Imitations of Life

Two Centuries of Melodrama in Russia

Imitations of Life

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 35 b&w photos Published: March 2002

History > European History, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Theater and Performance

Imitations of Life views Russian melodrama from the eighteenth century to today as an unexpectedly hospitable forum for considering social issues. The contributors follow the evolution of the genre through a variety of cultural practices and changing political scenarios. They argue that Russian audiences have found a particular type of comfort in this mode of entertainment that invites them to respond emotionally rather than politically to social turmoil.
Drawing on a wide variety of sources, including plays, lachrymose novels, popular movies, and even highly publicized funerals and political trials, the essays in Imitations of Life argue that melodrama has consistently offered models of behavior for times of transition, and that contemporary televised versions of melodrama continue to help Russians cope with national events that they understand implicitly but are not yet able to articulate. In contrast to previous studies, this collection argues for a reading that takes into account the subtle but pointed challenges to national politics and to gender and class hierarchies made in melodramatic works from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Collectively, the contributors shift and cross borders, illustrating how the cultural dismissal of melodrama as fundamentally escapist and targeted primarily at the politically disenfranchised has subverted the drama’s own intrinsically subversive virtues.
Imitations of Life will interest students and scholars of contemporary Russia, and Russian history, literature, and theater.

Contributors. Otto Boele, Julie Buckler, Julie Cassiday, Susan Costanzo, Helena Goscilo, Beth Holmgren, Lars Lih, Louise McReynolds, Joan Neuberger, Alexander Prokhorov, Richard Stites


“Louise McReynolds’s and Joan Neuberger’s fine edited book Imitations of Life reminds us that studies of popular culture can be illuminating and valuable. . . . The essays are uniformly good. . . . [A] fine edited book, one long overdue.” — Janet G. Tucker , Russian Review

"[A] talented and original group of scholars on Russian melodrama . . . . [A] fine job of asking new questions, examining well-known material from new perspectives, and applying a range of methodologies to a genre that benefits from such new analysis. . . . Imitations of Life is an excellent book that should appeal to professional historians and literary scholars, as well as to students enrolled in Russian studies courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. It offers much to those of us interested in adding a greater sense of texture to our understanding of the Russian cultural and social experience of the last two centuries. McReynolds, Neuberger, and their contributors should be congratulated for the their efforts."

— William Richardson , History: Reviews of New Books

"[An] excellent volume. . . . [T]his volume should be of great interest to students of literature, history, and cultural studies." — Choi Chatterjee , American Historical Review

"Anyone interested in this undervalued dimension of Russian culture would benefit from reading this collection. The book's attention to a variety of genres and works underscores how widespread melodrama was, and should inspire scholars both to take it seriously and to study it further." — Elizabeth Yellen , Slavic and East European Journal

"By studying a variety of melodramatic forms from the last two centuries, the contributors to this volume prove that Russian melodrama has played a significant role in Russian culture, society, and politics. Filling an obvious gap in Russian scholarship, Imitations of Life will be invaluable to historians, literary and cultural specialists, as well as film scholars." — Erika Haber , Symposium

"Readers interested in melodrama in general, as well as those whose area of interest is the art, culture, politics, society or history of Russia in particular will find much of value and interest in this challenging and thought-provoking collection of essays." — Rachel Morely , Slavonic and East European Review

"The authors accomplish a daunting task. . . . [W]ell-written and organized. . . . [T]his is an excellent collection of essays that adds significant and interesting material to the semiotics of Russian culture." — Joanna Kot, Slavic Review

"Unusually for a scholarly collection, the reader gets the impression that all the contributors enjoyed writing their pieces. . . . [A] very tight and well-edited volume." — Richard Taylor, Modern Language Review

“Melodrama bore all the defects and virtues of its parent, the French Revolution. Given to wild flights, neck-breaking twists and turns, stark judgements of good and evil, the genre also brought public attention onto private life and the vicissitudes of underprivilege. Melodrama taught much to the Russians who appropriated it. As the contributors to the present volume demonstrate, it taught them how to see, to understand and even how to accomplish history. An imitator surely, but also a creator of life—we can all be grateful to Neuberger and McReynolds for bringing this to our attention.” — James von Geldern, Macalaster College


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Price: $28.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Louise McReynolds is Professor of History at the University of Hawai’i.

Joan Neuberger is Associate Professor of History at the University of Texas.

Table of Contents Back to Top

Introduction / Louise McReynolds and Joan Neuberger

The Misanthrope, the Orphan, and the Magpie: Imported Melodrama in the Twilight of Serfdom / Richard Stites

Melodramatizing Russia: Nineteenth-Century Views from the West / Julie A. Buckler

The Importance of Being Unhappy, or, Why She Died / Beth Holmgren

Melodrama as Counterliterature? Count Amori’s Response to Three Scandalous Novels / Otto Boele

Home Was Never Where the Heart Was: Domestic Dystopias in Russia’s Silent Movie Melodramas / Louise McReynolds

Alcohol is Our Enemy! Soviet Temperance Melodramas of the 1920s / Julie A. Cassiday

Melodrama and the Myth of the Soviet Union / Lars T. Lih

Soviet Family Melodrama of the 1940s and 1950s: From Wait for Me to The Cranes Are Flying / Alexander Prokhorov

Conventional Melodrama, Innovative Theater, and a Melodramatic Society: Pavel Kohout’s Such a Love at the Moscow University Student Theater / Susan Constanzo

Between Public and Private: Revolution and Melodrama in Nikita Mikhalkov’s Slave of Love / Joan Neuberger

Playing Dead: The Operatics of Celebrity Funerals, or, The Ultimate Silent Part / Helena Goscilo

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2790-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2780-6
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