The Silver Dove
Translated from the Russian by John Elsworth
SHORTLISTED FOR THE OXFORD-WEIDENFELD TRANSLATION PRIZE 2001
Bely’s The Silver Dove, published four years before its author’s celebrated Petersburg (ranked by Nabokov with Proust, Kafka and Joyce), is the first modern Russian novel. Breaking with Russian Realist tradition, a pioneering Symbolist work set in the aftermath of the failed revolution of 1905, it reaches subconscious layers of experience through images of the surface world, capturing ‘the living rhythm of the soul’. At the same time, its vividly drawn characters, elemental landscapes, and richly wrought, Gogolian style are immediately accessible to the Western reader. This brilliantly faithful new translation makes the complete work available in English for the first time.
Dissatisfied with the life of the intelligentsia, the Moscow poet Daryalsky joins a rural mystic sect, The Silver Doves, whose leader, the carpenter Kudeyarov – later claimed by Bely to have anticipated something of Rasputin – makes ruthless use of him in a bid to produce offspring from a sectarian ‘Mother of God’. The story reverberates with concerns that seethed in the aftermath of the 1905 Revolution – the identity of Russia, torn between East and West, theosophy, the religious nature of art and its potential for creating a new organic community.
‘The Silver Dove,’ writes the translator in his introduction, ‘depicts a culture on the brink: aware that it can no longer survive without incorporating the formless strivings and undisciplined imaginings of the common people, which it has hitherto repressed, but simultaneously aware that the attempt to do so may spell disaster.’
‘… magnificent in its sweep, taking in the whole expanse of Russian life … Modern Russian literature has produced nothing greater.’ – Nikolay Berdyayev, review, 1910
‘Bely depicts a world which is fascinating, full of strange imagery and tormented by passions. It is less stylised and more accessible than his better-known Petersburg.’ – Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian
‘For the first time, Bely’s original text is recreated in an English translation sufficiently complex in content and style to warrant and reward the act of reading itself … Elsworth sets a standard for translation from Russian into English that others will be hard-pressed to match … Acutely aware of the tension between sound and sense in Bely’s prose, he has found just the right balance between verbal sound effects and the significations of the words and phrases themselves … English readers will be reminded of the prose of Vladimir Nabokov and James Joyce … Even if you have read this novel in Russian, you’ll want to enjoy it anew in Elsworth’s brilliant translation.’ – Thomas R. Beyer, Jr, Slavic and East European Journal
ANDREY BELY (pseudonym of Boris Bugayev) was born in Moscow in 1880, the son of a world-famous mathematician. He was soon a leading figure in the Russian Symbolist movement, which had wider than purely literary aims, in particular the ideal of community underpinned by religious-philosophical beliefs. His fiction, working through sound and ideas, pointed Russian prose in a new direction after the realism of Tolstoy. His best-known novel, Petersburg (published 1913–14), was originally conceived as the second part, following The Silver Dove, of a trilogy on the theme of East and West. He is the author of five further novels and some invaluable memoirs, including a volume of reminiscences of his friend and rival the poet Aleksandr Blok. After the Revolution, apart from two years spent in Berlin (1921–23) he stayed in Russia; he died in straitened circumstances in 1934.