Gabriella Safran, “When Is Vocal Imitation Mockery? Comedy and Ethnography on the 19th-Century Russian Stage”
In the intervals between longer plays, mid-19th-century Russian actors performed comic monologues and dialogues featuring the encounters between people from the empire’s many ethnicities and classes: a peasant earning money in the city as a factory worker goes to the doctor; an Armenian buys a train ticket; a Jewish boy takes an oral exam to get into high school. These actors and others published collections of “scenes from peasant (or Jewish, or Armenian) life” that became popular scripts for amateur and family theatricals, and their plots reappeared in Russian stories by Anton Chekhov and Yiddish ones by Sholem Aleichem. This talk considers the meanings of vocal imitation in this and other contexts.
Gabriella Safran has written on Russian, Polish, Yiddish, and French literatures and cultures. Her most recent book, Wandering Soul: The Dybbuk's Creator, S. An-sky (Harvard, 2010), is a biography of an early-twentieth-century Russian-Yiddish writer who was also an ethnographer, a revolutionary, and a wartime relief worker. Safran teaches and writes on Russian literature, Yiddish literature, folklore, and folkloristics. She is now working on two monograph projects: one on the collection and curating of the Russian peasant voice, by writers, lexicographers, ethnographers, and musicologists, from the 1830s to the 1910s, and the other on the popularization of notions of Jewish voice, by writers, speakers, and performers, in the Russian space and in the United States, from the 1870s through the 1920s.