Indeed, many readers were tired of tenebrous… – Сustom Literature essay

Both Fofanov and Minsky (along with such prose writers as

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Garshin and Chekhov) were cited by the poet and critic Dmitry Merezhkovsky (1865-1941) as harbingers of a new and long-awaited spirit in Russian literature. Merezhkovsky made his analysis in a seminal article of 1893 entitled On the reasons for the decline and on the new currents in contemporary Russian literature (O prichinakh upadka i 0 novykh techeniyakh sovremennoy russkoy litera-tury). In this essay - which many scholars regard as one of the opening sallies of the nascent symbolist movement in Russia - Merezhkovsky set out to delineate the reasons behind the perceived sterility of Russian literature. Among the factors he identifies are: the deterioration of the literary language, the rise of the profit motive in literature, and the failure of the utilitarian critics to promote a favorable climate for literary development. He maintains that there are two opposing impulses in Russian literature of the day: extreme materialism and passionate, "idealistic" outbursts of the spirit. Down to the present, the prevailing taste of the "crowd" has been for realism and materialism. Now, however, Merezhkovsky sees an important reaction forming. He declares that the three main elements of the new art are "mystical content, symbols, and the broadening of artistic impressionability." He concludes his essay with the optimistic observation that the modern generation has felt "the first quivering of a new life, the first breath of a great future."

Merezhkovsky's essay is of value less for its specific evaluations of individual writers than for its identification of a new mood among the reading public. Indeed, many readers were tired of tenebrous accounts of the wretched conditions of rural life; they thirsted for literature that would speak to their emotions and dreams. The symbolist movement, which would come to the fore in the late 1890s, seemed to answer that need. Merezhkovsky himself was a forerunner of this movement. Raised and educated in St. Petersburg, he was originally inspired by populist theoreticians, especially Mikhaylovsky, and his early poetry urges poets to "get to know and love the simple, dark populace" ("To the poet" ["Poetu," 1883]). This early work, published in his first collection entitled Poems {Stikhotvoreniya, 1888), bears certain affinities with Nadson's: the poet wants to contribute to social justice, but feels enervating doubts and internal weakness. Late in the 1880s, however, Merezhkovsky shifted away from the civic trend and

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JULIAN CONNOLLY

Became more interested in the impulses of the soul. His second volume of verse - Symbols (Simvoly, 1892) - reveals a palpable debt to Baudelaire and Poe, and his poem "Children of the night" ("Deti nochi," 1894) might be considered a programmatic expression of the decadent world view as defined by the symbolist writer Vyacheslav Ivanov. In Ivanov's opinion, decadence was characterized by a consciousness, "both oppressive and proud," of being the final representatives of an entire cultural lineage. The speaker in Merezhkovsky's lyric states that as "too early forerunners of a [too] belated spring," he and his kind are condemned to death: "Children of the night, we await the sun: / We shall see the light - and, like shadows, / We shall die in its rays." Merezhkovsky's intellectual explorations subsequently assumed an increasingly religious character, and he would articulate his religious beliefs in numerous critical essays and prose works during the late 1890s and the first decades of the twentieth century.

As Merezhkovsky pointed out, a resurgent interest in philosophical speculation could be discerned in Russia in the concluding years of the nineteenth century. Numerous philosophers would eventually contribute to this trend. Among the most notable of them were Nikolay Berdyaev (1874-1948), Leo Shestov, and Vasily Rozanov. By the 1890s, however, one man had already developed into a distinguished thinker and writer - Vladimir Solovyov. As the son of an eminent historian at Moscow University, Solovyov grew up in an atmosphere of intellectual stimulation, and pursued an academic career at Moscow University with an emphasis first on science, then on philosophy. After a year at the Moscow Theological Academy Solovyov in 1874 defended his Master's thesis, "The Crisis of Western Philosophy" ("Krizis zapadnoy filosofii"), which provided a critique of western positivism. This was followed by his doctoral dissertation, A Critique of Abstract Principles (Kritika otvlechennykh nachal), in 1880. Solovyov's promising career as an academic was cut short by the negative reaction to his impromptu public appeal to the government to have mercy on the assassins of Tsar Alexander II. Shortly after this speech Solovyov was compelled to resign his academic post in St. Petersburg, and thus turned to philosophical inquiry and to literature. Among his most significant historical and philosophical works are The Spiritual Foundations of Life (Dukhovnye osnovy




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