This rare caricature of Pobedonostsev (1905), on whom Apollon Apollonovich was modeled, has inexplicable human butterflies as if emerging from his head. The senator, who is associated with the novel's master trope "cerebral play," is described as giving birth from his head like Zeus: "his cranium was becoming the womb of thought-images [theosophical thought-forms], which at once became incarnate in this spectral world. … Apollon Apollonovich was like Zeus. Thus, scarcely had the Stranger-Pallas [Dudkin also known as the Stranger; Pallas refers to the goddess Athena] been born out of his head when from there another Pallas, came crawling out. This Pallas was the senator's house." In other words, cerebral play engenders Dudkin, a propensity the senator shares with the narrator who proclaims that "Apollon Apollonovich has been spun from our brain." Cerebral play also engenders narrative: as the apparent head of Petersburg's secret police, the senator is affiliated with the novel's narrative of surveillance whose object is the terrorist plot.
As the senator's name suggests, he is associated with Apollo and Nietzsche's Apollonian spirit of order and rationality, subverted in the course of the novel by an unruly Dionysian spirit. His love of order is linked to geometry: "Most of all he loved the rectilineal [Nevsky] prospect. There the houses merged cube-like into a regular, five-story row. After the line, the figure which soothed him more than all other symmetries was the square. At times, he would lapse into an unthinking contemplation of pyramids, triangles, parallelepipeds, cubes, and trapezoids." But at the end of Petersburg we are told that he "is not the god Apollo. He is a civil servant," circulating meaningless bureaucratic circulars.
Apollon Apollonovich, representative of the governing elite in the novel, hates the islands (Petersburg consists of several islands linked by bridges.) as the locus of the working class and sinister revolutionary conspiracy. He associates them with the unruly human swarm. The feelings are mutual. Dudkin, who lives on Vasilievsky Island, imagines him emerging "out of a wave of clouds … spiteful, cold. From over there, out of the howling chaos someone stared with a stony gaze, skull and ears protruding into the fog. … the stranger clenched his fist in his pocket." Remembering a recent satirical image of the senator in an anti-government rag, he compares him to a vampire hovering over Russia.
As so often in the novel, we see the seamless narrative shift from reality – Dudkin's walking with the bomb in a bundle – to phantasmagoria. The shift here is punctuated, but often it is not, with seamless transitions from "reality" to fantasy.
This 1905 caricature of Pobedonostev above seems to have been the model for Dudkin's fantasy. Very likely the image appeared in one of the satirical journals discussed elsewhere. Apollon Apollonovich's skull and grotesque green ears are frequently repeated in conjunction with his image.
Here is Bely's drawing of senator Ableukhov.
On the right is a drawing by Bely of Nikolay Apollonovich as anxiety-ridden; on the left of it, the black and white lithograph version of Edvard Munch's famous proto-expressionist The Scream (1895). Even though Nikolay's mouth, frequently described as gaping, is closed, the sinuous representation of his body (it often assumes this shape in the novel) and the thick pen strokes that serve as background are strikingly similar to those in the lithograph. Moreover, Bely's imaging of the figure's angst evokes Munch's expressionist style.
Nikolay is anxious because he has agreed to kill his father. After one of his patricidal fantasies in which the father's body is blown to bits, instead of remorse, however, Nikolay feels profound loathing toward himself, tracing it back to his birth, the underlying source of his anxiety. He remembers that as a child "he was called his father's spawn. The meaning of 'spawn' was later revealed to him by his observations of the peculiarities of animal life. And Kolenka wept. He transferred the shame of his conception to his father."
Petersburg is riddled with anxiety, as well as feelings of loathing and disgust. Its most disgusting character is the double agent Lippanchenko, mastermind of the assassination plot who also works for the police. He is the primary cause of Dudkin's profound angst, revealed especially in his hallucinations; ontologically, Lippanchenko deprived Dudkin of meaning and faith in revolution. When Dudkin first meets him in the restaurant on Millionnaya Street, he experiences Lippanchenko as slime oozing down his collar and back. He kills Lippanchenko in the end, slaughters him so to speak. The disgusting edibility of Lippanchenko's body is evoked by the narrative association: "this is how a cold suckling pig with horseradish sauce is sliced," a description that first appears word for word in one of Nikolay's patricidal fantasies. We last see Dudkin, who has gone mad, astride Lippanchenko's corpse, arm outstretched in the manner of the Bronze Horseman.
In the drawing by Bely titled "The Devil and Lippanchenko" the evil conspirator is seated on the left.
Lippanchenko was modeled on the famous double agent Evno Azef who masterminded the assassination of Viacheslav von Plehve, subtext of Petersburg's assassination plot.
Bely's drawing of Nikolay in a red domino costume surrounded by two threatening figures in black once again represents angst. At a masquerade ball attended by most of the novel's main characters, including the senator, Apollon Apollonovich interprets his son's red costume as representing revolution – which it certainly does. But the red domino also functions in Nikolay's ludicrous frenzied pursuit of Sofia Petrovna, the silly doll-like wife of his friend, offering a parodic version of Bely's rapturous infatuation with Alexander Blok's wife Liubov, meaning love in Russian. Sofia's self-constructed parodic identity is Japanese (she often wears a kimono and decorates her apartment with Japanese artifacts), while Nikolay wears a Bukhara dressing gown and Tatar slippers at home and a skullcap "graces his oriental drawing room." His personal space represents a striking contrast to his father's: every item in the senator's rooms is categorized by capital letters and geographic coordinates, for example "Shelf-B – northwest."
Red and crimson are plentiful in Petersburg – not only as the color of Nikolay's costume, spheres, spots, blood, and revolution, but also the city's sunsets that make bridges and Winter Palace turn crimson or the "blinding blaze of the gold needle, the clouds, crimson ray of the sunset" that references the needle of the Admiralty. In the Epilogue of the novel, we encounter Nikolay Apollonovich in Egypt sitting in the sand before "an immense moldering head" of the Sphinx: "The flame of the sunset assaults you. It suffuses your eyes with crimson." We are told that he is "engulfed by Egypt" and imagines "culture as the moldering head" of the Sphinx. Bely traveled to Egypt and Tunis in 1911. The meditative drawing above, while not a direct reference to the Epilogue, seems to represent his experience of North Africa.