Friday, March 17, 2017

The Power of Darkness

Leo Tolstoy's play The Power of Darkness is known for one of the most infamous sound effects in the history of dramatic literature: a baby's bones being crunched.

In the play, the peasant Nikita gets his stepdaughter pregnant. She gives birth just as the family arranges for her to be married off to someone else. What is to be done with the infant?

There are foundlings' hospitals, but rumors could get out. Pressured by his mother and his wife, Nikita goes down into the cellar, places a board on top of the infant, and crushes the child to death. He immediately suffers from remorse, saying, "How the little bones crunched under me. Krr... kr... What have they made me do?"

Though Tolstoy wrote the play in 1886, it was officially banned in Russia until 1902. There were numerous private performances, however, and it appeared in a French translation on the Paris stage in 1888. An 1895 production in St. Petersburg managed to get passed the censors, but only after Tolstoy agreed to write an alternate scene with less explicit baby crushing.

Gradually the play's fame spread, and today The Power of Darkness remains one of the most famous examples of Naturalism in drama.