At first glance there seems no literary connection between Alexander Blok and Dostoevsky and their literary styles – they are not doubles in this sense. However in many ways they are metaphysical doubles. Both are concerned with the double nature of consciousness, both contemplate the nature of authorship and its ambiguous role in literature, one could say its dual quality, whereby the author is present in the work like an unseen god, directing and determining the destinies of the characters. Such a direct relationship between author and character was unsatisfactory for both writers despite differences in their portrayal of such a relationship. In The Fairground Booth, Blok deliberately exposes the “author” who is not a hidden element in the work but is brought into the action openly as a fool whose work has been undermined and changed by the characters themselves as if they have unconditional freedom and are not bound by the “necessity” of God or of the author. They are not just the Commedia dell’arte puppets they seem to be. The characters Pierrot, Harlequin and Columbina traditionally and in The Fairground Booth (also known by the title “The Puppet show”) lend themselves to all kinds of improvisations and liberties.
It is this question, literary freedom and authorship which Blok questions openly and which presents the problem in the wider context of our own lives through the theatre, in the apparently flippant and lighthearted “The Fairground Booth” and like Dostoevsky, only in a different way from him, explores the very concept of freedom itself. Such ideas and concepts exercised the ancient Greeks, by Plato and by his teacher Socrates as well as in theatre by Sophocles in “Oedipus Rex”. Oedipus exercises his freedom to avoid the fate which the Delphic Oracle has predicted for him – that of marrying his Mother and murdering his Father and which Tiresias tries to explain to him but to no avail. Oedipus nonetheless fulfills this terrible prophecy by so using his freedom to avoid it.
The Greeks were gifted in being able to explore and delineate these metaphysical questions which go to the heart of our existence and our will, questions which Blok, who was both influenced by Neoplatonism and Dostoevsky, examines in The Fairground Booth. The concerns of both authors converge in their understanding of a new type of person which emerged at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.
Blok turned to the tradition of the fairground with its timeless puppets and the Italian Commedia dell’arte with its eternal masks and together with Meyerhold forged the beginnings of a new type of theatre.
In his work Blok aptly expressed the feeling that Dostoevsky portrayed in his work, especially in Crime and Punishment where a new kind of individual or human being emerged – a uniquely urban type from an urban industrial environment which we now recognise so clearly in our own contemporary world but which then was entirely new.
An individual disjointed from the environment and a fragmented consciousness seemingly estranged from the norms and conventions of the time but simultaneously completely recognizable as a common feature of city life – a distant, anonymous individual knowing but unknowable, present but in some sense a person hidden from view, enclosed in themselves where new and subversive thoughts simmer and multiply in strange and uneven forms.
Blok grew up in the shadow of this world and its macabre carnival like aura and bustle and in the shadow of Dostoevsky and all his work is suffused with this attitude and atmosphere which Dostoevsky presented in his novels.
The dreamy metaphysical flights of speculation in The Beautiful Lady of St Petersburg gave way to the urban revolutionary territory of St Petersburg and The Twelve during the years of the revolution.