|Born||Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky
August 2, 1866
St Petersburg, Imperial Russia
|Died||December 9, 1941
|Occupation||Poet, writer, literary critic|
|Alma mater||Saint Petersburg State University|
|Genres||Poetry, historical novel, philosophical essay|
|Literary movement||Russian symbolism|
|Notable work(s)||Christ and Antichrist (trilogy)|
Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky (Russian: Дми́трий Серге́евич Мережко́вский, IPA: [ˈdmʲitrʲɪj sʲɪrˈɡʲejɪvʲɪt͡ɕ mʲɪrʲɪˈʂkofskʲɪj]; 14 August [O.S. 2 August] 1866 – December 9, 1941) was a Russian novelist, poet, religious thinker, and literary critic. A seminal figure of the Silver Age of Russian Poetry, regarded as a co-founder of the Symbolist movement, Merezhkovsky – with his poet wife Zinaida Gippius – was twice forced into political exile. During his second exile (1918–1941) he continued publishing successful novels and gained recognition as a critic of Soviet Union. Known both as a self-styled religious prophet with his own slant on apocalyptic Christianity, and as the author of philosophical historical novels which combined fervent idealism with literary innovation, Merezhkovsky was a nine times nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature, which he came closest to winning in 1933.
- 1 Biography
- 1.1 Early years
- 1.2 Late 1880s – early 1890s
- 1.3 1895–1903
- 1.4 The God-seekers and Troyebratstvo
- 1.5 1905–1908
- 1.6 1909–1913
- 1.7 1914–1919
- 1.8 Merezhkovsky in exile
- 2 Merezhkovsky's ideas
- 3 Legacy
- 4 Books
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Dmitry Sergeevich Merezhkovsky was born on August 2, 1866, in Saint Petersburg, the sixth son in the family. His father Sergey Ivanovich Merezhkovsky served as a senior official in several Russian local governors' cabinets (including that of I.D. Talyzin in Orenburg) before entering Alexander II's court office as a Privy Councillor. His mother Varvara Vasilyevna Merezhkovskaya (née Tcherkasova) was a daughter of a senior Saint Petersburg security official. Fond of arts and literature, she was what Dmitry Merezhkovsky later remembered as the guiding light of his rather lonely childhood (despite the presence of five brothers and three sisters around). In fact, there were only three people Merezhkovsky had any affinity with in his whole lifetime, and his mother, a woman "of rare beauty and angelic nature" according to one biographer, was the first and the most important of them.
Dmitry Merezhkovsky spent his early years on the Yelagin Island in Saint Petersburg, in a palace-like cottage which served as a summer dacha for the family. In the city the family occupied an old house facing the Summer Gardens, near Prachechny Bridge. The Merezhkovskys also owned a large estate in Crimea, by a road leading to the Uchan-Su waterfall. "Fabulous Oreanda palace, now in ruins, will stay with me forever. White marble pylons against the blue sea... for me it's a timeless symbol of Ancient Greece," he wrote years later. Merezhkovsky Sr., although a man of means, led a somewhat ascetic life, keeping his household 'lean and thrifty'. He saw this also as 'moral prophylactics' for his children, regarding luxury-seeking and reckless spending as the two deadliest sins. The parents traveled a lot, and an old German housekeeper Amalia Khristianovna spent much time with the children, amusing them with Russian fairytales and Biblical stories. It was her recounting of saints' lives that helped Dmitry to develop fervent religious feelings in his early teens.
In 1876 Dmitry Merezhkovsky joined an elite grammar school, the St. Petersburg Third Classic Gymnasium. Years spent there he described later by one word, 'murderous', remembering just one teacher as a decent person – "Kessler the Latinist; well-meaning he surely never was, but at least he's had a kindly look". At thirteen Dmitry started writing poetry, rather in the vein of Pushkin's Bakhchisarai Fountain as he later remembered. He became fascinated with the works of Moliere to such an extent as to form a 'Moliere Circle' in the Gymnasium. The group had nothing political on its agenda, but still made the secret police interested. All of its members were summoned one by one to the Third Department's headquarters by the Politzeisky Bridge to be questioned. It is believed that only Sergey Merezhkovsky's efforts prevented his son from being expelled from the school.
Much as Dmitry disliked his tight upper-lipped, stone-faced dad, later he had to give him credit for being the first one to have noticed and, in his emotionless way, appreciate his first poetic exercises. In July 1879, in Alupka, Crimea, Sergey Ivanovich introduced Dmitry to the legendary Princess E. K. Vorontzova, once a Pushkin's sweetheart. The grand dame admired the boy's verses: she (according to a biographer) "spotted in them a must-have poetic quality: the metaphysical sensitivity of a young soul" and encouraged him to battle on. Somewhat different was young Merezhkovsky's encounter with another luminary, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, staged for his son by the well-connected father again. As the boy started reciting his work, nervous to the point of stuttering, the famous novelist listened rather impatiently, then said: "Poor, very poor. To write well, one has to suffer. Suffer!" – "Oh no, I'd rather he won't – either suffer, or write well!", the appalled father exclaimed. The boy left Dostoyevsky's house much frustrated by the great man's verdict. Merezhkovsky's debut publication followed the same year: Saint Petersburg magazine Zhivopisnoye Obozrenye published two of his poems: "Little Cloud" (Tuchka, 1883, #40) and "The Autumn Melody" (Osennyaia Melodia, #42). A year later another poem "Narcissus" was included in a charity compilation benefiting destitute students, edited by Pyotr F. Yakubovich.
In Autumn 1882 Merezhkovsky attended one of the first of S. Nadson's public readings and, deeply impressed, wrote him a letter. Soon Nadson became Merezhkovsky's closest friend – in fact, the only one, apart from his mother. Later researchers suggested there was some mystery shared by the two young men, something to do with "fatal illness, fear of death and longing for faith as an antidote to such fear". Nadson died in 1887, Varvara Vasilyevna two years later; feeling that he's lost everything he'd ever had in this world, Merezhkovsky submerged into deep depression.
Meanwhile Otechestvennye Zapiski (January 1883) published two more of Merezhkovsky's poems. "Sakja Moony", the best known of his earlier works, entered popular poetry recital compilations of the time and made the author almost famous. By 1896 Merezhkovsky was rated as "a well known poet" by the B&E Encyclopedia. Years later, having gained fame as a novelist, he felt rather embarrassed by his poetry and, while compiling his first Compete series in the late 1900s, cut the poetry section down to several pieces. Nevertheless, Merezhkovsky's poems remained hugely popular, and some major Russian composers (Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky among them) have set dozens of them to music.
In 1884–1889 Merezhkovsky studied history and philology at the University of Saint Petersburg where his PhD was on Montaigne. He's learned several foreign languages and developed strong interest in the French literature, the philosophy of positivism, theories of J. S. Mill and Charles Darwin. Still, his student years were, apparently, joyless. "University gave me no more than a Gymnasium did. I've never had proper – either family, or education," he wrote in his 1913 autobiography. The only lecturer he remembered fondly was Orest Miller, well-known Russian literary historian and Dostoyevsky biographer, who held a domestic literature circle.
More promising was his literary company, notably Saint Petersburg's Literary Society that he (along with Nadson) joined in 1884, on A. Plescheev's recommendation. The latter introduced the young poet to the family of K.Davydov, a Musical Conservatory director. His wife Anna Arkadyevna became Merezhkovsky's publisher in the 1890s, their daughter Julia – his first (strong, even if fleeting) romantic interest. In Davydov's circle Merezhkovsky mixed with well-established literary figures of the time – Ivan Goncharov, Apollon Maykov, Yakov Polonsky, but also Nikolay Mikhaylovsky and Gleb Uspensky, two prominent narodniks whom he regarded later as his first real teachers.
It was under the guidance of the latter that Merezhkovsky, while still a University student, has embarked upon an extensive journey through the Russian provinces where he met lots of people, notably religious cults leaders. He stayed for some time in Chudovo village where Uspensky lived, both men spent many sleepless nights discussing things like 'life's religious meaning', 'common people's cosmic vision' and 'the power of the land'. A young student was seriously considering the possibility of leaving the capital forever, settling down in some far-out country place and becoming a teacher.
Another big influence was Mikhaylovsky, who introduced the young man to the stuff of Severny Vestnik, a literary magazine he's recently founded with A. Davydova. Here Merezhkovsky met such influential authors as Vladimir Korolenko and Vsevolod Garshin, and later Nikolai Minsky, Konstantin Balmont and Fyodor Sologub: the future leaders of the Russian symbolism movement. Merezhkovsky's first article for the magazine, though, "A Peasant in the French literature", upset his mentor: Mikhaylovsky found in his young protege the 'penchant for mysticism' – the one thing he himself detested.
In the early 1888 Merezhkovsky graduated from the University and embarked upon a tour through the South of Russia, starting in Odessa. In Borjomi he met 19-year-old poet Zinaida Gippius. The two instantly fell for each other and on January 18, 1889, married in Tiflis, making arguably the most prolific and influential, even if rather bizarre, couple in the history of Russian literature. Soon husband and wife moved into their new Saint Petersburg house, Merezkovsky's mother's wedding present.
Late 1880s – early 1890s
Merezhkovsky's major literary debut came with the publication of Poems (1883–1888). It brought the author into the focus of the most favourable critical attention, but – even coupled with Protopop Avvacum, a poetry epic released the same year, could not solve young family's financial problems. Helpfully, Gippius rather unexpectedly reinvented herself as a driving commercial force, starting to churn out novels and novelettes she couldn't later even remember the titles of. Merezhkovsky Sr.'s occasional hand-outs also helped husband and wife to keep their meagre budget afloat.
Having by this time lost most of his interest in poetry, Dmitry Merezhkovsky developed a strong affinity to Greek drama; his translations of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides appeared in Vestnik Evropy. These and some of his later translations from Ancient Greek (like prosaic version of Daphnis and Chloe, 1896), almost unnoticed by the contemporary critics, later came to be regarded (according to biographer Yuri Zobnin) "the pride of the Russian school of classical translation".
In the late 1880s Merezhkovsky debuted as a literary critic with an essay on Anton Chekhov entitled The Newly-born Talent Versus the Same Old Question which was published by Severny Vestnik. Having spotted in his subject's prose 'seeds of irrational, alternative truth' Merezhkovsky made sure his friendship with Mikhaylovsky should come to an end; quite amused by the discovery was Chekhov himself who, in his letter to Plescheev, mentioned "disturbing lack of simplicity" as the article's major fault. Nothing daunted, Merezhkovsky continued in the same vein – in fact, invented (in retrospect) the whole new genre of philosophical essay as a form of critical thesis, something unheard of in Russian literature before. Merezhkovsky's biographical pieces on Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, Maykov, Korolenko, Pliny, Calderon scandalized the contemporary literary establishment. Some twenty years later (compiled in a volume called The Eternal Companions) these essays were pronounced modern classics, their author praised as "the subtlest and the deepest of late XIX – early XX Russian literary critics" (by literary historian Anton Dolynin). The Eternal Companions became so revered a piece of literary art in the early 1910s that the volume was being officially chosen as a kind of honorary gift for especially excelling grammar school graduates.
In May 1890 Liubov Gurevich, having found herself at the helm of the revamped Severny Vestnik, turned a former narodnik's safe haven into the exciting club for newly born stars of the rising experimental literature scene, labeled 'decadent' by its opponents. Instantly Merezhkovsky's new drama Sylvio was published there, the translation of E.A. Poe's The Raven followed suit. Other journals became interested in the young author too: Russkaya Mysl published his poem Vera (later included in his The Symbols compilation), which became an instant hit as one of the Russian symbolism's first masterpieces, its colourful mysticism seen by many as a healthy antidote to narodnik's dull 'social reflections'. Bryusov 'absolutely fell in love with it', and Pertsov years later admitted: "For my young mind Merezhkovsky's Vera sounded so much superior to this dull and old-fashioned Pushkin".
Russkaya Mysl released The Family Idyll (Semeynaya idillia, 1890), a year later another symbolic poem Death (Smert) appeared in Severny Vestnik. In 1891 Merezhkovsky and Gippius made their first journey to Europe, staying mostly in Italy and France; the poem End of the Century (Konetz Veka) inspired by the European trip, came out two years later. On their return home the couple stayed for a while in Guppius' dacha at Vyshny Volochyok; it was here that Merezhkovsky started working on his first novel, The Death of the Gods. Julian the Apostate. A year later it was finished, but by this time the situation with Severny Vestnik has changed: outraged by Akim Volynsky's boorish editorial manner, Merezhkovsky severed ties with the magazine, at least for a while. In the late 1891 he published his translation of Sophocles' Antigona in Vestnik Evropy, part of Goethe's Faustus (in Russkoye Obozrenye) and Euripides' Hyppolite (in Vestnik Evropy again). The latter came out in 1893, after the couple's second trip to Europe where their first, nothing out of the ordinary, encounter with Dmitry Filosofov occurred. Much more significant seemed to Merezhkovsky what he saw in Greece; grandiose images and the resultant spurt of new ideas formed the foundation for his second novel.
In 1892 Merezhkovsky's second volume of poetry entitled Symbols. Poems and Songs came out. The book, bearing E.A.Poe and Charles Baudelaire's influences but also tinged heavily with the author's newly found religious ideas, became a younger readership's favourite. Of the elder writers only Yakov Polonsky supported it wholeheartedly – to great delight of the author. In October 1892 Merezhkovsky's lecture On the Causes of the Decline and on the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature was first read in public, then came out in print. Brushing aside the 'decadent' tag, the author argued that all three "streaks of Modern art" — "Mystic essence, Symbolic language and Impressionism" — could be easily traced down to the works of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, Russian Modernism, therefore, being nothing more or less than a continuation of the Russian literature's classic tradition. Coupled with Symbols, the Lecture was widely accepted as a Russian symbolism's early manifest. The lecture caused sensation but general reaction to it was mostly negative. The author found himself between two chairs: liberals condemned his ideas as 'the new obscurantism', posh literary saloonists treated his revelations with scorn. Small group of people greeted The Causes unanimously, and that was the Severny Vestnik clique. Much to his surprise Merezhkovsky discovered that he was welcomed there again.
In 1893–1894 Merezhkovsky published numerous books (the play The Storm is Over and the translation of Sophocles' Oedipus the King among them), but the money all this hard work brought were scant. Now writing his second novel, he had to accept whatever work was offered to him. In the late 1893 Merezhkovskys settled in Saint Petersburg again. Here they frequented the Shakespearean Circle, the Polonskys' Fridays and the Literary Fund gatherings. Then the pair started their own home saloon with Filosofov and Volynsky becoming habitués. All of a sudden Merezhkovsky found that his debut novel was to be published in Severny Vestnik after all. What he didn't realise, though, was that this 'success' came as a result of a Gippius' tumultuous secret love affair with Akym Volynsky, one of this magazine's chiefs.
The Death of the Gods which came out in 1895 (Severny Vestnik, ##1–6) opened the Christ & Antichrist trilogy and in retrospect is regarded as the first Russian symbolist novel. This publication made all the difference: for the literary majority Dmitry Merezhkovsky wasn’t an eccentric loony anymore. Sceptics still prevailed (most of them denouncing the author's alleged Nietzscheanity), but not one of them dared to doubt this debut's significance. As for allies, they were ecstatic. "A novel made for eternity," Bryusov marveled. Five years later Julian the Apostate was published in France (in Zinaida Vasilyeva's translation) and Merezhkovsky became a respected European author.
In Severny Vestnik, though, clouds were gathering over his head, the reason for it being, unbelievably, Akym Volynsky's jealousy. In 1896 all three of them (husband still totally unaware of what was going on behind his back) made a trip to Europe to visit Leonardo da Vinci's places. Several ugly rows with Volynsky finally made disgusted Gippius to send her scandalous-minded lover home. There the hell broke loose. Not only did Volynsky expelled his ex-lover's husband from Severny Vestnik, he's made sure all the major literary journals would shut the door on him. What Volynsky did next was publish under his own name some papers on Leonardo, written and compiled by his hated adversary.
The scandal concerning plagiarism lasted for almost two years; totally sick of it and having not a single decent place to turn to, Merezhkovsky in 1897 was seriously considering leaving his country for good, kept at home only by the lack of finances. For almost three years the second novel, Resurrection of Gods. Leonardo da Vinci (The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci – in English and French) remained unpublished. It finally appeared in Autumn 1900 in a religious magazine Myr Bozhy (God's World), under the title "Renaissance". In retrospect (according to the Encyclopedia of World Biography entry) these books' "...persuasive power came from Merezhkovsky's success in catching currents then around him: strong contrasts between social life and spiritual values, fresh interest in the drama of pagan ancient Athens, and identification with general western European culture".
By the time of his second novel's release Merezhkovsky was in a different cultural camp – that of Dyagilev and his close friends – Alexandre Benois, Léon Bakst, Nikolay Minsky and Valentin Serov. Their own brand new Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) magazine, with Dmitry Filosofov as a literary editor, accepted Merezhkovsky wholeheartedly. It was here that his most famous essay, ''Tolstoy and Dostoevsky was published in 1900–01, becoming Russian cultural life's hot news, coinciding as it was with Tolstoy's escalating conflict with the Russian Orthodox church.
Shocking many (not for the first time), Merezhkovsky upheld the Tolstoy Excommunication act, seeing it as a symptom of the Russian Orthodox church's revival; the latter's "beginning to see itself as a united mystical organism, intolerant to any compromises of dogmatic character," as he put it. The writer's stance made him a hate figure for many, even threats of physical violence ensuing. Tolstoy himself wasn't much flustered; in fact, he invited the couple to his Yasnaya Polyana estate in 1904 and, to both parties' delight, the visit proved to be more than friendly. Behind the facade, there was little love lost, though, between them; the old man confessed in a diary that, he just couldn't "force himself to love those two", and Merezhkovsky's critique of Tolstoy's 'nihilism' continued.
The God-seekers and Troyebratstvo
Meanwhile, Merezhkovskys' own religious experiments were becoming less and less orthodox. They started with the formation of the group called the Religious-Philosophical Meetings (1901–1903) based on the concept of the New Church which was suggested by Gippius and supposed to become an alternative to the old Orthodox doctrine which proved, "...to be imperfect and prone to stagnation". The group, organized by the Merezhkovsky and Gippius along with Vasily Rozanov, Viktor Mirolyubov and Valentin Ternavtsev, claimed to provide a "a tribune for free discussion of questions concerning religious and cultural problems," serving to promote "neo-Christianity, social organization and whatever serves perfecting the human nature. Having lost by this time contacts with both Mir Iskusstva and Mir Bozhy, Merezhkovskys felt it was time for them to create their own magazine, as a means for "bringing the thinking religious community together". In July 1902, in association with Pyotr Pertzov and assisted by some senior officials including ministers D. Sypiagin and V. von Pleve, they opened their own Novy Put (New Path) magazine, designed as an outlet for The Meetings.
After the 22nd session, in April 1903, the Meetings of the group (by this time known as Bogoiskateli, or God-seekers) were cancelled by the procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Konstantin Pobedonostsev's decree, the main reason being Merezhkovskys frequent visits to places of mass sectarian settlements where God-seekers' radical ideas of Church 'renovation' were becoming quite popular. In Novy Put things changed too: with the arrival of strong personalities like Nikolai Berdyayev, Sergey Bulgakov and Semyon Frank the magazine solidified its position, yet drifted away from its originally declared mission. In the late 1904 Merezhkovsky and Gippius quit Novy Put, remaining on friendly terms with its new leaders and their now highly influential 'philosophy section'. In 1907 the Meetings revived under the new moniker of The Religious-Philosophical Society, Merezhkovsky once again promoting his 'Holy Ghost's Kingdom Come' ideas. This time it looked more like a literary circle than anything it had ever purported to be.
The couple formed their own domestic 'church', trying to involve miriskusniks. Of the latter, only Filosofov took the idea seriously and became the third member of the so-called Troyebratstvo (The Brotherhood of Three) built loosely upon the Holy Trinity format and having to do with the obscure 12th century idea of the Third Testament. Merezhkovsky developed it into a Church of Holy Ghost, destined to succeed older churches – first of the Father (Old Testament), then of the Son (New Testament) Practical religious rituals of Troyebratstvo (including traditional Russian Orthodox elements, organized into a rather bizarre kind of a spectacle) was seen by many as blasphemy and divided the St. Petersburg intellectual elite: Vasily Rozanov was fascinated by the thinly veiled eroticism of the happening, Nikolai Berdyaev was among those outraged by the whole thing, along with the (gay, mostly) members of Mir Iskusstva. Sergei Diaghilev accused Filosofov of committing 'adultery': the latter's somewhat embarrassing quit-and-return shenanigans were going on for quite a while, until 1905 he finally made up his mind and settled down in Merezhkovskys' St. Petersburg house, becoming virtually a family member.
In 1904 Peter and Alexis, the third and final novel of Christ and Antichrist trilogy was published (in Novy Puth, ##1–5, 9–12), having at its focus the figure of Peter the Great as an 'embodied Antichrist' – an idea the author shared with Russian raskolniki. The novel's release was now eagerly anticipated in Europe where Merezhkovsky by this time has become a best-selling author, Julian the Apostate having undergone ten editions (in four years time) in France. But when Daily Telegraph described the novelist as "true heir to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky's legacy", back in Russia critics denounced this praise so unanimously that Merezhkovsky was forced to publicly deny having had any pretensions of this kind whatsoever.
After the Bloody Sunday of January 9, 1905, Merezhkovsky's views changed drastically, the defeat of the Imperial Russian Navy by the Imperial Japanese Navy helping him see, as he put it, "the anti-Christian nature of the Russian monarchy". The 1905 Revolution was now seen by Merezhkovsky as a prelude for some kind of a religious upheaval he thought himself to be a prophet of. The writer became an ardent supporter of the civil unrest, writing pro-revolutionary verse, organizing protest parties for students, like that in Alexandrinsky theatre. In October 1905 he greeted the government's 'freedoms-granting' decree but since then was only strengthening ties with leftist radicals, notably, esers.
In The Forthcoming Ham (Gryadushchu Ham, 1905) Merezhkovsky explained his rather complicated political stance, seeing, as usual, all things refracted into Trinities. Using the pun ("Ham" in Russian, along with a Biblical character's name, meaning 'lout', 'boor') the author described the three "faces of Ham'stvo" (son of Noah's new incarnation as kind of nasty, God-jeering scoundrel Russian): the past (Russian Orthodox Church's hypocrisy), the present (the state bureaucracy and monarchy) and the future – massive "boorish upstart rising up from society's bottom". Several years on the book was regarded as prophetic by many.
In spring 1906, Merezhkovsky and Filosofov went into a self-imposed European exile, seeing "promoting the New religious consciousness" as their mission. In France they founded Anarchy and Theocracy magazine and released a compilation of essays called Le Tsar at la Revolution. In one of the articles he contributed to it, Revolution and Religion, Merezhkovsky wrote: "Now it's almost impossible to foresee what a deadly force this revolutionary tornado starting upwards from the society's bottom will turn out to be. The church will be crashed down and the monarchy too, but with them — what if Russia itself is to perish — if not the timeless soul of it, then its body, the state?" Again, what at the time was looked upon as dull political grotesque a decade later turned into grim reality.
In 1908 the play about 'the routine of the revolution’ Poppy Blossom (Makov Tzvet) came out, all three Troyebratstvo members credited as co-authors. It was followed by The Last Saint (Posledny Svyatoy), a piece on Seraphim Sarovsky, this time Merezhkovsky's solo effort. More significant were two of his socio-political/philosophical essays, Not Peace But Sword and In Sill Waters. In them, working on another of his theories, that of "evolutionary mysticism", Merezhkovsky argued that revolution in both Russia and the rest of the world (he saw the two as closely linked: the first 'steaming forward', the latter 'rattling behind') was inevitable, but could succeed only if preceded by "the revolution of the human spirit", with Russian intelligentsia willingly embracing his cherished idea of the Third Testament. Otherwise, Merezhkovsky prophesized, political revolution will bring nothing but tyranny and the 'Kingdom of Ham'.
Among people whom Merezhkovskys held talk with in Paris were well-established cultural figures like Anatole France, Rudolf Steiner, Bergson, leaders of the French socialists. Disappointed by the general polite indifference to their ideas, husband and wife returned home in the late 1908, but not before Merezhkovsky's historical drama Pavel the First (Pavel Pervy) was published. The play, promptly confiscated and then banned by the Russian authorities, became the first in the The Kingdom of the Beast (Tsarstvo zverya) trilogy. Dealing with the nature and history of the Russian monarchy, the trilogy had little in common with the author's earlier symbolism-influenced prose and, cast very much in the humanist tradition of the 19th-century Russian literature, was regarded later as the height of Merezhkovsky's literary career. The second and the third parts of the trilogy, the Decembrists novels Alexander the First (Аleksandr Pervy) and December 14 (Chetyrnadzatoye Dekabrya) came out in 1913 and 1918 respectively.
In 1909 Merezhkovsky found himself in the center of another controversy after coming out with harsh criticism of Vekhi, the volume of political and philosophical essays written and compiled by the group of influential writers, mostly his former friends and allies, who promoted their work as some kind of historic manifesto, the last effort to enforce the rather inert Russian intelligentsia into the long overdue 'spiritual revival'. Arguing against vekhovtsy's (hardly original) idea of bringing Orthodoxy and the Russian intellectual elite together (again), Merezhkovsky wrote in an open letter to Nikolay Berdyaev:
Orthodoxy is the very soul of the Russian monarchy, and monarchy is the Orthodoxy's carcass. Among things they both hold sacred are political repressions, the [ultra-nationalist] Union of Russian People, the death penalty and meddling with other countries' international affairs. How can one entrust oneself to prayers of those whose actions one sees as God-less and demonic?
Some argued Merezhkovsky's stance was inconsistent with his own ideas of some five years ago. After all, the Vekhi authors were trying to revitalize his own failed project of bringing the intellectual and the religious elites into some kind of collaboration. But the times have changed for Merezhkovsky and – following this (some argued, unacceptably scornful) anti-Vekhi tirade, his social status, too. Shied by his former allies, he was feared by those in he right and center and hated by the Church: Saratov bishop Dolganov even demanded his excommunication after the book Sick Russia (Bolnaya Rossia) was published n 1910. For social-democrats, conversely, Merezhkovsky, not a 'decadent pariah' any-more, suddenly became a 'well-established Russian novelist' and the 'pride of the European literature'. Time has come for former friend Rozanov to write words that proved in the long run to be prophetic: "The thing is, Dmitry Sergeyevich, those whom you are with now, will never be with you. Never will you find it in yourself to wholly embrace this dumb, dull and horrible snout of the Russian revolution".
In the early 1910s though, Merezhkovsky moved to the left side of the Russian cultural spectrum, finding among his closest associates the esers Ilya Fondaminsky and, notably, Boris Savinkov. The latter was trying to receive from Merezhkovsky some religious and philosophical justification for his own terrorist ideology, but also had another, more down to Earth axe to grind, that of getting his first novel published. This he did, with Merezhkovsky's assistance – to strike the most unusual debut of the 1910 Russian literary season. In 1911 Merezhkovsky was officially accused of having links with terrorists. Pending trial (which included the case of Pavel Pervy play) the writer stayed in Europe, then crossed the border in 1912 only to have several chapters of Alexander the First novel confiscated. Never arrested, though, in September, along with Pirozhkov, the publisher, he was acquitted.
1913 saw Merezhkovsky involved in another public scandal, when Vasily Rozanov openly accused him of having ties with the 'terrorist underground' and, as he put it, "trying to sell Motherland to Jews". Merezhkovsky suggested that the Religious and Philosophical Society should hold its own inner 'trial' and expel Rozanov from its ranks. The move turned to be miscalculated, the writer failing to take into account, apparently, the extent of his own unpopularity within the Society. The majority of the latter declined the proposal. Rozanov, high-horsed, quit the Society on his own accord to respond stingingly by publishing Merezhkovsky's private letters which demonstrated, allegedly, the latter's hypocrisy on the matter.
For a while 1914 looked like it was going to be the first ever relatively calm year for Merezhkovsky. With the two Complete Works Of editions released by the Wolfe's and Sytin's publishing houses, academic N.A.Kotlyarevsky nominated the author for the Nobel Prize for literature. Then the War broke out. Merezhkovskys expressed their deep skepticism as to – both the Russian involvement in it and all the patriotic hullabaloo stirred up by intellectuals. The writer made a conscious effort to distance himself from politics and succeeded almost, but in 1915 was throat-deep in it again, becoming friends with Alexander Kerensky and joining Maxim Gorky-led the 'movement of the patriotic left' calling for Russia's withdrawal from the War in the painless possible way.
A couple of new Merezhkovsky's plays, Joy Will Come (Radost Budet) and The Romantics were staged in war-time Petrograd theaters, the latter becoming a hit, but for the mainstream critics Merezhkovsky remained a 'controversial author'. "All in all, the Russian literature is as hostile to me as it had always been. I could as well be celebrating the 25th anniversary of this hostility," the author wrote in his short autobiography for Semyon Vengerov's biographical dictionary.
1917: February and October
1917 for Merezhkovskys started with a bout of political activity: the couple's flat on Sergiyevskaya Street became a deputies and senators' beehive, looking more like a secret branch of Russian Duma (that was when the seeds of a rumour concerning the couple's alleged membership in the Russian freemason community were, apparently, sown). With the spring came triumph: Merezhkovsky greeted the February anti-monarchy revolution and described the Kerensky's Provisional government as 'quite friendly'. By the end of the spring, though, he stopped sympathizing both the government and its ineffective leader; in summer he began to speak of things everybody else were laughingly brushing aside at the time – namely, of the government's inevitable fall and the soon-to-be Lenin's Bolshevik's tyranny coming. Late October saw Merezhkovsky's worst expectations coming to life.
For Merezhkovsky the October Socialist revolution was a catastrophe. He saw it as the Coming of Ham he wrote about a decade later, the tragic victory for, as he choose to put it, Narod-Zver (The Beast-nation), the political and social incarnation of the universal Evil, putting the whole human civilization to danger. Merezhkovsky and Gippius tried to whatever influence they still had upon the Bolshevist cultural elite to help setting their friends, the arrested Provisional government ministers, free. Ironically, one of the first thing the Soviet government did was lift the ban from the blatantly anti-monarchist Pavel Pervy play to let it be staged in many of the Red Russia's theaters.
For quite a while Merezhkovskys's flat served as an esers' party's fraction headquarters but this came to an end on January 1918 when the so-called Uchredilovka was dissolved by Lenin. In his 1918 diary Merezhkovsky wrote:
How fragrantly fresh our February and March were, with their bluish, heavenly blizzards, what a beauty human face shone with! Where is it all now? Peering into the October crowd, one sees that it's faceless. Not the ugliness of it, but facelessness is what's most disgusting. […] Strolling down Petersburg streets, I recognize at once a Communist face. What feature is most frightful in it – self-satisfaction of a satiated beast, animalistic obtuseness? No, the most horrible in this face is its dreariness, this transcendental dreariness, found only in Paradise that's been found on Earth, the Antichrist's Kingdom Come.
1919—1920 for Merezhkovskys were full of dramatic events. Having sold everything including dishes and extra clothes to avoid dying of hunger (which Rozanov, incidentally, failed to do), they began grudgingly to collaborate with Maxim Gorky's new World Literature publishing house, receiving salary and food rations. Rozanov's disturbingly emotional farewell deathbed letter shook the couple, as well as seeing many of those who only months ago denounced them for being left radicals, now serving the new regime's 'cultural revolution'. Of the revolutionary leaders Merezhkovsky wrote in his diary:
Russian Communists are not all of them villains. There are well-meaning, honest, crystal clear people among them. Saints, almost. These are most horrible. These saints stink of the 'Chinese meat' most.[note 1]
After news started to filter through of Yudenich, Kolchak and Denikin's consequent defeats, Merezhkovskys saw their only chance of survival in fleeing Russia. This they did on December 14, 1919, along with Filosofov and Zlobin (Gippius' young secretary), having obtained Anatoly Lunacharsky-signed permission "to leave Petrograd for the purpose of reading some lectures on Ancient Egypt to Red Army fighters".
Merezhkovsky in exile
Merezkovsky, Gippius, Filosofov and Zlobin headed first for Minsk, then Vilno, staying in both cities to give newspaper interviews and public lectures. Speaking to a Vilno correspondent, Merezhkovsky commented:
The whole question of Russia's existence as such — and it's non-existent at the moment, as far as I am concerned, — depends on Europe's seeing through at last the true nature of Bolshevism. Europe has to open its eyes to the fact that Bolshevism uses the Socialist banner only as a camouflage, that what it does in effect is defile high Socialist ideals, that it is a global threat, not just local Russian disease. <…> There is not a trace in Russia at the moment of either Socialism or even the <proclaimed> dictatorship of proletariat; the only dictatorship that's there is that of the two people: Lenin and Trotsky.
In Warsaw the four stayed for several months, Merezhkovsky doing practical work for some Russian immigrant organizations, Gippius editing the literary section in Svoboda newspaper. Both were regarding Poland as a 'messianic', 'potentially unifying' place and a crucial barrier in the face of the spreading Bolshevism plague. In the summer of 1920 Boris Savinkov arrived into the country to have talks with Jozef Pilsudski: he engaged Merezhkovsky and Filosofov in the activities of the so-called Russian Evacuation committee (more of a White Army mobilization center) and introduced the writer to the Polish President. On behalf of the Committee Merezhlovsky issued a memorandum calling the peoples of Russia to stop fighting the Polish army and join its ranks. The whole thing flopped, though, as Poland and Russia reached the armistice agreement. Failed in another 'mission', Merezhkovskys and Zlobin left for France, Filosofov staying in Warsaw to head the Savinkov-led Russian National committee's anti-Bolshevik propaganda department.
In Paris Merezhkovsky founded the Religious Union (later Soyuz Neprimirimykh, the Union of the Unpacified), was holding lectures, contributed to Pavel Milyukov's Poslednye Novosty and Pyotr Struve's Osvobozhdenye newspapers, exposing what he saw as the Bolshevist lies and denouncing the 'Kingdom of Antichrist' by all means available. It was becoming more and more obvious, though, that Merezhkovsky, backed only by the circle of the ever faithful friends, was in isolation, misunderstood by some, abhorred by others. His calling for the international intervention into Russia angered the left, rejecting monarchy restoration antagonized the right. His one and only ally at the time was Ivan Bunin; never sharing much personal affinity, the two men formed a powerful alliance in their relentless anti-Soviet campaign. Besides, having maintained strong contacts with influential French politics lobbying the interests of the Russian immigrants, both ensured that the Russian writers should get some financial support from the French government. A couple of years later another sponsor was found in Tomas Masaryk who granted personal pensions to some prominent figures in the immigrant Russian writers' community.
Merezhkovsky insisted upon severing all PEN contacts with Communist Russia and cancelling French help for the victims of mass hunger in Russian Povolzhje arguing, not unreasonably, that those in need won't ever see any of the money or food sent; he criticised the exiled Russian Constituent Assembly's communiqué, in his opinion, too conciliatory in tone. In 1922 the collection of articles and essays of the four authors (Merezhkovsky, Gippius, Filosofov contacts with whom have been restored, and Zlobin) came out under the title The Kingdom of Antichrist, the general idea of the book being that the 'Russian fires', globalist in their nature and intent, promise "either brotherhood in slavery or the end in a common grave" for the European nations.
In winter 1925 a small literary and philosophy circle was formed by Merezhkovsky and Gippius; two years later it was officially launched as the Green Lamp group. With the Novy Korabl (The New Ship) magazine of its own, the group attracted the whole of the Russian intellectual elite in exile and was remaining the important cultural center for the next ten years or more. "We are the Criticism of Russia as such, the latter's disembodied Thought and Conscience, free to judge its Present and foresee its Futur," wrote Merezhkovsky of the Green Lamp mission.
In 1928 at the First Congress of Russian writers in exileheld in Belgrade, King Alexandr I Karageorgievich bestowed Merezhkovsky with the Order of Savva of the 1st Degree meriting his services for world culture. A series of lectures organised for Merezhkovsky and Gippius by the Serbian Academy signalled the launch of the Yugoslav-based "Russian Library" series, where the best works of Bunin, Merezhkovsky, Gippius, Alexander Kuprin, Aleksey Remizov, Konstantin Balmont, Ivan Shmelyov and Igor Severyanin came out over the next several years. Things started to deteriorare, though, in the early 1930s; with the Czech and the French grants withdrawn and much feared Socialists rising high on the French political scene, Merezhkovskys looked southwards and found there a sympathizer in Benito Mussolini who took great interest in the work and views of a Russian writer, now a multiple Nobel Prize for literature nominee.
Merezhkovsky's literary activities: 1925–1941
In the mid-1920s, bitterly disappointed by the Western cultural elite's reaction to his political manifestos, Merezhkovsky turned back to writing prose which now differed radically from everything that he'd ever done before. Ditching fiction altogether, he returned to a form of religious and philosophical essay, but on the new level: that of a monumental free-form experimental-styled treatise. Some of his new books were biographies, some just extensive, amorphous but ever so engaging and highly original researches in ancient history, 'novels' in name only, never in essence or form. Speaking of the first two of them, The Birth of Gods. Tutankhamen in Crete (1925) and Messiah (1928), Merezhkovsky thus explained his credo: "Many people think I am a historical novelist, which is a misguided view. What I do in the Past is only search for the Future. The Present is a kind of exile to me. My true home is the Past/Future, which is where I belong."
Of the three fundamental books Merezhkovsky created in the late 1920s early 1930s another trilogy took shape, its vague concept being human kind's possible ways of salvation. The opener, The Mystery of the Three: Egypt and Babylon, was published in Prague in 1925. Then came out the impressively esoteric Mystery of the West: Atlantis-Europe (Berlin, 1930), where the cherished Third Testament idea took an apocalyptic, slightly Nietzschean turn. The third, Unfamiliar Jesus (1932, Belgrade), in retrospect seen as the strongest of the three.
All of a sudden Merezhkovsky, not a marginal apo-/political prophet anymore, but a prolific and successful writer again, drifted into the focus of the Nobel Prize committee attention. From 1930 onwards Sigurd Agrell, professor of Slavic languages in Lund University, started to methodically nominate Merezhkovsky for the Prize, although, invariably (and rather frustratingly for both), in tandem with Ivan Bunin. In November 1932 Gippius in a letter to Vera Bunina wrote that in her opinion Merezhkovsky had not the slightest chance of winning "because of his anti-Communist stance", but the truth was, Bunin (no lesser a Communism-loather than his rival) wrote books that were so much more accessible and, generally, popular. Rather annoyed by this always having to walk in pairs with his adversary/ally, Merezkovsky even suggested they should rather make a pact and divide the moneys should one of them ever grab them, but Bunin took deadly seriously what was meant apparently as a joke and responded with an outright refusal. He promptly won the Prize in 1933.
Agrell went on with the Merezhkovsky-nominating routine up until his own death in 1937 (making 8 such nominations, in all), but each year the latter's chances were getting slimmer. In his last five years the writer did produce some high quality stuff (like compilation of religious biographies Faces of Saints: from Jesus to Nowadays and The Reformers trilogy, published posthumously) but it wasn't in any way ground-breaking. Hard times and deepening troubles notwithstanding, Merezhkovsky continued to work hard till his dying day, trying desperately to finish his Spanish Mysteries trilogy until the curtain falls; the last of the three, the unfinished Little Theresa, was with him at his deathbed; he died literally with a pen in his hand.
Merezhkovsky and the European dictators
Although never a nationalist, Merezhkovsky was very much a Russo-centric author and thinker, cherishing the idea of his country's unique and in many ways decisive place in the world culture in history. Never tiring of reiterating the "Russian plight is the problem of the world, not Russia" postulate, he was ever on the look-out for some 'strong leader' who would be able to organize and successfully see through the anti-Communist crusade. For a while Merezhkovsky thought he's found his hero in Benito Mussolini who, having sponsored his book on Dante, found time to have several lengthy talks with the Russian writer on politics, literature and art. Impressed, Merezhkovsky started to see his new friend as an incarnation of Dante, almost. In a letter addressed to Mussolini, he wrote:
The best, the truest and the liveliest document on Dante is — your personality. To understand Dante one has to live through him, but only you being around makes that possible. Two souls, his and yours, are merged into one, Infinity itself bringing you two together. Visualize Mussolini in contemplation, and it's Dante. Imagine Dante in action, and it's Mussolini.
All the while Merezhkovsky was trying to convince Mussolini that it was the latter's mission to actually start the "Holy War against Russia", reiterating these ideas in his "Meeting Mussolini" article (Illustrated Russia, February 1937). Seeing his name frequently mentioned by the Italian press in connection with rather wild Merezhkovsky's suggestions made duce uneasy. Foreseeing no holy wars to become a leader of in the foreseeable future, Mussolini took a step back. Visiting Rome in summer 1937, Merezhkovsky had some talks with the Italian Foreign minister, but found duce nowhere in sight. He fell out with Mussolini as quickly as he'd fallen in, speaking of being deeply disappointed in the Italian leader's 'petty materialism' in October of the same year. All the while he was trying to get in contact with General Francisco Franco, now seeing Spain as the last anti-Communist citadel of Europe. With this hope coming to naught, Merezhkovsky's choice of heroes narrowed down to just one: Adolf Hitler.
Fascism wasn't Merezhkovsky's idea of the best alternative to Communism. As early as 1930 he wrote of doomed Europe stuck between two "stores of explosives: Fascism and Communism", expressing hope that some day these two evils will somehow destroy one another. But the danger of Fuhrer's possible taking over Europe was somehow a lesser evil for him that the Communist expansion. This 'Hitler dilemma' was the only thing husband and wife disagreed on, ever. Gippius hated and despised Fuhrer, referring to him as 'an idiot'. Merezhkovsky was more tolerant: for the first time in the two decades he saw a leader who'd be able to take the whole of Antichrist Kingdom upon himself, this single fact outweighing for him other trivia — like that of his own Joan of Arc (1939) being banned in Germany on the day of its release.
The infamous radio speech
Exactly how and why did Merezhkovsky found himself on the German radio in June 1941 nobody was quite sure of. Gippius (according to Yury Terapiano who was quoting Nina Berberova) later put the blame on her own secretary, Vladimir Zlobin who, making use of his German connection, allegedly persuaded the elderly man to come to the studio in the early days of the Nazi invasion into the USSR. In his speech (if its printed version entitled Bolshevism and Humanity is to be believed) Merezhkovsky, comparing Hitler to Joan of Arc, called for the anti-Bolshevik crusade, reiterating, among other things, what he was saying all through the 1920s and 1930s:
Bolshevism will never change its nature… because right from the start it's been not a national, but international phenomenon. From the very first day Russia has been – and remains to this very day – only a means to the end: that of its conquering the whole world.
"It's the end for us", allegedly said Gippius, disgusted and frightened. In the days to come, though, husband and wife (as those who knew them attested) were often expressing horror at the news of Nazis' atrocities on the Eastern front; according to Gippius' friend, poet Victor Mamchenko, Merezhkovsky far from supporting Hitler, was actually condemning him in those days.
There is still so much confusion as to this infamous radio speech's exact circumstances, that some researchers doubt the fact as such, pointing out that not a single memoirist who has ever mentioned it, had themselves heard Merezhkovsky speaking on air. All of those 'witnesses' were invariably referring to the printed version of the "speech" published in 1944 by Parizhsky Vestnik. This document, according to Yury Zobnin (the author of the first ever comprehensive Merezhkovsky biography published in Russia) was most certainly a montage fake, concocted by the Nazi propaganda out of the 1939 unpublished essay The Mystery of the Russian Revolution (on Dostoyevsky's Demons novel), bits and pieces thrown in. That the speech could have been broadcast in the late June the researcher finds implausible: the couple resided in Biarritz and for an elderly person to give everybody a slip and somehow get to Paris was hardly probable.
Adding to the confusion is the well-documented fact that Merezhkovsky did really pronounce a speech mentioning Hitler and Joan of Arc in one breath. It happened in August 1940 at his 75th birthday celebration in Biarriz and in the context that was radically different. In fact, his speech caused much trouble because it was deemed too pro-Russian and anti-German. According to Teffi, one of the people present, —
On the huge hotel terrace under the guidance of countess G., the audience gathered, German uniform seen here and there. Merezhkovsky pronounced a lengthy tirade which rather frightened the Russian camp. Targeting both bolsheviks and <German> fascists, he spoke of the times when the nightmare finally ends and both Antichrists – one tormenting Russia, the other tormenting France – perish, and the 'Russia of Dostoyevsky' at last will be able to stretch a hand to the 'France of Pascal and Joan of Arc'. "Well, now they'll throw us out of the hotel, that's for sure," horrified Russian lodgers were whispering. But the Germans looked as if they never heard this prophecy: they applauded benevolently, along with others.
Irina Odoyevtseva independently corroborated this. "He was going on about the Atlantis and its demise. For those who understood Russian it was obvious that what he meant was Germany's defeat and Russia's imminent victory, but the Germans never understood this and applauded," she remembered. All this, according to Zobnin, makes the infamous German Radio speech looking very much like a Nazi propaganda myth, picked up first by Yuri Terapiano, then authenticised by latter reiterations.
In summer 1939 Paramount (in collaboration with the French Association des Auteurs de Films) bought Merezhkovsky's scenario The Life of Dante. Production was cancelled on September 1, as the War broke out in Europe. On September 9, fleeing the air raids, the Merezhkovskys along with tens of thousands of Parisians moved to the Biarritz in the South of the country where they spent the next three months, communicating mainly with the French and the English military officers, but also with Irina Odoyevtseva and her husband Georgy Ivanov.
In June 1940 they embarked on another evacuation trip from Paris southwards, but this proved unnecessary: on June 27 Biarritz was occupied too. Still, it was here in the hotel that on August 14 the writer's 75th anniversary celebration was held, organized by a group of French writers, with the participation of some notable Russians like Pavel Milyukov, Ivan Bunin and Mark Aldanov. It was there that Merezhkovsky made his risky speech that might have been later merged (in memoirs authors' minds) with things he might (or might not) have said on the German radio. Even Yuri Zobnin admits that the way the writer was bearing himself very much pandered to those who regarded him as a Nazi sympathizer. In the Autumn of 1941 he was reveling in the attention of and being on the friendliest terms with German admirers – students, mostly, but army officers too. It was Germans who were helping the couple out financially, seeing them back to Paris from Biarritz where they were penniless and on the verge of homelessness. "Merezhkovsky flew up to Nurnberg fired with the agitation of a newly born butterfly… By this time most of us stopped visiting them," wrote V. Yanovsky, a Green Lamp group member.
For the last three months of his life Merezhkovsky was working continuously in the couple's Paris flat, hoping to finish Little Theresa. On December 6 husband and wife returned from one of their regular walks the writer was insisting on, his wife having to literally drag him on her shoulder, and spent the evening, in her words, "arguing, as usual, about Russia versus freedom dilemma". Skipping both supper and his habitual evening cigarette, Merezhkovsky went to his room early. Next morning the maid called Gippius to tell her the man was in some kind of trouble. Merezhkovsky was sitting unconscious next to a cold fireplace. The doctor arrived in 15 minutes time and diagnosed brain hemorrhage. In half an hour Merezhkovsky was pronounced dead. "…Me, I'm a worm, not man, slandered by humans, despised by peoples (Ps. 21, 7). But wrap itself into a chrysalis a hapless worm does only to break out as a shiny white, sunlight-like, resurrected butterfly," these, found written on a piece of paper on a table, were his last words. The funeral service was held on December 10 in the Orthodox church of Saint Aleksandr Nevsky. Dmitry Merezhkovsky was buried in the Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois Russian Cemetery, with just several people attending the ceremony.
Merezhkovsky's first adopted philosophical trend was the then popular positivism, a trend his brother Konstantin (a future well-known biologist), who had great influence upon him, was the follower of too. Soon, disillusioned in formal positivism but never rejecting it wholly, Merezhkovsky turned to religion. Seeds of this hybrid (European positivism grafted to what's been described as 'subjective idealism' of Russian Orthodoxy) sown on the field of literature study brought forth a brochure entitled "On the Causes of the Decline and the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature". This manifesto gave a burgeoning Symbolist movement both ideology and the name as such: Merezhkovsky was the first in Russia to speak of symbols as definitive means of cognizance modern Art.
In the center of this new train of thought was the notion of "rejecting the rational in favour of the intuitive" by means of exploiting what the author termed as 'spirituality of a symbol', seeing the latter as a perfect means of describing Reality, otherwise unfathomable. Only a symbol, according to Merezhkovsky, could burrow circumvent through to reach an object's deeper meaning, whereas (quoting, as he did, Tyutchev) "thought, whilst being spoken, turns a lie":
In poetry the unspoken things, flickering through the beauty of symbol, affect us stronger than what's expressed by words. Symbolism endows both style and essence of poetry with spirituality; poetic word becomes clear and translucent as walls of alabaster amphora carrying flame… Longing for things that have never been experienced yet, looking for undertones yet unknown, searching out dark and unconscious things in our sensual world is the coming Ideal poetry's main characteristics. […] The three principle elements of the new art are: the mystic essence, symbolism and the expansion of artist's impressiveness. – Dmitry Merezhkovsky.
Interestingly (according to D.Churakov), Merezhkovsky, pronouncing 'the death of metaphysics' and putting forward the idea that only language of symbols could be an adequate instrument for discovering the modern world's pattern of meanings, was unwillingly following Auguste Comte, the difference being that the latter was employing these ideas in scientific fields, while the former proposed to use them in literature and criticism.
The Third Testament
Merezhkovsky's next and most fundamental step ahead as a self-styled modernist philosophy leader was taken in tandem with his young intellectual wife Zinaida Gippius who from the first days of their meeting started generating new ideas for her husband to catch up on, fully develop and bring into shape. It was in this feedback-driven cooperation that the 3rd Testament theory was born, or rather revived, transplanted from its Middle Ages Italian origins into the early 20th century's Russian ambience. It was the 3rd Testament that formed the basis of the early 20th-century Russian New Religious Consciousness movement which in turn kick started the Religious-Philosophical Society into action, again Gippius producing basic ideas for her husband to formulate them and become the driving force of. Borrowing the original idea from Joachim of Fiore, a 12th-century theologist, Merezhkovskys created and developed their own concept of man's full-circle religious evolution. In it the Bible was seen as a starting point with God having taken two steps towards Man – for the latter to respond with the third, logically conclusive one.
According to Merezhkovsky, the 1st (Divine Father's) and the 2nd (Divine Son's) Testaments could be seen only as preliminary steps towards the 3rd one, that of the Holy Ghost. With the first maintaining the Law of God and the second – the Grace of God, what the third Testament should do is bring Liberation to the human race; the 1st Testament revealing the God's power as gospel Truth, the 2nd transforming the gospel Truth into Love, the 3rd translating Love into Liberation. In this last Kingdom "pronounced and heard will be – the final, never before revealed name of the coming one: God the Liberator," according to the author.
Merezhkovsky saw the 3rd Testament, a new Holy Ghost religion, as a synthesis of the two original revelations: that 'about Earth' (pre-Christian beliefs) and that 'about Heaven' (Christianity). The Mystery of the Holy Trinity, when resolved, should link three elements into a circle, the great "new Earth under the new Heavens", as promised in the Book of the Apocalypse. As Rozanov (an influence on Merezhkovsky who in turn was greatly influenced by his ideas) put it, "Merezhkovsky's greatest innovation was this attempt to merge together the two — the Christian and the Heathen — poles of poignancy. To discover a 'tempting vice' in the greatest of virtues and the greatest of virtues in the tempting vice." One of the most tempting aspects of this New Trinity concept was the idea of that the all-inviting Holy Ghost was not a sexless spirit, but a female entity.
Sex and spirituality
Human history, according to Merezhkovsky, was one ceaseless 'battle of two abysses': the abyss of Flesh (as discovered by pre-Christians) and the abyss of Spirit (opened by Christianity's sexless ascetism). Pre-Christians celebrated flesh-driven sensuality at the expense of all things spiritual. Ascetic Christians brought about the rise of Spirit, at the expense of sex. Merezhkovsky declared the dialectical inevitability of thesis and antithesis' coming together, of the spiritual and the sexual poles uniting on a higher, celestial level.
In his own words, "Being aware of myself in my body, I'm at the root of personality. Being aware of myself in the other one's body, I'm at the root of sex. Being aware of myself in all human bodies, is the root of unity". Noticing that one of the Aramaic languages translates Spirit as Rucha, a female entity, Merezhkovsky interpreted the Holy Trinity as Father and Son's unity in the higher being: their common godly Mother. It is the latter's Kingdom Come that the 3rd Testament was supposed to lead to. Seeing both God and man as intrinsically unisexual, Merezhkovsky regarded a male/female schism to be a symptom of imperfection, the cause for primal human being's fatal disintegration.
In the modern times, according to Merezhkovsky, monastic and ascetic Christianity should forever go. Art would not just turn religious forms, but become an integral part of a religion, the latter taken in broader concept. Human evolution as he saw it, would lead to a total merging of whatever had been polarized: sex and spirit, religion and culture, male and female, et cetera — bringing about Kingdom Come, not 'out there', but 'here on Earth'.
Merezhkovsky and "religious anarchism"
Man's evolutional progress towards the Third Testament Kingdom Come won’t be without some revolutionary upheavals, according to Merezhkovsky. 'Catastrophes' Humanity path to salvation will be strewn with 'catastrophes', most of them dealing with "revolutions of Spirit". The consequence of such revolution would bring about gradual change in the nature of religion itself, the latter taking under its spacious wing — not only man's sensual liberation but also the latter's 'freedom of rebellion'. "We are human only as long as we're rebels", Merezhkovsky insisted, expressing an idea some saw as a proto-existentialist one.
One of the inevitable things the 'revolution of Spirit' should lead to will be the severing of ties between state and religion, according to Merezhkovsky. "The Church – not the old, but the new, eternal, universal one – is as opposite to the idea of the state as an absolute truth is opposing an absolute lie," he declared in an open letter to Berdyaev.
B.Rozental, analyzing Merezhkovsky's political and religious philosophy, thus summed up the writer's position: "The Law amounts to violence… The difference between legitimate power that holds violence 'in reserve' and violence itself is but a matter of degree: sinful are both. Autocracy and murder are nothing more than the two extreme forms of exhibiting [criminal] power". Interpreting the Biblical version of human history as a sequence of revolutionary events, Merezhkovsky saw religion and revolution as inseparable. It is just that for a social revolution to succeed, spiritual revolution should always come one step ahead of it. In Russia the lack of the latter brought about the former's fiasco, letting Antichrist taking the reins of events, he argued.
In the 1920s Merezhkovsky veered off his earlier views on religious and revolutionary synthesis, then ditched his religious anarchism doctrine altogether. The 3rd Testament idea has undergone some metamorphosis too: in his later years the writer became close to ecumenical ideals, prophesying the Kingdom Come as a synthesis of "Peter, Paul and John's principles", that is, bringing Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions together.
Throughout his lifetime Dmitry Merezhkovsky polarized opinion in his native Russia, bringing upon himself both praise and scorn, occasionally from the same quarters. According to Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Merezhkovsky became Russia's first ever "new-type, universal kind of a dissident who managed to upset just about everybody who thought themselves to be responsible for guarding morality and order":
Tsarist government saw Merezhkovsky as subverting the state foundations, patriarchs of official Orthodoxy regarded him a heretic, for literary academia he was a decadent, for Futurists – a retrograde, for Lev Trotsky, this ardent global revolution ideologist, – a reactionary. Sympathetic Anton Chekhov's words came and went unnoticed: 'A believer he is, a believer of an apostolic kind'.
Merezhkovsky caused controversy with each and every one of his publication. In the words of a modern biographer, "history placed him alongside Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche and Henry Miller, those classics who only while being condemned and ostracized by the many could be approached and appreciated by the few". "I was disliked and scolded in Russia, loved and praised abroad, but misunderstood, both here and there," Merezhkovsky wrote in a letter to Nikolai Berdyaev.
There were things, though, Merezhkovsky was unanimously given credit for. Nobody denied that his were exceptional erudition, all the characteristics of a true scientist, literary gift and stylistic originality. Seen (in retrospect) as the first ever (and, arguably, the only one) Russian "cabinet writer of a European type", Merezhkovsky was, according to Berdyayev, "one of the best-educated people in St. Petersburg of the first quarter of the 20th century". Korney Chukovsky, pondering on the dire state of the early 20th century Russia's cultural elite, admitted that "the most cultured of them all" was this "mysterious, unfathomable, almost mythical creature – Merezhkovsky". Anton Chekov, even if not much of a fan himself, (unsuccessfully) demanded that the Russian Academy of Science should appoint Merezhkovsky its honorary academic, in as early as 1902.
In some ways Merezhkovsky was indisputably an innovator. He was the first in Russia to formulate the basic principles of Symbolism and Modernism, as opposed to 'decadence', a tag he was battling with. Never aspiring to a leading role in the movement, he soon became, according to I. Koretzkaya, "a kind of handy encyclopedia for the ideology of Symbolism", from which others "could borrow aesthetic, socio-historical and even moral ideas from." Having added a new ("thought-driven") dimension to the genre of historical novel and turning it into a modern, intriguing art form, Merezhkovsky influenced some prominent masters of Russian and European experimental novel: Andrey Bely, Aleksey Remizov, Thomas Mann, James Joyce. Less avant-garde and more traditional authors like Valery Bryusov, Aleksey N. Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov and Mark Aldanov owed much to his early experiments too. It was to Merezhkovsky's credit that the concepts and terms of a 'modernist novel' and a 'symbolic historical novel' were introduced to the rather stale and conservative Russian literature scene of the late 1890s.
Merezhkovsky was praised as a deep, highly engaging essayist. Many marveled at his unique (perhaps over-used, as some argued) talent for 'quote-juggling'. Some critics loathed the repetitiveness in Merezhkovsky's prose, but no one could dispute the authenticity of his (in a broad sense) musical manner of employing certain ideas almost as symphonic themes, which was new at the time and also much imitation-spawning.
No less influential, even if so much more controversial, were Merezhkovsky's philosophical, religious and political ideas. Alongside the obvious list of contemporary followers (Bely, Blok, etc.; almost all of them later became detractors) deeply interested in his theories were political figures (Fondaminsky, Kerensky, Savinkov), psychologists (Freud), philosophers (Berdyaev, Rickert, Stepun), lawyers (Kowalewsky). Thomas Mann wrote of Merezhkovsky as of a "genius critic and specialist in a world psychology, second only to Nietzche".
Some later researchers mentioned as one of the main factors in Merezhkovsky's significance his willingness to question dogmas and thwart tradition with total disregard to public opinion, never shying controversy and even scandal – certainly a rare quality in the cultural life of pre-Modernism Russia. Crucial in this context was (according to O.Dafier) his "quest for ways of overcoming deep crisis which came as a result of the Russian traditionalist Church losing its credibility". All the while, Merezhkovsky's ever changing views of the world that was changing as quickly, caused much misconception and criticism from all quarters.
In Russia the general response to Merezhkovsky's literary, cultural and social activities was on the whole, negative. His prose, even if on the face of it stylistically flawless and occasionally quite accessible, was, critics argued, very elitist; a thing unto itself, it was "hermetically closed for the uninitiated majority". "Having isolated himself from the real life, Merezhkovsky built up his own inner temple, for his own personal use. Me-and-culture, me-and-Eternity – those were his only themes," wrote in 1911 Leon Trotsky.
For all his scientifically strict, academic approach to the process of collecting and re-processing material, contemporary academia, with little exception, ridiculed Merezhkovsky, dismissing him as a gifted charlatan, bent on rewriting history in accordance with his own current ideological and philosophical whims. Due to his incorrigible, as many saw it, tendency towards inconsistency, Merezhkovsky's old allies were deserting him, while new ones approached him warily. Vassily Rozanov wrote in 1909:
Merezhkovsky is a Thing that ceaselessly speaks; a jacket and trousers combination producing a torrent of noise... To clear grounds for more speaking activity, once in a three years time he undergoes a total change of mental wardrobe and for the following three years busies himself in defying all things he was maintaining for the previous three years.
Another former friend, Minsky, questioned Merezhkovsky's credibility as a critic, finding in his biographies a tendency to see in his subjects only things that he wanted to see, skillfully "re-molding questions into instant answers."
For all his religiosity, Merezhkovsky was never popular with either Russian Orthodox Church officials or the religious intellectual elite of the time, people like Sergey Bulgakov, Pavel Florensky and Lev Shestov fiercely denouncing his ideas and projects. Similarly, having been regarded for many years as a radical social democrat never gained Merezhkovsky any points in the leftist literary camp. He was variously described as "an anti-literature phenomenon" (Viktor Shklovsky), "the greatest corpse in the Russian literature" (Ivanov-Razumnik) and "a book-worm", totally foreign to all things human (Korney Chukovsky).
The writer's work published during the years of emigration was, according to the Soviet Literary encyclopedia (1934) "the telling example of the ideological degradation and cultural degeneration of the White émigrés". Maxim Gorky's verdict: "Dmitry Merezhkovsky, a well-known God-admirer of a Christian mode, is a small man whose literary activity is akin to that of a type-writer: each type is clear and well-read, but it's soul-less and boring," served as a leitmotif of the Soviet literary officialdom's view on Merezhkovsky for decades. In the Soviet times the writer was (in the words of Alexander Men) "aggressively forgotten", all of his works remained unofficially banned up until the early 1990s, when the floodgate of re-issues opened the way for serious critical analysis of Merezhkovsky's life and legacy.
- Many people found it inexplicable that amidst mass hunger with no agricultural farms functioning suddenly lots of fresh veal would appear from time to time at market places, sold invariably by the Chinese. This 'veal' was widely believed to be human meat: that of the 'enemies of the revolution', freshly executed in the Cheka basements.
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