Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An Esperanto Nightingale

The nightingale
She sang topical songs in Esperanto, but how did they know they were topical?

It’s just a short item in the San Francisco Call of April 14, 1906 under the title “Here Is a Quartet of the Most-Talked-Of Women in the Domain of the Czar.” The article makes brief comment on four women, only one of whom is referred to with a full name. The four women are Mlle Vera Delaroziere, Mlle Slavin, Mlle Tcherniaskaia, and Mlle Tamara. That’s not a lot to go on.

The first, Ms. Delaroziere (I’ll go for a more contemporary means of referring to these women), is said to have “announced her divorce from the stage of the Strelna Winter Gardens” after which she “proceeded to read the amorous letters she had received.” It’s probably a safe assumption that the letters weren’t from her soon-to-be-ex husband. Ms. Slavin was described as trying to get the “smart set” (presumably just the women) to adopt her style of elaborate head ornamentation she wore. The third was a dancer suing her doctor for a botched cosmetic surgery job (artificial knee dimples). Finally, Ms. Tamara sang topical songs in Esperanto.

Let’s just get to that section of the article, leaving divorces, head gear, and dimple surgery behind.
Mlle. Tamara has created considerable sensation and interest in Moscow by singing topical songs written in Esperanto. It is not stated what proportion of her audience understands her.
Then how did they know that the songs were topical? Also, given the worries the czarist government had during the period (and their fears of being overthrown in a revolution were actually justified), and the number of times Esperanto had come under official scrutiny, it seems amazing that Ms Tamara managed to get away with it.

She seems to have been the news item of the moment. The San Francisco Call got their information from the March 21, 1906 issue of The Sketch, the British society magazine. The text and picture used in the Call are exactly what were used in the Sketch, which probably didn’t consider itself fair game for newspapers to copy.

I would be remiss if I simply wondered if the censors paid attention. Ms. Tamara did later come to the attention of the New York Times which did state that
her popularity has caused students of Esperanto among the political police to censor her songs and recitations.

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