Andrei Bely’s Silver Dove In Light Of Plato’s Idea of Winged Soul

Daria O Solodkaia, Princeton University

In the considerable amount of scholarship devoted to Andrei Bely’s first novel Silver Dove, the question of what role birds play in the novel has barely received proper attention. Truly, birds dominate the text and to this or that extent are connected to all its characters. Placing this curious phenomenon, hard to overlook but almost disregarded in the critical literature, in the center of my discussion, I will first demonstrate what kinds of relationship exist between birds and personages and show its complexity caused by Bely’s both serious and comical treatment of them. From there I will move in with my suggestion that this “feathery multitude” introduces the Platonic idea of the “winged soul”, which turns out to be one of the crucial themes of Silver Dove. On appealing to Plato’s Phaedrus and presenting his basic thoughts on the matter, I will then reveal the Gogolian interpretation of this idea in Bely’s novel and focus mostly on its development with regard to the novel’s love triangle, i.e. the main character Petr Dar’ial’skii, his (former) fiancée Katia and seducer Matrena, which more obviously than other cases represents the Platonic idea. As well as Gogol in his “Woman”, Bely views the woman as a medium between man and God. Entrapped between two, Dar’ial’skii opts for either Katia or Matrena, and his choice determines whether his love will grow soul’s wings (as love does according to Plato). In the course of the discussion, it will be proved that this woman’s “mediatorial” function makes Bely relate Katia and Matrena to similar birds– a swallow and martin respectively–but this similarity is nonetheless far from becoming equality. Finally, two significant subtexts, namely, Fet’s “Lastochki” and Gogol’s Dead Souls, will be taken into account not only to fortify the indissoluble connection between birds in the novel and Plato’s idea but also to place the theme of the winged soul on the same level with creation (tvorchestvo), the fate of Rus’, and the question of East and West.