The abolition of the Imperial monopoly in 1882 encouraged the gradual expansion of a network of private commercial and art theatres in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the provinces during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Expanded employment opportunities had the equivocal effect of making theatre more attractive as a professional activity and of creating a surplus of aspiring actresses and actors. Although this surfeit affected employment opportunities for both sexes, critics and representatives of the theatre community were particularly alarmed by the growing number of women entering the acting profession. When Nina Zarechnaia, Chekhov's hapless seagull, appeared on the stage in 1896, she assumed a dual significance: for critics, she represented the unhappy consequences of romantic selfdelusion; for young women eager for independence, adventure, and meaningful activity, she was an attractive symbol of self-sacrifice and devotion to a higher calling. Inspired by both fictional and real examples, aspiring actresses flocked to theatres thoughout Russia.