The play opens in London in February of 1853 at the Herzen house in Hampstead. Herzen is napping and dreaming while Sasha, Maria, and Tata enter, flying a kite and pushing the two-year old Olga in her pram. In Herzen’s dream several émigrés and political refugees from Germany, France, Poland, Italy, and Hungary are talking on Parliament Hill. Kinkel and his wife Joanna are there with their friend Malwida von Meysenburg. Arnold Ruge, Karl Marx, Ernest Jones, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin, Louis Blanc, Count Worcell, Giuseppe Mazzini, and Lajos Kossuth join them. They all greet each other and make rude comments behind each other’s backs. As soon as Herzen enters, Marx leaves. In the background, the Kinkels and Malwida are arguing and Joanna shoots. At that same moment, Herzen awakens as a door slams. Malwida enters, and we see the rest of the people from the dream next door chatting. Malwida has received a letter from Herzen saying that he is looking for a tutor for Tata. She asks if she will be teaching in French or German and says she read Herzen’s book From the Other Shore, but only in German. He expresses the desire to have it published in Russian. Herzen agrees to hire her. The party is breaking up and discussing socialism and democracy. Herzen talks about how England is filled with émigrés because they invented personal liberty, so it is where political exiles go for refuge. As Ledru-Rollin is leaving, he mentions Herwegh. Herzen is visibly upset. Blanc mentions to Worcell that Herwegh’s name should never be spoken. Herzen re-enters and discusses Ruge and how influential he was when they were younger, but now he is nearly obsolete. Blanc is offended and says that Herzen grew up rich, so he has the luxury of complaining while men like Worcell has to struggle and is a true revolutionary. Blanc leaves, and Herzen explains to Worcell that he is done fighting and is happy to enjoy his quiet life and not write or stir up trouble any more. Worcell reveals to him that he wants Herzen to help him set up a Polish press in London. Herzen gets very excited by the idea and jumps in with both feet.
The next scene happens in February of 1853 in the schoolroom. Malwida enters and pretends to search for Olga who she knows is under the table. She finally “finds” her, and then asks Tata if she has done her homework.
In the next scene, another party is occurring, this time in May of 1853. Herzen and Worcell are there looking at some of their work, and Maria enters, upset that the children will not mind her. Herzen dismisses her, and the children come in. Herzen makes Sasha read what he and Worcell have been looking at. It is some of Herzen’s writing that has been published in Russian for the first time.
We next see the schoolroom in September of 1853. Tata is learning English from Malwida. Malwida is annoyed with Tata’s appearance. Maria comes in looking for Olga, and Malwida gets worried when she hears that Olga is missing. Finally, they hear Olga playing the piano and getting smacked by Maria.
In the next scene, it is November of 1853 and Herzen enters with his first earnings for the paper that he and Worcell have been publishing. Malwida enters, back from her vacation early because she missed the children. Malwida tells Herzen that she wants to move into the house and take charge of the children’s welfare in every way. She thinks that Maria should go back to being more of a maid. Herzen agrees.
The next scene opens in January of 1854 at the breakfast table in Herzen’s house. Malwida has obviously made progress with the children’s’ appearances and table manners. She rather slyly scolds Maria for not getting the laundry done in time, but Herzen comes in before Maria can argue back. They have another small snit over Tata drinking coffee (Malwida does not approve), and Maria storms out. After the children leave the table, Malwida tells Herzen that him allowing so many people in the house at all times is disruptive to the children. He agrees to only allow people to come by invitation and takes her suggestion that they move to another neighborhood. Worcell and Zenkowicz come in and tell Herzen that their delegate is heading to Poland to deliver their paper, but he needs more money. Herzen is put out, but he agrees to help. Sasha comes in and sits with Worcell.
The next scene is set on New Year’s Eve, 1854 in the Herzen’s new home in Richmond. There are many guests there, including Maria’s replacement, Mrs. Blainey. In addition to the Kinkels, Blanc, Jones, and Mrs. Jones, Ciernecki the Polish printer and Tchorzewski from the bookshop are there. Worcell makes a toast to French and British victory in the Crimean War. Herzen is shocked that people in the streets have been calling for Prince Albert’s arrest. He cannot believe that the government does not arrest them. Kinkel interrupts and asks Herzen why he will not be speaking at the 1848 revolution anniversary. He thinks he is and acts surprised. Jones reveals that Marx will not share the stage with Herzen. They decide they would rather have Herzen speak than Marx. Ciernecki gives Herzen a small, wrapped book just as the clock strikes midnight. Herzen gives Sasha a copy of the book From the Other Shore, which is published in Russian. Sasha is deeply moved, as is the rest of the crowd. Several of them go outside to ring in the New Year in the park. Sasha and Tata reminisce with Herzen about Natalie and Kolya. When the children leave, Herzen expresses his grief and thinks he hears Natalie behind him. Instead, it is Michael Bakunin. They have an exchange, but it is Herzen’s fantasy. He thinks that Bakunin is dead, but he is still in prison. He talks about his anger at being unable to do anything while he is imprisoned. He misses their friends, but Herzen tells him they are not revolutionaries but only speechmakers. Bakunin still has a rebel’s spirit, but Herzen tells him he is sick and tired of all the idealism because it does not work. Bakunin still has hope and preaches anarchy. He reminds Herzen that he once felt passionate about their cause, too. Herzen tells him that he is jaded because there have been so many advances in science and technology, but there is still poverty and...
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