Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Silver Dove and Petersburg share the theme of East and West in a context of revolutionary politics. Both dramatize the plight of czarist Russia looking backward to a Western cultural heritage at the same time that it is faced by the potential energy of an age of masses in revolution. There is, in truth, little about the revolutionary movement that could accurately be described as Eastern, but the specter of an Asiatic East, thronging with swelling populations of people untutored in European refinements, makes a convenient symbol for an age nervous about the collapse of its class structure under pressure for liberal democratic reforms. Pushed no further than this, Bely’s dichotomy of East and West works well enough in his allegorical approach to fiction, but most readers will probably find it difficult to be much more precise in explication of his themes. Nikolai and Daryalsky are alike in that they are both more comfortable with poetry and philosophy than with revolutionary politics, and each finds himself accidentally swept into patterns of action for which he has no heart and from which he feels impelled to extricate himself. In that they are both members of the Russian intelligentsia they can be seen as representative of the impotence felt by that intelligentsia when confronted by historical forces dimly sensed but not rationally comprehended. Bely’s nervous, impressionistic style well suits the depiction of such characters and their bewilderment.