Monday, May 29th, 2023

Wings: Mikhail Kuzmin’s somewhat obscured 1906 coming out novel


by Mikhail Kuzmin

First published in 1906.
Ardis ed. (Ann Arbor), 1972
Hesperus Modern Voices ed., September 28, 2007
Overlook Press, 2013
Literature (Russian)
288 pgs. • Find on

Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray

February 10, 1999.

I found Mikhail Kuzmin’s Wings (1906) a jagged set of fragments of conversations in which a teenaged orphan, Vanya Smurov, is at first frightened away from association with the wealthy, fascinating, and relatively flamboyantly Greek-celebrating (deriding intolerant monotheism) Larion Stroop in St. Petersburgh (of the 1890s) when he learns that the man frequents bathhouses where sex between men occurs and is keeping a young man, Fyodor.

Mikhail Kuzmin
Mikhail Kuzmin, 1909 portrait by Konstantin Somov

Among Old Believers (Kuzmin’s own family background) in a village along the Volga, he is told to value love, which invariably is a gift of God (though he is disgusted by the attempted seduction by a woman there). Finally, in Italy, he decides to accompany Stroop, visiting the remains of ancient pagan civilization. The book ends with him reaching the decision, not continuing with what they did and saw in their Mediterranean travel.

Like his creator (the book is clearly autobiographical), Vanya concludes that “every sort of love was from the Gods, and they became free and bold and they grew wings.”

I found the “story” hard to follow. It is more allusive than narrative and is becalmed with philosophical soliloquies about love. I guess it is more explicitly “about” homosexuality than The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), though I’d say it is more “aim-inhibited” than The Immoralist (1902), both of which preceded it and both of which can more easily be read now for pleasure. I think Wings is mostly of historical interest—explicit about male-male love, very inexplicit about what males do sexually with males.

10 February 1999, later posted on
©1999, 2016, Stephen O. Murray

1910 portrait by Aleksander Golovin

I read Wings in the 1972 Ardis edition, Prose and Poetry by Mikhail Kuzmin (with two stories and some poetry) translated by Neil Granoien and Michael Green. There is also a 2007 Hesperus edition of Wings, and the novel(la) is also included in the 2013 Overlook collection Selected Prose & Poetry. The 1997 Gay Sunshine Russian anthology, Out of the Blue: Russian’s Hidden Gay Literature also included the story “Aunt Sonya’s Sofa” that was in the Ardis collection and a story about a marriage-resisting youth, “Virginal Victor: A Byzantine Tale,” along with some Kuzmin poetry, two short essays about his work by translator Michael Green, and an overview of Russian “gay” literature by Simon Karlinsky.

“Blue” is a euphemism for “homosexual” in Russia, and it was reading about Kuzmin in it that propelled me to find and read Wings.

There is a biography of Kuzmin by John Malmstad and Nikolay Bolgomolov that I have not seen.


About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.