Dmitry Merezhkovsky

Dmitry Merezhkovsky
Born Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky
2 August 1865(1865-08-02)
St Petersburg, Russia
Died 9 December 1941(1941-12-09) (aged 76)
Paris, France
Occupation Poet
literary critic
Nationality Russian
Alma mater Saint Petersburg State University
Period 1888–1941
Genres poetry
historical novel
philosophical essay
Literary movement Russian symbolism
Notable work(s) Christ and Antichrist (trilogy)
Spouse(s) Zinaida Gippius
Relative(s) Konstantin Mereschkowski

Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky, (Russian: Дми́трий Серге́евич Мережко́вский; August 2 (14), 1865, St Petersburg – December 9, 1941, Paris) was a Russian novelist, poet, religious thinker, and literary critic. A seminal figure of the Silver Age of Russian Poetry, regarded as a co-founder of the Symbolist movement, Merezhkovsky – with his poet wife Zinaida Gippius – was twice forced into political exile. During his second exile (1918-1941) he continued publishing successful novels and gained recognition as a critic of Soviet Russia. Known both as a self-styled religious prophet with his own slant on apocalyptic Christianity, and as the author of philosophical historical novels which combined fervent idealism with literary innovation, Merezhkovsky was a nine times nominee for the Nobel Prize in literature, which he came closest to winning in 1933.[1][2][3]



Dmitry Merezhkovsky was born on August 2, 1865, in Saint Petersburg, the sixth son in his family.

His father, Sergey Ivanovich Merezhkovsky, served as a senior official in several Russian local governors' cabinets (including that of I. D. Talyzin in Orenburg) before entering Alexander II's court office as a Privy Councillor.[4] His mother Varvara Vassilievna Merezhkovskaya (née Cherkasova) was a daughter of a senior St. Petersburg security official. Fond of arts and literature, she was what Dmitry Merezhkovsky later remembered as the guiding light of his rather lonely childhood (despite the continual presence of five brothers and three sisters). In fact, there were only three people Merezhkovsky had any affinity with in his whole lifetime, and his mother, a woman "of rare beauty and angelic nature" according to a biographer, was the first and the most important of them.[5]

Early years

Dmitry Merezhkovsky was born on Yelagin Island in St. Petersburg, in a lavish palace-like cottage which served as a summer dacha for the family.[6] In the city they occupied a rather decrepit house facing the Summer Gardens, near Prachechny Bridge. The family also owned a large estate in Crimea, by the road leading to the Uchan-Su waterfall. "Fabulous Oreanda palace, now in ruins, is with me forever. White marble pylons against the blue sea... for me it's a timeless symbol of Ancient Greece", he wrote years later.[7] Merezhkovsky Sr., although a man of means, led a somewhat ascetic life, keeping his household 'lean and thrifty'. This was also his way of 'moral prophylactics' for his children's upbringing, since he regarded luxury-seeking and reckless spending as the deadliest sins. Since the parents traveled a lot, an old German housekeeper named Amalia Khristianovna spent much time with the children, amusing them with Russian fairytales and Biblical stories. Her recounting of saints' lives was later thought to be the prime source of the fervent religious feelings Dmitry developed in his early teens.[8]

In 1886 Dmitry Merezhkovsky joined an elite grammar school, the St. Petersburg Third Classic Gymnasium.[9] Years spent there he described later by one word, 'murderous', remembering just one teacher as a decent person – "Kessler the Latinist; well-meaning he surely never was, but at least he looked at us kindly".[10]

At age thirteen, Dmitry began writing poetry, rather in the vein of Pushkin's Bakhchisarai Fountain as he later remembered. He became fascinated with the works of Molière to such an extent as to form a 'Molière Circle' in the Gymnasium. The group had nothing political on its agenda, but still made the secret police interested. All of its members were summoned one by one to the Third Department's headquarters by the Politzeisky Bridge to be questioned. It is believed that only Sergey Merezhkovsky's efforts prevented his son from being expelled from the school.[7]


Much as Dmitry disliked his tight upper-lipped, stone-faced dad, later he had to give him credit for being the first one to have noticed and, in his emotionless way, appreciate his son's first exercises in poetry. In July 1879, in Alupka, Crimea, Sergey Ivanovich introduced Dmitry to the legendary Princess E. K. Vorontzova, Pushkin's sweetheart. Tellingly, the grand dame much admired the boy's verses: she (according to a biographer) "spotted in them a must-have poetic quality: the metaphysical sensitivity of a young soul" and encouraged him to battle on.[11] Somewhat different was young Merezhkovsky's encounter with another luminary, Dostoyevsky, staged for his son by the well-connected father again. As the boy started reciting his work, nervous to the point of stuttering, the famous novelist listened rather impatiently, then said: "Poor, very poor. To write well, one has to suffer. Suffer!" – "Oh no, I'd rather he not – neither suffer, nor write well!", the appalled father exclaimed. The boy left Dostoyevsky's house greatly frustrated by the great man's verdict.[9]

Merezhkovsky's debut publication followed the same year: St. Petersburg magazine Zhivopisnoye Obozrenye printed two of his poems: Tuchka (Little Cloud, 1883, #40) and Osennya Melodia (The Autumn Melody, #42). A year later another poem Narcissus was included in a charity compilation benefiting destitute students, edited by Pyotr F. Yakubovich.[12]

In Autumn 1882 Merezhkovsky attended one of the first of S. Nadson's public readings and, deeply impressed, wrote him a letter. Soon Nadson became Merezhkovsky's closest friend – in fact, the only one, apart from his mother. Later researchers suggested there was some mystery shared by the two young men, something to do with "fatal illness, fear of death and longing for faith as an antidote to such fear". Nadson died in 1887, Varvara Vassilievna two years later; affected greatly, Merezhkovsky suffered deep depression caused by the feeling that he had lost everything he'd ever had in this world.[13]

Meanwhile Otechestvennye Zapiski (January issue, 1883) published two more of Merezhkovsky's poems. "Sakja Moony", the best known of his earlier works, entered popular poetry recital compilations of the time and made the author almost famous. By 1896 Merezhkovsky was rated as "a well known poet" by the B&E Encyclopedia. Years later, having gained fame as a novelist, he felt rather embarrassed by his poetry and, while compiling his first Compete Works Of... series in the late 1900s, cut the poetry section down to just a few pieces.[4] Nevertheless, Merezhkovsky's poems remained hugely popular, and some major Russian composers (Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky among them) set dozens of them to music.[14]

University years

From 1884 until 1889 Merezhkovsky studied History and Philology at the University of St. Petersburg, becoming fluent in several languages. Merezhkovsky's PhD was on Montaigne, his major interests there being French literature, the philosophy of positivism, theories of J. S. Mill and Charles Darwin. Those, though, Merezkovsky never enjoyed. "University gave me no more than a Gymnasium did. I didn't have proper – neither family, nor school", he wrote in his 1913 autobiography.[6] The only lecturer he remembered fondly was O. Miller, a well known Russian literary historian and Dostoyevsky biographer, who held a domestic literature circle.[15]

More promising was his literary company, notably St. Petersburg's Literary Society that he (along with Nadson) joined in 1884, on A. Plescheev's recommendation. The latter introduced the young poet to the family of K. Davydov, a Musical Conservatory director. His wife Anna Arka′dyevna became Merezhkovsky's publisher in the 1890s, their daughter Julia, his first (strong, but fleeting) romantic interest. In Davydov's circle Merezhkovsky mixed with well-established literary figures of the time – I. Goncharov, Ap. Maykov, Y. Polonsky, but also N. Mikhailovsky and G. Uspensky, two great narodniks whom he regarded later as his first genuine teachers.[16]

It was under the guidance of the latter that Merezhkovsky, while still a s University student, made an extensive journey through the Russian provinces where he met lots of people, notably religious cults leaders. He stayed for some time in Chudovo village where Uspensky lived, both many nights discussing things like 'life's religious meaning', 'folk cosmic vision' and 'power of the land'. A young student was seriously considering the possibility of leaving the capital forever and settling down in some far-out country place, as a teacher.[7]

Another big influence, N. Mikhaylovsky, gave young Merezhkovsky some more of the helping hand, bringing him to Severny Vestnik, a new literary magazine he's founded with A. Davydova. This move was crucial: here Merezhkovsky met highly influential writers Korolenko and Garshin and later – Minsky, Balmont and F. Sologub: the future Russian symbolism's major figures.[16] Merezhkovsky's first article for the magazine, though, "Peasant in French literature", upset his mentor: Mikhaylovsky found in his young protégé 'longing for mysticism' – the one thing he deeply detested.[17]

In the early 1888 Merezhkovsky, having graduated from the University, embarked on a tour all through the South of Russia, starting in Odessa. It was in Borjomi that he met 19-year-old poet Zinaida Gippius. The two instantly fell for each other and on January 18, 1889, married in Tiflis, making arguably the most prolific and influential, even if rather bizarre, couple in the history of Russian literature.[16][18] Soon husband and wife moved into their new St. Petersburg house, Merezkovsky's mother's wedding present.[19]

Late 1880s – early 1890s

Merezhkovsky's major literary debut came with the publication of Poems (1883–1888). It brought the author into the focus of the most favourable critical attention, but – even coupled with Protopop Avvacum, a poetry epic released the same year, could not solve young family's financial problems. Helpfully, Gippius rather unexpectedly reinvented herself as a driving commercial force, starting to churn out novels and novelettes she couldn't later even remember the titles of. Merezhkovsky Sr.'s occasional hand-outs also helped keeping husband and wife's meagre budget afloat.[20]

Having by this time lost most of his interest in poetry, Dmitry Merezhkovsky developed strong affinity to Greek drama; his translations of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides appeared in Vestnik Evropy.[21] These and some of his later translations from Ancient Greek (like prosaic version of Daphnis and Chloe, 1896), almost unnoticed by the contemporary critics, are now regarded (according to Y. Zobnin) "as the pride of the Russian school of classic translation".[22]

In the late 1880s Merezhkovsky made his debut as a literary critic with an essay on Anton Chekhov entitled The Newly-born Talent Versus the Same Old Question (for Severny Vestnik). Having discovered in the subject's prose 'the seeds of irrational, alternative truth' Merezhkovsky made sure his friendship with Mikhaylovsky would come to an end; rather amused by the discovery was Chekhov himself who, in his letter to Plescheev, pointed to "the disturbing lack of simplicity" as the article's fault.[23] Nothing daunted, Merezhkovsky continued in the same vein – in fact, invented (in retrospect) the whole new genre of philosophical essay as a form of critical thesis, something totally unheard of in Russian literature before. Merezhkovsky's biographical pieces on Pushkin, Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, Maykov, Korolenko, Pliny, Calderon scandalized the contemporary literary establishment. Some twenty years later (compiled in a volume called The Eternal Companions) these essays were pronounced modern classics, their author regarded as "the subtlest and deepest of late XIX – early XX Russian literary critics" (according to literary historian Anton Dolynin). The Eternal Companions became so revered a piece of literary art in the early 1910s that the volume was being officially chosen as a kind of honorary gift for the excelling grammar school graduates.[24]

Merezhkovsky in 1890s. Portrait by Ilya Repin

Back in May 1890 Liubov Gurevich, having found herself at the helm of the revamped Severny Vestnik, turned a former narodnik's safe haven into the exciting club for the newly born stars of the rising experimental literature scene (labelled 'decadent' by its opponents). Instantly Merezhkovsky's new drama Sylvio was published there, translation of E.A. Poe's The Raven following soon. Other journals became interested in the young author too: Russkaya Mysl printed his poem Vera, later included in his The Symbols compilation. Vera became an instant hit as one of the Russian symbolism's first masterpieces, its colourful mysticism seen by many as a healthy antidote to the narodnik's 'social reflections', rather lacklustre at the best of times. Bryusov 'absolutely fell in love with it', and Pertzov years later (with a degree of self-deprecative irony) admitted: "For my young mind Merezhkovsky's Vera sounded so much superior to this dull and outdated Pushkin".[6][25]

Russkaya Mysl released Semeynaya Idillia (The Family Idyll, 1890), a year later another symbolic poem Smert (Death) appeared in Severny Vestnik. In 1891 Merezhkovsky and Gippius made their first journey to Europe – mainly Italy and France; the poem Konetz Veka (End of the Century) inspired by continental impressions was published two years later. On their return home the couple stayed for a while in Guppius' dacha at Vyshny Volochyok; it was here that Merezhkovsky started working on his first novel, Julian the Apostate. A year later it was finished, but this time Severny Vestnik proved an unreliable ally: outraged by Akim Volynsky's boorish editorial manner, Merezhkovsky severed all ties with the magazine, at least for a while. In the late 1891 he published the translation of Sophocles' Antigona in Vestnik Evropy, part of Goethe's Faustus (in Russkoye Obozrenye) and Euripides' Hyppolite (in Vestnik Evropy again). The latter came out in 1893, after the couple's second trip to Europe where their first, nothing out of the ordinary, encounter with Dmitry Filosofov (future friend/lover) occurred. Much more significant to Merezhkovsky at the time was what he saw and felt in Greece, grandiose images and the resultant lavish spurt of new ideas laying the foundation for his second novel.[7][10]

Symbolism manifests

In 1892 Merezhkovsky's second volume of poetry entitled Symbols. Poems and Songs came out. The book, bearing E. A. Poe and Charles Baudelaire influences but also tinged heavily with the author's newly found religious ideas, became a younger readership's favourite. Of the older generation writers only Yakov Polonsky supported it wholeheartedly — much to the delight of a young author himself.[26] In October 1892 Merezhkovsky's lecture On the Causes of the Decline and on the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature was — first read in public, then came out in print. Brushing aside the 'decadent' tag, the author argued that all three "streaks of Modern art" — "Mystic essence, Symbolic language and Impressionism" — could be easily traced down to the works of Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, Russian Modernism, therefore, being nothing more or less than a continuation of the Russian literature's classic tradition. Coupled with Symbols, the Lecture was widely accepted as a Russian symbolism's early manifest.[2][7]

The lecture became a sensation but the reaction to it was mostly negative. The author found himself between two chairs: liberals condemned his ideas as 'the new obscurantism', posh literary saloonists treated his revelations with scorn. Small group of people greeted The Causes unanimously, and that was the Severny Vestnik clique. Much to his surprise Merezhkovsky discovered that he was wanted there again.[27]

In 1893–1894 Merezhkovsky published numerous books (the play The Storm is Over and the translation of Sophocles' Oedipus the King among them), but the money all this hard work brought were scant. Now deep into his second novel project, he had to accept whatever work was offered to him. In the late 1893 Merezhkovskys settled in St. Petersburg again. Here they frequented the Shakespearean Circle, the Polonskys' Fridays and the Literary Fund gatherings, then started their own home saloon, Filosofov and Volynsky becoming habitués. All of a sudden Merezhkovsky found that his debut novel was to be published in Severny Vestnik after all. What he didn't know, though, was that this 'success' was the result of a Gippius' tumultuous secret love affair with Akym Volynsky, one of the magazine's chiefs.[28]


The Death of Gods. Julian the Apostate came out in 1895 (Severny Vestnik, ##1–6); it opened the Christ & Antichrist trilogy and in retrospect is regarded as the first Russian symbolist novel. This publication made all the difference: Dmitry Merezhkovsky was an eccentric loony no more. Critics there were aplenty (most of them denouncing the author's alleged Nietzscheanity), but not one of them dared to question this debut's major significance. As for allies, they were ecstatic. "A novel made for eternity", Bryusov marveled. Five years later Julian the Apostate was published in France (translated by Z. Vassilieva) and made Merezhkovsky a respected European author.[10][21]

In Severny Vestnik, though, clouds were gathering over his head, the reason for it being, unbelievably, Akym Volynsky's jealousy. In 1896 all three of them (husband still totally unaware of the behind his back goings-on) made a trip to Europe to visit Leonardo da Vinci places. After several ugly rows disgusted Gippius finally sent her scandalous-minded lover literally home, where all the hell broke loose. Not only did Volynsky expelled his ex-lover's husband from the Severny Vestnik ranks and made sure all the major literary journals would shut the door on him. What Volynsky did next was publish under his own name some of the papers on Leonardo, written and compiled by his hated adversary.[29]

The scandal concerning plagiarism lasted for almost two years; totally sick of it and having not a single decent place to turn to, Merezhkovsky in 1897 was seriously considering leaving his country for good, only the lack of finances keeping him at home. For almost three years the 2nd novel, Resurrection of Gods. Leonardo da Vinci (The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci – in English and French) remained unpublished. Finally it appeared in Autumn 1900 in a religious magazine Myr Bozhy (God's World), under the title "Renaissance". In retrospect (according to the Encyclopedia of World Biography entry) these books' "...persuasive power came from Merezhkovsky's success in catching currents then around him: strong contrasts between social life and spiritual values, fresh interest in the drama of pagan ancient Athens, and identification with general western European culture".[3]

By the time of his second novel's release, Merezhkovsky was in a completely different cultural camp – that of Dyagilev and his close friends – Alexandre Benois, Léon Bakst, Nikolay Minsky and Valentin Serov. Their own brand new Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) magazine, with D. Filosofov as a literary editor, accepted Merezhkovsky wholeheartedly. It was here that the most famous of the latter's essays, ''Tolstoy and Dostoevsky was published in 1900–01, becoming Russian cultural life's hot news, coinciding as it was with Tolstoy's escalating conflict with the Russian Orthodox church.[4][30]

Shocking many (not for the first time), Merezhkovsky upheld the Tolstoy Excommunication act, seeing it as a symptom of the Russian Orthodox church's revival; the latter's "beginning to see itself as a united mystical organism, intolerant to any compromises of dogmatic character", as he put it. The writer's stance made him a hate figure for many, even threats of physical violence ensuing. Tolstoy himself wasn't much flustered; in fact, he invited the couple to his Yasnaya Polyana estate in 1904 and, to both parties' delight, the visit was more than friendly.[31] Behind the facade, there was little love lost, though, between them; the old man frankly wrote that try as he might, he couldn't "force himself to love those two", and Merezhkovsky's critique of Tolstoy's 'nihilism' continued.[4][23]

The God-seekers and Troyebratstvo

Meanwhile, Merezhkovskys' own religious experiments were far from being orthodox. It all began with the Religious-Philosophical Meetings (1901–1903) based on the New church concept, formulated by Gippius, meant as a modern alternative to the old Orthodox one, the latter, in her words, having proved, " be imperfect and prone to stagnation".[7] This society, organized by Merezhkovskys along with Rozanov, Mirolyubov and Tchernayvtsev, claimed to be "a tribune for free discussion of questions concerning religious and cultural problems", serving to promote "neo-Christianity, social organization and whatever serves perfecting the human nature".[32] Having lost by this time contacts with both Mir Iskusstva (for the reasons of jealousy, again) and Mir Bozhy (after its editor A. Davydova's death) Merezhkovskys felt it was time for them to create their own magazine, as a means of "bringing the thinking religious community together". In July 1902, in association with Pyotr Pertzov and with a little help of some senior officials including ministers D. Sypiagin and V. von Pleve, Merezhkovskys opened their own Novy Put (New Path) magazine, designed as an outlet for The Meetings.

After the 22nd session, in April 1903, the meetings of the group (by this time widely known as Bogoiskateli, or God-seekers) were finally cancelled by the procurator of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church K. Pobedonostzev's decree, the main reason being Merezhkovskys frequent visits to places of mass sectarian settlements where they and their radical ideas of Church 'renovation' were becoming quite popular.[4] And in Novy Puth things changed too: with the arrival of strong personalities like N. Berdyaev, S. Bulgakov and S. Frank the magazine was beginning to solidify its position, all the while drifting away from its originally declared mission. In the late 1904 Merezhkovsky and Gippius quit Novy Put, remaining on friendly terms with its new leaders and their now highly influential 'philosophy section'. In 1907 the Meetings revived under the new moniker of The Religious-Philosophical Society, Merezhkovsky once again being at the helm with his 'Holy Ghost Kingdom Come' ideas, but this was more of a literary circle, than anything it is ever purported to be.[30][33]

It was at this time that the couple formed its own domestic 'church'; they tried to bring all the miriskusniks to participate, but only Filosofov took the idea seriously. He became the third member of the community called Troyebratstvo (The Brotherhood of Three) built loosely upon the Holy Trinity format and having a lot to do with the obscure XII century idea of the Third Testament which by this time became Merezhkovsky's idée fixe. Revitalized by the latter indeed it was to be – in the modern form of a new age Church of Holy Ghost, destined to succeed the older churches of – first Father (Old Testament), then Son (New Testament), at least as Merezhkovky saw it.[30] Practical religious rituals of Troyebratstvo (including all the traditional Russian Orthodox elements, organized into highly unusual, rather risqué kind of family spectacle) by many was seen as most blatant blasphemy and divided the St. Petersburg intellectual elite: Vasily Rozanov was fascinated by the thinly veiled eroticism of the happening, while among those outraged was Nikolai Berdyaev. Greatly scandalized was the (gay, mostly) Mir Iskusstva community: Sergei Diaghilev accused Filosofov of committing 'adultery' and the latter's somewhat embarrassing quit-and-return shenanigan was going on for quite a while, until 1905 when he finally made up his mind and settled down in Merezhkovskys' St. Petersburg house, becoming a kind of family member.[23][30]

In 1904 The Antichrist. Pyotr Y Alexey, the third and final novel of Christ and Antichrist trilogy was published (in Novy Puth, ##1–5, 9–12), having as it's focus the figure of Peter the Great as an 'embodied Antichrist' – an idea the author shared with Russian raskolniki. This third novel invited scathing criticism from the underground magazine Osvobozhdenie:

It would be convenient to ask the author: "well, then, and the police department, the regulations on intensified control, the Moskovskie vedomosti, the Grazhdanin, Cossack whips and gallows and other attributes of protection, are they also objects of "mystical order"? Do they also contain the 'inutterable secret of God'?" We would like to say to gentlemen like Merezhkovskij: mysticism obliges. If the idea of monarchy is a mystical one and you are not promoting it in vain, not as a ringing phrase, but with fear and respect, then this conviction obliges you to fight with fury against the Russian police-order (....) You say that autocracy is a religious idea, but the defence of this idea is a matter for God, not the Police-department.[citation needed]

The novel's release was now eagerly anticipated in Europe where Merezhkovsky by this time has become a best-selling author, Julian the Apostate having undergone ten editions (in four years time) in France.[10] But when Daily Telegraph described the novelist as “the true heir to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky's legacy”, back in Russia critics denounced this praise so unanimously that Merezhkovsky was forced to publicly deny having had any pretensions of this kind whatsoever.[9]


After the 9th of January Bloody Sunday Merezhkovsky's views changed drastically, the defeat of the Imperial Russian Navy by the Imperial Japanese Navy helping him see, as he put it, "the anti-Christian nature of the Russian monarchy". 1905 Revolution for Merezhkovsky was some kind of prelude for the religious revolution of which he thought himself to be a prophet. The writer became an ardent supporter of the civil unrest, writing much revolutionary verse, organising protest parties for students (like that in Alexandrinsky theater). In October 1905 he greeted the government's 'freedoms-granting' decree but since then was only strengthening ties with leftist radicals, notably, esers.[34]


Merezhkovsky explained his rather complicated political stance in the 1905 book Gryadushchu Ham (The Forthcoming Ham). Seeing, as usual, all things now being refracted into Trinities (and using the pun: "Ham" in Russian, along with a Biblical character's name, meaning 'lout', 'boor') the author depicted three "faces of Ham'stvo" (son of Noah's new incarnation as kind of nasty, God-jeering scoundrel Russian): the past (Russian Orthodox Church's hypocrisy), the present (state bureaucracy and monarchy) and the future — massive "boorish upstart rising up from society's bottom". Several years on the book was regarded as prophetic by many.[34]

In Spring 1906, Merezhkovsky and Filosofov went into what they regarded as a self-imposed exile, seeing "promoting the New religious consciousness" as their mission. They founded Anarchy and Theocracy magazine and released a compilation of essays called Le Tsar at la Revolution.[35] In one of the articles he contributed, Revolution and Religion Merezhkovsky wrote: "Now it's almost impossible to foresee what a deadly force this revolutionary tornado starting upwards from the society's bottom will turn out to be. The church will be crashed down and the monarchy too, but with them — what if Russia itself is to perish — if not the timeless soul of it, then its body, the state?". Again, what at the time was looked upon as rather dull political grotesque a decade became grim reality.[9][16]

Years 1908—1909 were extraordinary in the extent of published work Merezhkovsky produced. First the play about 'the revolutionary routines Makov Tzvet (Poppy's Blossom) came out, all three credited as co-authors, then Posledny Svyatoy (The Last Saint) followed, a piece on Seraphim Sarovsky, this time Merezhkovsky's solo effort.[21] More significant were two of his socio-political/philosophical essays, Not Peace but Sword and In Sill Waters. In them, working on another of his theories, that of "evolutionary mysticism", Merezhkovsky argued that revolution in Russia and the world (he saw the two as closely linked: the first steaming forward, the latter rattling behind) was inevitable, but succeed would be only if preceded by "the revolution of human spirit", with Russian intelligentsia willingly embracing his cherished idea of the Third Testament. Otherwise, Merezhkovsky prophesized, political revolution will bring nothing but tyranny and the 'Kingdom of Ham' will come.[9]

Among those whom Merezhkovskys held talk with in Paris were well- established cultural figures like Anatole France, Rudolf Steiner, Bergson, leaders of the French socialists. Disappointed by the general polite indifference to their ideas, husband and wife returned home in the late 1908, but not before Merezhkovsky's historical drama Pavel Pervy was published. The play, promptly confiscated and then banned by the Russian authorities, became the first in the Kingdom of the Beast trilogy. Dealing with the nature and history of the Russian monarchy, the trilogy had little in common with the author's earlier symbolism-influenced prose and, cast very much in the "humanist tradition of the XIX century Russian literature", was regarded later as the height of Merezhkovsky's literary career.[4] The 2nd and the 3rd parts of the trilogy, the Decembrists novels Аleksandr Pervy (Alexander the First) and Chetyrnadzatoye Dekabrya (December the 14th) were published in 1913 and 1918 respectively.[16]


In 1909 Merezhkovsky found himself in the center of another controversy after coming out with harsh criticism of Vekhi, the volume of political and philosophical essays written and compiled by the group of influential writers, mostly his former friends and allies, who promoted their work as some kind of historic manifesto, the last effort to enforce the rather inert Russian intelligentsia into the long overdue 'spiritual revival'. Arguing against vekhovtsy's (hardly original) idea of bringing Orthodoxy and the Russian intellectual elite together (again), Merezhkovsky, in an open letter to N. Berdyaev, wrote:

Orthodoxy is the very soul of the Russian monarchy, and monarchy is the Orthodoxy's carcass. Among things they both hold sacred are — the political repressions, the <ultra-nationalist> Union of Russian people, death penalty and meddling with the world international affairs. How can one entrust oneself to the prayers of those whose actions one sees as God-less and demonic?[36]

Some said Merezhkovsky's stance was inconsistent with his own ideas of some five years ago. After all, what Vekhi authors did was try and revitalize his own failed project of bringing the intellectual and the religious elites into some kind of collaboration. But the times have changed for Merezhkovsky and — following this (some argued, unacceptably scornful)[37] anti-Vekhi tirade, his social status, too. Shied by his former allies, he was feared by those in he right and center and hated by the Church: Saratov bishop Dolganov even demanded his excommunication after the book Bolnaya Rossia (The Sick Russia) was published n 1910.[14] For social-democrats, conversely, Merezhkovsky, not a 'decadent pariah' any-more, suddenly became a 'well-established Russian novelist' , the 'pride of the European literature', etc. Time has come for former friend Rozanov to write words that proved in the long run to be prophetic: "The thing is, Dmitry Sergeevich, those whom you are with now, will never be with you. Never will you find it in yourself to wholly embrace this dumb, dull and horrible snout of the Russian revolution".[38]

In the early 1910s though, Merezhkovsky moved straight into the left side of the Russian culural spectre, finding among his closest associated the esers Ilya Fondaminsky and, notably, Boris Savinkov. The latter was trying to get from Merezhkovsky some religious and philosophical justification to his own terrorist ideology, but also had another, more down to Earth axe to grind, that of getting his first novel published.[39] This he did, with Merezhkovsky's assistance — to strike the most unusual debut of the 1910 Russian literary season. In 1911 Merezhkovsky had the legal accusation of having 'links with terrorists' brought against him. Pending trial (which included the case of Pavel Pervy play) the writer stayed in Europe, then crossed the border in 1912 only to have several chapters of Alexander the First novel confiscated.[40] Never arrested, though, in September, along with Pirozhkov, the publisher, he was acquitted.[21]

1913 saw Merezhkovsky being involved in another public scandal, when Vassily Rozanov openly accused him of having ties with the 'terrorist underground' and, as he put it, "trying to sell Motherland to Jews". Merezhkovsky suggested that the Religious-Philosophical Society should hold its own inner 'trial' and expel Rozanov from its ranks. The move turned to be miscalculated, the writer failing to take into account, apparently, the extent of his own unpopularity within the Society. The majority of the latter declined the Merezhkovsky-Filosofov proposal. Rozanov, high-horsed, quit the Society on his own accord to respond stingingly by publishing Merezhkovsky's private letters which demonstrated, allegedly, the latter's hypocrisy on the matter.[41]


For a while 1914 looked like it was going to be the first ever relatively calm year for Merezhkovsky. Two Complete Works Of editions being released by the Wolfe's and Sytin's publishing houses, academic N. A. Kotlyarevsky nominated the author for the Nobel Prize for literature.[21] Then the War broke out. Merezhkovskys expressed their deep skepticism as to — both the Russian involvement in it and all the patriotic hullabaloo stirred up among the intellectuals. The writer made a conscious effort to distance himself from the politics, and succeeded almost, but in 1915 was throat-deep in it again, becoming friends with Alexander Kerensky and joining Maxim Gorky-led 'left patriots' movement calling for Russia's withdrawal from the War in the painless possible way.[42]

A couple of new Merezhkovsky's plays, Radost Budet (The Joy Will Come) and The Romantics were staged in war-time Petrograd theaters, the latter becoming a hit, but for the mainstream critics Merezhkovsky remained a 'controversial author'. "All in all, the Russian literature is as hostile to me as it had always been. I could as well be celebrating the 25th anniversary of this hostility", the author wrote in his short autobiography for S. Vengerov's encyclopedia.[10]

1917: February and October

And then the year of 1917 came, turning Merezhkovskys' life into chaos. It began with a bout of political activism: the couple's flat on Sergiyevskaya St. has become a deputies and senators' beehive, looking more like a Russian Duma little branch[7] (that was when seeds of a rumour concerning the couple's alleged membership in the Russian freemason community were, apparently, sawn). Then with the spring came triumph: Merezhkovsky greeted the February anti-monarchy revolution and described the Kerensky's Provisional government as 'quite friendly'. By the end of spring, though, he lost all sympathy to both the government and its ineffective leader; in summer he began to speak of things everybody else were laughingly brushing aside at the time — namely, of the government's inevitable fall and the soon-to-be Lenin's Bolshevik's tyranny coming. Late October saw all of his worst expectations coming to life.[43]

For Merezhkovsky the October Socialist revolution was a catastrophe. He saw it as the Coming of Ham he wrote about a decade later, the tragic victory for, as he choose to put it, Narod-Zver (The Beast-nation), the political and social incarnation of the universal Evil, putting the whole of human civilization in danger. Practically, what Merezhkovsky and Gippius were only able to do in those days was trying to use whatever influence they've still had among the Bolshevist cultural elite to help setting their friends, the arrested Provisional government ministers free. Some influence, apparently, they did have; ironically, one of the first thing the Soviet government did was lift the ban from the blatantly anti-monarchist Pavel Pervy play to let it be staged in many of the Red Russia's theaters.[9]

For quite a while Merezhkovskys's flat served as a SR party's fraction headquarters but this came to an end on January 1918 when the Uchredilovka was dissolved by Lenin. In his 1918 diary Merezhkovsky wrote:

How fragrantly fresh our February and March were, with their bluish, heavenly blizzards, what a beauty human face shone with! Where is it now? Peering into the October crowd, one sees that it's faceless. Not the ugliness of it, but facelessness is what's most disgusting. <…> Strolling down Petersburg streets, Communist face I recognize at once. What feature is most frightful in it — self-satisfaction of a satiated beast, animalistic obtuseness? No, the most horrible in this face is its dreariness, this transcendental dreariness, found only in Paradise that's been found on Earth, the Antichrist's Kingdom Come.[7]

Years 1919—1920 for Merezhkovskys were full of dramatic events. Having sold everything including dishes and extra clothes to avoid dying of hunger (like, say, Rozanov did), they began grudgingly collaborating with Maxim Gorky's new World Literature publishing house, receiving salary and food portions. Rozanov's disturbingly emotional farewell deathbed letter shook the couple, as well as the picture of many of those who only months ago denounced them for being left radicals, now serving the new regime's 'cultural revolution'. Of the revolutionary leaders Merezhkovsky wrote in his diary:

Russian Communists are not all of them villains. There are well-meaning, honest, crystal clear people among them. Saints, almost. These are most horrible. These saints stink of the 'Chinese meat' most.[7][44]

After news started to filter through of Yudenich, Kolchak and Denikin's consequent defeats, Merezhkovskys saw their only chance of survival in fleeing Russia. This they did on December 14, 1919 along with Filosofov and Zlobin (Gippius' young secretary), having obtained rather exotic-sounding Anatoly Lunacharsky-signed permission "to leave Petrograd for the purpose of reading some lectures on Ancient Egypt to the Red Army fighters".[7][16]

Merezhkovsky in exile

Merezkovskys, along with Filosofov and Zlobin, headed first for Minsk, then Vilno, staying in both cities to give newaspaper interviews and public lectures. Speaking to a Vilno newspaper, Merezhkovsky said:

The whole question of Russia's existence as such — and it's non-existent at the moment, as far as I am concerned, — depends on Europe's seeing at last the true nature of Bolshevism. Europe has to open its eyes to the fact that Bolshevism uses the Socialist banner only as camouflage, that what it does in effect is defile high Socialist ideals, that it is a global threat, not just local Russian desease. <…> There is not a trace in Russia at the moment of neither Socialism or even the <proclaimed> dictatorship of proletariat; the only dictatorship that's there is that of the two people: Lenin and Trotsky.[45]

Gippius, Filosofov and Merezhkovsky. Warsaw, 1920

In Warsaw the four stayed for several months, Merezhkovsky doing practical work for the Russian immigrant organizations, Gippius editing the literary section in Svoboda newspaper.[7] Both were regarding Poland as a 'messianic', 'potentially unifying' place and a crucial barrier in the face of the spreading Bolshevism plague. In summer 1920 Boris Savinkov planning to head an army of 20,000–30,000 Russians (largely POWs) for a march on Moscow[citation needed] arrived to have talks with Józef Piłsudski. It was Savinkov who engaged Merezhkovsky and Filosofov in the work of the so-called Russian Evacuational committee (more of a White Army mobilization center) and introduced the writer to the Polish President. On behalf of the Committee Merezhlovsky issued a memorandum calling the peoples of Russia to stop fighting the Polish army and join its ranks. The whole thing ended with the Poland-Russia armistice agreement. Another 'mission' failed, Merezhkovskys and Zlobin left for France, Filosofov staying in Warsaw to head the Savinkov-led Russian National committee's anti-Bolshevik propaganda department.[46]

In Paris Merezhkovsky went on with his anti-Communist crusade. He founded the Religious Union (later Soyuz Neprimirimykh, the Union of the Unpacified), was holding lectures, contributed to Pavel Milyukov's Poslednye Novosty and Pyotr Struve's Osvobozhdenye newspapers, exposing what he saw as the Bolshevist lies and denouncing the 'Kingdom of Antichrist' by all means available.[47] It was becoming more and more obvious, though, that Merezhkovsky (backed only by the circle of the ever faithful friends) was alone again, misunderstood by some, abhorred by others. His calling for the international intervention in Russia angered the left, rejecting monarchy restoration antagonized the right.[34] His one and only ally at the time was Ivan Bunin; never sharing much personal affinity, the two men formed a powerful front in their relentless anti-Soviet campaign. Besides, having maintained strong contacts with influential French politics lobbying the interests of the Russian immigrants, both ensured that the Russian writers would get some financial support from the French government. A couple of years later another sponsor was found in Tomas Masarik who granted personal pensions to some prominent figures in the immigrant Russian writers' community.[48]

Merezhkovsky was demanding severing all PEN contacts with Communist Russia and cancelling French help for the victims of mass hunger in Russian Povolzhje (arguing, not unreasonably, that those in need won't ever see any of the money or food sent); he criticised the exiled Russian Constituent Assembly's communique, in his opinion, too conciliatory in tone. Articles and essays of the four authors (Merezhkovsky, Gippius, Filosofov contacts with whom were restored and Zlobin) were published under the title of The Kingdon of Antichrist (1922), the general idea of the book being that the 'Russian fires', globalist in their nature and intent, promise "either brotherhood in slavery or the end in a common grave" for the peoples of Europe.[49]

In winter 1925 a small literary and philosophy circle was formed by Merezhkovsky and Gippius; two years later it was officially launched as the Green Lamp group. With the Novy Korabl (The New Ship) magazine of its own, the group attracted the whole of the Russian intellectual elite in exile and was remaining the important cultural center for the next ten years or more. "We are the Criticism of Russia as such, the latter's disembodied Thought and Conscience, free to judge its Present and foresee its Future", wrote Merezhkovsky of the Green Lamp mission as he saw it.[34]

In 1928 at the First Congress of exiled Russian writers held in Belgrade, King Alexandr I Karageorgievich bestowed Merezhkovsky with the Order of Savva of the 1st degree meriting his services for world culture. A series of lectures organised for Merezhkovsky and Gippius by the Serbian Academy signalled the launch of the Yugoslav-based "Russian Library" series, where the best of Bunin, Merezhkovsky, Gippius, Alexander Kuprin, Aleksey Remizov, Konstantin Balmont, Ivan Shmelyov and Igor Severyanin came out over the next several years.[7] Things started to deteriorare, though, in the early 1930s; Czech and French grants withdrawn and much feared Socialists rising high on the French political scene, Merezhkovskys looked southwards — and found there a sympathizer in Benito Mussolini who took great interest in the work and views of a Russian writer, now a multiple Nobel Prize for literature nominee.[34][50]

Merezhkovsky's literary activities: 1925–1941

In the mid-1920s, bitterly disappointed by the Western cultural elite's reaction to his political manifestos, Merezhkovsky turned back to writing prose which now differed radically from everything that he'd ever done before. Ditching fiction altogether, he returned to a form of religious and philosophical essay, but on the new level: that of a monumental free-form experimental-styled treatise. Some of his new books were biographies, some just extensive, amorphous but ever so engaging and highly original researches in ancient history, 'novels' in name only, never in essence or form.[9][51] Speaking of the first two of them, — The Birth of Gods. Tutankhamen in Crete (1925) and Messiah (1928) — Merezhkovsky thus explained his credo: "Many people think I am a historical novelist, which is a misguided view. What I do in the Past is only search for the Future. The Present is a kind of exile to me. My true home is the Past/Future, which is where I belong".[52]

Of the three fundamental books Merezhkovsky created in the late 1920s early 1930s another trilogy took shape, its vague concept being human kind's possible ways of salvation. The opener, The Mystery of the Three: Egypt and Babylon, was published in Prague in 1925. Then came out the impressively esoteric Mystery of the West: Atlantis-Europe (Berlin, 1930), where the cherished Third Testament idea took an apocalyptic, slightly Nietzschean turn. The third, Unfamiliar Jesus (1932, Belgrade), in retrospect seen as the strongest of the three.[9][53]

All of a sudden Merezhkovsky, not a marginal apo-/political prophet anymore, but a prolific and successful writer again, drifted into the focus of the Nobel Prize committee attention. From 1930 onwards Sigurd Agrell, professor of Slavic languages in Lund University, started to methodically nominate Merezhkovsky for the Prize, although, invariably (and rather frustratingly for both), in tandem with Ivan Bunin. In November 1932 Gippius in a letter to V. N. Bunina wrote that in her opinion Merezhkovsky had not the slightest chance of winning "because of his anti-Communist stance", but the truth was, Bunin (no lesser a Communism-loather than his rival) wrote books that were so much more accessible and, generally, popular. Rather annoyed by this always having to walk in pairs with his adversary/ally, Merezkovsky even suggested they should rather make a pact and divide the moneys should one of them ever grab them, but Bunin took deadly seriously what was meant apparently as a joke and responded with an outright refusal. He promptly won the Prize in 1933.[54]

Agrell made it a point to go on with the Merezhkovsky-nominating routine up until his own death in 1937 (making 8 such nominations, in all), but each year the latter's chances were getting slimmer. In his last five years the writer did produce some high quality stuff (like compilation of religious biographies Faces of Saints: Jesus to Nowadays and The Reformers trilogy, published posthumously) but it wasn't in any way ground-breaking. Hard times and deepening troubles notwithstanding, Merezhkovsky continued to work hard till his dying day, trying desperately to finish his Spanish Mysteries trilogy until the curtain falls; the last of the three, the unfinished Little Theresa, was with him at his deathbed; he died literally with a pen in his hand.[34][55]

Merezhkovsky and European dictators

Although never a nationalist, Merezhkovsky was very much a Russo-centric author and thinker, cherishing the idea of his country's unique and in many ways decisive place in the world culture in history. Never tiring of reiterating the "Russian plight is the problem of the world, not Russia" postulate, he was ever on the look-out for some 'strong leader' who would be able to organize and successfully see through the anti-Communist crusade. For a while Merezhkovsky thought he's found his hero in Benito Mussolini who, having sponsored his book on Dante, found time to have several lengthy talks with the Russian writer on politics, literature and art. Impressed, Merezhkovsky started to see his new friend as an incarnation of Dante, almost. In a letter addressed to Mussolini, he wrote:

The best, the truest and the liveliest document on Dante is — your personality. To understand Dante one has to live through him, but only you being around makes that possible. Two souls, his and yours, are merged into one, Infinity itself bringing you two together. Visualize Mussolini in contemplation, and it's Dante. Imagine Dante in action, and it's Mussolini.[9]

All the while Merezhkovsky was trying to convince Mussolini that it was the latter's mission to actually start "Holy War against Russia", reiteraing these ideas in his "Meeting Mussolini" article (Illustrated Russia, February 1937). Seeing his name frequently mentioned by the Italian press in connection with rather wild Merezhkovsky's suggestions made duce rather uneasy. Foreseeing no holy wars to become a leader of in the foreseeable future, Mussolini took a step back. Visiting Rome in summer 1937, Merezhkovsky had some talks with the Italian Foreign minister, but found duce nowhere in sight. He fell out with Mussolini as quickly as he'd fallen in, speaking of being deeply disappointed in the Italian leader's 'petty materialism' in October of the same year. All the while he was trying to get in contact with General Francisco Franco, now seeing Spain ase the last anti-Communist citadel of Europe. This coming to naught, Merezhkovsky's choice of heroes narrowed down to just one: Adolf Hitler.[56]

Fascism wasn't Merezhkovsky's idea of the best alternative to Communism. As early as 1930 he wrote of doomed Europe stuck between two "explosives' stores: fascist and Communist", expressing hope that some day these two evils will somehow destroy one another.[7] But the danger of Führer's possible taking over Europe was somehow a lesser evil for him that the Communist expansion.[34] This 'Hitler dilemma' was the only thing husband and wife disagreed on, ever. Gippius hated and despised Führer, referring to him as 'an idiot'. Merezhkovsky was more tolerant: for the first time in the two decades he saw a leader who'd be able to take the whole of Antichrist Kingdom upon himself, this single fact outweighing for him other trivia — like that of his own Joan of Arc (1939) being banned in Germany on the day of its release.[49]

The infamous radio speech

Exactly how and why did Merezhkovsky found himself on the German radio in June 1941 nobody was quite sure of. Gippius (according to Yury Terapiano who was quoting Nina Berberova) later put the blame on her own secretary, Vladimir Zlobin who, using his German links, allegedly persuaded the elderly man to come to the studio in the early days of the Nazi invasion into the USSR. In his speech (if is printed version entitled Bolshevism and Humanity is to be believed) Merezhkovsky, comparing Hitler to Joan of Arc, called for the anti-Bolshevik crusade, repeating. among other things, what he was saying all through the 1920s and 1930s:

Bolshevism will never change its nature… because right from the start it's been not a national, but international phenomenon. From the very first day Russia has been — and remains to this very day — only a means to the end: that of its conquering the whole world.

"It's the end for us", allegedly said Gippius, disgusted and frightened.[34] In the days to come, though, husband and wife (as those who knew them attested) were often expressing horror at the news of Nazis' atrocities on the Eastern front; according to Gippius' friend, poet Victor Mamchenko, Merezhkovsky far from supporting Hitler, was actually condemning him in those days.[34]

There is still so much confusion as to this infamous radio speech's exact circumstances, that some researchers doubt the fact as such, pointing out that not a single memoirist who has ever mentioned it, had ever actually heard Merezhkovsky speaking on air. All of those 'witnesses' were invariably referring to the printed version of the "speech" published in 1944 by Parizhsky Vestnik. This document, according to Yury Zobnin (the author of the first ever comprehensive Merezhkovsky biography published in Russia) was most certainly a montage fake, concocted by the Nazi propaganda out of the 1939 unpublished essay The Mystery of the Russian Revolution (on Dostoyevsky's Besy novel), bits and pieces thrown in. That the speech could have been broadcasted in the late June the researcher finds rather implausible: those were the couple's Biarriz days, and for an elderly person to everybody a slip and off to Paris was hardly probable.[57]

Adding to the confusion is the well-documented fact that Merezhkovsky did really pronounce a speech mentioning Hitler and Joan of Arc in one breath. It happened in August 1940 at his 75th birthday celebration in Biarriz and in the context was radically. In fact, his speech caused much trouble because it was deemed too pro-Russian and anti-German. According to Teffi, one of the people present, —

On the huge hotel terrace under the guidance of countess G., the audience gathered with the German uniform seen here and there. Merezhkovsky pronounced a lengthy tirade which rather frightened the Russian camp. Targeting both bolsheviks and <German> fascists, he spoke of the times when nightmare finally ends, both Antichrists – one tormenting Russia, the other tormenting France – perish, and the 'Russia of Dostoyevsky' at last will be able to stretch a hand to the 'France of Pascal and Joan of Arc'. "Well, now they'll throw us out of the hotel, that's for sure", horrified Russian lodgers were whispering. But the Germans looked as if they never heard this prophecy: they applauded benevolently, along with others.[57]

Irina Odoyevtseva independently corroborated this. "He was going on about the Atlantis and its demise. For those who understood Russian it was obvious that what he meant was Germany's defeat and Russia's imminent victory, but the Germans never understood this and applauded", she remembered.[58] All this, according to Zobnin, makes the infamous German Radio speech looking very much like a Nazi propaganda myth, picked up first by Y. Terapiano, then authenticised by latter reiterations.

Merezhkovsky's death

In summer 1939 Paramount (in collaboration with the French Association des Auteurs de Films) bought Merezhkovsky's scenario Life of Dante. Production was cancelled on September 1, as the War broke out in Europe. On September 9, fleeing the air raids, the Merezhkovskys along with tens of thousands of Parisians moved to the Biarritz in the South of the country where they spent the next three months, socialising mainly with the French and English military officers, but also with Irina Odoyevtseva and her husband Georgy Ivanov.[59]

In June 1940 they embarked on another evacuational trip from Paris southwards, but this proved unnecessary: on June 27 Biarritz was occupied too. Still, it was here in the hotel that on August 14 the writer's 75th anniversary celebration was held, organized by a group of French writers, with the participation of some notable Russians like Pavel Milyukov, Ivan Bunin and Mark Aldanov. It was there that Merezhkovsky made his risky speech that might have been later merged (in memoirs authors' minds) with things he might (or might not) have said on German radio. Even Y. Zobnin admits that the way the writer was bearing himself very much pandered to those regarding him as a Nazi sympathizer. In the Autumn of 1941 he was revelling in the attention of and being on the friendliest terms with German admirers — students, mostly, but army officers too. It was Germans who were helping the couple out financially, seeing them back to Paris from Biarritz where they had been penniless and on the verge of homelessness. "Merezhkovsky flew up to Nurnberg fired with the agitation of a newly born butterfly… By this time most of us stopped visiting them", wrote V. Yanovsky, a Green Lamp group member.[59]

The last three months of his life Merezhkovsky was working continuously in the couple's Paris flat, hoping to finish Little Theresa. On December 6 husband and wife returned from one of their regular walks the writer was insisting on, his wife having to literally drag him on her shoulder, and spent the evening, in her words, "arguing, as usual, about Russia versus freedom dilemma". Skipping both supper and his habitual evening cigarette, Merezhkovsky went to his room early. Next morning the maid called Gippius to tell her the man was in some kind of trouble. Merezhkovsky was sitting unconscious next to a cold fire-place. The doctor arrived in 15 minutes time and diagnosed brain hemorrhage. In half an hour time Merezhkovsky was pronounced dead. "…Me, I'm a worm, not man, slandered by humans, despised by peoples (Ps. 21, 7). But wrap itself into a chrysalis a hapless worm does only to break out as a shiny white, sunlight-like, resurrected butterfly", these, found on a table, were the last words that he's ever written. The funeral service was held on December 10 in the Orthodox church of Saint Aleksandr Nevsky. Dmitry Merezhkovsky was buried in the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Russian Cemetery, with just several people attending the ceremony.[60]

Merezhkovsky's ideas

Merezhkovsky's first adopted philosophical trend was the then popular positivism, a trend Konstantin Merezhkovsky (a future well-known biologist), who had great influence on his younger brother, was following too. Soon, disillusioned in formal positivism but never rejecting it wholly, Merezhkovsky turned to religion.[6] Seeds of this hybrid (European positivism grafted to what's been described as 'subjective idealism' of Russian Orthodoxy) sawn on the field of literature study brought forth a brochure entitled "On the Causes of the Decline and on the New Trends in Contemporary Russian Literature". This manifesto gave a burgeoning movement both ideology and the name as such: Merezhkovsky was the first to speak of symbols and see them as definitive means of cognizance modern Art.[6]

In the center of this new train of thought was the notion of "rejecting the rational in favour of the intuitive" by means of exploiting what the author termed as 'spirituality of a symbol', seeing the latter as a perfect means of describing Reality, otherwise unfathomable. Only a symbol, according to Merezhkovsky, could burrow circumvent through to reach an object's deeper meaning, whereas (quoting, as he did, Tyutchev) "thought, whilst being spoken, turns a lie"[30]:

In poetry the unspoken things, flickering through the beauty of symbol, affect us stronger than what's expressed by words. Symbolism endows both style and essence of poetry with spirituality; poetic word becomes clear and translucent as walls of alabaster amphora carrying flame… Longing for things that ahs never been experienced yet, looking for undertones yet unknown, searching out dark and unconscious things in our sensual world is the coming Ideal poetry's main characteristics. <…> The three principle elements of the new art are: the mystic essence, symbolism and the expansion of artist's impressiveness.[61] – Dmitry Merezhkovsky.

Interestingly (according to D. Churakov), Merezhkovsky — pronouncing 'death of metaphysics' and putting forward the idea that only language of symbols could be an adequate instrument for discovering the modern world's pattern of meanings, was unwillingly following O. Komte, the difference being that the latter was employing these ideas in scientific fields, while the former proposed to use them in literature and criticism.[30]

The 3rd Testament

Merezhkovsky's next and most fundamental step ahead as a fledgling self-styled modernist philosophy leader was taken in tandem with his young intellectual wife Zinaida Gippius who from the first days of their meeting started generating new ideas for her husband to catch up on, fully develop and bring into shape. It was in this feedback-driven cooperation that the 3rd Testament theory was born, or rather revived, transplanted from its Middle Ages Italian origins into the early XX century's Russian ambience. It was the 3rd Testament that formed the basis of the early XX century Russian New Religious Consciousness movement which in turn kick started the Religious-Philosophical Society into action, again Gippius producing basic ideas for her husband to formulate them and become the driving force behind. Borrowing the original idea from Joachim of Fiore, a XII century theologist, Merezhkovskys created and developed their own concept of man's full-circle religious evolution. In it the Bible was seen as a starting point with God having taken two steps towards Man — for the latter to respond with the third, logically conclusive one.[34]

According to Merezhkovsky, the 1st (Divine Father's) and the 2nd (Divine Son's) Testaments could be seen only as being links to the 3rd one, that of the Holy Ghost. The first maintaining the Law of God and the second — the Grace of God, what the third Testament should do is bring Liberation to the human race; the 1st Testament revealing the God's power as gospel Truth, the 2nd transforming the gospel Truth into Love, the 3rd translating Love into Liberation. In this last Kingdom "pronounced and heard will be — the final, never before revealed name of the coming one: God the Liberator", according to the author.[9]

Merezhkovsky saw the 3rd Testament, a new Holy Ghost religion, as a synthesis of the two original revelations: that 'about Earth' (pre-Christian beliefs) and that 'about Heaven' (Christianity). The Mystery of the Holy Trinity, as resolved, should link all three parts into a circle, the great "new Earth under the new Heavens", as promised in the Book of the Apocalypse. As Rozanov (an influence on Merezhkovsky who in turn was greatly influenced by his ideas) put it, "Merezhkovsky's greatest innovation was this attempt to merge together the two — Christian and Heathen — poles of poignancy. To discover a 'tempting vice' in the greatest of virtues and the greatest of virtues in the tempting vice".[62] One of the most tempting aspects of this New Trinity concept was the idea of that all-inviting Holy Ghost being not a sexless spirit, but a female entity.

Sex and spirituality

Human history, according to Merezhkovsky, was one ceaseless 'battle of two abysses': the abyss of Flesh (as discovered by pre-Christians) and the abyss of Spirit (opened by Christianity's sexless ascetism). Pre-Christians celebrated flesh-driven sensuality at the expense of all things spiritual. Ascetic Christians brought about the rise of Spirit, at the expense of sex. Merezhkovsky declared the dialectical inevitability of thesis and antithesis' coming together, of the spiritual and the sexual poles uniting on a higher, celestial level.[63]

In his own words, "Being aware of my self in my body, I'm at the root of personality. Being aware of my self in the other one's body, I'm at the root of sex. Being aware of my self in all human bodies, is the root of unity".[63] Noticing that one of the Aramaic languages translates Spirit as Rucha, as a female entity, Merezhkovsky interpreted the Holy Trinity as Father and Son's unity in the higher being: their common godly Mother. It is the latter's Kingdom Come that the 3rd Testament was supposed to lead to. Seeing both God and man as intrinsically unisexual, Merezhkovsky regarded a male/female schism to be a symptom of imperfection, the primal human being's fatal disintegration.[63]

In the modern times, according to Merezhkovsky, monastic and ascetic Christianity should be forever gone. Art would not just turn religious, but become an integral part of religion, the latter taken in broader concept. Human evolution as he saw it, would lead to a total merging of whatever had been polarized: sex and spirit, religion and culture, male and female, et cetera — bringing about Kingdom Come, not 'out there', but 'here on Earth'.[63]

Merezhkovsky as a religious anarchist

Man's evolutional progress towards the Third Testament Kingdom Come would not be without some revolutionary upheavals, according to Merezhkovsky. 'Catastrophes' humanity path to salvation would be strewn with, most of them dealing with "revolutions of Spirit".[64] The consequence of such revolution would bring about gradual change in the nature of religion itself, the latter taking under its spacious wing — not only man's sensual liberation but also the latter's 'freedom of rebellion'. "We are human only as long as we're rebels", Merezhkovsky insisted, this stance of his been seen later a proto-existentialist one.[34]

One of the inevitable things the 'revolution of Spirit' would lead to was to be severing all ties between state and religion, according to Merezhkovsky. "The Church — not the old, but the new, eternal, universal one — is as opposite to the idea of the state as an absolute truth is opposing an absolute lie", he wrote in an open letter to N. Berdyaev.[65]

B. Rozental, analyzing Merezhkovsky's political and religious philosophy, thus summed up the writer's position: "The Law amounts to violence… The difference between legitimate power that holds violence 'in reserve' and violence itself is but a matter of degree: sinful are both. Autocracy and murder are nothing more than two extreme forms of exhibiting <criminal> power".[32]

Interpreting the Biblical version of human history as a course of revolutionary events, Merezhkovsky saw religion and revolution as inseparable. It is just that for any social revolution to succeed, spiritual revolution should always be one step ahead of it. In Russia the lack of the latter brought about the former's fiasco, letting Antichrist taking the reins of events, he argued.[34]

In the 1920s Merezhkovsky veered off his earlier views on religious and revolutionary synthesis, then ditched religious anarchism doctrine altogether. His 3rd Testament idea has undergone some metamorphosis too: in his later years the writer became close to ecumenical ideals, prophesizing the Kingdom Come as a synthesis of "Peter, Paul and John's principles", that is, bringing Catholic, Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions together.[34]


Throughout his lifetime Dmitry Merezhkovsky polarized opinion in his native Russia, bringing upon himself both praise and scorn, occasionally from the same quarters. According to Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Merezhkovsky became Russia's first ever "new-type, universal kind of dissident who managed to upset just about everybody who thought themsleves to be responsible for guarding morality and order":

Tsarist government saw Merezhkovsky as subverting state foundations, patriarchs of official Orthodoxy regarded him a heretic, for literary academia he was a decadent, for Futurists – a retrograde, for Lev Trotsky, this ardent global revolution ideologist, – a reactionary. Sympathetic Anton Chekhov's words came and went unnoticed: 'A believer he is, a believer of apostolic kind'.[66]

Merezhkovsky's works were always causing controversy. In the words of a modern biographer, "history placed him alongside Marquis de Sade, Nietzsche and Henry Miller, those classics who — in the process of being condemned and ostracized by the many could have been approached and appreciated by the few".[7] "I was disliked and scolded in Russia, loved and praised abroad, but here and there — misunderstood", Merezhkovsky wrote in a letter to Nikolai Berdyaev.[66]

There were things, though, Merezhkovsky was unanimously given credit for. Nobody denied that his were — exceptional erudition, all characteristics of a true scientist, literary gift and stylistic originality.[4] Seen (in retrospect) as the first ever (and, arguably, the only one) Russian "cabinet writer of a European type", Merezhkovsky was "one of the best-educated people in St. Petersburg of the first quarter of the XX century" (N. Berdyaev).[53] Korney Chukovsky, pondering on the dire state of the early XX century Russia's cultural elite, admitted that "the most cultured of them all" was this "mysterious, unfathomable, almost mythical creature — Merezhkovsky".[67] Anton Chekov, not much of a fan, (unsuccessfully) demanded that the Russian Academy of Science should appoint Merezhkovsky its honorary academic, as early as 1902.[66]

In some ways Merezhkovsky was an indisputable innovator. He was the first in Russia to formulate basic principles of symbolism and modernism, as opposed to 'decadence', a tag he was battling with.[6] Never aspiring to a leading role in the movement, he soon became, according to I. Koretzkaya, "a kind of handy encyclopedia for the ideology of symbolism", from which others "could borrow aesthetic, socio-historical and even moral ideas from".[10] Having added a new ("thought-driven") dimension to a historical novel genre and turning it into a modern, intriguing art form, Merezhkovsky influenced some prominent masters of Russian and European experimental novel: Andrey Bely, Aleksey Remizov, Thomas Mann, James Joyce. Less avant-garde and more traditional authors like Valery Bryusov, Aleksey N. Tolstoy, Mikhail Bulgakov and Mark Aldanov owed much to his early experiments too. It was to Merezhkovsky's credit that the concepts and terms of 'modernist novel' and 'symbolic historical novel' were introduced to the rather stale and conservative Russian literature scene of the late 1890s.[9]

Merezhkovsky was praised as an extraordinarily essayist. Many marveled at his unique (perhaps over-used, as some argued) talent for 'quotation-juggling'. Some critics loathed the repetitiveness in Merezhkovsky's prose, but no one could dispute the authenticity of his (in a broad sense) very musical manner of employing certain ideas almost as symphonic themes, which was new at the time and also much imitation-spawning.[53]

No less influential, even if so much more controversial, were Merezhkovsky's philosophical, religious and political ideas. Alongside the obvious list of contemporary followers (Bely, Blok, etc.; almost all of them – later turned detractors) deeply interested in his theories were political figures (Fondaminsky, Kerensky, Savinkov), psychologists (Freud), philosophers (Berdyaev, Rickert, Stepun), lawers (Kowalewsky). Thomas Mann wrote of Merezhkovsky as of a "genius critic and specialist in world psychology, second only to Nietzche".[14]

Some later researchers mentioned as one of the main factors in Merezhkovsky's significance his willingness to question dogmas and thwart tradition with total disregard to public opinion, never shying controversy and even scandal — certainly a rare quality in the cultural life of pre-Modernism Russia. Crucial in this context was (according to O. Dafier) his "quest for ways of overcoming deep crisis which came as a result of the Russian traditionalist Church losing its credibility".[6] All the while, Merezhkovsky's ever changing views of the world that was changing as quickly, caused much misconception and a lot of criticism from all quarters.


In Russia the general response to Merezhkovsky's literary, cultural and social activities was on the whole, negative.[7] His prose, even if on the face of it stylistically flawless and occasionally quite accessible, was, critics argued, very elitist; a thing unto itself, it was "hermetically closed for the uninitiated majority".[9] "Having isolated himself from the real life, Merezhkovsky built up his own inner temple, for his own personal use. Me-and-culture, me-and-Eternity — those were his only themes", wrote in 1911 Leon Trotsky.[68]

For all his scientifically strict, academic approach to the process of collecting and re-processing material, contemporary academia, with little exception, ridiculed Merezhkovsky, dismissing him as a gifted charlatan, bent on rewriting history in accordance with his own current ideological and philosophical whims.[53] Due to his incorrigible, as many saw it, tendency towards inconsistency, Merezhkovsky's old allies were always in the process of deserting him, while new ones approached him warily. Vassily Rozanov wrote in 1909:

Merezhkovsky is a Thing that ceaselessly speaks; a jacket and trousers combination producing a torrent of noise... To clear grounds for more speaking activity, once in a three years time he undergoes a total change of mental wardrobe and for the following three years busies himself in defying all things he was saying over the period of previous three years time.[7]

Another former friend, Minsky, questioned Merezhkovsky's credibility as a critic, finding in his biographies a tendency to see in his subjects only things that he wanted to see, artfully "re-molding questions into instant answers".[69]

For all his religiosity, Merezhkovsky was never popular with either Russian Orthodox Church officials or the religious intellectual elite of the time, people like Sergey Bulgakov, Pavel Florensky and Lev Shestov fiercely denouncing his ideas and projects.[14] Similarly, having been regarded for many years as a radical social democrat never gained Merezhkovsky any points in the leftist literary camp. He was variously described as "an anti-literature phenomenon" (Viktor Shklovsky), "the greatest corpse in the Russian literature" (Ivanov-Razumnik) and "a book-worm", totally foreign to all things human (Korney Chukovsky).[70]

The writer's work published abroad, according to the Soviet Literary encyclopedia (1934) was "the telling example of the ideological degradation and cultural degeneration of the White émigrés".[71] Maxim Gorky's verdict: "Dmitry Merezhkovsky, a well-known God-admirer of a Christian mode, is a small man whose literary activity is akin to that of a type-writer: each type is clear and well-read, but it's soul-less and boring", served as a leitmotif of the Soviet literary officialdom's view on Merezhkovsky for decades.[7] In the Soviet times the writer was (in the words of Alexander Men) "aggressively forgotten",[53] all of his works remained unofficially banned up until the early 1990s, when the wave of his works' began to be re-issued, opening the way for serious critical analysis of Merezhkovsky's life and legacy.


External links


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  2. ^ a b "Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky". Dictionary of Literary Biography. Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  3. ^ a b "Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Mihaylov, Oleg. "The Prisoner of Culture". Forewords to The Complete Work of D. S. Merezhkovsky, 1990. // Олег Михайлов. Д. С. Мережковский. Собрание сочинений в четырех томах. Пленник культуры. Вступительная статья. — Правда, 1990 г. — 2010-02-14
  5. ^ Zobnin, Yuri. The Life and Deeds of Dmitry Merezhkovsky. 2008 // Ю. В. Зобнин. Дмитрий Мережковский: жизнь и деяния. Москва. — Молодая гвардия. 2008. Жизнь замечательных людей; Вып. 1291 (1091). ISBN 978-5-235-03072-5… р.15–16
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Чураков Д. О.. "Эстетика русского декаданса на рубеже XIX – XX вв. Ранний Мережковский и другие. Стр. 1". Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q А. Николюкин. "Феномен Мережковского". Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  8. ^ Zobnin, p.11
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Вадим Полонский. "Мережковский, Дмитрий Сергеевич". Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f Д. М. Магомедова. "Предисловие к изданию 1993 году. Москва, Художественная литература". Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
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  12. ^ Zobnin, p.26
  13. ^ Zobnin, p.81-82
  14. ^ a b c d В.Д. Семигин. "Д. С. Мережковский в общественно-культурной жизни России конца XIX века (1880–1893)". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
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  16. ^ a b c d e f "Биографии писателей и поэтов >> Дмитрий Сергеевич Мережковский". Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
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  19. ^ Steve Shelokhonov. "Zinaida Gippius biography". Retrieved 2010-10-13. 
  20. ^ Zobnin, p. 81
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  27. ^ Zobnin, p. 400
  28. ^ Zobnin, p. 106
  29. ^ Zobnin, p. 400-404
  30. ^ a b c d e f Чураков Д. О.. "Эстетика русского декаданса на рубеже XIX – XX вв. Ранний Мережковский и другие. Стр 2". Retrieved 2010-02-02. 
  31. ^ З.Н.Гиппиус (1924). "Благоухание седин. Из книги "Живые лица". О многих". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  32. ^ a b Чураков Д. О.. "Эстетика русского декаданса на рубеже XIX – XX вв. Стр. 3". Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
  33. ^ "Мережковский Д.С. Биография". Retrieved 2010-01-07. 
  34. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m O. Volkogonova. "Религиозный анархизм Мережковского". Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
  35. ^ Д. С. Мережковский Революция и религия. — — 1907.
  36. ^ "К соблазну _малых сих.". 6 (19) сентября 1909 года. Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  37. ^ Михаил Рощин. "Князь. Книга об Иване Бунине". Retrieved 2010-03-02. 
  38. ^ В. Розанов. "Опавгие листья". Retrieved 2010-08-13. 
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  40. ^ Zobnin, p.254
  41. ^ Zobnin, p.256
  42. ^ Zobnin, p.414
  43. ^ Zobnin, p.266
  44. ^ Many people found it quite inexplicable that amidst mass hunger with no agricultural farms functioning suddenly lots of fresh veal would appear from time to time at market places, sold invariably by the Chinese. This 'veal' was widely believed to be human meat: that of the 'enemies of the revolution', freshly executed in the Cheka basements.
  45. ^ "Беседа с Д. С. Мережковским". Retrieved 2010-02-22. 
  46. ^ Виталий Вульф. "Декадентская мадонна". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
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  48. ^ Zobnin, p.419-420
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  51. ^ Zobnin, p.422-423
  52. ^ "Звено". 1925. 16 марта
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  65. ^ Д. С. Мережковский. О новом религиозном действии. (открытое письмо Н. А. Бердяеву). — Стр. 168
  66. ^ a b c Евгений Евтушенко (2005-04-28). "Дмитрий Мережковский между Шариковым и Антихристом". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  67. ^ К. Чуковский. "Д.С. Мережковский. Тайновидец вещи". Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  68. ^ Л.Троцкий (22 мая 1911 г.). "Мережковский". Киевская Мысль NN 137, 140, 19. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  69. ^ Н.М. Минский. "Абсолютная реакция. Леонид Андреев и Мережковский". Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
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