Dmitry Merezhkovsky Analysis

Other literary forms

Although famous in the Western world primarily for his historical romances, Dmitry Merezhkovsky (mehr-ehsh-KAWF-skee) was known among his Russian peers as a critic as well—and a particularly harsh one at that. His first critical work, a collection of essays published under the title O prichinakh upadka i o novykh techeniyakh sovremennoy russkoy literatury (1893; on the causes of the present decline and the new currents of contemporary Russian literature), was followed a decade later by perhaps his most important work of criticism and nonfiction, L. Tolstoy i Dostoyevsky (1901-1902; Tolstoi as Man and Artist, with an Essay on Dostoievski, 1902).

Throughout his life, Merezhkovsky would remain an essayist and critic, choosing as his subjects such wide and varied topics as the Acropolis, Michel de Montaigne, Marcus Aurelius, Gustave Flaubert, Henrik Ibsen, Alexander Pushkin, and Maxim Gorky. After the Bolshevik Revolution, his criticism became especially vitriolic, culminating in Tsarstvo Antikhrista (1921, with Z. N. Gippius and others), an indictment of Russia as a whole.

In addition, Merezhkovsky was a classicist, thus enabling him to translate Longus’s idyll Daphnis and Chloë (c. mid-second century c.e.) as well as numerous tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, into Russian for the first time. Finally, in the early stages of his career, Merezhkovsky published two collections of poetry, Stikhotvoreniya, 1883-1887 (1888) and Simvoly (1892), and one play, Pavel I (1908).


To understand Dimitry Merezhkovsky’s importance, one must look beyond the source of his international reputation, his historical romances, into prerevolutionary Russia itself, for in a confused yet profound way, he reflected a current of thought and belief common to members of the intelligentsia of that day. Steeped in years of czarist tyranny, prey to feelings of cultural inferiority brought on by the legacy of Russian isolationism, trying desperately to discover and solidify a national identity, trapped within the heated polemics of the Westerners, who followed the lead of their patron saint, Peter the Great, and the Slavophiles, who refused to have anything to do with Europe’s cultural “corruption,” it was no wonder that the artists and writers of turn-of-the-century Russia should accuse themselves and one another of floundering in history and finally standing still. This was not only a political crisis but also a deeply felt spiritual one. Was Russia merely a reflection of Europe with nothing original to say? Or was it blessed with a culture and message of its own that would save its own land, Europe, and eventually the world?

Concurrent with this was the central position of the Russian Orthodox Church in shaping the philosophy and action of its homeland. From time immemorial, the Russian Church had existed in a kind of grand and splendid isolation from Western Christianity; after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, however, a belief arose that would show itself, with slight modifications, time and again—the conception of Moscow as the third Rome, the spiritual center of a Russia that would lead the world out of sin and darkness. This notion caused the Russian Church to regard “heretical” Europe with pride, condescension, and fear.

Finally, in the 1890’s—the decade of Merezhkovsky’s rise to fame—changes inspired by literary experimentation and new aesthetic trends were in the...

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Bedford, C. Harold. The Seeker: D. S. Merezhkovsky. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1975. A detailed analysis of Merezhkovsky’s religious beliefs.

Campbell, Harry M. “Merezhkovsky’s Christ and Antichrist.” Western Review 13, no. 1 (1948). Evaluates Merezhkovsky’s trilogy.

Hellman, Ben. Poets of Hope and Despair: The Russian Symbolists in War and Revolution, 1914-1918. Helsinki: Institute for Russian and East European Studies, 1995. Contains a chapter on Merezhkovsky.

Matlaw, Ralph E. “The Manifesto of Russian Symbolism.” Slavic and East European Journal 15, no. 3 (1957). Discusses the importance of Merezhkovsky’s work for Russian symbolism.

Pachmuss, Temira. D. S. Merezhkovsky in Exile: The Master of the Genre of Biographie Romancée. New York: Peter Lang, 1990. Discusses Merezhkovsky’s emigrant period.

Rosenthal, Bernice Glatzer. Dmitri Sergeevich Merezhkovsky and the Silver Age: The Development of a Revolutionary Mentality. The Hague, the Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975. Examines Merezhkovsky’s role in the Russian cultural renaissance at the turn of the twentieth century and the political implications of its aesthetic ideas.

Stammler, Heinrich A. “Russian Metapolitics: Merezhkovsky’s Religious Understanding of the Historical Process.” California Slavic Studies 9 (1976). Deals with Merezhkovsky’s views on religion, history, and politics.