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The Modernist Masquerade

Stylizing Life, Literature, and Costumes in Russia

Colleen McQuillen

Publication Year: 2013

Masked and costume balls thrived in Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries during a period of rich literary and theatrical experimentation. The first study of its kind, The Modernist Masquerade examines the cultural history of masquerades in Russia and their representations in influential literary works.
            The masquerade's widespread appearance as a literary motif in works by such writers as Anna Akhmatova, Leonid Andreev, Andrei Bely, Aleksandr Blok, and Fyodor Sologub mirrored its popularity as a leisure-time activity and illuminated its integral role in the Russian modernist creative consciousness. Colleen McQuillen charts how the political, cultural, and personal significance of lavish costumes and other forms of self-stylizing evolved in Russia over time. She shows how their representations in literature engaged in dialog with the diverse aesthetic trends of Decadence, Symbolism, and Futurism and with the era's artistic philosophies.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

Governing the publication of this book is my belief that knowledge is meaningful only if shared. My mentors instilled in me this belief by modeling scholarly generosity. My first debt of gratitude goes to Irina Reyfman at Columbia University, under whose guidance and steadfast support my ideas on the cultural semiotics of masquerade...

A Note on Transliteration and Abbreviations

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pp. xv

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Introduction: Masquerades in Russian History and Culture

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pp. 3-35

Masked and costume balls thrived in Russia at the turn of the last century, most notably in Saint Petersburg, the geographic center of the Silver Age’s cultural florescence. Held in private and state- operated theaters; in cabarets, outdoor gardens, and skating rinks; in the palatial homes of the city’s well- heeled denizens...

Part I: Imitation and Stylization

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1. The Travestied Masquerade: Aesthetics, Ethics, and Demonism

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pp. 39-61

The contingency of identity was a significant part of the modernist experience of masquerade. The growing awareness of social identity as a construction, as well as the importance of highly inventive masquerade costumes in social life, challenged assumptions about the direct correlation between appearance...

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2. The Political Masquerade: Impersonation, National Identity, and Power

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pp. 62-86

In Recollections of a Terrorist (1909), Boris Savinkov describes how Yevno Azef, leader of the Combat Organization of the Party of Social Revolutionaries (PSR), to which both belonged, designated a nighttime masquerade at the Saint Petersburg Merchant’s Club as the venue for their clandestine meeting. Savinkov...

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3. The Gender Masquerade: Constructions of Feminine Identity

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pp. 87-115

Experiments in social constructions of female gender proliferated during the wave of changes sweeping Russia and the West at the turn of the last century. In many respects these experiments were a response to the female archetypes spawned by the period’s dominant literary movements of Decadence and Symbolism...

Part II: Costume Design and Theatricality

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4. Figurative Costumes: Metaphors in Text and Textile

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pp. 119-142

The fundamental premises of costume design underwent a reconceptualization at the fin- de-siècle costume balls organized by students of the Russian Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. The result was a new artistic medium that combined elements of collage and theater to produce an innovative articulation...

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5. Character Costumes: Cultural Memory and the Philological Masquerade

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pp. 143-160

A newspaper account that appeared in The Petersburg Gazette on December 28, 1910, testified to an unnamed individual’s wish to honor the recently deceased Russian literary giant Lev Tolstoy by dressing as him for a holiday masquerade. Instead of enjoying commendation for his sartorial tribute, however, the guest was forced to leave the event because his choice...

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6. Avant-Garde Costumes: Estranging Practices of Masquerade

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pp. 161-190

After the premier of Alexander Blok’s The Fairground Booth on December 30, 1906, the play’s cast and a coterie of Petersburg’s cultural elite participated in “The Evening of Paper Ladies” at the apartment of actress Vera Ivanova on Torgovaia Street, not far from Vera Komissarzhevskaia’s experimental Dramatic Theater...

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7. Revealing Costumes: Bared Bodies on Stage

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pp. 191-204

At modernist masquerades the body served as an exhibition space where a carefully curated set of garments and accessories constructed a temporary identity that had the potential to destabilize social paradigms. Just as certain modernist masquerade costumes challenged norms of artistic representation and cultural values...

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Conclusion: The Early Soviet Masquerade

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pp. 205-210

The evolution of masquerade practices and imagery over the years that bridge the nineteenth and twentieth centuries illuminates the changing aesthetic priorities and the political tensions that defined late Imperial Russia. In particular, the masquerade motif in Russian modernism points out how the destabilization of essentialist paradigms...


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pp. 211-239


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pp. 241-258


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pp. 259-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296131
E-ISBN-10: 029929613X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296148
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296148

Page Count: 298
Illustrations: 32 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2013