Boris Bugayev "Andrey Bely" (Russia, 1880)
Simfoniya 2-ya Dramaticheskaya/ The Dramatic Symphony (1902)
Severnaya Simfoniya/ Northern Symphony (1904)
Zoloto v Lazuri/ Gold in Azure (1904) [p]
Vozvrat 3-ya Simfoniya/ Return (1905)
Budushchee/ The Art Of The Future (1907) [h]
Kubok Meteley 4-ya Simfoniya/ Goblet (1908)
Pepel/ Ashes/ Cenere (1909) [p]
Urna (1909) [p]
Magiya Slov/ The Magic of Words (1909) [h]
Serebryany Golub/ The Silver Dove/ Colombo d'Argento (1910) +
Petersburg (1912, first published in 1916 and abbreviated in 1922, and republished in a shorter, "censored" version in 1928) ++
dramatizes the political events of 1905 but
mixes history with mysticism. The book is
erudite and poetic at the same time,
both visual (chromatic descriptions) and musical (rhythmic prose) with perhaps links to the revolutions going on in painting and classical music.
Bely wrote in the essay "The Theatre and Contemporary Drama" (1907) that theater was the highest poetic art followed by symphonic music.
The second chapter begins with a prelude in which the narrator talks in first person and tells us that the local newspaper is reporting the appearance of a mysterious man wearing a red domino and a black mask. We are then introduced to Sofya Likhutina, nicknamed "Angel Peri", a fan of Japanese art who runs a salon from her Japanese-themed house. Her husband Sergei (who lost his inheritance when he insisted on marrying Sofya against his father's will) is almost never there while baron Ommau-Ommergau, count Aven, Herman Verhefden, Leib Shporyshev and Lippanchenko (now described as looking like a Ukrainian) are there all the time. Nikolay too used to visit daily but then suddenly disappeared. That's when Sofya started reading the spiritualits. The narrator then explains that Sofya and Nikolay had started flirting but ultimately Sofya had rejected him and called him a "red buffoon" when he had tried to kiss her. We know that she is the woman that Nikolay scared wearing the red domino and Sofya suspects it. Sofya asks her friend Neintelpfain, a journalist, to write articles about the masked man in the newspaper. The narrator informs us that all over Russia there was turmoil, people feared something and hoped for something. Returning to Nikolay's room, Alexander delivers the parcel and the letter, and accidentally notices the red domino. Alexander introduces himself as a militant of the underground, escaped from forced exile through Finland (which at the time was part of Russia), but also as someone who reads religious books (including the gnostic Gospels and the "Apocalypse") and a Nietzschean. He confesses that he is sick, prone to anxiety and hallucinations, an avid consumer of vodka and tobacco. Nikolay's father Apollon comes home just then and Nikolay introduces Alexander as a fellow university student. The narrator then returns to the first person and prophesizes that "yellow hordes of Asians" will invade Russia (echoes of Solovyov's apocalyptic prophecies). We are then introduced to Alexander's friend Stepan/ Styopka/ Stepka, a simpleton former peasant who speaks in broken Russian (a character who already appeared in Bely's first novel, "The Silver Dove"). Styopka chats with a gentleman in disgrace named Lev and Lev reads a letter from a political exile with the apocalyptic prediction that something ominous will happen in 1954 (coincidence: Stalin died in 1953) and with the reminding that Russia is the cradle of the Church of Philadelphia (a Roman city in Lydia, now part of Turkey).
Sofya finds the letter written by Lippanchenko to Nikolay. The red domino stalks her again and this time he is chased away by a police officer. Sofya is disappointed. She is influenced by Tchaikovsky's opera "The Queen of Spades" and identifies with Liza (the female protagonist), but doesn't see Nikolay behaving like a Hermann (the male protagonist). He behaves like a coward. Back home she relates the episode to her husband Sergei, who was a childhood friend of Nikolay. Sergei forbids her to attend the masked ball that is coming up, that presumably Nikolay will attend. Sofya can't resist and opens Lippanchenko's letter and reads the contents. Meanwhile, Nikolay has received a letter signed "S" inviting him to a rendezvous in the park. He hopes that it's a letter from Sofya but instead it's Varvara who meets him there, a student who is desperately in love with him. Nikolay is disappointed and flees. Meanwhile, Apollon's wife (Nikolay's mother) Anna has returned to the city. She only reveals herself to a servant. Sofya attends the masked ball hosted by the wealthy Nikolai and Lyubov Tsukatov. Nikolay shows up in his red domino. His father Apollon is also there and doesn't recognize him but almost has a heart attack when Nikolay scares him. He has been hiding his heart condition. Nikolay opens Lippanchenko's letter and leaves furious. Now we learn from Sofya's stream of consciousness that the letter contains an order to blow up a bomb that is stored in Nikolay's desk. She initially thinks it's a practical joke played by Lippanchenko on Nikolay but then is scared that it might be a real plot. At the same ball, a friend informs Apollon that the red domino is his own son Nikolay. Apollon is ashamed and angry. We learn from Nikolay's stream of consciousness more about his mission: the letter orders him to kill his own father! Later a secret agent called Pavel Morkovin approaches Apollon and warns him of a plot by terrorists to assassinate him. We learn that Apollon had received an anonymous letter threatening to kill him if he accepted the promotion that installed him as head of the secret police. Apollon had ignored the threat. Meanwhile, Sofya returns home to find that her husband, humiliated that she went to the masked ball, tried to hang himself (but failed comically when the rotten ceiling crashed).
Morkovin then approaches Nikolay and reveals that he knows everything about the plot to murder Apollon, the existence of the terrorist cell, his contact with Alexander and even about his love for Sofya. Morkovin claims to be both a revolutionary and an employee of the secret police. Morkovin tells Nikolay that he has three choices: arrest, suicide or murder. When Nikolay returns home, the servant reveals that his mother Anna is back. Later the servant also tells Apollon. The narrator informs us that Nikolay was devoting his life to philosophy and was an admirer of Buddhism. Nikolay falls asleep and has a strange dream about his father as the emperor of China, as a Russian aristocrat and as the king of Saturn (a reference to Steiner's occult cosmology).
The sixth chapter opens again with a quote from Pushkin's "The Bronze Horseman". Alexander wakes up after a night of feverish nightmares. Nikolay comes to confront him. Nikolay thinks that Alexander knows what the mission is, but Alexander denies it. Alexander learns from Nikolay that the mission is to kill Nikolay's own father, that the letter was written by "The Unknown" leader of the revolutionary party, who had been communicating with Nikolay for three months. Alexander forgot to give it to Nikolay and left it with Varvara, who told him that she was going to see Nikolay. Alexander had no clue what the letter contained. Alexander was under the impression that Nikolay simply had to hide the bomb, but Alexander himself was the one chosen for a terrorist act. Alexander seems to remember that Nikolay himself had proposed to Lippanchenko to kill his own father, but also thinks that it could be made up by his imagination. The bottom line is that Nikolay proclaims that he won't kill his father. Nikolay insinuates that the secret police has infiltrated the party and Alexander begins to suspect that Lippanchenko could be a traitor. Alexander visits Lippanchenko who lives with a female militant named Zoya and is hosting a Persian revolutionary called Shishnarfne. A lenghty stream of consciousness follows in which Alexander analyzes the "person" who has been controlling his actions, that person presumably being Lippanchenko. That "person" tells Alexander that he wrote the letter to Nikolay, implying that he is also the "Unknown". Alexander is now certain that Lippanchenko is a traitor who manipulated him. Back home, Alexander is visited by this Shishnarfne, whom Alexander didn't recognize. The Persian claims to have been his friend in Helsinki. Styopka leaves them alone. The encounter with Shishnarfne, however, doesn't sound real, but rather another stage of Alexander’s gradual descent into madness. Shishnarfne introduces himself as coming from a sort of otherworld, a satanic figure whose task is to make Alexander remember his dark past in Helsinki, where Alexander had developed a theory against civilization and presumably acted accordingly. Shishnarfne informs Alexander that he is already registered in that otherworld and only has to complete the application for a "passport", an application that consists in committing some "extravagant" act. Alexander realizes that the word Shishnarfne is an anagram of the word that haunts him in his nightmares: "enfranshish". We learn that Dudkin is just his nom de guerre and his real name is Pogorelski. Dudkin has a nightmare in which Peter the Great, aka the Bronze Horseman, aka the Flying Dutchman chases him through the streets of Petersburg. When he wakes up, Styopka tells him that he's been delirious with high fever.
The seventh chapter follows in parallel Nikolay, Apollon and Lippanchenko. Nikolay is already distraught when Sofya's husband Sergei stops him in the street and drags him into a carriage while a demonstration takes place around them and they can hear shots being fired (hints of the 1905 revolution). Sergei reveals that he's been following Nikolay from the moment he left Dudkin's place. Sergei takes him to his home, where Sofya see them. Nikolay is scared by Sergei's manners, apologizes to him and even starts crying. It turns out that Sofya has informed Sergei of the contents of the letter that she accidentally read, of the plan to blow up Apollon. Nikolay, however, denies that he was going to kill his father. Meanwhile, Apollon resigns from his job and decides to retire. We learn that he raped a young girl for years (Anna presumably) and Nikolay is the offspring of that rape. Back home, Apollon can't resist and enters Nikolay's room. The desk's drawer is open and Apollon finds the bomb without knowing that it is a bomb.
Meanwhile, Zoya is melancholy, feeling that Lippanchenko keeps a secret from her. Later, Dudkin kills Lippanchenko with a pair of scissors.
Bely apologizes at the beginning of chapter eight for having forgotten Anna. Anna is staying at a deluxe hotel. Apollon visits her and they reconcile. She finds him aged. Meanwhile, Nikolay has returned home and realized that someone took the bomb. He reckons that Sergei must be the one, since Sergei told him that he visited his room. Anna follows Apollon home. Nikolay finally meets his mother and breaks into tears (while still anxious about the fate of his bomb). The tears convince Apollon that there must be something good in his son. Nikolay escorts Anna back to the hotel. The bomb goes off in the middle of the night but doesn't kill anyone. Apollon arranges for Nikolay to travel abroad and his mother Anna follows him for a year.
The epilog informs us that Nikolay lived and worked in Egypt, having abandoned philosophy for archeology, and even wrote a book about a famous Egyptian manuscript ("The Instructions of Duauf"). He then retired in Russia, but far away from St Petersburg. The last sentence informs us that his parents died when he was still in Egypt. Bely paints Nikolay's fate as a symbol of the end of culture.
Kristos Voskres/ Christ Has Risen/ Cristo Risorto (1918) [p]
Pervoe Svidanie/ First Encounter/ Primo Incontro (1921) [p] +
Kotik Letayev/ The Memoirs of a Crank (1923) +
Moskva/ Moscow (1926)
Maski/ Masks (1930)