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Shalva Dadiani (1874-1959)

Shalva Dadiani was born in Zestaphoni in 1874, the son of Nikolas Dadiani (1844-1896), a poet known for his translations of Shakespeare, and Lidya Tsulukidze. He was educated at home, with the guidance of tutors.

In his youth, Shalva was captivated by the progressive, socialist, and nationalist ideas of the age. They already figure prominently in his first volume of poetry (Naperckali, 1892) and early prose works (published in the newspaper Iveria starting in 1896). The 1905 Russian revolution provided further impetus to the revolutionary strand running through Shalva's work. For example, his play In the Cave (1905) is an allegorical tale of the struggle of the working class for justice and freedom, while During the Feast (1907) portrays the dark forces of social reaction. A decade later, the play People from Yesterday (1917) looks forward to the impending fall of the old order and the changes that will ensue. These early works show the influence of the great Russian writer and activist Maxim Gorky, a father of the "socialist realism" school.

An actor and director as well as a playwright, Shalva began a theatrical career in 1893. In 1908, he formed Modzravi Dasi ("Mobile Troupe"), a traveling theatrical company that toured cities in Georgia and the surrounding region performing revolutionary works, including a play by Gorky that had been censored by the Russian authorities. In the Soviet era, he led the actors’ union for many years, and was chair of the Theatrical Society in the last decade of his life. He played over 200 roles on the stages of Kutaisi and Tbilisi. In the latter city, he worked closely with director Kote Marjanishvili, a director known for staging lavish spectacles.

Given his influences and beliefs, Shalva might have been expected to embrace the Soviet regime that came to power in Georgia in the early 1920s. Indeed, in course of his lifetime, he was honored with a number of Soviet awards, including the Order of Lenin. Later in life, he joined the Communist Party, and was even elected to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. Plays such his tragedy Tetnuldi (1931), with its depiction of the continuing struggle to establish a better world, and his historic-revolutionary drama From a Spark (1937), which describes the unification of Georgia's working class around Bolshevik organizations, are broadly sympathetic to Soviet ideals.

However, Shalva was not an uncritical supporter of the regime, and most of his Soviet-era writing is either apolitical or even subtly critical of the regime. For example, his comedy Straight Through Your Heart (1928) gently ridicules the bureaucracy, flattery, and deception that characterized the Soviet government of the day.

Shalva is widely known for his theatrical works, and his plays represent a significant portion of the repertoire of Georgian Soviet theatre. However, he was also the author of first historic novel in the canon of Georgian Soviet literature, and this remains his most famous single work. Written between 1916 and 1926, the novel was originally called The Unfortunate Russian, but Soviet censors demanded the title be changed to George the Russian. The main protagonist of the novel is George, the Russian husband of Queen Tamara Bagrationi, who ruled the Kingdom of Georgia from 1189 until 1213. Soon after the couple's marriage, George is banished from the Kingdom for serious indiscretions, and the story centers on his ongoing and ultimately unsuccessful efforts to overthrow the Queen.

At the very end of his life, Shalva also penned a memoir that has come to be regarded as one of the best of the genre in Georgian literature, What I Remembered (1959). This work focuses on Shalva's recollections of his father Nikolas, who was in his day one of Georgia's most famous poets. Shalva also wrote many other novels, reviews, and other works, and translated works by Shakespeare, Byron, Hauptman, Hofmannsthal, and others.

Shalva Dadiani was widely liked and respected by his contemporaries. Despite his artistic coming of age in an era of revolution and violence, he was known as a gentle and peaceful man. When he died in 1959, the newspaper Communist described the scene as follows:

The Writers' Union of Georgia is mourning. Columns, chandeliers, lamps are wrapped in black. In the middle of large hall, a tomb stands on a tall pedestal, surrounded with flowers and plants; there rests the body of Shalva Dadiani-venerable writer, public figure, and people's artist of Georgia.

Sounds of the death-march are heard. Guards change every three minutes. They are comprised of Georgian writers-the creators of modern Georgian literature. Writers are replaced by actors. Shalva Dadiani was a prominent figure of Georgian theater, one of the founders of Creative Union of Georgian Theatre and irreplaceable chair of Theatrical Society of the Republic.

Shalva Dadiani was buried at the Mtatsminda Pantheon. The Theatrical Society established a prize in his name, and a street in Tbilisi also bears his name.

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