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Title:Performing death: Celebrity women’s funerals and the emotional public sphere in late imperial Russia
Author(s):Klopfenstein, Matthew
Director of Research:Steinberg, Mark D
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Steinberg, Mark D
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Koenker, Diane P; Randolph, John; Todorova, Maria; Liebersohn, Harry
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
public sphere
Abstract:This dissertation examines the deaths and funerals of celebrity women performers and their coverage in the mass-circulation press in Russia from 1859 to 1917 to demonstrate the centrality of performative emotionality to the prerevolutionary public sphere. Displays of emotion in public places and debates over their meaning in the press shaped a distinctly performative public culture influenced by celebrity female performers that served to justify a role in public life and fueled competing visions of the public sphere. This culture of emotional performativity was crucial to how publics were imagined, rights were asserted, and individual dignity was claimed in this era and was most clearly revealed in responses to the deaths of female performers. It centers on six in-depth case studies of deaths that became major public events and media sensations: the opera singers Angiolina Bosio (d. 1859) and Evlaliia Kadmina (d. 1881), the actor Aleksandr Martynov (d. 1860) the stage actresses Vera Kommissarzhevskaia (d. 1910) and Maria Savina (d. 1915), and the singer Anastasiia Vial’tseva (d. 1913). Based on a close reading of the mass-circulation press throughout Russia, I argue that different kinds of publics were constructed and contested around acts of mourning for celebrity women, revealing competing visions of society in the last years of the Russian Empire that were nonetheless linked by a shared conviction that emotional sincerity was a key criterion for inclusion in public life. I label this shared framework for debating public life the emotional public sphere and further show how the deaths of celebrity women mobilized diverse groups of people and crystallized and amplified pressing debates in the press and civil society about cultural and social boundaries, authenticity and the self, and the fate of Russia. Public death rituals held particular importance in the Russian Empire: they asserted the social significance of the deceased and the rights of mourners to public expression and served as one of the few permissible opportunities for large-scale public gatherings in an autocratic state. As such they represent key events that shaped and reflected the emergence of a public sphere in Russia. Scholars have examined the funerals of influential men – writers, statesmen, and civic figures – to show how mourners in the streets and observers in the press used these events to articulate new visions of society and draw conclusions about the state of Russia. However, the funerals of leading female performers were among the largest events and media sensations of the late imperial era and provide a new framework for understanding public life in the empire’s tumultuous final decades in which gendered notions of emotional performativity were central. I argue for understanding the imperial Russian public sphere as an emotional space in which popular culture and celebrity, domains stereotyped as “feminine,” were key forces shaping Russians’ understanding of themselves and the possibilities for their society. Reactions to these deaths show that performing women were among the most socially resonant figures of their era. Mourners and commentators believed their lives provided models of modern selfhood and lessons for navigating the social and cultural transformations of Russian modernity, even as they differed over the precise nature of these lessons. By tracing the quest of urban Russians for a form of public life marked by authentic feeling amid fears of chaos and disorder, I reveal the contested nature of new forms of association and the protean pluralism of late imperial society.
Issue Date:2021-04-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2021 Matthew Klopfenstein
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-09-17
Date Deposited:2021-05

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