In an introduction to The Silver Dove, Andrey Bely explained that it would be the first volume of a trilogy under the general title “East or West” and that many characters would be continued throughout the three novels. The second work, Petersburg, however, carries over none of the characters from The Silver Dove; the two novels are connected by their mutual concern with revolutionary politics and by their dense poetic style. The projected third volume was tentatively entitled “The Invisible City,” but there is no evidence of its ever having existed. A third novel of the period, Kotik Letayev (1917-1918, serial; 1922, book), is an autobiographical work completely unrelated to either of the earlier novels.
In The Silver Dove, the young poet Pyotr Daryalsky makes a summer visit to a friend near the small village of Tselebeyevo and falls in love with Katya Gugolevo, who lives at the nearby Gugolevo estate with her grandmother, the Baroness Todrabe-Graaben. Daryalsky is quickly identified by a carpenter named Kudeyarov as the right person to father a messiah for the revolutionary group, the “Doves,” which Kudeyarov leads. The chosen mother is Matryona, the peasant woman who lives with Kudeyarov and whose mysterious, hypnotic earthiness lures Daryalsky away from Katya. Kudeyarov’s plan comes to nothing, however, as Daryalsky and Matryona produce no messiah. When Daryalsky eventually realizes his difficult situation, he rebels and decides to leave for Moscow. The Doves, however, feel compromised by his knowledge of them, and they murder him.
The historical conflict between the East and the West is worked out allegorically in the physical geography of the setting. The village of Tselebeyevo is located between the old Gugolevo estate to the west and the town of Likhov to the east. It is in Likhov that the Doves meet to plan their Asiatic, revolutionary, destructive schemes against the Western aspects of Russian culture as represented by the...
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