Maxim Gorky

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Maxim Gorky
Maxim Gorky LOC Restored edit1.jpg
Portrait of Gorky, c. 1906
Born Alexei Maximovich Peshkov
28 March [O.S. 16 March] 1868
Nizhny Novgorod, Russian Empire
Died 18 June 1936(1936-06-18) (aged 68)
Gorki Leninskiye, Moscow Oblast, Russia
Pen name Maxim Gorky
Occupation Writer, dramatist, political
Nationality Russian, Soviet
Period Modernism
Genre Novel, drama
Literary movement Socialist realism

Signature

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov (Russian: Алексе́й Макси́мович Пешко́в or Пе́шков;[1] 28 March 1868 – 18 June 1936), primarily known as Maxim (Maksim) Gorky (/ˈɡɔrki/;[2] Russian: Макси́м Го́рькій or Го́рький), was a Russian and Soviet writer, a founder of the Socialist realism literary method and a political activist.[3]

Life[edit]

Early years[edit]

Gorky was born in Nizhny Novgorod and became an orphan at the age of eleven. Gorky was brought up by his grandmother.[3] In 1880, at the age of twelve, he ran away from home. After an attempt at suicide in December 1887, he travelled on foot across the Russian Empire for five years, changing jobs and accumulating impressions used later in his writing.[3]

As a journalist working for provincial newspapers, he wrote under the pseudonym Иегудиил Хламида (Jehudiel Khlamida). The name is suggestive of "cloak-and-dagger" by the similarity to the Greek χλαμυς chlamys, "cloak".[4] He began using the pseudonym "Gorky" (from горький; literally "bitter") in 1892, while working in Tiflis for the newspaper Кавказ (The Caucasus).[5] The name reflected his simmering anger about life in Russia and a determination to speak the bitter truth. Gorky's first book Очерки и рассказы (Essays and Stories) in 1898 enjoyed a sensational success, and his career as a writer began. Gorky wrote incessantly, viewing literature less as an aesthetic practice (though he worked hard on style and form) than as a moral and political act that could change the world. He described the lives of people in the lowest strata and on the margins of society, revealing their hardships, humiliations, and brutalisation, but also their inward spark of humanity.[3]

Political and literary development[edit]

Anton Chekhov and Gorky. 1900, Yalta

Gorky's reputation grew as a unique literary voice from the bottom strata of society and as a fervent advocate of Russia's social, political, and cultural transformation. By 1899, he was openly associating with the emerging Marxist social-democratic movement, which helped make him a celebrity among both the intelligentsia and the growing numbers of "conscious" workers. At the heart of all his work was a belief in the inherent worth and potential of the human person (личность, 'lichnost'). In his writing, he counterposed individuals, aware of their natural dignity, and inspired by energy and will, with people who succumb to the degrading conditions of life around them. Both his writings and his letters reveal a "restless man" (a frequent self-description) struggling to resolve contradictory feelings of faith and scepticism, love of life and disgust at the vulgarity and pettiness of the human world.

In 1916, Gorky said that the teachings of the ancient Jewish sage Hillel the Elder deeply influenced his life: "In my early youth I read...the words of...Hillel, if I remember rightly: 'If thou art not for thyself, who will be for thee? But if thou art for thyself alone, wherefore art thou'? The inner meaning of these words impressed me with its profound wisdom...The thought ate its way deep into my soul, and I say now with conviction: Hillel's wisdom served as a strong staff on my road, which was neither even nor easy. I believe that Jewish wisdom is more all-human and universal than any other; and this not only because of its immemorial age...but because of the powerful humaneness that saturates it, because of its high estimate of man.[6]

He publicly opposed the Tsarist regime and was arrested many times. Gorky befriended many revolutionaries and became a personal friend of Vladimir Lenin after they met in 1902. He exposed governmental control of the press (see Matvei Golovinski affair). In 1902, Gorky was elected an honorary Academician of Literature, but Tsar Nicholas II ordered this annulled. In protest, Anton Chekhov and Vladimir Korolenko left the Academy.[7]

Leo Tolstoy with Gorky in Yasnaya Polyana, 1900

From 1900 to 1905, Gorky's writings became more optimistic. He became more involved in the opposition movement, for which he was again briefly imprisoned in 1901. In 1904, having severed his relationship with the Moscow Art Theatre in the wake of conflict with Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko, Gorky returned to Nizhny Novgorod to establish a theatre of his own.[8] Both Constantin Stanislavski and Savva Morozov provided financial support for the venture.[9] Stanislavski believed that Gorky's theatre was an opportunity to develop the network of provincial theatres which he hoped would reform the art of the stage in Russia, a dream of his since the 1890s.[9] He sent some pupils from the Art Theatre School—as well as Ioasaf Tikhomirov, who ran the school—to work there.[9] By the autumn, however, after the censor had banned every play that the theatre proposed to stage, Gorky abandoned the project.[9]

As a financially successful author, editor, and playwright, Gorky gave financial support to the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP), as well as supporting liberal appeals to the government for civil rights and social reform. The brutal shooting of workers marching to the Tsar with a petition for reform on 9 January 1905 (known as the "Bloody Sunday"), which set in motion the Revolution of 1905, seems to have pushed Gorky more decisively toward radical solutions. He became closely associated with Vladimir Lenin and Alexander Bogdanov's Bolshevik wing of the party, with Bogdanov taking responsibility for the transfer of funds from Gorky to Vpered.[10] It is not clear whether he ever formally joined, and his relations with Lenin and the Bolsheviks would always be rocky. His most influential writings in these years were a series of political plays, most famously The Lower Depths (1902). While briefly imprisoned in Peter and Paul Fortress during the abortive 1905 Russian Revolution, Gorky wrote the play Children of the Sun, nominally set during an 1862 cholera epidemic, but universally understood to relate to present-day events.

In 1906, the Bolsheviks sent him on a fund-raising trip to the United States with Ivan Norodny. When visiting the Adirondack Mountains, Gorky wrote Мать (Mat', The Mother), his notable novel of revolutionary conversion and struggle. His experiences in the United States —which included a scandal over his travelling with his lover (the actress Maria Andreyeva) rather than his wife—deepened his contempt for the "bourgeois soul" but also his admiration for the boldness of the American spirit.

Capri years[edit]

In 1909–1911 Gorky lived on Capri at villa Behring (burgundy)

From 1906 to 1913, Gorky lived on the island of Capri, partly for health reasons and partly to escape the increasingly repressive atmosphere in Russia.[3] He continued to support the work of Russian social-democracy, especially the Bolsheviks and invited Anatoly Lunacharsky to stay with him on Capri. The two men had worked together on Literaturny Raspad which appeared in 1908. It was during this period that Gorky, along with Lunacharsky, Bogdanov and Vladimir Bazarov developed the idea of an Encyclopedia of Russian History as a socialist version of Diderot's Encyclopedia. Despite his atheism,[11] Gorky was not a materialist.[12] Most controversially, he articulated, along with a few other maverick Bolsheviks, a philosophy he called "God-Building" (богостроительство, bogostroitel'stvo),[3] which sought to recapture the power of myth for the revolution and to create a religious atheism that placed collective humanity where God had been and was imbued with passion, wonderment, moral certainty, and the promise of deliverance from evil, suffering, and even death. Though 'God-Building' was ridiculed by Lenin, Gorky retained his belief that "culture"—the moral and spiritual awareness of the value and potential of the human self—would be more critical to the revolution's success than political or economic arrangements.

Return from exile[edit]

An amnesty granted for the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty allowed Gorky to return to Russia in 1913, where he continued his social criticism, mentored other writers from the common people, and wrote a series of important cultural memoirs, including the first part of his autobiography.[3] On returning to Russia, he wrote that his main impression was that "everyone is so crushed and devoid of God's image." The only solution, he repeatedly declared, was "culture".

During World War I, his apartment in Petrograd was turned into a Bolshevik staff room, and his politics remained close to the Bolsheviks throughout the revolutionary period of 1917. These relations became strained, however, after his newspaper Novaya Zhizn (Новая Жизнь, "New Life") fell prey to Bolshevik censorship during the ensuing civil war, around which time Gorky published a collection of essays critical of the Bolsheviks called Untimely Thoughts in 1918. (It would not be re-published in Russia until after the collapse of the Soviet Union.) The essays call Lenin a tyrant for his senseless arrests and repression of free discourse, and an anarchist for his conspiratorial tactics; Gorky compares Lenin to both the Tsar and Nechayev.[citation needed]

"Lenin and his associates," Gorky wrote, "consider it possible to commit all kinds of crimes ...the abolition of free speech and senseless arrests...." Gorky termed Lenin "a cold-blooded trickster who spares neither the honor nor the life of the proletariat."[13]

In 1921, he hired a secretary, Moura Budberg, who later became his unofficial wife. In August 1921, Nikolay Gumilev, his friend and fellow writer, was arrested by the Petrograd Cheka for his monarchist views. Gorky hurried to Moscow, obtained an order to release Gumilev from Lenin personally, but upon his return to Petrograd he found out that Gumilev had already been shot. In October, Gorky returned to Italy on health grounds: he had tuberculosis.

Second exile[edit]

Gorky spent most of the period from 1921 to 1928 living abroad, mostly in Sorrento, Italy, where he wrote several successful books.[14]

Return to Russia: last years[edit]

Gorky with Joseph Stalin near the Kremlin in 1931
On his definitive return to the Soviet Union in 1932, Maxim Gorky received the Ryabushinsky Mansion, designed in 1900 by Fyodor Schechtel for the Ryabushinsky family. The mansion today houses a museum about Gorky.

In Sorrento, Gorky found himself without money and without fame. He visited the USSR several times after 1929, and in 1932 Joseph Stalin personally invited him to return for good, an offer he accepted.

Gorky's return from Fascist Italy was a major propaganda victory for the Soviets. He was decorated with the Order of Lenin and given a mansion (formerly belonging to the millionaire Ryabushinsky, now the Gorky Museum) in Moscow and a dacha in the suburbs. One of the central Moscow streets, Tverskaya, was renamed in his honour, as was the city of his birth. The largest fixed-wing aircraft in the world in the mid-1930s, the Tupolev ANT-20 (photo) was named Maxim Gorky in his honour.

On 11 October 1931 Gorky read his fairy tale "A Girl and Death" to his visitors Joseph Stalin, Kliment Voroshilov and Vyacheslav Molotov, an event that was later depicted by Viktor Govorov in his painting. On that same day Stalin left his autograph on the last page of this work by Gorky: "Эта штука сильнее чем "Фауст" Гёте (любовь побеждает смерть)"[15] ["This piece is stronger than Goethe's Faust (love defeats death)]". In 1933, parting with Moura Budberg, Gorky edited an infamous book about the White Sea-Baltic Canal, presented as an example of "successful rehabilitation of the former enemies of proletariat".

For other writers, he urged that one obtained realism by extracting the basic idea from reality, but by adding the potential and desirable to it, one added romanticism with deep revolutionary potential.[16]

With the increase of Stalinist repression and especially after the assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934, Gorky was placed under unannounced house arrest in his house near Moscow.

The sudden death of Gorky's son Maxim Peshkov in May 1934 was followed by the death of Maxim Gorky himself in June 1936. Speculation has long surrounded the circumstances of his death. Stalin and Molotov were among those who carried Gorky's coffin during the funeral. During the Bukharin trial in 1938 (one of the three Moscow Trials), one of the charges was that Gorky was killed by Yagoda's NKVD agents.[17]

In Soviet times, before and after his death, the complexities in Gorky's life and outlook were reduced to an iconic image (echoed in heroic pictures and statues dotting the countryside): Gorky as a great Soviet writer who emerged from the common people, a loyal friend of the Bolsheviks, and the founder of the increasingly canonical "socialist realism".

Depictions and adaptations[edit]

The Gorky Trilogy is a series of three feature films: The Childhood of Maxim Gorky, My Apprenticeship, and My Universities, directed by Mark Donskoy, filmed in the Soviet Union, released 1938–1940. The trilogy was adapted from Gorky's autobiography.

The German modernist Bertolt Brecht based his epic play The Mother (1932) on Gorky's novel of the same name. Gorky's novel was also adapted for an opera by Valery Zhelobinsky in 1938. In 1912, the Italian composer Giacomo Orefice based his opera Radda on the character of Radda from Makar Chudra.

Our Father is the title given to Gorky's The Last Ones in its English translation by William Stancil. The play made its New York debut in 1979 at the Manhattan Theater Club, directed by Keith Fowler.

Enemies by Gorky was performed in London, 1984 with a multi-national cast in a co-production between Internationalist Theatre and director Ann Elizabeth Pennington, designed by Paul Brown. The BBC Russian language service gave the production glowing reviews. SA Greek actress Angelique Rockas and Bulgarian Madlena Nedeva played the parts of Tatiana, and Kleopatra respectively.

Selected works[edit]

  • Makar Chudra (Макар Чудра), short story, 1892
  • Goremyka Pavel, novel, 1894 (published in English as Orphan Paul[18])
  • Chelkash (Челкаш), novelette, 1895
  • Malva, short story, 1897
  • Sketches and Stories, stories, (three volumes) 1898–1899
  • Creatures That Once Were Men, stories in English translation (1905)
  • Twenty-six Men and a Girl, short story, 1899
  • Foma Gordeyev/The Man Who Was Afraid (Фома Гордеев), novel, 1899
  • Three of Them (Трое), novel, 1900
  • The Song of the Stormy Petrel (Песня о Буревестнике), poem, 1901
  • Song of a Falcon (Песня о Соколе),short story, 1902
  • The Mother (Мать), novel, 1907
  • The Life of a Useless Man, novel, 1907
  • A Confession (Исповедь), novel, 1908
  • Okurov City (Городок Окуров), novel, 1908
  • The Life of Matvei Kozhemyakin (Жизнь Матвея Кожемякина), novel, 1910
  • Tales of Italy, stories, 1911–1913
  • My Childhood (Детство), Autobiography Part I, 1913–1914
  • In the World (В людях), Autobiography Part II, 1916
  • Chaliapin, articles in Letopis, 1917[20]
  • Untimely Thoughts, articles, 1918
  • My Recollections of Tolstoy, 1919
  • My Universities (Мои университеты), Autobiography Part III, 1923
  • Through Russia, stories, 1923
  • The Artamonov Business (Дело Артамоновых), novel, 1927
  • Life of Klim Samgin (Жизнь Клима Самгина), unfinished novel series:
    • The Bystander, novel, 1927
    • The Magnet, novel, 1928
    • Other Fires, novel, 1930
    • The Specter, novel, 1936
  • Reminiscences of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Andreyev, 1920–1928
  • V.I. Lenin (В.И. Ленин), reminiscence, 1924–1931
  • The I.V. Stalin White Sea – Baltic Sea Canal, 1934 (editor-in-chief)

Drama[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ His own pronunciation, according to his autobiography Detstvo (Childhood), was Пешко́в, but most Russians say Пе́шков, which is therefore found in reference books.
  2. ^ "Gorky". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Maksim Gorki". Kuusankoski City Library, Finland. Retrieved 21 July 2009. 
  4. ^ "Maxim Gorky". Library Thing. Retrieved 21 July 2009. 
  5. ^ Горький Максим :: Биографии :: РефератБанк :: Рефераты, курсовые и дипломные работы, доклады, сочинения. Скачать бесплатно. (in Russian). 
  6. ^ A Book of Jewish Thoughts, Joseph Herz, Bloch Publishing, p.158
  7. ^ Handbook of Russian Literature, Victor Terras, Yale University Press, 1990.
  8. ^ Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko had insulted Gorky with his critical assessment of Gorky's new play Summerfolk, which Nemirovich described as shapeless and formless raw material that lacked a plot. Despite Stanislavski's attempts to persuade him otherwise, in December 1904 Gorky refused permission for the MAT to produce his Enemies and declined "any kind of connection with the Art Theatre." See Benedetti (1999, 149–150).
  9. ^ a b c d Benedetti (1999, 150).
  10. ^ Biggart, John (1989), Alexander Bogdanov, Left-Bolshevism and the Proletkult 1904–1932, University of East Anglia 
  11. ^ Evgeniĭ Aleksandrovich Dobrenko (2007). Political Economy of Socialist Realism. Yale University Press. p. 76. ISBN 9780300122800. Gorky hated religion with all the passion of a former God-builder. Probably no other Russian writer (unless one considers Dem'ian Bednyi a writer) expressed so many angry words about God, religion, and the church. But Gorky's atheism always fed on that same hatred of nature. He wrote about God and about nature in the very same terms. 
  12. ^ Tova Yedlin (1999). Maxim Gorky: A Political Biography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 86. ISBN 9780275966058. Gorky had long rejected all organized religions. Yet he was not a materialist, and thus he could not be satisfied with Marx's ideas on religion. When asked to express his views about religion in a questionnaire sent by the French journal Mercure de France on April 15, 1907, Gorky replied that he was opposed to the existing religions of Moses, Christ, and Mohammed. He defined religious feeling as an awareness of a harmonious link that joins man to the universe and as an aspiration for synthesis, inherent in every individual. 
  13. ^ Harrison E. Salisbury, "Black Night, White Snow," New York, 1978, p. 540.
  14. ^ Tova Yedlin (1999). Maxim Gorky: A Political Biography. Praeger. p. 229. 
  15. ^ "Scan of the page from "A Girl And Death" with autograph by Stalin". Retrieved 21 July 2009. 
  16. ^ R. H. Stacy, Russian Literary Criticism p188 ISBN 0-8156-0108-5
  17. ^ New Orleans Media
  18. ^ Orphan Paul, Boni and Gaer, NY, 1946.
  19. ^ Creatures That Once Were Men, and other stories, by Maksim Gorky (introduction) at ebooks.adelaide.edu.au
  20. ^ The manuscript of this work, which Gorky wrote using information supplied by his friend Chaliapin, was translated, together with supplementary correspondence of Gorky with Chaliapin and others, in N. Froud and J. Hanley (Eds and translators), Chaliapin: An Autobiography as told to Maxim Gorky (Stein and Day, New York 1967) Library of Congress card no. 67-25616.

Sources[edit]

  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.
  • Benedetti, Jean. 1999. Stanislavski: His Life and Art. Revised edition. Original edition published in 1988. London: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-52520-1.
  • Worrall, Nick. 1996. The Moscow Art Theatre. Theatre Production Studies ser. London and NY: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-05598-9.
  • Figes, Orlando. 1998. "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891–1924" Penguin, NY and London. ISBN 978-0-14-024364-2

Further reading[edit]

  • The Murder of Maxim Gorky. A Secret Execution by Arkady Vaksberg. Enigma Books: New York, 2007. ISBN 978-1-929631-62-9

External links[edit]