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The Nihilists is a play by Oscar Wilde. It is a melodramatic tragedy set in Russia and is loosely based on the life of Vera Zasulich. It was Wilde's first play, and the first to be performed. In 1880, with only a few copies privately printed, arrangements were made with noted actresses for a production the United Kingdom, but this never materialized. The first ever public performance was in New York in 1883 at the Union Square Theatre based on revisions made by Wilde while lecturing in America in 1882. The play was not a success and folded after only one week. It is rarely revived.Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish author, playwright and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. He is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.At the height of his fame and success, while his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), was still on stage in London, Wilde had the Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The charge carried a penalty of up to two years in prison. The trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with other men. After two more trials he was convicted and imprisoned for two years' hard labour. In 1897, in prison, he wrote De Profundis, which was published in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of 46.
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PERSONS IN THE PROLOGUE.
PERSONS IN THE PLAY.
ACT I. 
CORRECTIONS AND ADDITIONS.
PETER SABOUROFF (an Innkeeper).
VERA SABOUROFF (his Daughter).
MICHAEL (a Peasant).
Scene, Russia. Time, 1795.
IVAN THE CZAR.
PRINCE PAUL MARALOFFSKI (Prime Minister of Russia).
MARQUIS DE POIVRARD.
PETER TCHERNAVITCH, President of the Nihilists.
ALEXIS IVANACIEVITCH, known as a Student of Medicine.
Soldiers, Conspirators, &c.
Scene, Moscow. Time, 1800.
SCENE.—A Russian Inn.
Large door opening on snowy landscape at back of stage.
PETER SABOUROFF and MICHAEL.
PETER (warming his hands at a stove). Has Vera not come back yet,
MICH. No, Father Peter, not yet; ‘tis a good three miles to the post
office, and she has to milk the cows besides, and that dun one is a rare
plaguey creature for a wench to handle.
PETER. Why didn’t you go with her, you young fool? she’ll never love you
unless you are always at her heels; women like to be bothered.
MICH. She says I bother her too much already, Father Peter, and I fear
she’ll never love me after all.
PETER. Tut, tut, boy, why shouldn’t she? you’re young and wouldn’t be
ill-favoured either, had God or thy mother given thee another face.
Aren’t you one of Prince Maraloffski’s gamekeepers; and haven’t you got
a good grass farm, and the best cow in the village? What more does a
MICH. But Vera, Father Peter—
PETER. Vera, my lad, has got too many ideas; I don’t think much of ideas
myself; I’ve got on well enough in life without ‘em; why shouldn’t my
children? There’s Dmitri! could have stayed here and kept the inn; many
a young lad would have jumped at the offer in these hard times; but he,
scatter-brained featherhead of a boy, must needs go off to Moscow to
study the law! What does he want knowing about the law! let a man do his
duty, say I, and no one will trouble him.
MICH. Ay! but Father Peter, they say a good lawyer can break the law as
often as he likes, and no one can say him nay.
PETER. That is about all they are good for; and there he stays, and has
not written a line to us for four months now—a good son that, eh?
MICH. Come, come, Father Peter, Dmitri’s letters must have gone
astray—perhaps the new postman can’t read; he looks stupid enough, and
Dmitri, why, he was the best fellow in the village. Do you remember how
he shot the bear at the barn in the great winter?
PETER. Ay, it was a good shot; I never did a better myself.
MICH. And as for dancing, he tired out three fiddlers Christmas come two
PETER. Ay, ay, he was a merry lad. It is the girl that has the
seriousness—she goes about as solemn as a priest for days at a time.
MICH. Vera is always thinking of others.
PETER. There is her mistake, boy. Let God and our Little Father look to
the world. It is none of my work to mend my neighbour’s thatch. Why,
last winter old Michael was frozen to death in his sleigh in the
snowstorm, and his wife and children starved afterwards when the hard
times came; but what business was it of mine? I didn’t make the world.
Let God and the Czar look to it. And then the blight came, and the black
plague with it, and the priests couldn’t bury the people fast enough,
and they lay dead on the roads—men and women both. But what business
was it of mine? I didn’t make the world. Let God and the Czar look to
it. Or two autumns ago, when the river overflowed on a sudden, and the
children’s school was carried away and drowned every girl and boy in it.
I didn’t make the world—let God and the Czar look to it.
MICH. But, Father Peter—
PETER. No, no, boy; no man could live if he took his neighbour’s pack
on his shoulders. (Enter VERA in peasant’s dress.) Well, my girl,
you’ve been long enough away—where is the letter?
VERA. There is none to-day, Father.
PETER. I knew it.
VERA. But there will be one to-morrow, Father.
PETER. Curse him, for an ungrateful son.
VERA. Oh, Father, don’t say that; he must be sick.
PETER. Ay! sick of profligacy, perhaps.
VERA. How dare you say that of him, Father? You know that is not true.
PETER. Where does the money go, then? Michael, listen. I gave Dmitri
half his mother’s fortune to bring with him to pay the lawyer folk of
Moscow. He has only written three times, and every time for more money.
He got it, not at my wish, but at hers (pointing to VERA), and now for
five months, close on six almost, we have heard nothing from him.
VERA. Father, he will come back.
PETER. Ay! the prodigals always return; but let him never darken my
VERA (sitting down pensive). Some evil has come on him; he must be
dead! Oh! Michael, I am so wretched about Dmitri.
MICH. Will you never love any one but him, Vera?
VERA (smiling). I don’t know; there is so much else to do in the world
MICH. Nothing else worth doing, Vera.
PETER. What noise is that, Vera? (A metallic clink is heard.)
VERA (rising and going to the door). I don’t know, Father; it is not
like the cattle bells, or I would think Nicholas had come from the fair.
Oh! Father! it is soldiers!—coming down the hill—there is one of them
on horseback. How pretty they look! But there are some men with them
with chains on! They must be robbers. Oh! don’t let them in, Father; I
couldn’t look at them.
PETER. Men in chains! Why, we are in luck, my child! I heard this was to
be the new road to Siberia, to bring the prisoners to the mines; but I
didn’t believe it. My fortune is made! Bustle, Vera, bustle! I’ll die a
rich man after all. There will be no lack of good customers now. An
honest man should have the chance of making his living out of rascals
now and then.
VERA. Are these men rascals, Father? What have they done?
PETER. I reckon they’re some of those Nihilists the priest warns us
against. Don’t stand there idle, my girl.
VERA. I suppose, then, they are all wicked men.
(Sound of soldiers outside; cry of “Halt!” enter Russian officer with a
body of soldiers and eight men in chains, raggedly dressed; one of them
on entering hurriedly puts his coat above his ears and hides his face;
some soldiers guard the door, others sit down; the prisoners stand.)
PETER. Yes, Colonel.
COLONEL (pointing to Nihilists). Give these men some bread and water.
PETER (to himself). I shan’t make much out of that order.
COLONEL. As for myself, what have you got fit to eat?
PETER. Some good dried venison, your Excellency—and some rye whisky.
COLONEL. Nothing else?
PETER. Why, more whisky, your Excellency.
COLONEL. What clods these peasants are! You have a better room than
PETER. Yes, sir.
COLONEL. Bring me there. Sergeant, post your picket outside, and see
that these scoundrels do not communicate with any one. No letter
writing, you dogs, or you’ll be flogged for it. Now for the venison.
(To PETER bowing before him.) Get out of the way, you fool! Who is
that girl? (sees VERA).
PETER. My daughter, your Highness.
COLONEL. Can she read and write?
PETER. Ay, that she can, sir.
COLONEL. Then she is a dangerous woman. No peasant should be allowed to
do anything of the kind. Till your fields, store your harvests, pay your
taxes, and obey your masters—that is your duty.
VERA. Who are our masters?
COLONEL. Young woman, these men are going to the mines for life for
asking the same foolish question.
VERA. Then they have been unjustly condemned.
PETER. Vera, keep your tongue quiet. She is a foolish girl, sir, who
talks too much.
COLONEL. Every woman does talk too much. Come, where is this venison?
Count, I am waiting for you. How can you see anything in a girl with
coarse hands? (He passes with PETER and his aide-de-camp into an inner
VERA (to one of the Nihilists). Won’t you sit down? you must be tired.
SERGEANT. Come now, young woman, no talking to my prisoners.
VERA. I shall speak to them. How much do you want?
SERGEANT. How much have you?
VERA. Will you let these men sit down if I give you this? (Takes off
her peasant’s necklace.) It is all I have; it was my mother’s.
SERGEANT. Well, it looks pretty enough, and is heavy too. What do you
want with these men?
VERA. They are hungry and tired. Let me go to them?
ONE OF THE SOLDIERS. Let the wench be, if she pays us.
SERGEANT. Well, have your way. If the Colonel sees you, you may have to
come with us, my pretty one.
VERA (advances to the Nihilists). Sit down; you must be tired.
(Serves them food.) What are you?
A PRISONER. Nihilists.
VERA. Who put you in chains?
PRISONER. Our Father the Czar.
PRISONER. For loving liberty too well.
VERA (to prisoner who hides his face). What did you want to do?
DMITRI. To give liberty to thirty millions of people enslaved to one
VERA (startled at the voice). What is your name?
DMITRI. I have no name.
VERA. Where are your friends?
DMITRI. I have no friends.
VERA. Let me see your face!
DMITRI. You will see nothing but suffering in it. They have tortured me.
VERA (tears the cloak from his face). Oh, God! Dmitri! my brother!
DMITRI. Hush! Vera; be calm. You must not let my father know; it would
kill him. I thought I could free Russia. I heard men talk of Liberty one
night in a café. I had never heard the word before. It seemed to be a
new god they spoke of. I joined them. It was there all the money went.
Five months ago they seized us. They found me printing the paper. I am
going to the mines for life. I could not write. I thought it would be
better to let you think I was dead; for they are bringing me to a living
VERA (looking round). You must escape, Dmitri. I will take your place.
DMITRI. Impossible! You can only revenge us.
VERA. I shall revenge you.
DMITRI. Listen! there is a house in Moscow—
SERGEANT. Prisoners, attention!—the Colonel is coming—young woman,
your time is up.
(Enter COLONEL, AIDE-DE-CAMP and PETER.)
PETER. I hope your Highness is pleased with the venison. I shot it
COLONEL. It had been better had you talked less about it. Sergeant, get
ready. (Gives purse to PETER.) Here, you cheating rascal!
PETER. My fortune is made! long live your Highness. I hope your Highness
will come often this way.
COLONEL. By Saint Nicholas, I hope not. It is too cold here for me. (To
VERA.) Young girl, don’t ask questions again about what does not
concern you. I will not forget your face.
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