Now that all three parts have been unveiled, a crib sheet is more necessary than ever. Here, a primer to the tangle of intelligentsia in Tom Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia trilogy—and notes on the spots where Stoppard has edited or embroidered true-life history.
The Basic Story: Evolved from nobleman’s illegitimate son to radical exile. After living in Rome, Paris, and Nice around the 1848 revolutions, fled to England and published influential books and journals that helped end Russian serfdom. By 1860, new radicals called him old-hat; he called them “the syphilis of our revolutionary passions.” In death, was idolized by the Soviets.
What You Won’t See: At the end of Salvage, Herzen asks his 10-year-old daughter, in untranslated Russian, to give him a kiss, and she does. Close curtain. Two years later, Herzen would die; Liza, age 17, would commit suicide.
The Basic Story: Herzen’s rich, landed friend, much more nihilistic, famous for the phrase “A passion for destruction is also a creative passion.” Became an anarchist, renounced his estate, spent years in Siberia, sponged off his friends. Early in the play, Bakunin (Ethan Hawke) is the center of his sister’s attention, and he lords it over them.
What You Won’t See: Bakunin also had five brothers; Stoppard says “seven Bakunins were as much as I could cope with in the first scene.”
The Basic Story: Spread the ideas of German idealists without knowing German. Advocated art for social purposes in The Idea of Art (1841), the seeds of Soviet Socialist Realism.
What You Won’t See: In Shipwreck, Belinsky rails against the aristocracy, alienating Bakunin’s parents. But after his death, he was one of the few revolutionaries admired by Dostoyevsky, a conservative and a friend who eulogized him in Diary of a Writer.
The Basic Story: The only one of Herzen’s circle to gain fame for his fiction. Fathers and Sons captured the generation gap between skeptical liberals and the anarchists who followed.
What You Won’t See: On the Isle of Wight, Turgenev meets a nihilist doctor who prefers tracts like “No More Hemorrhoids” to Pushkin. The dialogue is invented, but the tract is real.
The Basic Story: Came of age critiquing Hegel, moved to radical Paris, then was exiled and headed to Belgium, where he co-wrote The Communist Manifesto. Obscure during his lifetime.
What You Won’t See: One cameo has Marx meeting Turgenev on the Paris barricades, asking him whether “the spectre of Communism” makes it sound “as if Communism is dead.” They may have spoken, but Marx seems far too headstrong to have asked a novelist’s advice.
The Basic Story: German poet who led a failed 1848 revolt in Baden-Baden; fled to Nice, where he and his wife lived with Herzen and his wife, Natalie—until Herwegh’s affair with Natalie broke it all up.
What You Won’t See: Fun details about the affair: Herwegh told friends that Herzen was virtually keeping Natalie hostage. Also, Herzen confronted Herwegh on a cliff, and seriously contemplated pushing him off.
The Basic Story: Led the revolutionaries away from liberal moderation. Eventually repudiated his greatest influence, Herzen; sentenced to hard labor, he spent decades in prison.
What You Won’t See: As in the play, Chernyshevsky went to England to confront Herzen. But the scene is imagined, especially when Chernyshevsky bolts upon witnessing a scene of libertine chaos—open discussion of mistresses and wives, and Herzen’s daughter asking questions about a friend’s “fancy woman.”
The Basic Story: Russia’s most famous poet, then and now. Early in his career, was critical of the czar, and was repeatedly banished from Moscow. Died in a duel in 1837, defending the honor of his wife over a rumored affair.
What You Won’t See: In a wordless cameo, Pushkin leaves a concert just before an offstage gunshot. But his duel was planned in advance (and postponed twice), and he went to it from his home.
Arise, Ye Prisoners
of Tom Stoppard
Jeremy McCarter’s review of The Coast of Utopia, Part 3