Winter 1963 • Vol. XXV No. 1 NonfictionJanuary 1, 1963 |

A Geometry of Prose

Petersburg, Andrei Belyi's startling novel, can be read in many ways. It may be read as satire on a complacent, empty-headed autocracy; as a symbolic city-scape haunted by bigotry, stupidity, and the threat of violence; or as an imaginative rendering of the revolutionary currents in the Russia of 1905. It may be read as a great game of language, written to test the limits of expressibility by the play of utmost skill. It may be read as a kind of masque of consciousness behind the mask of mere event. It may be read, as the editor who first rejected it observed, as "a subversive book, very malicious and even sceptical." The Russian Symbolists, among whom Belyi was a leading figure, produced most of their important writing in that period between the turn of the century and the beginning of the first World War when there was a special, odd, and profound feeling about the homogeneity of all intellectual activity. Theirs was a period that was intensely conscious of its own vitality in

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