I’m almost halfway through Andrei Bely’s Peterburg (complete Russian text of the earlier, longer 1913 version, with introductory essay by Igor Sukhikh)—I’ve read it before in English, but this is my first time reading it as Bely wrote it—and I’m perfectly willing to go along with Nabokov in calling it one of the great novels of its century. Its prose is even more mesmerizing than that of The Silver Dove (discussed here), with brilliant use of repetition (all of Bely’s prose works on the incantatory principle), and the plot is far more interesting, with intertwining strands on the generational theme (still productive a half-century after Fathers and Sons), the theme of love and marriage (two very different things in Bely), and the prescient theme of red revolution, all played against the backdrop of a murky and frightening city that Bely knew well but didn’t like (he was a proud Muscovite). I’ll probably have more to say when I finish it, but right now I just want to share a sentence that struck me with its inadvertent foreshadowing of Martha and the Vandellas and the Rolling Stones: “Apollon Apollonovich thought [while watching the dancers at a party in the revolutionary October of 1905]: just let these seemingly innocent dances go on here, and, well, of course these dances will continue in the street; and the dances will end, of course—there, there.” (Russian below the cut.) The final “там, там,” literally ‘there, there,’ carries the sound of тамтам ‘tomtom,’ and in general is meant to bring to your ears (if you will) the sound of marching, charging feet, boy.
Аполлон Аполлонович думал: допусти только здесь эти с виду невинные пляски, уж, конечно, продолжатся эти пляски на улице; и окончатся пляски, конечно, — там, там.