Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 30, 2017

Sex, Repression, Censorship and Lady Macbeth

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film — louisproyect @ 12:43 pm

When I received word from a publicist that a new film titled Lady Macbeth based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novella, Lady MacBeth of Mtsenk, would be opening on July 14th, it motivated me to attend a press screening and to dig a bit deeper into the controversy unleashed by Shostakovich’s 1934 opera adaptation of the same work. I also discovered that Andrzej Wajda had made a film based on Leskov’s novella and since I have written about Wajda for CounterPunch and plan to write some more, it seemed worth my while to see his version, which fortunately is online with English subtitles. For those who want to delve into the tangled history of all this, you can also read Leskov’s novella and see a film production of Shostakovich’s opera that was banned in the Soviet Union for decades. In its entirety, the Lady Macbeth saga ties together sex, politics and art in a most provocative manner and will leave you marveling over how this lurid tale that was originally published in Dostoyevsky’s magazine could have such staying power.

Although not so nearly as well known as other Russian novelists of the 19th century, Leskov was held in high esteem by Tolstoy and Chekhov. In a useful entry on Leskov, Wikipedia notes that although he was angry over social conditions in Czarist Russia, he thought that education rather than agrarian revolution was necessary. His debut novel No Way Out was a dark satire on a feckless socialist whose comrades were amoral crooks using political agitation for personal gain. The Russian social democratic press was outraged over the work and wrote articles charging the author with being a police agent. Eventually some of the more enlightened intellectuals of the left revised their opinion, especially Maxim Gorky who saw him primarily as a social critic.

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