Monday, December 10, 2018

Quotations from Lev Ozerov

Below are a few favorite lines from Lev Ozerov's Portraits without Frames


Khrushchev's sevenfold retinue
were falling over themelves,

No.  Like a forest or a garden
before a storm,
he was prepared to take the hit,

He felt the breath of the eleventh century

I wasn't walking behind him--
I was being drawn inexorably in his wake.

People like him are loved, but not
by envious courtiers,
slanderers, executioners,
smooth-tongued informers,
and members of the nomenclature.


but their ways are artful,
their craft invisible

He melted like a candle,
more swiftly than a candle. The era
of suspicion had set in..

He was in Komsomolsk,
on the river Amur.
Even in this hell
he knew moments of triumph.

Like it or not, he mastered
a few different crafts.
All came in handy: 
patience, silence, competence,
competence, deftness, silence.

If you want to speak,
keep silent.
There are ears everywhere,
ears and more ears.

Terribly cold--
and nothing to eat.
Only black,
soot-covered icicles--
prisoners' popsicle,
cattle-track toffee.

The dacha smells
of pine shavings and sun.

His politeness rings
and tinkles
like a teaspoon in a glass.

You cannot stay angry with Korney Ivanovich.
He has rewarded you with a smile,
a flick of the wrist, the  manners of Oxford,

A Tacitus of prosody,
knocked off course by his enemies!

the rainstorm is having a ball--
it slams raindrops into the pavement
and hammers them flat as they fall.

with the bows of suffering
on violins of time

The tips of his forehead and chin
reach for each other;
between them nests the clever smile

On legs of jelly
I went off to the Lybyanka

as he searched for the right,
astonishing word,
what you saw was a centaur,
a battle-bowed, armor-clad
warrior of the word--

At a time like this
honest people are not asleep.

The Tretykaov Gallery is turning
quietly crimson, as it often does
at dawn, enjoying a rest from visitors
and their all-knowing guides.

The doctor gently touched his back
and said, "I understand.
I'm not asking whether
or not you drink. I don't
need to.  I'm asking if
you have a bite to eat
when you drink."

His doctor's coat is laundered blue-white
and is so starched that it rustles.
A kingpin medic,
with a pack of assistants

Angina, high blood pressure,
a heart corroded by tyranny,

Verdure and stone,
cheek by jowl--
so begins
the story of our lives.

Looking after his friends was his vocation,
his "small area of expertise,"
as he sometimes put it.

There are a lot of cars.
Which are Black Marias,
we don't know.

a truly Soviet
caricature of a capitalist,
a man, I could see,
with an unerring
eye for commercial opportunity.




Chekhov Revised

The Cambridge Companion to Chekhov, edited by Vera Gottlieb and Paul Allain, is a treasure drove of information about one of Russia's most important writers. It's got wonderful essays on each of Chekhov's major plays, as well as an essay that discusses his lesser known, but still well-made, short plays.  It's also got informative essays on Chekhov's influence on acting, stagecraft, and film, and other essays on his short stories.   Below are some short descriptions of just a few of the essays that I found particularly intriguing.  Overall, one gets a sense of Chekhov's aesthetic genius, but also a sense that this genius may be a little less historically transcendent than we might have once believed.  In other words, the essays convince us that Chekhov had something extremely important to say about the human condition in the early part of the twentieth century, but that his insight may have been particularly shocking at a particular moment in European literary history.  Perhaps this is as it should be.  Plays, in particular, often seem to be rooted in a particular aesthetic moment, although Greek Plays, Shakespeare, and maybe Oscar Wilde, seem to weather the passing of time rather well.

Alexander Chudakov

Chudakov's biographical essay on Chekhov emphasizes the fact that the author was always grounded in the specific, material problems of existence.  This approach may have originated from the author's experience with medicine and science.  At any rate, Chekhov's aesthetics always involve everyday difficulties and detailed landscapes, and the absence of authorial comment.  Chedukov's approach to storytelling reminds me that I once read a critical analysis of Woody Allen's movie, Annie Hall, in which the critic pointed out that Allen had introduced the love affair in media res, with the couple spilling onto the screen in the midst of a relatively banal fight about the movie they are about to see. By the time the audience meets the two lovers, they sense the two protagonists are already deeply familiar with one another, almost to the point of boredom or annoyance. The realism of Annie Hall stems from the fact that the romanticism of their origins has been eliminated from the script.  Chudakov says Chekhov always placed his characters into precise settings, and drew inspiration from the men and women he had observed in such settings.

Emma Polotskaya

Polotskaya thinks the secret of Chekhov is the metaphors he uses to describe Russia.   He thinks of Russia as a desert, a plain, an abyss, or even a prison. These metaphors all seem to describe some measure of isolation as well as suffering or even oppression. Chekhov wasn't of course only inspired by his art or personal philosophy of existence to think of Russia as a place of suffering.  He had worked among impoverished Russians and encountered misery in his travels to Sakhalin Island. Chekhov's attitude toward Russian misery, or human misery in general,  suggests that he was a pessimist.  However, Chekhov's power as an artist is related to the fact that he was ambivalent about the future.  Clearly, many of his short stories and plays include characters who maintain some level of faith in the ability of individuals to work for the social improvement of Russia.

Anatoly Smeliansky

This author focuses on Chekhov's influence on theater via the Moscow Art Theater.  According to Smeliansky, Chekhov wanted a drama of life rather than a drama in life.  Avoiding any authorial voice, Chekhov obscured his plots and provided audiences with little consolation and no explanation for the tragic dimensions of his plays. His plays were always ensemble productions. He also placed emphasis on the psychological aspects of existence.  As Chekhov once stated, his characters now shot themselves due to ennui rather than due embezzlement, as they had before.

Vera Gottlieb

Gottlieb discovers Chekhov's contributions to a modernist theater in a letter to his brother in 1886.  According to the letter, a playwright should avoid political or social commentary, work toward "total objectivity," truthfully describe persons and objects, avoid prolixity and stereotypes, and cultivate compassion.  Gottlieb also depicts the change in Chekhov's approach to modern tragedy thus:  In conventional theater, characters aren't able to affect change in their environment for one reason or another, but in Chekhov's plays, the characters could take control of their situation, but for "complex reasons" do not elect to do so.

Patrice Pavis

For Pavis, Ivanov bears witness to the invention of a new dramaturgy.  In older plays, audiences encounter well-defined conflicts, well-made plots, clearly externalized actions, dramatic structures that overshadow characters' dramatic words, and characters who acts as the author's mouthpieces.  In Ivanov, we now see ambiguity, ellipsis, unspoken or implicit character motivations, and indeterminacy.  The flow of plot is logical, dramatic, planned, and expected.  The new dramaturgy leaves audiences unguided. New new plot, such as it is, is decentralized.  With Ivanov, Chekhov is in the process of creating a theater of silences, suspension, and subtexts.

Thomas Kilroy

In the Seagull, Chekhov demonstrated a kind of Olympian detachment from his characters' lives. This detachment allowed him to be generous in his views of their everyday tragedies. From this perspective, Chekhov notes that his characters are suffering from the passage of time. And with time flowing irreversibly, no true heroism is really possible.  If anything, a Chekhovian character can only hope to be persistent, to move "through and beyond" failure.  In the Seagull, every character is caught up in the awkward, untidy, confusing present.  While trying to see the future more clearly, Chekhov's characters often appear to be absurd.  However, their absurdity is inevitable--part of the human condition.

Leonid Heifetz

Chekhov's Uncle Vanya portrays a typical Russian intellectual, incapable of achieving greatness through action.  Indeed, Heifetz declares that every character in the play is a born loser.  Heifetz thinks that Chekhov has somehow captured the essence of the twentieth century by depicting a man who isn't even capable of killing himself.




Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Romanoffs--Episode Three (Spoiler Alert)

The first and second episodes of The Romanoffs address the place of the Romanovs within Russian history somewhat obliquely.  The third episode take us to the heart of the Romanov story.  In this episode, an American actress arrives in Vienna to participate in a six-part miniseries about the Romanovs.  As in the first episode, this plot line is utterly cosmopolitan.  The actress playing Empress Alexandra is American, the series is shot in Austria, and the director (a former actress) is French.

Unlike the previous episodes, the mood of the episode is dark, mysterious, and often surreal.  As in a typical horror movie, the American actress is driven to the set by a creepy chauffeur, occupies a room in an old hotel that seems to possess its own secrets, gets startled by people coming to her door (with script notes, it turn out) late at night, and finds hotel staff behaving strangely.  Apparently, the nightmarish quality of the episode is meant to set the stage for the nightmarish conclusion of the Romanov miniseries.

The episode portrays several different scenes of Romanov history.  In one scene in the miniseries, Tsar Nicholas is braiding his wife for her conduct with Rasputin.  In another, Rasputin throws himself at Alexandra.  But there's no doubt that the central point of this miniseries is horror.  A wounded Rasputin is thrown into a river while still alive.  The Czar, his wife, and his children, are all massacred in a basement, their bodies set on fire.

The emotional core of this episode is the American actress' personal response to tragedy.  Having lost her mother, she's vulnerable further emotional distress.  Although a self-confident actress, she's increasingly unsettled by an eccentric director, an on-set love affair with the actor who plays Rasputin, and by the character she is portraying. She begins to imagine things, including a young child, dressed in Romanov clothes, who runs through her room at night.  Was this girl real or imagined? She no longer knows.

The episode concludes with the American actress being forcibly abducted in the middle of the night and tossed into the basement where she and her family will be murdered.  As it turns out, the murder is a farce.  Horrible as the scene is, the dead are all actors.  However, when everyone else gets off the ground, the American actress remains where she is.  While she had earlier expressed skepticism that anyone could ever die of fright, she has, apparently, done just that.

The episode requires viewers to ponder the nature of art.  What would it take for this mediocre American actress to become a great one?  According to her director, she would need to really occupy the position of the Empress.  She would need to be simultaneously powerful and weak;  powerful insofar as she rules a husband, who in turn rules an Empire, and weak insofar as she fears for the health and safety of her hemophiliac son.

But the episode also invites viewers to think of about the meaning of the Romanov murders.  Why are we still creating miniseries about the Romanovs/Romanoffs?  The episode suggests that the enduring legacy of this crime is related to the fact that the Romanovs were utterly unprepared for their fate.  Led into the basement, the czar, expecting to be photographed, but probably fearing the worst, only had time to make a feeble protest before the slaughter began.  

The episode also suggests that the murders possess lasting symbolic, aesthetic, and mythological significance.  After all, by the time of the massacre, Nicholas has been on the thrown for a very long long time. But neither the Austrian miniseries, nor the Romanoff episode that tells the story of this miniseries, spend much time on political narrative, or narrative of any sort.  Rather, the miniseries and Romanoff episode dwell upon one relatively brief, if spectacularly gruesome, moment in time.

Why privilege a moment in time over a long storyline?  The French director provides some clues.
At one point, the director claims to be a Romanov;  later, she admits she is not.  In a sense, she seems to be saying that insofar as the Romanovs have become a part of world mythology, we can all claim to be Romanovs.  That is to say, the Romanoffs aren't really a particular clan who made important choices 100 years ago.  Rather, they are archetypical victims, or perhaps archetypical victimizers/victims if one has participated in the myth more deeply.

At another point in the episode, the director tells her assistant that she can change the specific facts of the Bolshevik coverup for cinematic purposes.  Who, after all, is around to point out her errors?  Here, she seems to be saying that the Romanov murders must now be treated as aesthetic, rather than historical, events. They are horrible, but not for any particular political or moral reason.  Instead, they are horrible because the villainy is so unmitigated, and the victimhood so self-evident.  Like the Clutters in In Cold Blood, Nicholas and his family died for no reason at all, and a basement was involved.  The murders of Nicholas and his family remain horrible, after all, even as they migrated from Siberia to Vienna to Hollywood.




Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Arthur Randsome's The Truth About Russia (1918), and Six Weeks in Russia (1919)

Arthur Ransome's short pamphlet, The Truth About Russia, is an extremely sympathetic firsthand account of the author's short sojourn in Russia in the wake of revolutionary upheaval.  In the immediate aftermath of the revolutionary moment, Ransome, a journalist (and later fantastically successful children's author) who was fluent in the Russian language, analyzes events, interviews revolutionary protagonists, and observes heroic (if sometimes antidemocratic or even authoritarian) attempts to stabilize the new revolutionary government in Russia.  At first glance, the book strikes one as one of the more biased descriptions of the fledgling government. For Ransome seems to be willing to forgive Lenin, Trotsky, and other Bolshevik leaders, for everything.  The Bolshevik's willingness to employ terror to pursue political goals is almost entirely ignored, or even defended.  The ruthlessness of revolutionary leaders is downplayed.  The socialist experiment is applauded.  However, the overt bias only temporarily deflects the readers' attention from the author's ability to depict the contingent, vertiginous, and makeshift aspects of the post-revolutionary moment.  Thus, although readers know that government by Soviet turned out to be profoundly authoritarian, Ransome allows us to see that nobody at that time could have been certain that the new government (i.e., Stalinism, which eventually succeeded Lenininsm) would have been so much worse than the old one.  So while Ransome unfairly downplays the importance of the Constituent Assembly, his belief that the Russian Revolution was making things up as it went along is substantively correct.  In 1919, the future still seemed open-ended.  What should each basic government function look like in a revolutionary era?  No one knew for certain.  Marx and Engels' written guidance only took one so far.  Indeed, Ransome's journal reminds us that the revolutionary readers were still waiting for the rest of Europe to follow their example.  To quote Ransome:  "The first aim of the Bolsheviks was, as it always will be, a universal revolution."

Arthur Ransome's more extended essay on revolutionary events, Six Weeks in Russia, follows the Russian Revolution into Civil War.  At this point, Ransome seems more willing to admit that the Revolution has its downside.  From the start, he tells readers that he will defend neither the White Terror nor the Red Terror.  Of course, Ransome remains firmly on the side of the revolutionary project as a whole.  That is to say, he prefers the "dictatorship of the proletariat" to the "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie."  But he's now more interested in examining how the Bolsheviks are implementing communism than in why they implemented it.  He follows the government's approach to housing and food distribution (e.g., public feeding houses).  He tracks the government's approach to futurist art (i.e., large paintings depicting the Revolution and sculptures celebrating its anniversary).  He notices the government's attempts to come to terms with transport shortages and industrial disorder. As he notes, "The political excitement of the revolution has passed and today there were no more spectators than are usually to be found in the gallery of the House of Commons."

In general, Six Weeks in Russia demonstrates that the Bolsheviks were actually debating many policies at this early stage of consolidation.  What is more, they were starting to think about concrete problems of food distribution in addition to finding new ways to underwrite global revolution.  Some former enthusiasts were noticing cracks in the facade of communism, and Ransome doesn't ignore this disillusionment altogether. Nevertheless, Ransom retained his sense of enthusiasm about the early stages of a grand experiment.  Indeed, Ransome was almost starstruck by Lenin, Trotsky, Bukharin, Chicherin, Kollontai, and other socialist luminaries. Generally, Ransome was optimistic about the future of Russian communism.  However, his short memoir does betray a continual anxiety among Soviet leaders about conspiracies, social enemies, and external foes.  While it's difficult to see how early Soviet government converted to full-scale Terror, the signs of paranoia are not altogether absent from Ransome's portrayal of early Soviet thinking.  The peasants, for instance, are not yet tamed.  As Bukarin admits,



Quotations from The Truth About Russia

Those whom the gods love take the youth of their hearts and throw themselves gladly on that side, even if, clear-sighted, they perceive that the fires of revolution will burn up perhaps the very things that, for themselves they hold most dear.

I think it possible that the revolution will fail.  If so, then its failure will not mean that it loses its importance.

Revolutions are not definite political acts carried out by the majority in a nation who are unanimous in desiring a single definite object.

...revolution is a kind of speeding up of the political flux...

...revolution is not an act of political life but a state of political life.

...there was not a single class in the nation that was not dissatisfied with the Tsar.  The tsar, accordingly, left the stage as politely as he could, as painlessly as a person in a play.

....they having forgotten that they were fighting for a democracy, and that the enfranchisment of 180 million souls was in itself a greater victory than they had set out to gain...

The point that I wish to make is this that from the first moment of the revolution to the present day, the real authority of the Soviets has been unshaken.

Every workman, every peasant in Russia has the right to vote in the election of deputies to his local Soviet...

No one contends that the Bolsheviks are angels.

Quotations from Six Weeks in Russia

"the greatest convulsion in the history of our civilization"

"appeal of the revolution"

"the creative effort of the revolution"

I asked her how she liked the revolution.  She said there was not a lot to eat, but she felt freer.


Monday, October 29, 2018

Gaito Gazdanov's The Specter of Alexander Wolf

Gaito Gazdanov's novella, The Specter of Alexander Wolf, is an unusual mixture of novel, mystery, and metaphysical treatise on the nature of love, fate, memory, and death.  The plot revolves around the protagonist's memory of a brief but violent encounter in the Russian Civil War.  Now working as a journalist in Paris, the site of Russia's greatest community of exiles, the narrator, a White, is obsessed with the memory of combat with a Red soldier many years before.  Believing he killed his opponent, the narrator seems to have been utterly transformed by guilt.  Appropriately, the book begins with his confession.  "Of all my memories," he writes, "of all my life's innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of a single murder I had committed."

While killing an opponent in the midst of war is not ordinarily considered murder, the author has no doubts about the immorality of his action.  Indeed, the author repeatedly returns to this single moment of violence.  His obsession with the event manifests in two ways.  First, the protagonist appears to have become somewhat detached from his own life.  That is to say, he lives a cool, detached existence, and seeks thrills by interacting with damaged women, criminals, and Paris' underworld.  His job as a journalist perfectly represents this life of  detachment.  After all, every journalist is obligated to cover an endless strings of events with absolute objectivity. Second, the protagonist imagines that an English author might be the man he thought he had killed.  In the end, the protagonist meets his victim, and the memory of trauma is manifested in the flesh.

The Specter of Alexander Wolf is an elliptical work.  The author has intentionally avoided any clear explication of his plot and its significance.  We do not always know why the author chooses to dwell on certain subplots and themes.  What is the significance of the protagonist's love interest?  Why is his visit to a boxing match important?  Why does the author spend time discussing the protagonist's encounter with criminals? The book is awash in similar ellipses. We do know even know why author's shadow is writing in English rather than French or even Russian.  In any event, the book is clear about one thing:  fate does have a hold on the protagonist and his shadow.  It's clear that neither the protagonist nor Alexander Wolf can ever forgot the violence of the Russian Civil War.  Like most Russians, the disaster of modern Russian history will follow them forever.

If the book has an unusual (and someone haphazard) plot, its meandering style seems to provide readers with an interesting commentary about fate.  For although the book's protagonist sees the hand of fate in his early encounter with death, his life actually seems somewhat chaotic and un-mapped.  The paradox may explain the author's apparent sloppiness.  The random events of the protagonist's  life seem to suggest that the more we understand the trajectories of our life, and the inescapable nature of fate, the more we are forced to let go of our attempt to maintain an orderly, intelligent, and intelligible, daily existence.


Some favorite quotes from the book: 


"He was one of those archetypal adventurers, renowned in the annals of every revolution and every civil war."

"I was a hardened man," he said;  "I'd seen my comrades killed before my very eyes, I myself had often risked my life, and everything had washed over me like water off a duck's back.  But that day I went home, lay down on my bed and cried like a little boy."

"His entire life had been remarkable for a striking consistency:  a succession of shady dealings, spurious bank transactions and party betrayals..."

"Or look at it this way:  take a beautiful woman, like Marina, for who dozens of people are even prepared to die--a few years and there'll be nothing left of her other than a rotting corpse.  Now is that really fare?"

"The first city she ever saw was Murmansk."

"Your gift for thinking interferes with you:  Without it, of course, you'd be happy."

"Sometimes there's nothing duller than being right."

"Every life becomes clear--that is to say, it's path, its twists and turns--only in its final moments."

"Every love affair is an attempt to thwart fate; it's a naive illusion of brief immortality..."

"Sometime later she came to understand how this man was able to exist and what had supported him on his long journey toward death:  he was a morphine addict."

Had he ever loved her?  No, it had been a lengthy misunderstanding.

Fate was especially derisive in its dealings with me.  I could never forget one woman I was seeing, remarkable in many respects, but outstanding for her unspeakably hellish nature.

I spent years feeling sorry for her;  feeling truly sorry for her, I did everything so that she might be less unfortunate, since she herself was the primary victim of her own flaws.




Quotations from Marina Tsvetaeva's Earthly Signs

Quotations from Marina Tsvetaeva's Earthly Signs

(And so it has remained with me, my first vision of the bourgeoisie in the Revolution:  ears hiding in fur hats, souls hiding in fur coats, heads hiding in necks, eyes hiding in glass.)

Like a kind of magician revealing secrets to his children, [Max V] relates the course of the entire Russian Revolution five years in advance:  the terror, the Civil War, the executions, the military outposts, the Vendee, the atrocities, the loss of godliness, the  unloosed spirits of the elements, blood, blood, blood...

Bolshevik appeals on the walls. Long-bearded Tatars at the tables.  How slowly they drink, how sparingly they speak, how imposingly they move.

"God, comrades, was the first revolutionary!"

"Our revolution's young, but in France theirs is old, stale."

"What--you have your own dacha in the Crimea?"
I, calmly:  "Yes, and a house in  Moscow."  (I made up the dacha).
--Silence--
"My defender:  "You sure our grave, little Mussis.  Come, you don't really want to admit to such things now do you?  These days a body's so afraid, he's happy to bury his house, his money, even himself in the ground with his own two hands!"

"And you Ma'am...you wouldn't be a Bolshevik?
Someone else:  "What kind of Bolshevik when they have their own house?"

They promise all kinds of good fortune (up to and including pork lard).  They threaten all kinds of misfortune (up to and including murder.)

"They're infected with this new life, they've caught this mange."

"You, Miss, you're a young person, you're likely to see things different, but to my way of thinking--all these red rabbles, these obscene freedoms--it's nothing, but a temptation of the Antichrist."

There are almost no men: In the Revolution, as always, the weight of everyday life falls on women:  Previously--in sheaves, now in sacks. (Everyday life is a sack:  with holes.  And you carry it anyway.)

"Why do I keep saying "Miss"--you're in worse shape than a widow!"

"How can you  leave gold behind and just take off?"
I, distinctly:  "I not only left behind my gold, but...my children!"

Love--and God.  How do they manage to combine them?

The sled is my comrade-in-woe, and the potatoes are the woe.  We carry our own woe!

Alys, before going to sleep: 
"Marina! I wish you the best of everything on earth.  Maybe:  Of everything left on earth..."

The first sight of love is that very shortest distance between two points, that divine straight line, of which there's no second.

Sensual love and motherhood almost exclude each other.  Genuine motherhood is manly. 

How many motherly kisses fall on unchildlike heads--and how many unmotherly ones--on children's heads!

Remarriage is posthumous adultery.

There are lots of wives, few mistresses. A true wife results from a shortage (of love), a true mistress from an excess.

I should be drinking you from a mug, but I'm drinking you in drops, which make me cough.

Betrayal already points to love.  You can't betray an quittance.

"A living person" will never allow oneself to be loved as the "dead" will. 






Friday, October 26, 2018

The Romanoffs--Episode Two (Spoiler Alert)

The second episode of the Romanoffs is set in America.  Its treatment of the legacy of the Romanov/Romanoff name centers around violence.  In the first episode, the theme of violence was muted, but still somewhat present.  For the Romanoff widow tells her servant that her magnificent French apartment was once occupied by Nazis, and that one of these Nazi leaders raped her young sister there. The description of this violence is disturbing on its face, but the story actually implies several levels of brutality that serve as a backdrop to the rape.  First, we know that the Romanov royal family was executed, and that other branches of the Romanov/Romanoff family were displaced by violence or the threat of violence.  Were it not for this violence, the widow and her sister would probably have not been in Paris at the time of its occupation.  Second, the widow tells her servant that the Nazis chose her family's apartment as a headquarters precisely because they knew the Romanoffs would be sympathetic to them.  Historically speaking, the Romanoffs were the inveterate enemies of revolution, and inveterate allies of counter-revolution.  That is to say, Nicholas II used violence to put down revolutionary protests, then died at the hands of revolutionaries.  And after his death, his relatives continued to lead the charge against Communist Russia, even if that meant hosting Nazis in their apartments.  There are repeating cycles of violence here.  The Romanovs killed rebels, and were killed by rebels.  The Romonoffs embraced fascism, or at least Right Wing political parties, and suffered a rape by way of compensation. 

The second episode deals with violence more directly.  Its protagonist has almost no direct knowledge of Romanov traditions. He knows that a branch of his family was murdered by Bolsheviks, and we eventually discover that he and his wife made the decision to book a cruise on a Romanov family cruise.  The theme of violence first manifests itself in a murder trial.  In order to romantically pursue a fellow juror, this Romanoff elects to join the jury himself.  Thus, a courtship takes place in the context of a brutal murder trial.  When this Romanoff first talks to the female juror, he causally mentions that his own family was murdered.  Later, in attempting to escape his marriage, he attempts to push his wife off a cliff.

Thus, this episode's Romanoff is a psychopath:  he's fully immersed in violence, and immune to any negative connotations associated with it.  He knows a part of his family was murdered in 1918, but seems not to care very much about this fact.  He knows that a woman has been brutally murdered, but he elects to continuously stare at a lovely woman rather that at the crime scene photos being presented to the jury.  And finally, he's willing to kill his wife in order to give him a better chance of staying in a relationship with a married woman who does not love him. 

The theme of violence is complemented by the theme, carried over from episode one, of invented history.  Ironically, the protagonist's wife, rather than the "real" Romanoff, goes on the Romanov/Romanoff-themed cruise.  On the cruise, people dress up as aristocrats, drink vodka, watch wild Cossack dances, observe a giant Faberge egg, and enjoy the kind of entertainment once reserved for the tsars, i.e., dwarf comedy a la Peter the Great.

Historically speaking, the episode seems to suggest that traditions can be both fake and real at the same time.  On the one hand, it's clear that most of the Romanoffs on the cruise have very little authentic connection to Russia, or Russian history.  Their vision of the Romanov family legacy, and Russian culture more broadly, is a tourist's:  superficial, symbolic, and often grotesque.  When the Romanoff's wife is asked about her heritage, she professes not to care.  She's a mix of European ethnicities, and believes the whole subject is ridiculously unimportant.  On the other hand, in therapy she reveals the fact that she had learned that the Romanovs were, in general, deeply damaged people.  For this reason, the trip has helped her to sympathize with her husband.  She's listened to a lecture on the Romanov family tragedy, and now understand her husband's ambivalence about life itself.  Her epiphany represents a paradox:  going on the cruise, she cannot help but see that the Romanoffs are trying to recapture a past that has utterly escaped them, but somehow their very desperation for an imaginary past demonstrates its continuing vitality.  Romanoffs like her husband aren't Russian or aristocratic, but they're Russian and aristocratic past continues to haunt them.