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Bely, Andrei

BELY, ANDREI

(18801934), symbolist poet, novelist, essayist.

Andrei Bely was born Boris Nikolayevich Bugayev on October 26, 1880, in Moscow. His father, Nikolai Bugayev, was a professor of mathematics at Moscow University and a renowned scholar; his mother, Alexandra, was dedicated to music, poetry, and theater. This dichotomy was to influence and torment Boris throughout his life: He would resist both parents' influences while continually seeking syntheses of disparate subjects.

At age fifteen, Boris met the intellectually gifted Soloviev family. Vladimir Soloviev was a philosopher, poet, theologian, and historian whose concept of the "Eternal Feminine" in the form of "Sophia, the Divine Wisdom" became central to Symbolist thought. Vladimir's younger brother Mikhail took Boris under his wing, encouraging him as a writer and introducing him to Vladimir Soloviev's metaphysical system.

From 1899 to 1906 Boris studied science, then philosophy at Moscow University. However, his absorption in his writing and independent research interfered with his formal studies. Restless and erratic, he took interest in all subjects and confined himself to none. His idiosyncratic writing style derives in part from his passionate, undisciplined approach to knowledge, a quality that would later be deemed decadent by socialist critics, including Leon Trotsky.

Mikhail Soloviev applauded Boris's early literary endeavors and suggested the pseudonym Andrei Bely ("Andrew the White"). Bely's four Symphonies (19021908) combine poetry, music, and prose. Bely's first poetry collection, Gold in Azure (Zoloto v lazuri, 1904), uses rhythms of folk poetry and metrical innovations. Like Alexander Blok and other Symbolists, Bely saw himself as a herald of a new era. The poems of Gold in Azure are rapturous in mood and rich in magical, mythical imagery. Bely's next poetry collections move into murkier territory: Ashes (Pepel, 1909) expresses disillusionment with the 1905 revolution, while Urn (Urna, 1909) reflects his affair with Blok's wife, Lyubov, which caused hostility, even threats of duels, between the two poets.

Bely followed his first novel, The Silver Dove (Serebryany golub, 1909), with Petersburg (1916), which Vladimir Nabokov considered one of the four greatest novels of the twentieth century (Strong Opinions, 1973). It concerns a terrorist plot to be performed by Nikolai Apollonovich against his father, Senator Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov. The novel's nonsensical dialogue, ellipses, exclamations, and surprising twists of plot, while influenced by Nikolai Gogol and akin to the work of the Futurists, take Russian prose in an unprecedented direction. The novel's main character is Petersburg itself, which "proclaims forcefully that it exists."

While writing Petersburg, Bely found a new spiritual guide in Rudolf Steiner, whose theory of anthroposophythe idea that each individual, through training, may access his subconscious knowledge of a spiritual realmwould inform Bely's next novel, the autobiographical Kitten Letayev (Kotik Letayev, 19171918).

Like other Symbolists, Bely welcomed the October Revolution of 1917. He moved to Berlin in 1921, but returned in 1923 to a hostile literary climate. Bely tried to make room for himself in the new era by combining Marxism with anthroposophy, but to no avail.

A prolific and influential critic, Bely wrote more than three hundred essays, four volumes of memoirs, and numerous critical works, including his famous Symbolism (1910), which paved the way for Formalism, and The Art of Gogol (Masterstvo Gogolya, 1934). He died of arterial sclerosis on August 1, 1934.

See also: blok, alexander alexandrovich; silver age; soloviev, vladimir sergeyevich

bibliography

Alexandrov, Vladimir. (1985). Andrei Bely: The Major Symbolist Fiction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Elsworth, J. D. (1983). Andrey Bely: A Critical Study of the Novels. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Maslenikov, Oleg A. (1952). The Frenzied Poets: Andrey Biely and the Russian Symbolists. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Mochulsky, Konstantin. (1977). Andrei Bely: His Life and Works, tr. Nora Szalavitz. Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis.

Diana Senechal

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Bely, Andrei

Andrei Bely (əndrā´ byĕ´lē), pseud. of Boris Nikolayevich Bugayev (bûryēs´ nyĬkəlī´əvyĬch´ bōōgī´Ĭf), 1880–1934, Russian writer. A leading symbolist, he had a close but stormy relationship with Aleksandr Blok. His poetry includes the four-volume Symphonies (1901–8); his best prose is in the novels The Silver Dove (1910) and Petersburg (1912, tr. 1959) and in Kotik Letayev (1922), an autobiographical novel in the manner of James Joyce. He was an experimenter—his involved style often mixes realism and symbolism in complex forms. In his later years Bely was influenced by Rudolph Steiner's anthroposophy. He accepted the Soviet regime, but his works were not well received by Soviet critics. By the mid-1970s Western critics had discovered Bely, and several, including Vladimir Nabokov, proclaimed him the most important Russian writer of the 20th cent. In 1974 new translations of The Silver Dove and Kotik Letayev were published in the United States, and in 1977 a new translation of Petersburg.

See study by J. D. Elsworth (1984).

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"Bely, Andrei." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Sep. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Bely, Andrei." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bely-andrei