Andrei Bely

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Andrei Bely (c. 1910)

Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev (Russian: Бори́с Никола́евич Буга́ев; IPA: [bɐˈrʲis nʲɪkɐˈlajɪvʲɪtɕ bʊˈɡajɪf]), better known by the pen name Andrei Bely (Russian: Андре́й Бе́лый; IPA: [ɐnˈdrʲej ˈbʲelɨj]; 26 October [O.S. 14 October] 1880 – 8 January 1934), was a Russian novelist, poet, theorist, and literary critic. His novel Petersburg was regarded by Vladimir Nabokov as one of the four greatest novels of the 20th century.[1][2]


Boris Bugaev was born in Moscow, into a prominent intellectual family. His father, Nikolai Bugaev, was a leading mathematician who is regarded as a founder of the Moscow school of mathematics. His mother was not only highly intelligent but a famous society beauty, and the focus of considerable gossip. Young Boris was a polymath whose interests included mathematics, music, philosophy, and literature. He would go on to take part in both the Symbolist movement and the Russian school of neo-Kantianism.

Nikolai Bugaev was well known for his influential philosophical essays, in which he decried geometry and probability and trumpeted the virtues of hard analysis. Despite—or because of—his father's mathematical tastes, Boris Bugaev was fascinated by probability and particularly by entropy, a notion to which he frequently refers in works such as Kotik Letaev.[citation needed]

As a young man, Bely was strongly influenced by his acquaintance with the family of philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, especially Vladimir's younger brother Mikhail, described in his long autobiographical poem The First Encounter (1921); the title is a reflection of Vladimir Solovyov's Three Encounters.

Portrait of Bely by Léon Bakst, 1905

Bely's symbolist novel Petersburg (1916; 1922) is generally considered to be his masterpiece. The book employs a striking prose method in which sounds often evoke colors. The novel is set in the somewhat hysterical atmosphere of turn-of-the-century Petersburg and the Russian Revolution of 1905. To the extent that the book can be said to possess a plot, this can be summarized as the story of the hapless Nikolai Apollonovich, a ne'er-do-well who is caught up in revolutionary politics and assigned the task of assassinating a certain government official—his own father. At one point, Nikolai is pursued through the Petersburg mists by the ringing hooves of the famous bronze statue of Peter the Great.[citation needed]

In his later years Bely was influenced by Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy[3][4] and became a personal friend of Steiner's. He spent time between Switzerland, Germany, and Russia, during its revolution. He supported the Bolshevik rise to power and later dedicated his efforts to Soviet culture, serving on the Organizational Committee of the Union of Soviet Writers.[5] He died, aged 53, in Moscow.

Bely was one of the major influences on the theater of Vsevolod Meyerhold.[citation needed]

The Andrei Bely Prize (Russian: Премия Андрея Белого), one of the most important prizes in Russian literature, was named after him. His poems were set on music and frequently performed by Russian singer-songwriters[6]

Research on rhythm in poems

Bely's essay Rhythm as Dialectic in The Bronze Horseman is cited in Nabokov's novel The Gift, where it is mentioned as "monumental research on rhythm".[7] Fyodor, poet and main character, praises the system Bely created for graphically marking off and calculating the 'half-stresses' in the iambs. Bely found that the diagrams plotted over the compositions of the great poets frequently had the shapes of rectangles and trapeziums. Fyodor, after discovering Bely's work, re-read all his old iambic tetrameters from the new point of view, and was terribly pained to find out that the diagrams for his poems were instead plain and gappy.[7] Nabokov's essay Notes on Prosody follows for the large part Bely's essay Description of the Russian iambic tetrameter (published in the collection of essays Symbolism, Moscow, 1910).


  • 1902 Second Symphony, the Dramatic
  • 1904 The Northern, or First—Heroic
  • 1904 Gold in Azure (poetry)
  • 1905 The Return—Third
  • 1908 Goblet of Blizzards—Fourth
  • 1909 Ash
  • 1909 Urn (poetry)
  • 1910 Symbolism (criticism/theory)
  • 1910 Green Meadow (criticism)
  • 1910 The Silver Dove (novel)
  • 1911 Arabesques (criticism)
  • 1916 Petersburg (revised edition published, 1922)
  • 1917 Revolution and Culture
  • 1917–18 Kotik Letaev (novel based on his early childhood; pub. as book 1922)
  • 1918 Christ Has Risen (poem)
  • 1921 The First Encounter (autobiographical poem)
  • 1922 Recollections of Blok
  • 1922 "Glossolalia: Poem about Sound"[8]
  • 1926 The Moscow Eccentric (1st of trilogy of novels)
  • 1926 Moscow Under Siege (2nd of trilogy of novels)
  • 1927 The Baptized Chinaman (translated into English as "The Christened Chinaman"[9])
  • 1931 Masks (3rd of trilogy of novels)
  • 1930 At the Border of Two Centuries (1st memoir of trilogy)
  • 1933 The Beginning of the Century (2nd memoir of trilogy)
  • 1934 Between Two Revolutions (3rd memoir of trilogy)
  • 1934 Rhythm as Dialectic in The Bronze Horseman (criticism)
  • 1934 The Mastery of Gogol (criticism)

English Translations


  • John Cournos, Grove Press, 1959.
  • Robert A. Maguire and John E. Malmstad, Indiana University Press, 1978.
  • David McDuff, Penguin, 1995.
  • John Elsworth, Pushkin Press, 2009.

The Silver Dove

  • George Reavey, Grove Press, 1974.
  • John Elsworth, Northwestern University Press, 2001.

Kotik Letaev

  • Gerald Janecek, Ardis, 1971.

The Complete Short Stories

  • Ronald E. Peterson, Ardis, 1979.

Selected Essays of Andrey Bely

  • Steven Cassedy, University of California Press, 1985.

The Dramatic Symphony

  • John Elsworth, Grove Press, 1987.

The Christened Chinaman

  • Thomas Beyer, Hermitage, 1991.

In the Kingdom of Shadows

  • Catherine Spitzer, Hermitage, 2001.


  1. 1965, Nabokov's television interview TV-13 NY
  2. Nabokov and the moment of truth on YouTube
  3. Judith Wermuth-Atkinson, The Red Jester: Andrei Bely's Petersburg as a Novel of the European Modern (2012). ISBN 3643901542
  4. Bely, Andrei. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-07
  6. Little theater on the planet of Earth, sound tracks of songs on poems by Andrei Bely, music and performance by Elena Frolova
  7. 7.0 7.1 Nabokov (1938) The Gift, chapter 3, p. 141.
  8. "Glossolalia" at
  9. "The Christened Chinaman" at

External links