Nikolia Erdman (playwright)
was born in 1902 in Czarist Russia. He was only fifteen when the Bolsheviks
took over, and not yet twenty when he began working in the theatre in political
cabaret. In 1924 he collaborated on a comic revue Moscow from a Point of
View, which opened the Moscow Theatre of Satire. His first play, The Mandate,
was produced by Meyerhold in 1924. It was acceptable subject matter, as
it satirized the has-beens of Soviet society, in particular the petty bourgeoisie
and the admirers of Russian royalty. The Mandate was so successful that
Meyerhold and Stanislavsky both competed for the right to produce Erdman's
second play, The Suicide. Meyerhold won the contract and went into rehearsal.
However, after a closed dress rehearsal before members of the Cultural
Propaganda Department of the Central Committee, he was refused permission
to open the play. Consequently, The Suicide has never had any public performance
in the USSR, nor has it been published there. There are conflicting reports,
but Erdman seems to have spent time in exile, possibly in Siberia. He subsequently
wrote screenplays for several Soviet films, but never again wrote for the
theatre, and died in obscurity in Moscow in 1970.
Nadezhda Mandelstamm was
the wife of Opis Mandelstamm, a famous Russian poet who died in the Gulag
(concentration-labor camp). The following excerpts are from her book, Hope
When you are repressed, and
when they are after you, you hope to cheat your executioners, to run for
it, to break away or be killed in the attempt — anything rather than to
die in their hands. It is strange that all of us, whether mad or not, never
quite give up this one hope: suicide is the last resort which we keep in
reserve, believing that it is never too late to use it.
The thought of this last
resort had consoled and soothed me all my life, and often, at times when
things were quite unbearable, I had proposed to M. [her name for her husband]
that we commit suicide together. M. always rejected the idea.
His main argument was, "How
do you know what will come afterward? Life is a gift that nobody should
renounce." And there was the final and telling argument, "Why do you think
you ought to be happy?" Nobody was so full of the joy of life as M., but
though he never sought unhappiness, neither did he count on being what
is called "happy."
Generally, however, he dismissed
the idea of suicide with a joke. "Kill ourselves? Impossible! What will
Auerbach say?" Or, "How can I live with a professional suicide like you?"
The thought of suicide came to him on the way to Cherdyn as a means of
escaping the death by shooting he believed was inevitable. It was then
that I said to him, "Very well, if they shoot us, we shan’t commit suicide."
At this, already ill and obsessed as he was, he suddenly burst out laughing,
"There you go again." From then on, our life was such that the suicide
theme recurred frequently, but M. always said, "Wait...not now...we’ll
I am always struck that people
find it so difficult to cross this fateful threshold. There is something
in the Christian injunction against suicide which is profoundly in keeping
with human nature — this is why people don’t do it, even though life can
be far more terrible than death, as we have seen in our times. When M.
had gone, and I was left alone, I was sustained by the memory of his words,
"Why do you think you ought to be happy?" and by the passion in the Life
of the Archpriest Aurakum when his exhausted wife asked him, "How much
further must we go?" and he replied, "Until the very grave, woman," whereupon
she got to her feet and walked on.
...I wasn’t a professional
suicide, as M. had called me teasingly. Many other people thought about
it, too. Not for nothing was the best play in the Soviet repertory entitled,