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Power of Darkness


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AT: If a Claw is Caught the (Whole) Bird is Lost A: Leo Tolstoy Pf: 1888, Paris; 1895, St Petersburg Pb: 1887 Tr: 1905 G: Drama in 5 acts; Russian prose S: Russian village, end 19th c. C: 11m, 11f, extrasAnisya, a vain and attractive 32-year-old, is married to the peasant Pyotr, a sickly widower 10 years her senior. She begins an affair with the 23-year-old farm hand Nikita. Nikita's mother realizes this when his parents come to fetch him home to fulfil his promise to marry a local girl Marina; so she gives Anisya a sleeping potion to give to her husband. The potion kills the husband, and Nikita and Anisya marry. However, Nikita goes with Akulina, Pyotr's daughter from his first marriage, to the nearby town, spending cash stolen from Pyotr, and begins an affair with the simple girl. When she becomes pregnant, the baby is murdered so as not to endanger her chances of making a good match. When she eventually finds a husband, Nikita encounters at Akulina's wedding the rejected Marina, now happily married. This meeting drives him to the brink of suicide, but persuaded back to the wedding party by his mother and wife, he confesses everything before the astonished guests.

AT: If a Claw is Caught the (Whole) Bird is Lost A: Leo Tolstoy Pf: 1888, Paris; 1895, St Petersburg Pb: 1887 Tr: 1905 G: Drama in 5 acts; Russian prose S: Russian village, end 19th c. C: 11m, 11f, extras

Although actively committed to reforming the lot of Russian peasants, Tolstoy had no sentimentality about their lives. In a way that was uncomfortable for the authorities (the play was not licensed for performance in Russia until 1895), Tolstoy here exposes their financially and sexually acquisitive nature, portraying them as both selfish and as victims. Nineteenth-century realism once again allows the action of a play to span several years, and this epic structure and harsh depiction of simple peasants made the play very popular amongst the naturalists, influencing writers like Gerhart Hauptmann.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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