Dmitry Merezhkovsky Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Though Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky (mehr-uhsh-KAHF-skee) wrote many poems and essays, he is known in the Western world chiefly for his historical romances. One of the last Russian novelists to write from the philosophical background of “Old Russia,” his philosophical difficulties represent the intellectual and moral struggles of the aristocracy as it lost political power to the lower classes. His trilogy of novels, known by the general title Christ and Antichrist, was intended to set forth a solution to the era’s religious doubts and to present an alternative to both ascetic Christianity and hedonism by fusing the flesh and the spirit into a new religious philosophy.

Merezhkovsky’s early years prepared him especially well for his career as a writer. He was brought up as a member of the aristocracy by his noble father. He had a good classical education and upon entering the University of St. Petersburg in 1884 studied the Greek and Roman civilizations intensively. A brilliant student, he completed in two years the studies that supplied him with the backgrounds for his best novels. He also read widely in scientific philosophy, but these studies left his religious nature unsatisfied. He began to try to synthesize materialism and spirituality into a new whole.

He traveled to the Caucasus because of a lung condition, and there met and married Zinaida Hippius, the leading woman poet of Russia. They traveled for many years in Greece, Italy, and Asia Minor,...

(The entire section is 614 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on August 14, 1865. His father, Serge Ivanovich Merezhkovsky, an inspector of buildings for the Imperial Court, was known to be stern and puritanical—he was even supposed to have thrown one of young Dmitry’s older brothers out of the house for expressing sympathy for a woman nihilist who recently had been executed. The father was proud of his youngest son, however, and when, at the age of fifteen, Dmitry began his first efforts at writing verse, Serge dragged the youth to Dostoevski to read his work aloud. After the reading, Dostoevski’s response was reportedly that “to write, one must suffer.”

On entering the University of St. Petersburg, Merezhkovsky proved to be a brilliant student. He immersed himself in the Greek and Roman classics and completed his studies in two years. He grew fascinated by the works of Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, Auguste Comte, and Charles Darwin, as well as that of Friedrich Nietzsche, but soon found that such readings left the religious urge fostered in him since childhood unsatisfied. Turning to literature instead, he joined a student-formed Molière club; so reactionary and suspicious was the czarist government at this time, however, that the club was suppressed, and if it had not been for the intervention of his aristocratic father, Merezhkovsky would have been exiled. This, in addition to his frail health, led to his spending the year after graduation in the Caucasus and Crimea.

While there, Merezhkovsky met Zinaida Hippius, at that time the best-known woman poet in Russia. They were married in 1889. Soon afterward, Zinaida fell gravely ill; before she recovered, Merezhkovsky’s beloved mother died, and he found himself unwillingly following Dostoevski’s dictum. His response to these trials was mysticism, and as he grew older his mysticism correspondingly deepened. He and his wife began traveling throughout Greece, Turkey, and the Near East, and this experience, linked to his newfound...

(The entire section is 829 words.)