Ivan Konevskoi: "Wise Child" of Russian Symbolism

Ivan Konevskoi: "Wise Child" of Russian Symbolism

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Joan Delaney Grossman

Series: Studies in Russian and Slavic Literatures, Cultures, and History
ISBN: 9781934843895 (hardcover) 
Pages: 276 pp.
Publication Date: March 2010

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Ivan Konevskoi: “Wise Child” of Russian Symbolism is the first study in any language of Ivan Konevskoi—poet, thinker, mystic—for many decades the “lost genius” of Russian modernism. A fresh and compelling figure, Konevskoi plunged deeply into the currents of modern mystical thought and art in the 1890s. A passionate searcher for immortality, he developed his own version of pantheism meant to guard his unique persona from dissolution in the All-One. The poetry of Fedor Tiutchev, Vladimir Soloviev, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti; William James’s psychology; paintings of Pre-Raphaelites and Arnold Boecklin; Old Russian historical myth; the Finnish Kalevala: all engaged him during his brief life. His worldview grew more audacious; his confidence in the magical power of the word grew more assured. Drowning in 1901 at age twenty-three, Konevskoi left a legacy unfinished, rich, and intriguing.


Joan Delaney Grossman (PhD Harvard University) is professor emerita of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley. Her publications include Edgar Allan Poe in Russia (1973); Valery Bryusov and the Riddle of Russian Decadence (1984); <i>Creating Life</i> (with Irina Paperno, 1994); and William James in Russian Culture (with Ruth Rischin, 2003).


Ivan Konevskoi (1877–1901) strove throughout his tragically brief earthly life to ‘abolish death’ by penetrating the mystic core of the universe. His earthly survival has now been notably enhanced by Joan Grossman’s splendid book, a comprehensive account of the poet’s life, thought, and accomplishments. Deeply sympathetic but always clear eyed and sensible, Grossman’s narrative is exhaustively researched but never pedantic, engagingly written, and rich in illuminations derived from the author’s lifelong study of Russian poetry, especially of the Symbolist era.
— Hugh McLean, professor emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
Joan Grossman’s spiritual biography of ‘poet-mystic-thinker’ Ivan Konevskoi (Oreus) fills a large gap in the scholarship on early Russian modernism. Although never entirely forgotten, Konevskoi was largely ignored by scholars in both Russia and in the West, before the appearance of this substantial monograph. With the superb knowledge of her subject matter that years of painstaking and engaged research have given her, Grossman guides us through the poet’s short, but intense, quest for immortality through his own brand of pantheism. As Grossman shows, Konevskoi’s spiritual journey, which ended prematurely by accidental drowning, has many intriguing stops along the way. Grossman makes this journey entertaining and informative. This is a major work by a distinguished scholar, which is bound to stimulate further research of this elusive poet.
— Irene Masing-Delic, Ohio State University