This map plots the settings and references in Nights at the Circus

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Petersburg, 1899

The 'Silver Age' of St Petersburg's history began in 1894 with the accession of Tsar Nicholas II.  However, his official coronation in May 1896 foreshadowed the problems which lay ahead, as 1,389 people were trampled to death in a mass panic on Khodynka Field.  The early 20th century saw attempted revolution, a new Parliament and the eventual horrors of WWI.  However, before these troubles began the city enjoyed a cultural revival and was home to many great artists, musicians, composers, writers and poets.  The Mariinsky Theatre - formerly the Imperial Circus - showed famous ballet and opera performers, whilst the cheaper People's House made theatre more accessible to the wider population.

Russia had changed dramatically in the preceding years with the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the comparative decline of the landed aristocracy and the growth of industry.  Whilst the nation had great prospects, it lagged behind Germany, France and England in the development of roads and railways and was considered poor and underdeveloped.  This was the Russia of Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) and of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), both of whom wrote their most important works between 1861 and the failed revolution in 1904. 

Petersburg is one of the major cities of Russia and for many years was the capital of the Russian Empire.  It lies in the close to the border with Finland, and boasts both river and sea ports.  Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, its name was changed for political reasons in the 1914 to Petrograd, to Leningrad in 1924 and back to St Petersburg in 1991.  By 1899, the city's architecture was a mixture of neoclassical and romantic, with notable buildings including the Winter Palace, the Peter and Paul Cathedral and the Hermitage museum.  The River Neva divides the city and the Nevsky Prospect, situated on its left bank, has been immortalised in images and literature of the city.

Following the emancipation of the serfs, many peasants remained dissatisfied with their prospects, as they were taxed highly on poor quality land which they were still unable to purchase as individuals.  With 80% of Russia's population falling into this class, former agricultural workers flocked to the cities seeking an alternative way of life, or continued an old tradition of escaping to Siberia, where serfdom had never existed.  Poor boroughs sprang up on the edges of Petersburg and its population surpassed that of Moscow with 1,260,000 inhabitants in 1900.    Many of those in the poor districts, among which Clown Alley lies, experienced poor diets and living conditions which allowed diseases such as cholera to spread rapidly.   The Tsar retained total control of the country, but poor communications and widespread illiteracy made it difficult for his words to reach the struggling peasants. The rising anger of these underclasses led to a wide spectrum of political reformers of more and less radical shades, attempted revolution in 1904 and dramatic changes to Russian politics throughout the 20th century.

In contrast, the Hotel l'Europe where Fevvers resides lies right on the Nevsky Prospect, and has been considered one of the finest hotels in the city since its opening in 1875.  At the turn of the century, it boasted luxurious bedrooms, private entrances and reading rooms where staff blocked out offending articles in a wide range of international newspapers.  It continues to thrive today.