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||Andrey Bely (1880-1934) - name also written Andrei Belyi; pseudonym of Boris Nikolayevich Bugaev or Bugayev|
Russian symbolist poet, memoirist, essayist and novelist, whose best-known work is Peterburg (1916, Petersburg), a baroque evocation of pre-revolutionary capital of Russia. Bely's masterpiece, with its playful use of language and literary experiments, has often been compared to James Joyce's Ulysses. The famous political thinker and essayist Isaiah Berlin has described Bely as "a man of strange and unheard-of insights – magical and a holy fool in the tradition of Russian Orthodoxy."
"For our own part, let us also say: Apollon Apollonovich was not in the slightest agitated upon surveying his completely green ears, enlarged to massive dimensions, against he blood-red background of a burning Russia. Thus had he recently been depicted: on the front page of a humorous little street journal, one of those little Yid journals, the blood-red covers of which multiplied in those days with shocking speed on the prospects that seethed with humanity..." (from Petersburg, translated by David McDuff)
Bely was born Boris Nikolayevich Bugaev in Moscow, the only child of
a prominent professor of mathematics, Nikolay Vasilevich Bugaev, and
Aleksandra Dmitrievna (née Egorova), a society woman. The marriage of
his parents was not a happy one and he was used as a pawn in
their battles. To distance Bely from his father, Aleksandra dressed him like a girl, and covered
up his "mathematician's
forehead" by keeping his hair long.
At an early age, Bely developed a passion for German music, especially for Wagner. Aleksandra, who was a gifted pianist, played Chopin and Beethoven in the evenings, and went to conserts with him. His father never accompanied them and he did not encourage Bely's interest in Wagner. (Wagner and Russia by Rosamund Bartlett, 1995, p. 140-142)
Before becoming "a writer by accident," Bely received a thoughtful education in the natural sciences at the University of Moscow, where he studied from 1899 to 1906 science, philology and philosophy. Bely was also interested in romantic music, religion, mysticism, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Kant and Maeterlinck affected him also. With the publication of his first prose work, he took the pen name Andrey Bely ("Andrew White"), partly because colors had for him a special significance and parly to avoid embarrassing his father, who was the dean of the faculty of science at Moscow. A positivist, he supported strongly the doctrine that all true knowledge was scientific. Bely's conflict with his father provided him a recurring theme in his works – in Petersburg a son plans to assassinate his father, a reactionary senator.
Bely was the most talented novelist of the "second-generation" of writers, who emerged from the Symbolist movement at the turn of the century. The period is commonly called the "Silver Age". Symbolists emphasized spiritual and mystical elements in art. Bely believed that it is possible to acquire knowledge of the "world beyond" through the contemplation of artistic "symbols." In his youth he had frequented the salon of M.S. Solovyov, and was introduced in the apocalyptic philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), who regarded poetic symbols as "windows on eternity". In the essay 'The Magic of Words' (1909) Bely stated that the word is a magical, world-creating force: "When I say 'I', I create a sound symbol. I assert this symbol as something existing. And only at that moment do I create myself," Bely wrote. The image symbol is connected with metaphor: "The word begot myth; myth begot religion; religion begot philosophy; and philosophy begot the term."
In his four Symphonies (1902-1908) Bely attempted to create a new literary form, which combined prose, poetry, music, and even, in part, painting. Anticipating structuralist-semiotic theories, he argued that a word has a logical meaning, and a certain phonetic sound has an emotional meaning.
Bely's first collection of verse, Zoloto v lazuri (1904), appeared when he was 24. Its optimistic in tone changed after the failure of the 1905 revolution into disillusionment in Pepel (1909). Urna (1909) was a collection of love lyrics. The three collections were typographically innovative and used daring metaphors. Urna was inspired by Bely's affair with Aleksandr Blok's wife Liubov Mendeleev – he later depicted his fellow poet in Vospominaniya o Bloke (1923). Bitterness between Blok and Bely led them to challenge each other to duels. However, some kind of truce was achieved when Bely fell in love with another woman. In 1909 he met the eighteen-year-old Asia Turgenieva, the grand niece of Ivan Turgenev. They married in 1912, but the date of their marriage, usually given as 1914, in Bern, Switzerland, is according to some sources perhaps a civil marriage required by Swiss law. They separated in 1921.
From 1903 to 1909 Bely contributed actively to the journal Vesy. He then worked for the publishing house Musagetes 1909-10. Bely's first novel, Serebryany golub (1909, Silver Dove), was structurally based on oppositions – the division between intelligentsia an the folk, spiritualism and eroticism, rationality and instincts. The protagonist, Petr Dar'ial'skii, is a young philosopher and poet. He searches spiritual revival, spends time among simple rural people, and is involved with an eschatological religious sect, the Doves. It is headed by an impotent carpenter, Kudearov, who has selected Dar'ial'skii as the surrogate father for a Dove-child. Later Bely claimed that he had foreseen in this novel the rise of Rasputin and Rasputinism.
Petersburg was a story of conspiracy and betrayal set in the days of the 1905 Revolution. In writing the novel, Bely especially studied the language of Pushkin and Gogol, becoming himself one of the masters of the written word. Yevgeny Zamyatin said that Bely's Petersburg has the same complicated relation to the Russian language that Ulysses has to English.
After P.B. Struve refused to publish the early version of the
novel in the journal Russian Thought, Bely continued his work,
and in 1913-14 it appeared in the almanac Sirin,
and later in book form. Still dissatisfied with the text, Bely started
a series of revisions, and this version was printed in Berlin in 1922.
In the Soviet Union Petersburg was published in 1928.
Originally it was conceived as the second part of Bely's East and West
trilogy, the first part was The Silver Dove.
The third part was never written. The novel remained unknown to
English-speaking readers until John Cournos's translation of 1959.
Later Robert Maguire and John Malmstad produced the definitive English
version of the 1922 ("Berlin") text.
The Russian Estonian semiotician Yuri Lotman has said that St. Petersburg is inseparable from its mythology. The city contains two achetypes: "the 'eternal Rome' and the 'non-eternal, doomed, Rome' (Constantinople)" (from Universe of the Mind, 1990). Bely was a Muscovite and his attitude toward the imperial metropolis was deeply negative. Like Gogol and Dostoevsky before him, Bely portrayed the city in fantastic terms, mixing hallucination with reality. At the same time the work was both the culmination of the Petersburg theme in the great tradition in Russian fiction and a total annihilation of the image of the capital city.
In the story a group of radicals plan the assassination of Senator Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov, but their act of revolution turns into a farce and a patricide, which eventually fails. The bomb is camouflaged as a can of sardines, Nikolai Apollonovich Ableukhov manages to lose it, and blows up his father's study. Bely's text is full of hallucinatory images – the Bronze Horseman visits Apollon Apollonovich, and the section mark, "the natural devourer of papers, a phylloxera," turns into the thirteenth sign of the zodiac. "What a vile idea the book has," said Ivan Bunin, who himself wrote of the decay of the Russian nobility.
During the writing of Petersburg Bely became interested in anthroposophy. He read also Helene Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine. The years 1910-16 Bely spent abroad and living several years in Dornach, Switzerland, as Rudolf Steiner's (1861-1925) discipline. At that time the Goetheanum, an anthroposophical temple and centre, was under construction, and Belyi worked at the site. "In 1912-13," Asia Turgeneva later recalled, "our entire life was under the sign of Rudolf's Steiner's lectures." Bely returned to Russia in 1916 but Asia remained in Dornach for the rest of her life.
"He had, as it were, a therapeutic smile," Bely wrote later of Steiner, "the countenance blossomed in the abundance of perfect love into a barely discernible rose-exuding fragrance. He only 'bestowed' a smile, but one felt that one had nothing of the kind to give in return." Steiner believed that through training individuals could retrieve their innate capacity to perceive a spiritual realm, a subconscious cosmic memory. One exercise involved the concentrated recollection of life before one was born. The influence of his thoughts marked Kotik Letayev (1917-18), an autobiographical work on his childhood which he started to write in Switzerland, Zapiski chudaka (1922), and Glossolalia (1922). Bely's narrative poem 'Pervoe svidanye' is considered his greatest lyrical achievement. Among his later works is Kreshchony kitayets (1927), drawn from the sounds of Schumann's Kreisleriana, and Maski (1933), his last novel which Bely called a "lyrical epic poem."
During the revolution and civil war Bely lived in poverty, but
welcomed the fall of the tsarist regime with the poem 'Khristos
voskrese' (1918), in which he praised new future with Messianic tones.
Between the years 1917 and 1921 he worked as a lecturer in Moscow and
Petrograd. In 1921, after Blok's death, Bely left for Berlin, where he
spent a few years.
The Café Landgraf in the large Russian quarter became a favorite meeting place; it was called the House of Arts. Such writers as Bely, Sergei Esenin, Boria Pasternak, Aleksei Tolstoy, and Marina Tsvetaeva recited there their prose or poetry. Depressed by the breakup with his wife, Bely often sought Tsvetaeva's company; she was his harbor. Her daughter Ariadna tells that Bely had "crazy eyes, like those of a cat." (No Love Without Poetry: The Memoirs of Marina Tsvetaeva's Daughter by Ariadna Efron, 2009 p. 225) Bely and others founded a local branch of Petrograd's Free Philosophical Association. Finding exile untolerable, Bely returned to the Soviet Union in 1923, but the home-coming turned sour, when Leon Trotskii denounced him in his Marxist literary study Literature and Revolution. "I returned to my grave," Bely concluded and appealed to Stalin.
Bely was known for his suddenly changing intellectual and
political stands, and now he expressed his belief in Marxism, although
he did not abandon his anthroposophical ideas and friends. In 1931 Bely
married Klavdiia Nikolaevna Vasil'eva. Bely's trilogy of memoirs, which
appeared in the early 1930s, depicted Russian social and cultural life
before, during and after the revolution. Bely also revised much of the
poetry he had written earlier during his career. His last book was Masterstvo
Gogolya (1934), a detailed study of Gogol's language and style.
Bely died on January 8, 1934. A year later the Russian
linguist and literary theorist Roman Jacobson indicated that the prose
of Bely, Maiakovskii, Pasternak and others was already opening up
"hidden paths to a revival of Russian prose." However,
following the enforcement of Socialist Realism as the dominant
aesthetic dogma, a large quantity of Bely's writings remained
After 1940 Bely's works were banned, but the ban was partly
lifted in 1965. Petersburg was not republished in Russia between 1935 and 1978. Bely's writing influenced among others Yury Olesha
(1899-1960), Boris Pilnyak (1984-1941), and the early works of the
Nobel writer Boris Pasternak. "... of course Andrey Bely was a genius –
Petersburg, Kotik Letaev are full of wonderful
things – I
know that, you need not tell me – but his influence was fatal,"
Pasternak once confessed Isaiah Berlin. In the 1960s Pasternak supported
financially Bely's widow and others in need.
For further reading: The Frenzied Poets: Andrei Bely and the Russian Symbolists by O.A. Maslenikov (1952); Andrey Belys Romane by A. Honig (1965); Andrey Bely by J.D. Elsworth (1972); The Apocalyptic Symbolism of Andrey Bely by S. Cioran (1973); Andrei Bely: His Life and Works by Konstantin Mochulskii (1977); Andrey Bely: A Critical Review, ed. by G. Janacek (1978); Andrej Belyi's "Petersburg," James Joyce's "Ulysses," and the Symbolist Movement by Alexander Woronzoff (1982); Andrey Bely: A Critical Study of the Novels by J.D. Elsworth (1983); Andrei Bely: The Major Symbolist Fiction by Vladimir Alexandrov (1985); Andrei Bely's "Petersburg" and the Cult of Dionysus by Robert Mann (1986); Andrey Bely: Spirit of Symbolism by J.E. Malmstad (1987); Andrei Belyi v 1900-e gody by A.V. Lavrov (1995); Andrei Belyi i teatr by T. Nikolesku (1995); The Reluctant Modernist: Andrei Belyi and the Development of Russian Fiction by Roger Keys (1996); The Stony Dance: Unity and Gesture in Andrey Bely's Petersburg by Timothy Langen (2005); The Silver Mask: Harlequinade in the Symbolist Poetry of Blok and Belyi by Olga Yu. Soboleva (2008); Twelve Essays on Andrej Belyj's Peterburg by Magnus Ljunggren (2009); The Red Jester: Andrei Bely's Petersburg as a Novel of the European Modern by Judith Wermuth-Atkinson (2012); A Reader's Guide to Andrei Bely's Petersburg, edited by Leonid Livak (2018)
Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. 2008-2018.