The deaths of celebrity women performers provide illuminating windows into the social and cultural flux that gripped late imperial Russia. The death of the actress Vera Komissarzhevskaia in 1910 while on tour in Tashkent and the subsequent return of her body to St. Petersburg and public funeral became an empire-wide phenomenon that demonstrated the tremendous social resonance of female performers and the growing power of the mass circulation press, new conceptions of the public sphere, and the social influence of emotions. This talk will explore ways in which people across the Russian Empire transformed the death of Komissarzhevskaia into an occasion for large-scale public grieving, civic activism, and religious controversy, giving particular attention to the key role of the press in disseminating information, coordinating action, and serving as a public forum for debate and expressions of grief.
Matthew Klopfenstein is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on civil society, popular culture, gender, and media in late imperial and early Soviet Russia. He is currently writing his dissertation, entitled “Performing Death, Embodying Modernity: Media Spectacle, Public Emotion, and Modern Selves in the Celebrity Funerals of Russian Female Performers, 1859-1919.”