Tragediia tvorchestva. Dostoevskii i Tolstoi [The Tragedy of Creation. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy].

[Moscow,] “Musaget”, [1911].

8vo, pp. 46, [8] publishers’ catalogues; half-title adhering to front wrapper at upper inner margin, but a very good copy in the original buff printed wrappers; contemporary signature to title, occasional blue pencil marks in margin.


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First edition of Bely’s important essay on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Tolstoy’s death at Astapovo station in November 1910 brought Bely to a new appreciation of the author’s genius. Yet along with it came a conviction of the irrelevance of ‘form’ to art and that even Tolstoy’s ‘revolutionary form’ was an obstacle on the road to the ‘reign of happiness’. The essay comes to a rousing conclusion in which Astapovo (i.e. the death of Tolstoy) becomes a symbol for the potential aesthetic future of Russia, ‘surrounded by emptiness; and this emptiness is not an evil emptiness, but as clear as noonday, a radiant glade’.

Bely had delivered the lecture on which this essay is based at a meeting of the Religio-Philosophical Society in November 1910. The young Boris Pasternak, who was later to reject Bely, was present at the meeting, and was inspired ‘with a belated professional interest, he thought, to read the work of the symbolists and reread that of their precursors’ (E. Pasternak, Boris Pasternak: Materialy dlia biografii, 1989).

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