When we label Bely as a Modernist, we are assigning him to a movement that largely rejected social relevance and political involvement to concentrate rather on aesthetic experimentation. Yet Petersburg is a novel about political events and social tensions, and was written at a time when those tensions were again reaching climactic levels. So I think it's fair to ask what Bely is saying about the political events of 1905. Whose side is he on?
For the most part, he seems to skewer both sides with equal vigor. Apollon Apollonovich, representing the State, is a heartless and inflexible piece of clockwork machinery. At the other end of the political spectrum, the "Person" (I don't recall the name he is eventually given), the Party representative who supposedly represents the impoverished and hungry masses is a glutton and a dandy. In between is the dilettante Nikolai Apollonovich who cares for nothing but his pursuit of another man's wife. The only person with any laudable human feelings is Dudkin, who sacrifices his life and his cause rather than be part of the abomination of having a young man assassinate his own father.
Aside, however, from the actions of the principal characters, the way he describes and contrasts the living conditions of the Party members with those of the Ableukhovs would seem to imply sympathy with the plight of the revolutionaries, even though Bely depicts their leaders in a negative light.
Thinking back to the principal characters, doesn't each one of them start the novel in a role that has them breaking with traditional values, and doesn't each of them eventually reject that role?
- Ableukhov has made himself a piece of state machinery without human sentiment, but eventually resigns because he cannot disassociate himself from his son.
- Nikolai rejects his role as revolutionary because he cannot bring himself to kill his own father even though he is a stranger to him.
- Sofia Petrovna rejects her role as the sexually liberated woman and returns to her husband and son.
- Lt. Likhutin rejects his role as the husband of a sexually liberated woman and succumbs to jealousy.
- Dudkin, of course, rejects his Party rather than allow it to employ patricide as a weapon.
This is going WAY out on a limb (which I'm sure will be chopped off in short order), but could Bely, as a modernist, be making a statement that revolution, be it in politics or aesthetics, can only go so far and so fast... that there are certain traditional values and forms that cannot easily be abandoned?
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