Serebryanny golub, 1909-1910 (The Silver Dove, 1974)
Peterburg, 1913-1914 (serial), 1916 (book), revised 1922 (St. Petersburg, 1959; better known as Petersburg)
Kotik Letayev, 1922 (English translation, 1971)
Zapiski chudaka, 1922
Kreshchennyy kitaets, 1922 (The Christened Chinaman, 1991)
Moskovskii chudak, 1926
Moskva podudarom, 1926
Andrei Bely: Complete Short Stories, 1979
Zoloto v lazuri, 1904
Khristos voskres, 1918
Korolevna i rytsari, 1919
Pervoe svidanie, 1921 (The First Encounter, 1979)
Posle razluki, 1922
Dramaticheskaia simfonia, 1902 (The Dramatic Symphony, 1986)
Formy iskusstva, 1902 (The Forms of Art, 1986)
Lug zelenyi, 1910
Glossaloliya: Poema o zvuke, 1922
Poeziya slova, 1922
Odna iz obitelei tsarstva tenei, 1924 (In the Kingdom of Shadows, 2001)
Ritm kak dialektika i “Medny vsadnik” issledovanie, 1929
Na rubezhe dvukh stolety, 1930
Nachalo veka, 1933
Masterstvo Gogolya, 1934
Mezhdu dvukh revolyutsiy, 1934 (autobiography)
Selected Essays of Andrey Bely, 1985
Andrey Bely (BYAY-lyuh), a major figure in Russian symbolism at the beginning of the twentieth century, was a novelist, poet, and prolific essayist. His nonfiction writings include memoirs as well as criticism and literary theory. He was born Boris Nikolayevich Bugaev, the son of Nikolay Bugaev, a prominent professor of mathematics at Moscow University. Bely graduated from that university in 1903 with a degree in natural sciences, and until his literary career interfered he fully intended to complete a second program in philosophy. During his student years, he began to publish his “symphonies,” a form now generally classified as prose but one in which he incorporated principles of musical composition.
Bely, who had avidly read the works of the German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, was also strongly influenced by the philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov, who had talked of a coming apocalyptic chaos as well as of the appearance of “Sophia,” the embodiment of divine wisdom. At the start of his career, Bely also began an intense and stormy friendship with fellow Symbolist poet Aleksandr Blok. Between 1903 and 1910, Bely’s extensive writing included numerous critical and theoretical works. Three major collections, totaling about fifteen hundred pages, appeared in 1910 and 1911, and in the course of his life he completed more than three hundred critical studies. Meanwhile, he also became interested in philosopher Immanuel Kant and the neo-Kantians, whose works he read extensively. Poetry was primarily the basis for his early literary reputation; his first three collections–Zoloto v lazuri (gold in azure), Pepel (ashes), and Urna (the urn)–contain the verse from this period and are widely regarded as his best poetic efforts.
Bely’s first novel, The Silver Dove, appeared only after he had become widely known as a poet, but from that point on his major work was in prose. Bely conceived of The Silver Dove as the first part of a trilogy to be called “East or West,” but as he wrote the second volume it began to grow into an independent work. The long, difficult novel Petersburg, now generally acknowledged to be his greatest achievement, first appeared serially in 1913-1914 and came out as a bound volume in 1916, before being drastically revised and cut for an edition that appeared in 1922. His next novel, Kotik Letayev, perhaps even more imposing than Petersburg, was also well regarded by many critics.
The time that Bely spent abroad during the first half of the 1910’s and again from 1921 to 1923 account for two of the most important periods in his life. In 1912, he met Rudolf Steiner and through him became deeply involved with the spiritual movement known as anthroposophy, which exerted a profound effect on much of his subsequent writing. The second period was Bely’s most productive but also one of his most troubled, for during this time he became alienated from Steiner as well as from most of the Russian writers who were living in Berlin. After returning to Russia in 1923, he distanced himself from public life, though he traveled within the Soviet Union and continued to write. Perhaps hoping to follow on the success of Petersburg, he completed a series of novels set in Moscow, in which he took his stylistic experimentation to an extreme. Toward the end of his life, Bely was hard at work on his memoirs; he died early in 1934, apparently from the effects of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered the previous summer.
Bely was capable of producing accomplished work in virtually all genres. His poetry, somewhat eclipsed by that of other contemporary poets, nevertheless contains some striking imagery and original rhythmic and graphic structures. The memoirs, though not always reliable factually, provide a lively and insightful history of both the Symbolist movement and cultural life in Russia during the early years of the twentieth century. As a critic and a thinker, he was imaginative if not always systematic.
Bely’s posthumous reputation owes most to his novels. Here, too, he is uneven; Zapiski chudaka (notes of an eccentric) rests uneasily on the border between fiction and autobiographical travel essay, and the Moscow novels are only intermittently successful. Petersburg and the highly autobiographical Kotik Letayev, however, enjoy a high critical reputation. Petersburg is set in 1905, when Russia teetered on the brink of revolution. The dark political atmosphere, the conflicts between philosophical and personal interests, the play on themes from Fyodor Dostoevski and other writers, the intricate plot centered on a time bomb in a sardine can, and the black humor that pervades much of this novel create a heady mixture that captures the chaotic mood of the period.
Bely remains a difficult artist. His wide knowledge was not always thoroughly digested, he was too anxious to write about his ideas to take the time to work them out fully, and his enthusiasm for experimenting with forms often precluded clarity. Yet he is never dull, and when what he attempted succeeded–as, for example, in his long autobiographical poem The First Encounter, written in only a few days, or in Petersburg–he created works that stand among the masterpieces of twentieth century literature.