From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- Andrei Bely's miasmal and profoundly disturbing novel Petersburg was regarded by Vladimir Nabokov as one of the four greatest novels of the twentieth century.
Petersburg or St. Petersburg, Russian: Петербург (1913, revised 1922) is the title of Andrei Bely's masterpiece, a Symbolist work that foreshadows Joyce's Modernist ambitions. For various reasons the novel never received much attention and was not translated into English until 1959 by John Cournos, over 45 years after it was written, after Joyce was already established as an important writer.
The novel is based in Saint Petersburg and follows a young revolutionary, Nikolai Apollonovich, who has been ordered to assassinate his own father, a high Tsarist official, by planting a time bomb in his study. There are many similarities with Joyce's Ulysses: the linguistic rhythms and wordplay, the Symbolist and subtle political concerns which structure the themes of the novel, the setting of the action in a capital city that is itself a character, the use of humor, and the fact that the main plot of the novel spans approximately twenty-four hours. The differences are also notable: the English translation of Bely remains more accessible, his work is based on complex rhythm of patterns, and, according to scholarly opinion, does not use such a wide variety of innovations.
There have been three major translations of the novel into English:
- St. Petersburg or Saint Petersburg, translated by John Cournos (1959)
- Petersburg, translated and annotated by John E. Malmstad and Robert A. Maguire (1978) (paperback: ISBN 0-253-20219-1)
- Petersburg, translated by David McDuff (1995)