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This article is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

The Case of Andrew Biely John Pilling

There is one great Russian writer who still eludes us. Pushkin, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Chekhov, the five great nineteenth-century writers, are acknowledged classics; and Pasternak, Bulgakov, Mandelstam and Solzhenitsyn have all, at one time or another, been the centre of causes célèbres that have assured them a generous reception in the West. Even relatively minor writers like Andreyev have had their day; and the poets from Blok to Akhmadulina are readily accessible in more or less serviceable translations, or in full-scale biographies like those recently devoted to Esenin and Akhmatova. Whilst there are important writers like Leskov and Leontiev who will, one hopes, one day find limited audiences in the West, there remains one writer of the first magnitude whose virtual neglect in Western literary circles is not only greatly to be regretted but strenuously to be resisted: Andrey Biely.

Biely-other transliterations include Bely, Byely, Beluy, and Belyj-was born in the same year, 1880, as his close friend Blok, and is regarded by Russians as one of the two great Symbolist figures, a poet, novelist and critic of the highest distinction. His study of prosody is so definitive that even Nabokov admits himself to be in debt to it; his recollections of Blok are of priceless value to literary historians. His novel Petersburg is a European classic worthy of a stature with the work of Proust and Thomas Mann. Most interesting of all, perhaps, his literary career offers us an image of how one gifted Russian ...


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