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The internet is full of identical sentences that read, “Andrei Bely lived at 21 Plotnikov Lane in the 1900s.” It isn’t much to go on. When did he move in? When did he move out? How long was he here and what did he do while he was here? I haven’t quite pinned it down.
Andrei Bely, born Boris Bugayev in 1880, was born on the Arbat, where there is now an Andrei Bely museum. We’ll get to that someday. But he also lived for at least a while in this imposing art nouveau apartment house on Plotnikov Lane just a stone’s throw from the Arbat. The Andrei Bely website, which has a pretty good chronology of Bely’s life and work, tells us that he moved into this building during August and September (or, at some point during those two months) in 1906. At that time the street was named Nikolsky Lane. Bely took up residence in Apt. 7. And then the trail goes cold. Mentions of Nikolsky/Plotnikov Lane after that are relatively rare. We do find Bely “moving back to Moscow” in a different apartment (11 6th Rostovsky Lane, Apt. 2, apparently as a guest of the anthroposophist Alexander Pozzo) in November of 1911.
The fact of the matter is – it would appear that Bely spent precious little time in this apartment. By September he has moved in, but he left Russia for Europe on Sept. 20 and spent a great deal of the next few years traveling. Some of the cities that figured in his itinerary were Munich, Paris, Venice, Rome and Sicily. He visited Kiev at least twice and went back and forth between St. Petersburg and Moscow as if he were commuting. Plus he often spent summers outside of Moscow, usually at a rented dacha.
It’s true, he does find himself in Moscow from time to time – he returns to Moscow in February and Nov. 1907…
One Moscow online encyclopedia adds the tidbit that Bely moved into this new apartment with his mother- and that it was here that he made the acquaintance of the well-known philosopher Mikhail Gershenzon, who also lived on the same street. Still another source notes that the move was made necessary because of the death of Bely’s father – they could no longer afford to remain in their home on the Arbat.
In his essay “Arbat,” Bely described the move to Nikolsky Lane thus:
“For me the the exchanging of the Arbat is associated with retreat: I withdrew from the Arbat, settling next to the Arbat – on Nikolsky, an extremely quiet lane. Yes, my former Arbat life had now become my near-Arbat, sidestreet life...”
All this time Bely was on the verge of having to fight a duel with his friend, the poet Alexander Blok, over Blok’s wife Lyubov Mendeleeva (yes, the daughter of the formulator of the Periodic Table). Maybe that’s why Bely traveled so much – to keep Blok off guard. In any case, Blok challenged Bely to a duel by letter on Aug. 8, 1907, while we are told that the two met in Moscow on Aug. 24 in Moscow and came to terms with each other peacefully. (Almost exactly a year earlier, Bely had challenged Blok to a duel – Mendeleyeva, of course, ever the reason.)
Some of the works that Bely was working on more or less at this time include his so-called “Fourth Symphony: Cluster of Snowstorms,” a poem, and his short story “Adam.” He was also writing a lot of essays and texts for lectures, many of them on topics mixing religion and politics, although he also wrote about theater, drama and poetry as well. He wrote his novel The Silver Dove in 1909, perhaps, in part, while he was resident at Nikolsky/Plotnikov Lane. But his novel Petersburg, considered by many not only to be his greatest work, but one of the finest works of the 20th century, was written in 1913-1914 – after he definitely was gone from this place.
In order to round out this post, which contains more non-information than it does information, let me point out that the beautiful structure at 21 Plotnikov Lane was designed by the architect N.D. Begichev. I pride myself in tracking down people’s first names, so as not to fall back on that horrid Russian habit of calling everybody by their initials, but I have not yet been able to identify Mr. Begichev. There are several prominent people with this name in Russian history, but none I have found are architects working at this point in time. If anyone can fill in my lack of knowledge, I’ll be happy to give you credit here. In the meantime, let the accompanying photos speak for my inadequate words.