Unorthodox Beauty shows how Russian poets of the early twentieth century consciously adapted Russian Orthodox culture in order to create a distinctly religious modernism. Martha M. F. Kelly contends that, beyond mere themes, these writers developed an entire poetics that drew on liturgical tradition. Specifically, Russian Orthodoxy held out the possibility of unifying spirit and matter, as well as a host of other dichotomies—subject and object, empirical and irrational, noumena and phenomena. The artist could produce a work of transformative and regenerative power. Using a range of crossdisciplinary tools, Kelly reads key works by Blok, Kuzmin, Akhmatova, and Pasternak in ways that illustrate how profoundly religious traditions and ideas shaped Russian modernist literature.
"One of the many things that this reader took away from Kelly’s wonderful, thought-provoking book was not just a renewed appreciation of how disruptive and imaginative Russian modernism could be in its quest for renewal and reconciliation, but also how meaningful, even fecund, Orthodox Christianity could be in poetic articulations of the modern... This book also demonstrates that sources deemed non-canonical or heterodox by the Russian Church, such as Greek mythology, Gnosticism, and, perhaps most crucially, the writings of Vladimir Solov’ev, played a key part in loosening the canonical bonds around Orthodox Christianity and, thus, in opening new ways for educated Russians to interpret and experience their faith... What Kelly reminds us in her study is that Orthodoxy is not a discoverable singularity, but a contested, open-ended multiplicity." —The Russian Review