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Literary Moscow

Andrei Bely’s memorial apartment

Text and photos by Marina Kashpar

oday we are going to visit one of the apartments on the 3rd floor in the house on Arbat street, number 55, the memorial apartment of Andrei Bely, the only one in the world.

Andrei Bely, born Borya Bugaev, Russia’s greatest modernist writer and a leading poet of that most remarkable period of Russian intellectual history which is known as the Silver Age, was also a theorist of symbolism, a pioneer in the structural method of literary analysis, and, according to Bryusov and later Pasternak, “the most interesting man in Russia.” Before he became A. Bely (in 1901), he considered himself a philosopher, a follower of the mystical philosopher Solovev, a scientist, and a composer, regarding himself as “simply a person who is searching.”

In this house, at the corner of Arbat Street and Denezhny Pereulok, on the apartment on the 3rd floor, Andrei Bely was born. His first memories of the world, of the people around and about himself were connected with this house. He lived here while studying in Polivanov’s private gymnasium, then in Moscow University. Here he experienced his first love (the mysterious and mystical possession by Margarita Morozova) and his first loss, the death of his father. Right here, in this house Borya Bugaev, a boy from a professor’s family, developed to become the great modernist writer, leader of Moscow symbolists Andrei Bely. He lived here for 26 years, until 1906.

Later there were a lot of addresses, cities and countries where he stayed, but Bely always considered Arbat house as his true home. In 2000, the museum of Andrei Bely was opened there.

The organisers of the exhibition try to show the direct purpose of each room and at the same time show their reflection in Bely’s autobiographical prose. For example, in the “Child’s room” there are things connected with Bely’s childhood and his years of study. Here the visitor can see details expounded on in Bely’s reference towards the autobiographical theme, ”About Myself as a Writer” and in the stories, “The Christened Chinaman” and “ Kotik Letaev”.

The next room is devoted to the writer’s mother. A.D.Bugaeva, who cultivated Bely’s interest to music, art, and literature. The exhibits in this room show the history of Moscow symbolism and the history of the early creative work of the writer. A special place here is dedicated to Bely’s mysterious love stories— to M.K. Morozova and L.U. Blok.

Like Blok, Andrei Bely saw the October Revolution as the birth of a new cosmic world. But Russia, risen anew, failed to appreciate him. In 1921, after Blok’s death, Bely left Russia for Berlin only to find out that “the Russian émigré is as alien to me as the Bolsheviks.” The two people he wanted to be with most, Asia Turgeneva and Rudolf Steiner, didn’t need him. Bitterly disenchanted, exhausted and sick, he came back to Moscow: “I returned to my grave… all journals, all publishing houses are closed to me.” After Trotsky’s merciless attack, stating that Bely’s novels “poison your very existence,” he appealed to Stalin (1931), and compromised with his conscience by becoming a Marxist. In Soviet Russia he remained a controversial

Museum address:
Ul. Arbat, 55 (Metro Smolenskaya)
Working hours:
11:00-18:00, Wednesday, Thursday,
Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Tel: (499) 244-77-02,
(499) 241-85-28

writer, too modernist for the literary officials, too incomprehensible for the reading public. In the West his works have always been praised “without being understood or read,” as one translator of “Petersburg” put it. Although Nabokov included “Petersburg” among the four “greatest masterpieces of 20th century prose,” Bely never achieved such enormous popularity as Joyce, Kafka, and Proust. Like them he did his best to destroy the simplicity of forms, but it was precisely his linguistic experiments that cut him off from the foreign reader.

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