Reading “The Cherry Orchard” in the Anthropocene

The dried cherries — the old servant remembers — were “soft and sweet… They knew how to do it then”. Cartloads of cherries were sent off to Moscow and Kharkov and fetched a good price.

The cartloads ceased and the estate fell into debt. The orchard only produced one crop…

You're absolutely right. Maybe because "backstory" sounds a bit like "background", it's possible (certainly for me) to underestimate the sheer force that backstories bring to these plays. Better to think of backstories as foreground. The characters are living out their backstories right here, right now, right in front of us.

I was listening to a podcast a couple of months ago about Hollywood movies and the Hays Code—the film industry’s guidelines for self-censorship from the 1930s to the 1960s. The hosts were arguing that because there were all these things you weren’t allowed to say, the best dialogue in these movies is often incredibly rich and inventive. They were comparing this to Iranian cinema today (which they thought was “amazing”), which operates under severe censorship and yet somehow flourishes, they were saying, under these constraints.


Reading “A Month in the Country” in the Anthropocene

It’s sometimes hard to remember all the things in A Month in the Country that Turgenev was not allowed to say. In mid-nineteenth century Russia, the threat of censorship was a constant presence. If writers crossed the line, they could be exiled, imprisoned or executed.

Chief among the topics you…


Reading “A Month in the Country” in the Anthropocene

There’s this story about two women who are in love with the same man. In one version of the story, it is a mother and her step-daughter. This is the plot-line that the French novelist Honoré de Balzac came up with in The Step-Mother, which opened in Paris in 1848.

Robert Butler

Dad, Londoner, walker. Likes reading plays because they’re shorter than novels

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