Tatiana’s story

April 26, 2009

This is a backstory I wrote for the monologue Tatiana, written by an unknown playwright at the BPP. The monologue is about 2/3 page long and only hints at the recent past. I wanted to place Tatiana into a more extensive context, so I wrote this. Some of Mama’s history is drawn from the story of Irina Skariatina.

It is 1963. Tatiana sits in a tearoom in her Mississippi hometown, across from her maternal aunt. It is the day before her wedding. Tatiana is about to disclose a secret she’s never told anyone. For her aunt, the secret has much more resonance than Tatiana will ever know.

Tatiana has been raised as a Southern belle: polite, charming, well-behaved, and controlled. She had a very close bond with her mother (“Mama”), who died when Tatiana was 13. All Tatiana knows about her mother’s past is that Mama came from Russia a long time ago with Aunt and Great-Aunt and that they were part of the aristocracy in some way.

What we know:

Mama was raised in a large, aristocratic family and was a minor princess. She was born in 1906, the fourth of six children. After the Revolution, her family moved from city to city, trying to find a safe place. First her grandfather disappeared into Bolshevik hands, then her father. At that point her remaining family determined to attempt emigration. Great-Aunt went first with Mama and Aunt. Mama was 14. It was 1920.

Great-Aunt and the girls settled in Paris among the large Russian emigrĂ© population. Unbeknownst to the girls, Great-Aunt was pulling every string she could to try to get the rest of the family out of the Soviet Union. They had agreed to try to meet in Paris before deciding on a permanent home. Much to Great-Aunt’s frustration and fear, she heard nothing whatsoever from the family; indeed, she never heard from them again.

Great-Aunt and the girls stayed in Paris for two years, during which time Great-Aunt insisted on the girls’ keeping up their education and grooming for “polite society.” After seeing how quickly her finances were being exhausted, Great-Aunt determined to move to America in the hopes that she and the girls could leave the chaos of Europe behind and live comfortably within their means.

The threesome traveled to the United States, where Great-Aunt was drawn to the South for its culture of gracious hospitality among the well-to-do. She was actively grooming Mama, who was now 16, for a good marriage to a (preferably) wealthy man. While each of the threesome held onto mementos (photos, jewelry, clothing) from their past, they never spoke of Russia or the Bolshevik terrors again.

Even though Great-Aunt worked very hard to erase the girls’ Russian accents and replace them with a more Southern drawl, her efforts were only moderately successful. It took some time to break into polite society but their impeccable manners and air of mystery aided them.

Great-Aunt’s dream was realized when Mama married Daddy in early 1929. Mama was 23 at the time. Daddy was a landowner-turned-industrialist. Most importantly, he was rich. Great-Aunt and Aunt lived nearby until Aunt made her own, less “successful” marriage two years later.

The stock market crash and Depression didn’t affect Mama and Daddy’s social set to the extent it did so much of the nation, but they did recognize that times were tough. Still, they continued their old traditions of balls and debuts.

Mama gave birth to two boys (much to Daddy’s pride) and then, later, Tatiana. What no one but Mama ever knew was that Tatiana was named for the beautiful second daughter of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra.

Daddy was never much interested in Tatiana. Mama, though, bonded strongly with her. She would sometimes show Tatiana the photos she had smuggled out of Russia, naming each stiff, unsmiling, gorgeously arrayed relative until Tatiana could name them herself. It never occurred to Tatiana to ask where these people were. All she knew was that her mother was glamorous and beautiful, with a wonderful voice and impeccable manners that people still commented on.

Mama died unexpectedly after a brief illness when Tatiana was 13. Almost immediately, Daddy packed up everything of Mama’s, including the old photos, and took them away. It was during this process that Tatiana recognized a pair of white gloves from the photographs. She immediately stole them and hid them from her family.

What Tatiana does not know is that the gloves belonged originally to her maternal grandmother, then to Mama. Mama was to wear them at her formal presentation to court when she came of age, but the Revolution intervened. Her mother made sure that Mama took the gloves with her when she escaped the U.S.S.R. Tatiana has seen them on her maternal grandmother in those faded old photographs that Mama showed her, but is not conscious of it.

Tatiana’s Great-Aunt had a large, dominating personality which was matched only by Tatiana’s paternal Grandmother’s. When Great-Aunt died a few years after Mama, Grandmother filled whatever vacuum was left. Tatiana’s Aunt was more quiet, sympathetic, and sweet—a Russian-Southern angel. Aunt never talked about Mama but didn’t stop Tatiana from doing so.

All parties were determined to raise Tatiana as a proper Southern belle. Daddy didn’t bat an eye as Great-Aunt and Grandmother took Tatiana in hand after Mama died. Tatiana wanted to please them all. More than anything, she wanted to capture the elegance and grace of Mama. She idolized her memory and tried to do everything as she imagined Mama would have done. This sometimes brought her into conflict with Grandmother, who inevitably won. Tatiana confined her acts of rebellion to dancing with Mama’s gloves or sleeping with them under her pillow.

When it came time for Tatiana to think of marriage, she was oddly reluctant. She did not self-examine too closely. She just said that all the boys she knew were “boring.” The pressure from Daddy and especially Grandmother continued to mount until both said they would cut her off without a cent if she didn’t marry within the year.

By then, Tatiana was 26 and running out of options. She’d had a decent education but she was primarily trained to be a decorative ornament for her husband. After reviewing the few candidates remaining to her, she chose Frank, a middle-aged widower with plenty of money. Frank placidly accepted a year-long engagement but the day of the wedding is finally come.

Tatiana and Aunt are having tea in an establishment patronized by the wealthy of their town. About 15 years from now, Tatiana will rebel against the strictures of her society and her family and lead her own life, but today she is shocking herself giddy with a mad confession long held silent. She knows that she will squeeze her arms into her own white gloves tomorrow and be a beautiful and dutiful wife, but she is comfortably numb about exactly what that will entail.

Aunt is safe to confess to. She’s never been completely accepted by the family, partly because of her more gentle personality. Tatiana knows that her secrets will be safe with her. She is also subconsciously trying to reach out to Mama on this day before her wedding and reclaim some of that old wistful magic. To Tatiana, it feels like tomorrow is the end of her life.

Read the monologue