Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 289
Tom Stoppard’s trilogy The Coast of Utopia begins with the play Voyage. Stoppard is known for crafting unique work with political and moral overtones, and Voyage is no exception. The play takes place in the Soviet Union during the years 1833 to 1838, and it centers on the Russian revolutionary Michael Bakunin and his aristocratic beginnings. The Bakunin family is embroiled in various love triangles and intrigues, and Michael is quickly becoming the black sheep of the family. He deserts the military and rebels against his wealthy roots, instead preferring to become a philosopher. He spends his time with other like-minded individuals as he flits from one school of thought to another in his quest to find enlightenment. Although Voyage could stand alone, it is clearly meant to set up the characters and ideas that will later be presented in Stoppard’s other two plays in the trilogy. Although there is not a great amount of traditional dramatic action in Voyage, a lot happens over the span of the five years the audience is presented with, and there is certainly a balance between what occurs onstage and the lengthy dialogue in between.
Most interesting about Voyage is its slightly nonlinear approach. The first act is set at Premukhino, the estate of the Bakunin family. The audience is introduced to the eccentric Bakunins and a host of their friends and colleagues. Time passes between each scene, and the family discusses what events have occurred in their world during the lapse in time. The second act essentially fills in the blanks for the audience. We hear about certain events in Act I from a particular character’s perspective and then get to see those events unfold in Act II with no bias.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2042
Voyage opens in the summer of 1833 at Premukhino, the Bakunin family estate, seven miles northwest of Moscow. Michael Bakunin’s family members—his father, Alexander; his mother, Varvara; and his sisters, Liubov, Varenka, Tatiana, and Alexandra—are finishing supper. They are joined by an English governess and Baron Renne, Liubov’s fiancé. The education of the Bakunin children is discussed, as is the great Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. Miss Chamberlain, the governess, can only speak English, so she and Varvara do not understand each other and thus have to rely on the girls to translate, which they do to comic effect. Near the end of the scene, Michael Bakunin arrives home from artillery school, a typical form of education for a nobleman of the time. The family is excited to see him and introduce him to the Baron. The Baron leaves, and Michael expresses his disapproval. Michael spouts off his new German theories about life and love to his sister Tatiana as the scene ends.
The second scene takes place in the family’s garden and veranda in the spring of 1835. Varenka and her husband, Dyakov, have just arrived, and it is revealed that she is pregnant. The sisters have received a letter from Michael’s supposed girlfriend, Natalie Beyer, whom they dislike. They gossip about how she was previously interested in Nicholas Stankevich, but he dismissed her because of his feelings for Liubov. Michael arrives and the sisters confront him over Natalie. He tells them he has resigned his position in the army, and his father is furious.
Scene 3 takes place in autumn of the same year. Varenka is eight months pregnant. She and Liubov discuss her somewhat rocky marriage, and Liubov asks her what sex is like. Stankevich and Michael are inside discussing women and philosophy. Their discussion is intercut with the sisters’ talk of Liubov and her feelings for Stankevich. Michael reveals that he and Stankevich are moving to Berlin to study philosophy. Stankevich and Liubov have an awkward moment together at the end of the scene where they each try to reveal their feelings but are unable. Liubov tries to give him back what she believes to be his penknife and has been keeping, but he insists it is not his. Michael and Stankevich leave, and Alexander speaks with Varenka, revealing that she has broken off her engagement with the Baron.
Scene 4 is set in the spring of 1836. The sisters are in the garden with Varenka’s baby, and Michael is in the hammock translating an article for the magazine The Telescope. Tatiana and Michael discuss the fact that he has made her break off her engagement with Count Sollogub because of his jealousy.
Scene 5 occurs in August of 1836 inside the manor house. The family is there with several servants, and Vissarion Belinsky is lurking in the shadows outside. Belinsky enters while the family begins eating. He is awkward and socially inept, which the daughters find amusing. Tatiana asks if Liubov noticed Belinsky’s greatness.
The next scene takes place during the same time frame, in August of 1836, but on another day in the garden. Alexandra and Belinsky have been fishing, and they are discussing the ownership of servants as Varvara runs across the lawn chasing a house servant with a cane. Slightly later, Varenka is trying to figure out how to write to her husband of her unhappiness with their marriage. Michael is still working on his translation. He tells Liubov that Stankevich likes her. Alexander questions whether Belinsky can live as the literary critic for The Telescope. Michael is jealous of Belinsky because of his intelligence and Tatiana’s interest in him. Belinsky talks about Pushkin and his own views on serfdom. This causes discomfort for Alexander and Varvara who have many servants. The scene ends with Belinsky telling everyone that The Telescope has been closed down and his room is being searched. A gunshot is heard after they leave the stage.
Scene 7 is set in January of 1837. The family is distraught because their beloved author, Pushkin, is dead. Varenka is angry with Michael for urging her to leave her husband. She has decided to reconcile with Dyakov instead. Liubov has been to Moscow to visit Stankevich, and they have come closer to a romantic entanglement, but he is ill and is headed to the spas. Liubov herself is also sick.
In the next scene, it is spring of 1838 and the family is having a bonfire. They are all dressed up and preparing for Liubov to be brought out. Alexander and Michael enter, arguing because Alexander expects Michael to study agriculture. He talks about studying in Berlin and changing his alliances from the teachings of Fichte to Hegel. Michael asks his father for money and is denied. He accuses Michael of manipulating his sisters and their romances. He refuses to continue supporting Michael.
The final scene in Act I takes place in the autumn of 1841. Turgenev arrives with Tatiana. He tells her about meeting Pushkin shortly before he was killed. He also talks about his plans to write a poem someday. They discuss Michael and his life in Berlin. He apparently arrived there to meet with Stankevich, only to discover that Stankevich had died a month earlier. Tatiana reveals that Liubov has also passed away. There is a flashback as part of the scene where we see Liubov and the rest of the family on the day of the bonfire. Varenka also sold her jewelry, left her husband, and went to Berlin. Stankevich died in her arms.
The second act opens in the Zoo Gardens in Moscow in March of 1834 at the skating pond. Varvara, Liubov, and Mrs. Beyer are discussing Liubov’s broken engagement to Baron Renne. Herzen is there and begins talking about philosophy with his friends Ogarev and Sazonov. Ketscher enters and then so does Polevoy, who is a journalist. He runs the Telegraph and expresses fear that his articles will be censored. He is much more conservative in his views than the young men, who are clearly revolutionaries. Stankevich has been sleeping nearby and wakes up. They notice that someone is observing them from the trees. They are concerned because many of them are being watched by the police for their anarchist activities. They all talk about why they decided to rise up against the government. Herzen leaves, and Belinsky enters to tell Stankevich that Belinsky has been offered a job at the Telescope as a translator of French novels, but he does not speak French. Natalie Beyer enters, flirting with Stankevich. Stankevich and Liubov meet and are clearly smitten. Natalie invites Liubov to join their philosophical circle.
The second scene is in March 1835 at a soiree at Mrs. Beyer’s home. The Bakunin women are there along with many others including Peter Chaadaev (a philosopher) and Shevyrev (a professor). Polevoy is telling anyone who will listen that the Telegraph has been shut down for a bad review of a play. Shevyrev is reading one of Belinsky’s articles to Polevoy from the Telescope. Ketscher comes in and tells Polevoy that Herzen and his “gang” have been arrested for talking of their ideals at a supper party. Natalie gets angry with Stankevich for playing with her affections and turns to Michael to dance with her. He and Stankevich meet for the first time. Liubov and Stankevich share an awkward moment, and Natalie tells the sisters that he likes Liubov. Belinsky misunderstands something and thinks that Liubov likes him. He sees Professor Shevyrev and tells him he was in his class. Shevyrev is rude to him because he dislikes Belinsky’s article.
Scene 3 takes place a week later. Natalie and Michael are arguing. She is humiliated that she has seemingly misunderstood both Stankevich and Michael’s feelings for her. She asks why he does not like her and then kisses him. She tells him that his sisters are holding him back and says that she is going to write a letter to them explaining how.
In the fourth scene, which takes place in the summer of 1835, Chaadaev is waiting in the office of the Telescope for the editor, Professor Nadezhdin. Belinsky is there instead, running the office in his place. The two discuss Herzen and his exile and Belinsky’s views that Russia has no real literature of its own. Chaadaev leaves an article for Nadezhdin that he has written in French. Belinsky tries to hide the fact that he does not understand it, but Chaadaev figures it out and says he will send a copy in Russian.
Scene 5 occurs in the spring of 1836 in Belinsky’s office. Michael comes in and asks Belinsky to pay him for the article he translated for the Telescope. Natalie then arrives, and they all discuss Count Sollogub and whether he is a good match for Tatiana. Kaminsky is waiting for Nadezhdin, and Michael goes in to introduce himself and returns with a German history book that Kaminsky has commissioned him to translate.
Next, an inter-scene takes place in November of 1836. Stankevich is playing a duet on the piano with Liubov. He confesses to her that he has kissed someone else, and she tells him that she has kissed Baron Renne.
Scene 6 is in Belinsky’s room in December of the same year. He enters and finds his lover, Katya, in his bed. She tells him about the police searching the room while he was at the Bakunins’ estate. He tells her about his visit with them. Michael storms in and they argue about Michael’s jealousy over Tatiana’s feelings for Belinsky.
Another inter-scene takes place in January of 1837. Pushkin is seen in a concert hall doorway. He exits and a shot is heard.
The next scene is back in Belinsky’s room in February of 1837. Stankevich is there, and they are talking about Pushkin’s death. Stankevich gives Belinsky money to go to the spas and get better. Stankevich is also ill, and he reveals that he is going to propose to Liubov after he gets well.
In the eighth scene, it is April of 1838, and Michael has moved in with Belinsky. Belinsky is the new editor of the Moscow Observer and is expressing his pride about it while Michael packs. Michael is going home to confront his father about his wishes for him to study agriculture when he wants to go to Berlin to study with a protégé of Hegel’s. Michael also tells Belinsky he thinks they should abandon the idea of running the Moscow Observer. They argue and Michael storms out.
In the next scene, it is June of 1840 and Michael is on a boat, waving goodbye to Herzen.
Scene 10 takes place a month later on a street in St. Petersburg. Belinsky and Herzen meet and talk about Michael. Herzen loaned him the money to travel to Berlin. Belinsky and Herzen argue about philosophy, and Herzen talks about his idea that they are all just sport for a giant ginger cat. Herzen tells Belinsky that Stankevich has died. Herzen leaves, and a large ginger cat enters and watches Belinsky.
The scene changes into a party in the spring of 1843. The Bakunins are there. Alexandra has married and is pregnant. Varenka is back with Dyakov. Chaadaev and Belinsky are discussing Pushkin and George Sand. Belinsky tells Tatiana he is getting married. Tatiana goes to speak with Turgenev. They have been exchanging letters, and she asks him for money to help Michael so that he does not end up in prison. Turgenev and Belinsky meet. He gives Belinsky a book of his poetry to review. Belinsky introduces himself to the ginger cat, and they stare at each other.
The last scene in Act II takes place back in Premukhino in the autumn of 1844. Semyon, the servant, escorts Alexander out to the garden. He is blind, and Varvara wants him to come back in so he will not catch cold. Tatiana comes in and asks her father about a letter he received. He tells her Michael refused an official summons to return home and was stripped of his noble rank and banished to Siberia with hard labor. They talk about the sun going down, and Alexander says he saw it set.