Imagine writing a book which employs the drifting memory of Proust; – which is about a day in the life of a group of people living in a specific city, and uses stream-of-consciousness technique and whose basic reference point is some classic work of art, like Joyce’s Ulysses; – whose sections shift narratorial point of view like Faulkner; – which is an incomprehensible thriller about a man who may or may not be intending to murder his father, like Robbe-Grillet; – which makes constant play with the relationship between the writer and the reader, like say Barth or any other post-modernist.

And then imagine you’d never read any of these writers, because you were living in Russia in the 1910s…

…then most probably you’d come up with something like Andrei Bely’s Petersburg.


3 thoughts on “Imagine…

  1. Yes, it’s well worth reading. Quite tough though; comes with 50 pages of notes which – unless you’re very familiar with the layout of St Petersburg, Russian history and the complete works of Pushkin – you’re going to need. – There’s a new translation out (this year?) – claims it’s a significant improvement and the one I read was worthless (doesn’t capture Bely at all) – but then it would, wouldn’t it.

    One thing that came out of the Silver Age Russian course I did last year was how ahead Russia always seems to be in literary history. The high point of their modernism is around 1900-1910s, though it remains quite strong till around 1936, when it’s finished off by Stalin (Mandelstam, Akmatova, Mayakovsky etc). – The other great novel, aside from Petersburg, is Sologub’s The Petty Demon, which I’m also reading (slowly), though I’ve read it before. Two very different works though.

    There’s lots of fin de siecle decadence too: you can read here Valery Bryusov’s Republic of the Southern Cross – his early version of 28 Days Later, relocated to a giant domed city on top of the South Pole.

  2. I see you read the Penguin edition, but when I looked online I found a Pushkin Press edition, which I guess is the “new” one you mention. I’ve read a few of their (Pushkin Press) titles and they seem to do a good job. Don’t think they do notes though.

    Thanks for the link, I’ll print out the story and have a look at it.

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