2. A World of Mirrors
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

C H A P T E R T W O A WORLD OF MIRRORS 1. SE CO ND SPACE The world of Petersburg is “engendered” by cerebral play, but it is also reflected in the mirror of art. Both cerebral and specular metaphors permeate the Ableukhov family home.A metaphorical mind,its carpeted steps are“like the convolutions of the brain,”and its doors disclose“no drawing room . . .but rather,cerebral spaces.”1 At the same time,the house is a reflective space in which everything,including the drawing room, is “reflected in the glitter of the parquetry and mirrors.”2 Much of the narrative takes place on bridges or along the embankments of St. Petersburg’s canals,whose waters reflect back images of key events.Nikolai Apollonovich’s parricidal fantasy of assassinating his father,which is the motor of the plot,first arises when—about to drown himself and his inherited sexuality after an attempted rape of Sofia Petrovna—he glimpses his estranged reflection in the water. When Lippanchenko calls in this suicidal or parricidal intention, the message is delivered by Sofia Petrovna herself, who emerges for the purpose from an“oval, cloudy mirror ” and then runs off “into the depths, into the greenish murk.”3 Costumed in a “fountain of things and muslin lace foam,” Sofia Petrovna’s emergence from the water-­ like mirror also encodes parricidal violence and generative sexuality, since it recalls the birth of Aphrodite from the sea foam after Zeus castrated Saturn and spilled his seed into the waves. All these specular images are lent universal and mystical significance when the astral plane is termed a“hall of mirrors,” a“second space” accompanying and allegorizing the novel’s“reality.”4 A scene in which Apollon Apollonovich literally becomes a mirror containing his son’s image illustrates the interaction of reflection and kinship in the novel.The third chapter begins by painting all of Petersburg (or, in its textual sense, Petersburg ) as an amalgamation of mutually reflecting surfaces—“only lacquer, only luster; the mirrorlike windows glinted; well, of course—and it glinted behind the mirrorlike windows; there was glint on the columns; glint on the parquetry, and glint at the entryway as well; in a word, lacquer, luster, and glint!”5 The narrative 46  C h a p ter T wo gaze seems at length to penetrate past the windows into an interior space, but questions remain about whether this space is in fact qualitatively different. The novel’s world of reflective surfaces, all multiplying the same set of images, implicitly interrogates the mimetic status of the artwork.Is this world of repeated images a mirror that reflects the world we know, the pomp and glitter of Petersburg, or is it a window into a fantastically different space, the boundless propagation of metaphorical identity that is Petersburg? The language of the passage echoes the specular repetitions through the insistent use of the same words (and, in Russian, sounds) over and over, which already intimates the activity of kin tropes because phonic resemblances in the novel are homologous with genealogical relationships. The inhabitants of these glassy apartments are themselves glittering, animated mirrors. Old men with“bald spots shining like lacquer energetically put on starch as if it were some kind of knightly armor.”6 Their shiny heads recall Petersburg’s glinting roofs, just as their stiff clothing recalls its rigid walls; the inhabitants of the buildings are microcosms of the architecture. Although these old men seem anonymous, the simile of the knightly armor refers obliquely to the Ableukhov family crest, which represents a knight being gored by a unicorn. Soon these abstract “bald men” resolve into the figure of the senator himself, who removes a “lid of red lacquer,” dons “a blinding pair of pants” and “a uniform of bright black luster with a gilded front,” and pins on his many medals.7 Fully dressed and completely reflective, the many mirrors of the senator’s garb, distributed about his whole body, are rendered into a single coherent image with the assistance of a pier glass that reflects them all at once. “Apollon Apollonovich stood before the mirror, white and gold (all aglimmer and aglitter!).”8 He proceeds to the drawing room, where he remains“reflected in the glitter of the parquetry and the mirrors,” but stops short there at the sight of his pale, disheveled son. Nikolai Apollonovich at first is “blinded” by his father’s brilliant appearance, but, recovering his sight, sees his own reflection...


pdf

Subject Headings

  • Families in literature.
  • Kinship in literature.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Russia -- History -- 20th century.
  • Modernism (Literature) -- Soviet Union.
  • Bely, Andrey, 1880-1934. Peterburg.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access