaves.
The political leader of the French Socialist Republicans in exile, Louis Blanc first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage. When the play shifts to reality, Blanc is a guest in the Herzen home as part of the greater radical émigré circle in London. He visits on several occasions, including a party to celebrate when the new tsar allegedly emancipates the serfs.
Appearing in Act II of Voyage, Peter Chaadaev is a middle-aged gentleman philosopher and essayist who attends the open house party at Mrs. Beyer's. He has authored a book, The Philosophical Letters, which though not published has admirers, including Stepan Shevyrev. Because of an article that does get published, Chaadaev is eventually put under house arrest in Russia.
In Act I of Voyage, Miss Chamberlain is the young British governess who lives on the Bakunin estate to teach the Bakunin sisters.
A Russian visitor to the Herzen home in Act II of Salvage, Nicholas Chernyshevsky is a radical of the generation after Herzen's. He wrote the book What Is to Be Done? and is highly critical of the seemingly luxurious lifestyle led by Herzen and other radicals of his generation. Chernyshevsky and others of his generation believe in action and killing the enemy, instead of gradual change coming from the top down. He is eventually arrested and forced to do years of hard labor.
A Polish printer living in London, Cierniecki appears in Salvage as the printer of the Polish and Russian free presses founded by Count Worcell and Alexander Herzen. Cierniecki also visits the Herzen home as part of the émigré circle, bringing the host a copy of From the Other Shore translated into Russian on New Year's Eve 1854.
In Act II of Salvage, the Doctor, a native of Russia, sits next to Ivan Turgenev on a bench near the beach at the Isle of Wright, where Malwida von Meysenbug has taken Olga Herzen on holiday. The Doctor and Turgenev have a philosophical discussion, in which the Doctor reveals he only believes in facts and dismisses Turgenev and his beliefs.
Appearing in Voyage, Dyakov is a Russian cavalry officer who marries Varenka Bakunin and is the father of her son. They spend much of their marriage apart, and Varenka leaves her husband for several years though they eventually reconcile.
In Act I of Salvage, the German Maria Fomm works for Alexander Herzen as a nanny/nurse. She takes care of Sasha, Tata, and Olga, but often lacks the ability to control them. Because of her limited power and lack of English skills, Malwida von Meysenbug gets her removed from childcare and put into other household positions. Maria resents Malwida after that point and does little things to undermine her authority. Maria ultimately quits the home altogether.
The Ginger Cat
Appearing in Voyage, the Ginger Cat smokes a cigar and watches Belinsky.
First appearing in Shipwreck, Timothy Granovsky is a historian who visits the Herzens at their rented summer home in Act I. He comes into conflict with Alexander Herzen over the immortality of the soul and other issues, but forgives everything when Herzen gains passports to go abroad. Granovsky agrees with Aksakov that Russia has no ideas of its own.
First appearing in Shipwreck, Madame Haag is Alexander Herzen's mother. She helps care for the children he has with Natalie, especially Sasha and Kolya. Madame Haag accompanies Kolya Herzen to a special school in Switzerland where he learns to read lips. She dies with her grandson and his tutor in a shipwreck near the end of Shipwreck.
First appearing in Shipwreck, Emma Herwegh is the wife of radical poet George Herwegh. She comes from a wealthy German family and uses her riches to support his cause. At the Herzen home, Emma is physically affectionate toward George, tending to his every need. She also supports his attempt to lead a group of democracy-seeking radicals in Baden. Because of her husband's actions, however, Emma's father cuts off her allowance, putting a strain on her marriage. Emma eventually has Her-wegh's child, but she is upset for much of her pregnancy because of the ongoing affair between her husband and Natalie. After Herzen learns of the affair, he pays for Emma, her husband, and their child to leave Nice.
First appearing in Shipwreck's Paris scenes, George Herwegh is a German man who is married to Emma. He is a published radical poet who was expelled from Saxony for political activity. The couple often visits the Herzen home in Paris, and Herwegh especially becomes close friends with the Herzens. After the fall of Louis Philippe's monarchy in France in 1848, Herwegh, despite his lack of military experience, takes command of a group of German Democratic Exiles who march on Baden. They fail, and Herwegh is humiliated. He then has an affair with Natalie Herzen. It is not the only time that Herwegh cheats on his wife, and he is later described alternately by Natasha Ogarev as a serial seducer. After Herzen learns of the affair, he pays for Herwegh, his wife, and their child to leave Nice.
A central character in The Coast of Utopia, Alexander Herzen is a writer and revolutionary who wants to emancipate the serfs and work to create changes in Russia. While Bakunin acts to achieve these goals in Russia and other countries and becomes a leader in the movement, Herzen ultimately takes a more measured, but still generous, approach and often resents Bakunin's sometimes impulsive actions, poor treatment of people, and constant need of money. Despite tensions with Bakunin, Herzen firmly sees himself as a revolutionary and reformer. To that end, he writes a leading book on the subject, From the Other Shore, edits and publishes numerous publications, and funds such projects over the course of the three plays.
In Act II of Voyage, it is explained Herzen is arrested, held for months, and is forced into exile, all because of loose talk at a dinner party he did not attend, but his Moscow circle of friends did. Living abroad in Europe—on passports for his family that he obtained ostensibly for the betterment of his son Kolya's health—he completes many political activities. Because of the immense wealth he inherited after his father's death before the start of Shipwreck, Herzen lives in Nice and Paris, then in London and Geneva as described in Salvage. Herzen finds purpose in England, using his wealth and expertise first to start Polish and Russian presses, then a Russian magazine called the Bell.
The son of a German mother and Russian father, Herzen also has a large family and complex interpersonal relationships, which are a significant part of the three plays. Married to Natalie, he has several children with her—Tata, Sasha, Kolya, and Olga—before her death. Though Herzen is upset when he learns about the affair between Natalie and George Herwegh, he idealizes her after she dies. Herzen later becomes involved with her best friend, Natasha, who is married to his best friend since childhood, Ogarev. Herzen has a daughter, Liza, and a set of fraternal twins (a boy and a girl) with her. At her insistence, he moves the family to Switzerland, where he launches a failed new version of the Bell and finds his life's meaning.
Kolya Herzen is the second child and second son of Alexander and Natalie Herzen. He is the favored child of the couple, especially Natalie, because he is deaf. After his father is able to obtain a passport to leave Russia and seek medical treatment for him, Kolya eventually learns to read lips and speak first at a special school in Switzerland and later from a tutor his father hires away from the school. He dies at an early age in a shipwreck with his grandmother, Madame Haag, and his tutor. His death destroys his mother, and she dies herself soon after.
Appearing in Salvage, Liza is the daughter of Alexander Herzen and Natasha Ogarev, the married wife of his close friend and with whom he is having an affair. People like Mrs. Blainey think that Liza is the daughter of Nicholas and Natasha Ogarev.
Married to Alexander Herzen, Natalie Herzen is also the mother of Tata, Sasha, Kolya, and Olga. First appearing in Shipwreck, Natalie and Alexander eloped in the middle of the night and had a passionate early marriage, which has degenerated into something less thrilling. Natalie tries to help her friend Natasha by asking Ogarev's first wife, Maria, to divorce him. Natalie herself later has an ongoing affair with George Herwegh, which upsets both Emma Herwegh and Herzen when they learn of it. Though Natalie could go away with Herwegh, she remains with her husband. Natalie dies near the end of Shipwreck, three months after the accidental death of her beloved Kolya. After her death, Herzen idealizes his time and relationship with Natalie.
Olga Herzen is the fourth child born to Alexander and Natalie Herzen. She is born while they are living in Nice and never really knows her mother because she dies when Olga is still an infant. Raised primarily in London, Olga is very attached to her German governess Malwida von Meysenbug. Malwida is allowed to take Olga with her to live in Paris and Italy with Herzen's blessing. Olga visits her father in Switzerland at the end of Salvage.
Sasha Herzen is the eldest child of Alexander and Natalie Herzen. Appearing primarily in Salvage, Sasha grows up to be an accomplished young man. As a child and young man, he helps out with his father's activities, but studies to become a doctor when he reaches adulthood.
Tata Herzen is the third child and first daughter of Alexander and Natalie Herzen. In Salvage, she becomes attached to Natasha Ogarev, but is also allowed to live with her sister Olga and Malwida von Meysenbug in Italy when she is nearly eighteen. Tata studies art but does not believe she can be an artist. By the end of Salvage, she is living with her father again in Geneva. She is his confidant and helper.
Teresina Herzen is the Italian-born wife of Sasha Herzen who appears near the end of Salvage.
Appearing in Shipwreck, Leonty Ibayev is the Russian Counsel in Nice who informs Alexander Herzen that he has been summoned home. Ibayev is confused by Herzen's refusal to obey, but Herzen puts his refusal in a letter, which releases the counsel of any wrongdoing.
Jean-Marie is a French servant who works for the Herzen family in the Paris scenes of Shipwreck.
The wife of Ernest Jones, Emily Jones is a visitor in the Herzen home as part of the radical émigré circle.
A radical English Chartist politician, lawyer, and poet, Ernest Jones first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage and is then really a guest at gatherings in the Herzen home. Though an Englishman, his radical politics place him with the émigré circle.
In Act II of Voyage, Katya is the mistress of literary critic Vissarion Belinsky. She stays in his rooms in Moscow, even when he visits the Bakunin estate. Katya and Belinsky are caught in bed together in Belinsky's rooms by Michael Bakunin.
Nicholas Ketscher is a doctor who is part of Alexander Herzen's circle inMoscow in Act II of Voyage. A few years older than Herzen, Nicholas Ogarev, and Nicholas Sazonov, he wears a cape. While Ketscher challenges their philosophical beliefs, he is on their side about the revolution and supports their cause. Ketscher appears again in Act I of Shipwreck as a guest of Alexander and Natalie Herzen at their rented summer home. He comes in conflict with Herzen over coffee being made in the house, and nearly ends their friendship over the dispute, but the pair eventually make up.
A radical German poet and activist in the 1848 revolution, Gottfried Kinkel first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage. After Herzen awakes, it is apparent that Kinkel and his wife have been guests of Herzen and are part of an émigré circle in London.
The wife of German poet and activist Gottfried Kinkel, Joanna Kinkel first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage. It becomes clear that she really is a guest in the Herzen home as part of an émigré circle in London.
In Act II of Salvage, Lt. Korf is a young Russian officer who is a guest in Alexander Herzen's home after Michael Bakunin's arrival. Bakunin wants to use him to further his cause by sending him to Rumania.
The president of the first independent Hungary, Lajos Kossuth lives in exile in London and first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage. Kossuth is also a guest at Herzen's home when the play shifts back to the reality of the émigré circle in London.
The leader of the French bourgeois Republican exiles in London, Alexandre Ledru-Rollon first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage. After the dream ends, it is apparent that Ledru-Rollon is a guest in Herzen's home and part of the émigré circle in London.
The author of The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx first appears briefly in some of the Paris scenes of Shipwreck. He shares the newly printed copies of the book with Michael Bakunin and Ivan Turgenev when he sees them on the street after the fall of Louis Philippe's monarchy in France in 1848. Marx also makes an appearance in Alexander Herzen's dreams at the beginning and end of Salvage.
Masha is a maid on the Bakunin estate in Voyage.
An Italian nationalist leader living in exile in England, Giuseppe Mazzini first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage.
The first wife of Nicholas Ogarev, Maria Ogarev is estranged from her husband during the time Shipwreck starts. Despite a personal plea from Natalie Herzen, Maria will not give her husband a divorce. Instead, Maria remains married but maintains a relationship with a painter. She later dies, freeing her husband to marry Natasha Tuchkov.
First introduced in Shipwreck, Natasha Tuchkov, later Ogarev, meets Natalie Herzen in Italy and becomes her close friend. Natasha also becomes involved with Nicholas Ogarev, who is still married to his first wife Maria. Because Maria Ogarev will not give his wife a divorce, Natasha agrees to be with him without marrying him. They stay in a relationship for many years until Maria dies and they can marry. While Natasha supports her husband and his activities, she becomes involved with Alexander Herzen as well after the couple moves in with him and his children in London. She is torn between Ogarev and Herzen, but has a daughter, Liza, and a set of fraternal twins with Herzen. Ultimately choosing Herzen, Natasha convinces him to move the family to Switzerland. She feels guilt when they live in Geneva; the twins die of diphtheria in Paris when she wanted to travel through the city on their way to Switzerland. In Geneva, Natasha and Herzen live together openly.
First appearing in Act II of Voyage, the young Ogarev is a poet and a radical who is part of Alexander Herzen's circle in Moscow. Like Sazonov, Herzen, and Ketscher, he openly speaks of the French revolution as inspiration and supports the emancipation of the serfs as a means of achieving revolution in Russia. Ogarev is closer to Herzen than Bakunin and the others in the Moscow circle, but like most of them, is arrested and punished for his actions. He lives for a time in Paris, and later returns to Russia, before staying with Herzen in London. With Herzen, Ogarev founds a popular radical Russian magazine called the Bell.
When Ogarev and Herzen were children, they promised to dedicate their lives to avenging the deaths of the Decembrists. The pair continue to be best friends throughout their lives. While Ogarev marries a woman named Maria, the marriage becomes estranged and they become involved with other people. Though Maria Ogarev will not give her husband a divorce, he becomes involved with Natasha Tuchkov and marries her after Maria's death. In Salvage, Ogarev arrives at Herzen's ill with conditions that include epilepsy and alcoholism, but still supporting radical causes as he can through his friendship with Herzen. Ogarev allows Natasha to become intimately involved with Herzen there. While that situation makes him miserable and broken-hearted, he eventually finds a mistress of his own, Mary Sutherland, who attends to his needs. Ogarev joins his wife, Herzen, and the children in Geneva, Switzerland, but cannot live openly with his mistress. He remains Herzen's friend to the end.
In Shipwreck, Franz Otto serves as Michael Bakunin's defense lawyer when he becomes involved in revolutionary activity based in Dresden. Otto tries to help his client, who is charged with treason, but Bakunin fully admits to everything and puts his case in jeopardy.
In Act II of Salvage, Petrokin is a guest in Alexander Herzen's home after Michael Bakunin's arrival. He is a friend of Bakunin's who irritates Ivan Turgenev with his opinion about his novel.
Appearing in Act II of Voyage, the thirty-eight-year-old Nicholas Polevoy is a writer and journalist who becomes the editor of the Telegraph, a reformist paper. He supports change in Russia, but believes that it must come from above not from below. Polevoy encounters Herzen and his circle in Moscow and offers to edit Ketscher's piece on Shakespeare so it will pass the censors. When Herzen and his friends speak openly of the French revolution in the park, he worries about being seen for fear that his paper will be shut down and he will be sent to Siberia. Herzen and his friends do not regard Polevoy as a revolutionary like themselves. Polevoy's paper is banned when he publishes a Belinsky-penned review of a play that displeases the Russian government.
Russian poet Alexander Pushkin makes a brief appearance in Voyage. His death by duel is depicted in Act II. Pushkin and his poetry are admired by the Bakunin sisters.
Baron Renne is the cavalry officer in Voyage who is engaged to Liubov Bakunin and visits her at the beginning of Act I. Liubov breaks off their engagement at the urging of her brother, and he does not return again.
Rocca is an Italian servant who serves the Herzen family in the Nice scenes in Shipwreck.
A failed radical German editor and activist of the 1848 revolution, the self-important Arnold Ruge first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Salvage. When the play shifts back to reality, Ruge is a guest in the Herzen home as part of the greater émigré circle in London. Herzen admits he once greatly admired him but now regards him as an example of a failed exile.
In Act II of Voyage, Sazonov, a young writer, is part of Alexander Herzen's circle in Moscow. He believes the revolution will first happen in France, and speaks openly of it with his friends. Sazonov supports the emancipation of the serfs as a means of achieving revolution in Russia. He is not arrested when many of his friends are, and obtains a passport to go to Europe for his health. Sazonov remains in Europe, and appears in the Paris scenes of Shipwreck. Herzen is critical of Sazonov for remaining in Europe for many years but doing little to help the cause beyond some underground activities. Sazonov also believes that when the Russian revolution comes, the new government will turn to people like him and his intellectual contemporaries to fill ministry positions.
In Act II of Salvage, Semlov is a guest in Alexander Herzen's home after Michael Bakunin's arrival. He is an acquaintance of Bakunin's.
Semyon is the senior household servant on the Bakunin estate in Voyage.
An editor of the Moscow Observer, Stephan Shevyrev is also a young professor of literature who appears in Act II of Voyage. Shevyrev attends the open house party at Mrs. Beyer's, and admires the manuscript of Chaadaev's book, The Philosophical Letters. Chaadaev does not, however, appreciate his suggestions on how to pass the censors, and others, like Belinsky, do not share Shevyrev's philosophical point of view.
In Act II of Salvage, Sleptsov is a guest in Alexander Herzen's home after Michael Bakunin's arrival. He thanks Herzen for the Bell at that time. Sleptsov also meets with Herzen in Geneva at the very end of the play to ask for money to publish his pamphlet about the shooting of the tsar. Sleptsov's political opinions become the opposite of Herzen's as he embraces radical action popular among younger activists.
Nicholas Stankevich is a young philosopher who visits the Bakunin estate in Voyage as a guest of Michael Bakunin. Shy and awkward, Stankevich discusses philosophy by Bakunin, tutors Natalie Beyer and others in the subject in a philosophical circle he has at his home, and ultimately believes that reform must come from within. Stankevich becomes somewhat involved with Liubov Bakunin, though they never are engaged or married. Like Liubov, Stankevich is ill and goes to Europe to seek a cure. After Liubov's early death, Stankevich becomes involved with her sister Varenka while living there. He dies in her arms in Italy at an early age.
Henry Sutherland, who appears in Salvage, is the young son of Mary Sutherland. He assists his mother in caring for the ill Ogarev.
In Salvage, Mary Sutherland is Nicholas Ogarev's mistress. He meets her after his wife Natasha starts having an affair with his best friend Alexander Herzen. Mary is a prostitute and working-class English woman. She takes care of Ogarev when he becomes ill.
Tchorzewski, the owner of a Polish bookstore in London, appears in Salvage. He is important to the free Polish and Russian press founded by Count Worcell and Alexander Herzen. Tchorzewski also visits the Herzen home as part of the émigré circle.
See Natasha Ogarev
In Voyage, Ivan Turgenev is a would-be writer who visits the Bakunin estate as a friend of Michael Bakunin. Introduced to Bakunin by Nicholas Stankevich, Turgenev shares information about Bakunin, Stankevich, and the death of Pushkin with Tatiana when he drops in on the Bakunins. He eventually puts together a book of poetry, giving a copy to Belinsky at the end of Act II of Voyage. In Act I of Shipwreck, Turgenev is part of Alexander Herzen's circle, a visitor to their rented estate as well as in Europe. Turgenev is also friends with Belinsky, sharing rooms with him in a German spa town and urging him to go to Paris where they connect with the Herzens and other Russian radicals living abroad. Turgenev continues to write, including a piece on the French uprisings of 1848, and does not always agree with Herzen's point of view. Turgenev also appears in London in Act II of Salvage. Turgenev has continued to travel in Europe and writes a novel in Russian. Turgenev still does not agree completely with Herzen and Nicholas Ogarev, believing they are “sentimental fantasists,” but stays at the Herzen home when he is in London.
In Act II of Salvage, Pavel Vetoshnikov is a guest in Alexander Herzen's home. He carries a letter from Michael Bakunin to Slav rebels in Russia, but is arrested at the frontier.
Malwida von Meysenbug
In Salvage, the German Malwida von Meysenbug first appears in Alexander Herzen's dream at the beginning of Act I. When she really is a guest in the Herzen home after Herzen awakens, she is first hired as Tata Herzen's tutor. After Malwida returns from a shortened holiday in Broadstairs, she convinces Herzen she should be all three children's live-in nanny while continuing her tutoring duties. Malwida emphasizes structure, order, and discipline to the children, something that is sorely lacking before her arrival. She also convinces Herzen to move farther and farther away from London and impose some structure on his own life, including limiting the amount of time those in the émigré circle can visit.
When the Ogarevs come to stay with Herzen, Natasha undermines the authority and power that Malwida has established. For example, Natasha gives the children toys, something Malwida does not allow them to have. Within a few months, Malwida leaves the family employ. However, some time later, Natasha arranges for Malwida to take care of Olga when she goes to Germany with Tata to visit her sister. Because of Olga's attachment to Malwida, Herzen eventually allows Malwida to take the child with her to Europe and raise her elsewhere. Tata later joins them for a few years. Malwida also appears with Olga in Geneva at the end of Salvage.
Count Stanislaw Worcell
First appearing in Alexander Herzen's dream sequence, which opens Salvage, Count Stanislaw Worcell is a leading figure of the Polish opposition in exile and a radical aristocrat. When the play returns to reality, it becomes clear that Worcell is a regular guest in the Herzen home and part of the greater émigré circle in London. Worcell approaches Herzen about helping the Polish exiles start a Polish press, an activity the Russian heartily embraces. Though the pair are close, Worcell will not always let Herzen help him. Worcell suffers from asthma and develops a deadly lung infection. He refuses Herzen's offer both to move into his home and to pay for a stay in a local consumption hospital. Worcell dies in early 1857 while still in exile.
The chief of staff to Count Worcell, Zenkowicz appears in Salvage and visits Alexander Herzen's home. At one point, Herzen becomes angry with Zenkowicz for wanting more money and not distributing his Russian papers through his underground contacts.
Importance of Ideas and Philosophical Conflict
One the central themes of the three plays in The Coast of Utopia is the importance of philosophical ideas and verbally expressing differences over them. From the first pages of Voyage, Stoppard weaves philosophical discussions into the everyday lives of his characters. For someone like Michael Bakunin, this first means finding the right philosophy to fit his beliefs about the best way to improve Russia. After he decides on a philosophy, Bakunin lives it out and uses any means he can to incite revolution in Europe as well as Russia.
Bakunin also tries to impose his beliefs on others, with varied degrees of success. His sisters generally allow his ideas to influence their lives, such as when Liubov rejects Baron Renne as a suitor. Bakunin finds more resistance among the other members of the Russian intelligentsia. Alexander Herzen agrees with him at first, but over time resents Bakunin's constant need for money to fund his projects and his action-oriented philosophy. Herzen embraces more gradual change, not violent revolution, as long as the Russian serfs are freed. Belinsky, Turgenev, and Ogarev, among the other thinkers, also have their own related, but often dissimilar, philosophies which they debate, write about, and live out as much as possible.
Because The Coast of Utopia is a historical trilogy, Stoppard uses these characters and their philosophical ideas to show how German Romantic idealism spread among the Russian upper classes in the nineteenth century as well as how certain members of that group acted on the philosophies of the day. By showing what some influential mid-nineteenth-century Russians were really thinking, Stoppard demonstrates the effect of philosophical debate on bigger events, like the 1848 revolutions as well as the later Russian revolutions in the early twentieth century. While men like Herzen wanted gradual peaceful change, they unintentionally laid the groundwork for Communists to take power in the early twentieth century. Marx is only a minor character in The Coast of Utopia but his ideas prevailed in Russia in the end.
Freedom versus Censorship
Another theme that underscores much of the action in The Coast of Utopia is the tension between freedom and censorship. The writers in the three plays are limited in what they can write in Russia because censors must approve everything that is published. In Act II of Voyage, they also reveal that they are observed and followed. At Mrs. Beyer's open house, the fates of some writers are discussed. Some writers and thinkers are sentenced to exile in Siberia or prison for “some loose talk at a supper party.” Herzen is even sent away into exile though he was not at the party in question. Magazines are often closed down if they cross political lines, an outcome which befalls a number of publications. Only Belinsky embraces censorship as a welcome friend, believing the limitations and the suffering make him a true writer.
Though Belinsky visits writers like Herzen when they live abroad in Europe in Shipwreck and Voyage, he will not live there like they do. Though all the Russian writers publish while living in Russia, men like Herzen only flower as writers when abroad. As the focus of the two last plays, Herzen embraces the intellectual freedom found far away from Russia. He publishes his book, From the Other Shore, while abroad, as well as starting both a Russian and Polish press and founding the Russian magazine The Bell. Though Herzen cannot fully grasp his influence because he lives so far away from the country he wants to affect, Stoppard emphasizes the importance of being able to write free from censorship. The freedom of the press in Britain, especially, impresses the Russians.
Domestic and Romantic Lives
While The Coast of Utopia finds its purpose in the intellectual life of the Russian men who form the core of the plays, Stoppard also underscores the importance of their domestic and romantics lives. Each of the plays features a number of domestic scenes, including relaxation, meals, parties, and excursions, as well as romantic flirtations and entanglements. Voyage, for example, shows Michael Bakunin's background as the first act especially depicts the lives of his parents and sisters on their large estate. As Bakunin develops his ideas and brings other philosophical young men to the home, the family still relies on hundreds of serfs to work their land. Philosophy and intelligentsia also meet in the four Bakunin sisters, each of whom shares her brother's thoughtful bent in her own individual way. The sisters follow their brother's lead in making life choices influenced by new ideas, such as when Liubov rejects Baron Renne as a suitor because she does not love him romantically. Shipwreck and Salvage primarily feature Herzen's complicated domestic situation, including his relationship with his wife, Natalie, and, after her death, with his best friend's wife, Natasha. Herzen's children also play a significant role in his life, especially in Salvage. As Herzen tries to change the world from France, England, and Switzerland, he must deal with his children, their education, and his romantic partners, grounding his intellectual life in the mundane and providing balance in the play.
The search for utopia and the concept of utopias also permeates the text of The Coast of Utopia. A utopia is an ideal society where perfection has been achieved socially, politically, and morally. Herzen wants a utopian society for Russia achieved with minimal damage. Like the other intellectuals in the plays, he wants to get rid of tyranny, feudalism, and backwardness from Russia, but wants to achieve it gradually with the support of the aristocrats and without violent conflict. Yet even when there is regime change and the serfs are emancipated in Salvage, the situation does not improve in Russia and there is no utopia. Even in Europe, a utopia cannot be found. Real life and real people are too wayward and unpredictable for a utopia to succeed, Herzen concludes. The nearest real people can come to a perfect society is the “coast of utopia,” as the title of the trilogy implies.
The three plays that comprise The Coast of Utopia can be considered an example of an epic drama. The plays are a drama because they address serious subjects and themes like philosophical clashes, historical changes, and complex interpersonal relationships. The Coast of Utopia also has qualities of an epic because of its length, the amount of time the plays cover, settings which sweep in scale, the large number of characters, and ideas addressed therein.
In Voyage, Stoppard uses a flashback to illustrate a point in his story. A flashback is a literary device that presents action that occurred before the time of the current story. In Voyage, Tatiana is talking to Turgenev about a memorable event shortly before the death of her sister, Liubov. As she talks about it with him, the event unfolds in front of her. The ill Liubov was carried to a family bonfire in a cart. Her brother, sisters Varenka and Alexandra, and mother all fuss over her. Tatiana also remembers that Varenka was ready to move to Berlin with her son, a move Michael encourages. While each act of The Coast of Utopia unfolds in linear fashion, this flashback allows the audience to fully understand Tatiana's memory, the last days of Liubov, and Michael's hold over his sisters.
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- Research Moloch, the mythical god that is referred to when the Ginger Cat appears at the end of Act II of Voyage. Write an essay in which you link your findings to the play and its themes.
- Organize into groups and research each of the major historical characters in the plays. Write a character sketch and organize an oral presentation about your findings, selecting one person to present the character for the class.
- Write a story, poem, or play in which you consider the events of the play froma different perspective. For example, look at the story through the point of view of the British governesses who appear in Voyage and Salvage or the Italian servant, Rocca, in Shipwreck, or the serfs whose fate is debated by the intellectuals.
- Pick one of the central characters who is a writer in The Coast of Utopia and read one of his works, such as Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons (1862) or A Sportsman's Sketches (1852) or Alexander Herzen's My Past and Thoughts. Write a paper in which you explain how the work relates to an idea explored in the plays.
- Research the writings and philosophy of George Sand, whose ideas about romantic love are regularly referred to primarily by the women in the plays. Write a paper or create a presentation in which you relate the ideas of Sand to the romantic undertones of The Coast of Utopia.
All three plays in The Coast of Utopia are replete with symbolism. Symbolism is the use of a visual image to represent an idea, concept, or message, and often add meaning to a scene. For example, in Salvage, Malwida notices that Herzen's wedding ring is gone. He tells her that it broke in the night. A few moments later, the Ogarevs arrive, and Herzen soon becomes involved with Natasha Ogarev. Other physical symbols include the child's glove and pen knife, linked to Kolya's death and the romantic interplay in Voyage, respectively.
Some of Stoppard's symbols represent more complex, if unexplained, concepts. For example, at the end of Act II of Voyage, the Ginger Cat appears when Belinsky asks, “Who is this Moloch that eats his children?” Herzen tells him it is the Ginger Cat. In the play, the Ginger Cat is a person in a cat costume smoking a cigar and watching Belinsky. Critics interpret the Ginger Cat in different ways, including as a symbol of history that toys with humans and kills them at will. The beggar who appears in the background of some scenes in Shipwreck serves a similarly metaphorical purpose. Along the same lines, each of the titles of the plays is symbolic, with Shipwreck referring to the failed 1848 revolutions in Europe as well as the real shipwreck that kills Kolya.
As many of the characters in The Coast of Utopia repeatedly state, Russia in the mid-nineteenth century lagged far behind Europe in terms of modernity, culture, politics, and education. While Russian tsar Peter the Great had tried to modernize Russia in the early eighteenth century by acts such as founding St. Petersburg, Russian society's structure ultimately remained as it had been for centuries. The majority of Russians were peasants, and many of them were serfs. A serf was essentially a slave who was bound to the land he or she worked and was effectively owned by the feudal lord. Serfdom had been abandoned by other European countries as they became industrialized and commercialized years before; isolated Russia, however, had remained largely agricultural rather than industrial. There was little to no middle class in Russia, but in the eighteenth and nineteenth century a significant number in the Russian aristocracy had been greatly influenced by ideas of the Enlightenment. By the 1800s, many Russian nobles were being educated at European universities. New ideas were expressed and discussed in French or German rather than Russian, because of the limitations of the language.
One idea that caught hold among aristocrats who embraced Romanticism and Hegelian philosophies was the emancipation of the serfs. Though these same aristocrats owed their fortunes to the back-breaking work of serfs they personally ignored, it is believed that the cause was taken up as a way of expressing their own desire to evade the hard-lined policies of controversial Tsar Nicholas I, who took power in 1825. Nicholas I had suppressed the Decembrist revolt of 1825 that sought to deny him the throne, giving rise to aristocratic anger and the call for revolution. The tsar also placed many restrictions on free discussion of new ideas and heavily censored all publications.
All the main characters in Stoppard's trilogy lived their lives essentially as depicted in the plays. Michael Bakunin worked for change not only in Russia, but also in Europe and became an idol to anarchists who followed him. Belinsky did not embrace the cause of the serfs, but spoke out against the oppressive regime that ruled Russia and believed the educated could best fix his country. Turgenev was influenced by Belinsky's realism and wrote about the lives of peasants in his novel, Fathers and Sons, which received such a negative reaction he was ultimately forced to leave the country. Yet Turgenev was also one of Russia's wealthiest holders of serfs. Herzen found solace abroad as well, where he was free to write and advocate for change in Russia away from the police and censors. He also used the wealth he was able to remove from Russia, built primarily with serf labor, to live comfortably in London. Herzen believed in democratic change coming from the peasants themselves.
The writings and actions of these men and others could be interpreted as affecting social change in Russia. In 1861, Alexander II, who had taken the throne in 1855, issued a decree of emancipation for the serfs. However, their lot did not change much as they were given no land. A new, more radical group of young Russian thinkers came to the fore, dismissing the beliefs of Herzen and those of his circle. Years later, the ideas of the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia influenced the revolutions that took place in the early twentieth century. Their passionate support of serf emancipation and revolution indirectly empowered the Communists who eventually took over. While the goal of improving the lives of serfs and factory workers was laudable, the revolution in Russian cost millions of lives.
Mid-Nineteenth-Century European Revolutions
Russia was not the only country affected by the call for change and revolution in the mid-nineteenth century. A number of countries in Europe also underwent profound changes as well, in part because of economic crises in the 1840s as well as pressure from liberal groups. Inspired in part by the American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution in the next decade eventually led to the more liberal but war-oriented Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon, there were other regimes in France, all short-lived. As The Coast of Utopia reveals, the French revolution of 1848, which overthrew King Louis Philippe, ultimately failed to form a viable French republic. The newly enfranchised voters in France put a monarchist Assembly in place and elected Louis Napoleon, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, to power. Within three years, he staged a coup d'etat, made himself emperor, and created the Second Empire, which replaced the Second Republic. Revolutionaries tried to foment revolution and create new republics in other countries as well in 1848, failing in Saxony and Berlin, as well as Rome, Vienna, and Greece.
Critics were generally divided in their reception of The Coast of Utopia. While many agreed that the trilogy was an impressive undertaking, others believed that the plays were repetitive and overblown. The original London production in 2002 was not as well received as the New York version in 2006, which was generally given many more critical kudos amidst acknowledgements of the plays' faults. In the New York Times, Ben Brantley summed up the critical tension about the play, writing that “Despite its leisurely length, there is a quality of breathlessness throughout the trilogy, like that of a man who has so much to say, he fears his tongue will never keep up with his mind.”
In commenting on The Coast of Utopia, critics agreed that the plays are intellectually interesting and bookish, and many liked how Stoppard displayed his wit. In Newsweek, Carla Power noted “Stoppard can be obscure, but he's never stuffy. History is treated as a plaything, and ideas are celebrated like movie stars.” Yet a London critic, Paul Taylor of The Independent found the way Stoppard displayed his knowledge off-putting. Taylor wrote, “The trilogy is, throughout, intelligent, lucid, eloquent and enlivened by the author's wit and eye for the absurd…. But the plays…are like an over-inclusive crash-survey of the period…rather than a drama that's ruthlessly prepared to throw material overboard in the interests of its tighter development.”
A number of critics also believed that the play was an unwieldy behemoth with a structure that was unnecessarily puffy and was more about ideas on the page than reality. As Nicholas De Jongh of the London Evening Standard wrote in 2002, “Often Stoppard parades these radical political theories in lengthy monologues instead of testing them in fierce dramatic argument. Indeed The Coast of Utopia occupies far too much stage time. The text needs vicious pruning.” Others pointed specifically to the lack of the usual Stoppard comedic touches. Toby Young of The Spectator wrote, “The problem with The Coast of Utopia is that Stoppard doesn't deliver nearly enough low-brow theatrical magic to bring these high-brows to life. It's got all the dry, academic stuff that Stoppard normally includes in his plays without any of the crowd-pleasing shenanigans that make them so much fun to watch.”
Another flaw in the opinion of some critics was the way Stoppard drew his characters, whom Brantley of the New York Times called “logorrheic.” While many noted the power with which Alexander Herzen, Michael Bakunin, and others were drawn, some reviewers found Stoppard's depiction of them tedious. Writing about the New York production of Voyage, Peter Marks of the Washington Post noted, “The more we are exposed on this particular evening to Stoppard's teeming portrait of 19th-century intellectual fervor, the less able we are to forge a compelling bond with many of the figures who populate it.” More pointedly, Charles Isherwood of the New York Times commented that “his characters flatten into talking heads espousing their philosophies into elegant paragraphs of dialogue.”
Ultimately, some critics of the New York production could look past such problems in The Coast of Utopia and see a deeper value in the plays. In Commonweal, Celia Wren believed,
The Coast of Utopia has captivated theatergoers and cultural journalists…precisely because it evokes a milieu in which art had a live-wire importance. Watching Bakunin's circle brood and squabble about philosophical texts and the work of Gogol, you can imagine that the staging of a play, or the purchase of a theater ticket, might also matter intensely.
Petrusso is a freelance writer with degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of Texas. In this essay, Petrusso examines the way Stoppard depicts three generations of women in his trilogy and how they affect the lives of the primary male characters.
Critics writing about The Coast of Utopia focus much of their attention on the philosophical thoughts, writings, conflicts, and actions of the play's primary male characters, especially Michael Bakunin and Alexander Herzen. While critics are divided on the effectiveness of playwright Tom Stoppard's exploration of these society-changing ideas in this sweeping epic, many of them are confused by or are dismissive of the secondary plot about the lives of their families and romantic relationships. Such critics are missing the subtle commentary Stoppard makes by depicting three generations of women in his trilogy. Their moral stances, philosophical beliefs, and personal lives reinforce, challenge, and even undermine the primary male characters' actions and philosophical values.
For example, in New York Magazine's review of Voyage, Jeremy McCarter comments,
Stoppard delves into the romantic troubles of the Bakunin girls, who seek, reject, and are rejected by an array of suitors. But it's never clear why we ought to care about their heartache, despite the best efforts of Jennifer Ehle and Martha Plimpton [actresses portraying these characters] to persuade us.
Later in his review, McCarter states, “it's a relief to leave the Bakunins' personal lives for the simpler ground of Kantian metaphysics.”
McCarter subsequently reviewed a Lincoln Center production of the trilogy for New York Magazine, asserting that plays allowed for an interplay between the personal and the philosophical. McCarter writes,
Up to a point, of course, some personal insights help to flesh out the philosophy, and vice versa…. But more often, the narrative demands of all those stories, and Stoppard's interest in plumbing everyone's politics aren't so much mutually supportive as contradictory—especially as the trilogy wears on.
The interplay the familial and philosophical lives of the plays' main characters gives the trilogy its depth and a great sense of reality. While pursuing higher goals, most of these men pushed through a grind of daily life, dealing with wives, mistresses, mothers, and children. Their philosophical ideals were not developed in a vacuum, but affected and reflected by what surrounded them. What is interesting, then, is how Stoppard writes these women who populate the lives of the “great” men and how their generational differences produce different effects.
The first generation depicted in the plays are the “mother generation”—the mothers of men like Bakunin and Herzen, as well as women like Mrs. Beyer, who is a contemporary of Varvara Bakunin. They represent older values, many of which the younger generation rejects or ignores to the mother generation's consternation. While the members of the mother generation try to impose themselves and their values on their children, they usually fail.
Much of Voyage focuses on the life of Bakunin's family, including his father, mother and four sisters. Like Alexander Bakunin, the family patriarch, Varvara is uncomfortable with her son's emerging philosophies, the way he lives his life, and the profound influence he has on his sisters. Varvara is not entirely submissive or old-fashioned. It is implied that Varvara has agreed with her husband's decision to educate their daughters (Mrs. Beyer is educating her Natalie in philosophy as well), and Varvara herself admits to reading important books, preferring Kozlov to Pushkin. Yet Varvara wants her daughters to defer to their father, and she laments Bakunin compelling his sister Liubov to break her engagement to Baron Renne.
There are a number of scenes in the play that illustrate Varvara's values. When visiting Mrs. Beyer in Act II of Voyage, Varvara is pleased that Varkena is engaged, telling Mrs. Beyer, “thank God her future is settled. Unlike some.” After Mrs. Beyer tells Liubov she will “die an old maid” because of her rejection of Renne, Varvara again emphasizes the generational beliefs shared by herself and Mrs. Beyer. She states, “You see? You should listen to Mrs. Beyer. But what's done is done and it was Michael's doing, impossible boy.” Varvara, and Mrs. Beyer for that matter, do not want to share or understand what their children believe, but value their obedience and marriage matches.
Similarly, Madame Haag, Herzen's mother who is also just called Mother in Shipwreck, does not always agree with her son's choices. Madame Haag's most telling generational criticism, however, comes in how the family's servants act. Living with her son and his family in Europe, Madame Haag does not like the (in her opinion) overly familiar way in which the family's French servant talks to her. She tells her daughter-in-law Natalie, “I can't get used to your servant's manner.” When Natalie deflects her by stating that Jean-Marie, the servant at hand, is well-mannered, Madame Haag further explains, “he behaves as if he's on equal terms, he makes conversation….” Such an exchange shows the generational divide, with Madame Haag defining the old and Natalie, the more liberal new.
Natalie Herzen is a member of the dominant second, or “sister/contemporary,” generation depicted in all three plays. Members of this generation include Bakunin's four sisters, Natalie Beyer, Natalie Herzen, Maria Ogarev, and Natasha Ogarev, among others. They are contemporaries of Bakunin, Herzen, Ogarev, Belinsky, and Stankevich, seem better educated than the mother generation, and share many of the new values espoused by the men. Like the men, women such as the Bakunin sisters, Natalie Beyer, and Natalie Herzen are also interested in philosophical matters. The discuss not just the philosophies debated on by the men, but also the writings and beliefs of French author George Sand, especially as related to love. This generation's women also reject many of the social values of the preceding generation, and have more fluid love lives. Varvara never strays from her husband, as at least one of her daughters does.
As the men at the center of The Coast of Utopia try to change Russia and the world with their new ideas, their generational contemporaries do the same in their everyday lives. There are numerous examples of this concept in Voyage. For example, Liubov breaks her engagement with Baron Renne, preferring to marry for love. While Liubov never marries, she does find a fulfilling romance with the doomed Stankevich. Varenka, unhappily married to Dyakov, lives separately from her husband for years, and even takes their son to Europe. Though Varenka ultimately returns to her husband, she has lived life on her own terms. Like the Bakunin sisters, Natalie Beyer is concerned with matters of the heart, but is also interested in philosophy and tries to live her life by her own moral code rather than by society's standards.
In Shipwreck and Salvage, complicated romantic and marital relationships are the norm for the sister/contemporary generation that rejects the many staid values of their mothers. While Natalie Herzen loves her husband and has numerous children with him, she, like her husband, has affairs with others. Most notably, Natalie Herzen becomes involved with George Herwegh. Yet Natalie Herzen chooses to remain with her husband in the end, valuing her marriage and their children over the German romantic poet. Natalie Herzen does have a choice in the matter, however. Herzen is willing to let his wife go away with Herwegh, but she chooses to remain. Telling her husband about her decision to stay with him, she uses philosophical terms, underscoring how both share revolutionary ideas. “But think what I have lost, too…the ideal of love which is greater the more it includes, instead of more hurtful, squalid and ridiculous.”
After Natalie and Kolya Herzen's death, Herzen becomes involved with Natasha Ogarev, his best friend's wife. Like Natalie Herzen, Natasha rejects many of the values of the mother generation and agrees with the philosophies and values of her male contemporaries. In addition to becoming involved with Herzen and bearing him children while still married to Ogarev, she also embodies a free spirit that undermines the order German governess Malwida von Meysenbug has imposed on the Herzen household and children. Malwida does not allow the children to have toys, and every day is structured with lessons, homework, and outings. Natasha dismisses Malwida's beliefs stating to Tata, “You're not allowed toys? What nonsense is that?” Natasha's influential relationship with Herzen forces Malwida out for a time, yet it is ultimately the orderly German who has greater influence on the next generation.
While Natasha and Malwida are essentially of the same generation, the German Malwida comes from outside the Russian circle and does not share many of the sister/contemporary generation values. It is implied that Malwida and Herzen are close—they are on a first name basis, much to Ogarev's dismay—and perhaps even intimate. Yet Herzen hires Malwida and listens to her because she reminds him of his mother, who was also German. He wants his children to have order and to be raised on German principles, and pays attention to Malwida as she urges him to move the family further and further into the suburbs. From this position, Malwida wields power over the third generation in The Coast of Utopia, the “daughter” generation formed by the children of the men at the center of the plays and the sister/contemporary generation of women.
While there are a few children mentioned and/or appearing in Voyage and Shipwreck, in Salvage the daughter generation is fully discussed. The primary members of this generation are Herzen's daughters, Tata and Olga, and they are the product of a liberal upbringing with a touch of the mother generation's old-fashioned values. Both are reared and influenced primarily by Malwida and Natasha as well as nurses and governesses like Maria and Mrs. Blainey. Tata, and especially Olga, respond best to Malwida's child-rearing philosophies. After Malwida leaves Herzen's employ, Tata and Olga act out and do not listen to Mrs. Blainey or Natasha.
Like their father, who struggles to find meaning living as an emigrein England, the girls are lost without the order Malwida gives them. While Tata eventually does get along better with Natasha, perhaps because she is older than Olga, Natasha recognizes that she and Olga do not get along. After she and Herzen have a daughter—Liza—and she is caught up in her complicated love triangle with Herzen and her husband, Natasha arranges for Malwida to take Olga while she visits her sister in Germany. Olga first goes to the beach on the Isle of Wright with Malwida, and tells Malwida, “I want to go on living in your house, and Papa can come visit us.” Olga goes on to provide her own insight into the character of Natasha—and perhaps the whole of the sister/contemporary generation: “I like her sometimes, when she's not historical. When she gets historical the only thing that calms her down is intimate relations.”
Malwida is eventually allowed to take the twelve-year-old Olga with her to Paris for the winter, and then to Italy to live. The nearly eighteen-year-old Tata attains her father's permission to accompany them. While Herzen does not fully understand why his daughters want to live away from him, Natasha tells him that the loss of Olga is his fault. Natasha says in Act II of Salvage, “I didn't lose you Olga! Don't blame me! It was already too late!” After the Herzens and the Ogarevs moved to Geneva, Olga and Malwida visit. Tata already has been living there for a while, taking care of her aged father.
By this time it is clear that Olga identifies more with Malwida than her family. Like the women of the sister/contemporary generation, Olga and Tata are educated and have lived outside of social convention, but they respect their elders in a way the previous generation did not. As Herzen's philosophies failed to make the changes he wanted, so his daughters live much differently than he seemed to intend.
While the depiction and use of female characters is complicated in the plays, some critics have offered their understanding of Stoppard's intertwining philosophical and personal plots in The Coast of Utopia. Writing in the Seattle Times, Misha Bersen notes,
The Coast of Utopia has an overload of polemical speeches and exchanges. But Stoppard also delves into the private life of the sympathetic Herzen, whose challenges creating a domestic utopia mirror the difficulties of forging a utopian political order.
Thus the family relationships Stoppard portrays are far from mere distractions: they are, in microcosm, studies of the impossibility of utopia.
Source: A. Petrusso, Critical Essay on The Coast of Utopia, in Literary Newsmakers for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning 2009.
In the following article, Grimes explores the historical background of Stoppard's play and offers suggestions for related books.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, first produced in 1966 and published in 1967, is Stoppard's first major play. Like The Coast of Utopia, language is important in developing of the two minor characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
- Alexander Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin, originally published as a serial between 1825 and 1832, is an influential work in Russian literature. Written in verse, it was also one of Pushkin's personal favorite works.
- Travesties, Stoppard's play about revolutionaries, was first produced in 1974 and published in 1975. The play uses the historical fact that Josef Lenin, James Joyce, and Tristan Tzara all lived in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1917, and imagines their interactions.
- Night and Day, originally produced in 1978 and published in 1979, is Stoppard's exploration of the press in the West. Set in a fictional African nation overcome by revolution, Stoppard explores ideas like censorship, politics, and ethics.
- Tom Stoppard in Conversation, published in 1994 and edited by Paul Delaney, features interviews with the playwright about his work and creative processes.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
Source: William Grimes, “Mapping Stoppard's Circuitous Coast,” in New York Times, November 24, 2006, p. E1.
Bersen, Misha. “Ideology, idealism enthrall in rewarding Russian opus,” in Seattle Times, May 11, 2007, p. D1.
Brantley, Ben. “Great Minds Talk Volumes as Mortality Intervenes,” in The New York Times, August 21, 2002, p. E1.
Brantley, Ben. “History's Sweep, In Words and Silence,” in The New York Times, December 22, 2006, p. E1.
Cote, David. “Politics as Usual?” in Salon.com, June 7, 2007.
De Jongh, Nicholas. “Stoppard's Epic Success,” in The Evening Standard (London, England), August 5, 2002, p. 9.
McCarter, Jeremy. “Arise, Ye Prisoners of Tom Stoppard,” in New York Magazine, March 5, 2007.
McCarter, Jeremy. “So Far, So Good,” in New York Magazine, December 4, 2006.
Power, Carla. “Art Is Bloody Society,” in Newsweek, August 26, 2002, p. 50.
Stoppard, Tom. The Coast of Utopia, Grove Press, 2002, rev. text, 2006.
Taylor, Paul. “A Magnificent Spectacle, Just Five Hours Too Long,” in The Independent (London, England), August 5, 2002, p. 6.
Wren, Celia. “Literature & Revolution: Tom Stoppard's The Coast of Utopia,” in Commonweal, Vol. 134, No. 5, March 9, 2007, p. 17.
Young, Toby. “Gruelling Ordeal,” in The Spectator, August 10, 2002, pp. 43–44.
Berlin, Isaiah. Reading Russian Thinkers, Hogarth Press, 1978.
This collection of essays was read by Stoppard while writing The Coast of Utopia and inspired aspects of the plays.
Carr, Edward Hallett. The Romantic Exiles: A Nineteenth-Century Portrait Gallery, Frederick A. Stokes, 1933.
This scholarly study of nineteenth-century intellectuals was a source used by Stoppard while writing The Coast of Utopia.
Nadel, Ira. Double Act, Palgrave, 2002.
This biography of Tom Stoppard offers many facts about the playwright as well as interpretations of Stoppard's plays.
Randolph, John. The House in the Garden: The Bakunin Family and the Romance of Russian Idealism, Cornell University Press, 2007.
This scholarly book explores the concept that the philosophical ideals of the gentry like the Bakunin family was at odds with the reality of life on the Bakunin estate, which relied on the forced labor of serfs.