Echoes of Wisdom: Solov'ev's Sofija in Symbolist Worlds of Art, Literature, and Life

David Borgmeyer, University of Southern California

Vladimir Solov'ev's philosophy, mysticism, and poetry exercised a substantial influence on the verse of two of the most talented poets of the "second generation" of Symbolists, Aleksandr Blok and Andrej Belyj (Boris Bugaev). Solov'ev's Sofija, the allegory of Divine Wisdom and the Eternal Feminine, was recast as Belyj's "Woman Clothed with the Sun," or Blok's "Beautiful Lady." In the spirit of zhiznetvorchestvo, much has been made of the relationship between Blok, Belyj, and Blok's wife, Ljubov' Blok (Mendeleeva). The two poets believed Blok's wife to be the incarnation of Sofija, eventually leading to a rather bitter dissolution.

Besides this, there are many incidents of Sophianic, spiritualized relationships which invoke, directly or indirectly the allegory of Divine Wisdom. For example, Anna Schmidt, who wrote her own sophiology, initiated a "mystic" relationship with Solov'ev believing herself to be his cosmic consort, the incarnation of Sofija. Belyj and Viacheslav Ivanov were involved in a two-year relationship with another mystic and spiritualist, Anna Minclova. Among the most popular spiritualistic leaders were many women, most notably Mme. Blavackaja, Annie Besant, and Minclova, who, though not claiming to be divine wisdom incarnate, certainly claimed to have a larger share of it than most and convinced many others of the fact.

Often these relationships resulted in disillusionment and bitterness, generating conflicting, disparaging, or even malevolent literary depictions of women. The interaction of life and art, of real and ideal, of bytovye and iskusstvennye women in the Symbolist paradigm creates interesting issues not only for the study of Solov'ev's heritage, but for larger issues of notions of femininity and gender in the Russian cultural context.

The blending of life and literature, however, is only one aspect of the larger context of Solov'evan and Sophian influence on the Symbolists. While there is little scholarly disagreement on the fact of interaction and creative cross-fertilization between writers and visual artists, there is little research that deals with these relationships concretely, and virtually none that explores the important thematic cluster of Sophia and its ancillary concepts. This paper will attempt to draw connections between the Sophianic elements in Symbolist literature and similar themes and leitmotifs in Symbolist-era art, considering such figures as Roerich, Vrubel', Borisov-Musatov, early Malevich, and Kuznecov.

While it is impossible to credit (or blame) Solov'ev and his idea of Sofija for the general cultural environment that saw so many complex notions of idealized or (and) demonized women, produced predominantly by men, there is no doubt that Solov'ev's Sofija was a crucial catalyst and prototype for the many personal cults of Divine Wisdom and devotions to the Eternal Feminine in the years before the revolution of 1917. In short, this paper will re-examine the echoes of Solov'ev's muse and mediatrix in the interwoven literature and life of the Symbolist literati and explore "her" influence on artistic as well as literary practice.