Dance, Music and Theatre

Russian literature moved in a myriad of different directions between the end of the nineteenth and the first three decades of the twentieth century. Possibly influenced by the apocalypticism that characterized the turn of the century, and certainly reacting to the Academy, artists began looking to other sources for their inspiration. Symbolism embraced the notion of spirituality underlying reality. Each artist had his or her own style and personal philosophy, with some adhering to it throughout life, others casting it aside later, and still others adapting it to suit life after the Revolution.

Probably the most influential philosopher among the Symbolists was Vladimir Solovyov, who insisted that symbols did not represent the real, but that which man knew as real was the symbol, with reality underlying it.

Alekseĭ Mikhaĭlovich Remizov, 1877-1957.
[Light Snow.]

Petrograd: Today, 1918? No. 44 of 125 copies.

Сибирский пряникъ.
[Siberian Cake.]

Peterburg: “Alkonost”, 1919.

Remizov began his career as a Symbolist, but eventually moved in other directions. He delved into history to find answers to linguistic questions or to locate original resources, and found ways to preserve what he found. This was reflected in his calligraphy, his investigations into Russian as a language, and his Russian folklore collection. The volumes on display provide examples of his involvement in his own publications. Light Snow is written in the style of a children’s book, illustrated with child-like drawings and hand-painted by E. Turova. Siberian Cake is a collection of folk tales intended for both children and adults, with a cover based on a drawing by Remizov. See additional information on Remizov under the section Book Art & Publishing.

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Alekseĭ Mikhaĭlovich Remizov, 1877-1957.
За святую Русь.
[For Holy Russia.]

Saint Petersburg: Fatherland, 1914 or 1915.

This title concerns not contemporary Russia, nor turn-of-the-century Russia, but sacred Russia in the ninth and tenth centuries. In 988 Vladimir baptized all of Kievan Rus’, and made Orthodoxy the state religion. The publishing house is translated literally as “fatherland” but in meaning it is closer to “homeland,” and its mark is Saint George, the patron saint of Russia. On the back cover is a statement that all profits from this book would be donated to the Society of Russian Artists to help war victims.


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Valery Yakovlevich Bryusov, 1873-1924.
Мой Пушкин.
[My Pushkin.]

Moscow and Leningrad: State Publisher, 1919.

Born into the merchant class, Bryusov was also part of the intelligentsia. He considered himself a Symbolist, but rather than being drawn into Bely’s or Blok’s mysticism he cherished the work of Rimbaud and Mallarmé. Eventually he distanced himself from any philosophy and devoted himself solely to poetry, claiming that the artist’s personality was the essence of art. Although his poetry after the Revolution is not held in high regard, his scholarship on other writers is. Displayed here is his study of Pushkin.


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Fyodor Sologub, 1863-1927.
Одна любовь.
[One Love.]

Petrograd: “Mysotis”, 1921.

Sologub is probably best known for Petty Demon, a novel that comes closest to epitomizing his vision of life: a thinly veiled existence beset by the vilest of creatures underlying it. Peredonov, the main character, is the most evil of people and is tormented by a demon who drives him, despite all his attempts at defending himself, to murder.

One Love, written after the Revolution and during the Civil War, is a collection of verse that focuses on love and beauty. This, his last work, is seen by some to be a last-ditch effort to gain permission to emigrate, and by others as an expression of yearning for a more positive and less tormented existence.


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Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Blok, 1880-1921.
[The Twelve.]

First edition. Berlin: Neva, 192?

О символизмe.
[About Symbolism.]

Peterburg: “Alkonost”, 1921.

Aleksandr Blok was born into the Russian intelligentsia in St. Petersburg. He married Liubov’ [her name translates as Love] Mendeleeva in 1903, and saw in her his version of the Eternal Feminine. Not long afterwards, seeing the depravity of the human condition, he became drawn to the demonic. Although this “demonic” period came and went, his disenchantment with the intelligentsia and many of his fellow artists remained. In the Rose and the Cross he expressed the need for art to be brought to the people. He welcomed the revolution for reasons that were as mystical as they were political. His poem “The Twelve” is an apocalyptic vision of a new era, initiated by the Red Guard in bloodshed, and led by Christ into a new reality. His About Symbolism is the text of a lecture given to the Society of Lovers of the Artistic Word on April 8, 1910.


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Andrey Bely [pseud. of Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev], 1880-1934.
Первое свидание: Поэма.
[First Meeting: A Poem.]

Peterburg: “Alkonost”, 1921.

Памяти Александра Блока.
[In Memory of Aleksandr Blok.]

Petersburg: Free Philosophical Association, 1922.

Записки Мечтателей. [Notes of Dreamers.] No. 2-3. Edited by Andrey Bely, illustrated by Aleksandr Iakovlevich Golovin, 1863-1930.
Peterburg: “Alkonost”, 1921.

Bely too was born into the intelligentsia, wrote both poetry (some of which was experimental) and prose, and was a literary scholar. Philosophically he initially followed Solovyov, and then later favored Rudolph Steiner. Despite having disputes with other writers, he still valued their work. For example, he co-edited with Ivanov-Razumnik and A.Z. Shteĭnberg the collection In Memory of Aleksandr Blok after Blok’s death, even though Bely and Blok had had major disagreements. Notes of Dreamers, which contained contributions by Bely and Blok, among others, was illustrated by Remizov, and made reference to Remizov’s salon.

Bely welcomed the Revolution as a synthesis of his mystical and political beliefs, and continued to write. For example, the poem displayed here, First Meeting, is a narrative, valued for its lyrical quality. His poetry was not highly regarded, and ultimately he was denounced by Trotsky. Bely’s most famous novel was Petersburg, published in 1916.