Gor'kii, Maksim

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GOR'KII, Maksim

Pseudonym for Alexei Maksimovich Peshkov. Nationality: Rus-sian. Born: Nizhnii Novgorod, now Gorky, 16 March 1868. Education: Educated in parish school, Nizhnii Novgorod; Kumavino elementary school, 1877-78. Family: Married Ekaterina Pavlovna Volzhina in 1896 (separated); one son and one daughter. Career: Apprenticed to a shoemaker at age 12; then draughtsman's clerk and cook's boy on a Volga steamer; from 1888, associated with revolutionary politics: first arrest, 1889; traveled on foot through much of Russia; member of publishing cooperative Knowledge, and literary editor, Lifi, St. Petersburg, from 1899. Visited the United States, 1906, and Capri, 1906-13; set up revolutionary propaganda school, 1909; returned to Russia after general amnesty, 1913; editor, Chronicles magazine, 1915-17, and newspaper New Life, 1917-18; established publishing house World Literature; involved in Petrograd Workers and Soldiers Soviet, and in writers and scholars conditions generally; left Russia in 1921; editor, Dialogue, Berlin, 1923-25, and in Sorrento during most of 1924-31; returned to Russia in 1931: editor, Literary Apprenticeship magazine, 1933. Awards: Order of Lenin, 1932. Gorky Literary Institute established in his honor. Died: 18 June 1936.



Polnoe sobranie sochinenii: Khudozhestvennaia literatura. 25 vols., 1968-76.

Collected Works. 10 vols., 1978-82.

Collected Short Stories, edited by Avrahm Yarmolinsky and MouraBudberg. 1988.

Short Stories

Ocherki i rasskazy. 3 vols., 1898-99; as Tales, 1902.

Orloff and His Wife: Tales of the Barefoot Brigade. 1901.

The Outcasts and Other Stories. 1902.

Twenty-Six Men and a Girl and Other Stories. 1902.

Tales of Two Countries. 1914.

Through Russia (collection). 1921.

Unrequited Love and Other Stories. 1949.


Foma Gordeev. 1899; translated as Foma Gordeyev, 1902; as The Man Who Was Afraid, 1905; as Foma, 1945.

Troe. 1900; as Three of Them, 1902; as Three Men, 1902; as The Three, 1958.

Mat'. 1906; as Mother, 1907; as Comrades, 1907.

Zhizn nenuzhnovo cheloveka. 1907-08; as The Spy: The Story of a Superfluous Man, 1908; as The Life of a Useless Man, 1971.

Ispoved'. 1908; as A Confession, 1909.

Gorodok Okurov [Okurov City]. 1909.

Leto [Summer]. 1909.

Zhizn' Matveia Kozhemiakina. 1910-11; as The Life of Matvei Kozhemyakin, 1959.

Zhizn' Klima Samgina. 1925-36; as The Bystander, The Magnet, Other Fires, and The Spectre, 4 vols., 1938.

Delo Artamonovykh. 1925; as Decadence, 1927; as The Artamanov Business, 1948; as The Artamanovs, 1952.


Na dne (produced 1902). 1903; as A Night's Lodging, 1905; as The Lower Depths, 1912; as Submerged, 1914; as At the Bottom, 1930.

Meshchane (produced 1902). 1902; as The Smug Citizens, 1906; asThe Courageous One, 1958; as The Petty Bourgeois, in Collected Works 4, 1979.

Dachniki (produced 1904). 1904; as Summerfolk, 1975.

Deti solntsa (produced 1905). 1905; as Children of the Sun, 1912.

Varvary (produced 1906). 1905; as Barbarians, in Seven Plays, 1945.

Vragi (produced 1907). 1906; as Enemies, in Seven Plays, 1945.

Vassa Zheleznova (produced 1911). 1910; revised version, 1935; translated as Vassa Zheleznova, in Seven Plays, 1945; as Vassa Zheleznova: A Mother, 1988.

Vstrecha [The Meeting] (produced 1910). 1910.

Chudaki (produced 1910). 1910; as Queer People, in Seven Plays, 1945.

Zykovy (produced 1918). 19l3; as The Zykovs, in Seven Plays, 1945.

Starik (produced 1919). 1915; as The Judge, 1924; as The Old Man, 1956.

Somov i drugie [Somov and the Others]. 1931.

Egor Bulychov i drugie (produced 1932). 1932; as Yegor Bulichoff and Others, in The Last Plays, 1937.

Dostigaev i drugie (produced 1934). 1933; as Dostigaeff and the Others, in The Last Plays. 1937.

Seven Plays. 1945.

Five Plays, edited by Edward Braun. 1988.


Pesnia o Burevestnike [Song about Burevestnik]. 1901.

Chelovek [Man]. 1902.

Devushka i smert' [A Girl and Death]. 1917.


A. P. Chekhov. 1905; as Anton Tchekhov: Fragments of Recollections. 1921.

Detstvo, V liudakh, Moi universitety. 1913-22; as My Childhood, In the World [My Apprenticeship], My University Days [My Universities], 1915-23; as Autobiography, 1949.

Vospominaniia o Tolstom. 1919; as Reminiscences of Tolstoy, 1920.

Revoliutsiia i kul'tura [Revolution and Culture]. 1920.

O russkom krest'ianstve [On the Russian Peasantry]. 1922.

Vospominaniia [Reminiscences]. 1923.

Zametki iz dnevnika. 1924; as Fragments from My Diary, 1924.

V. I. Lenin. 1924; translated as V. I. Lenin, 1931; as Days with Lenin, 1933.

Reminiscences of Leonid Andreyev. 1928.

O literature. 1933; revised edition, 1935, 1955; as On Literature: Selected Articles, 1958.

Literature and Life: A Selection from the Writings. 1946.

History of the Civil War in the USSR, volume 2: The Great Proletarian Revolution, October-November 1917. 1947.

F. I. Chaliapin. 2 vols., 1957-58; as Chaliapin: An Autobiography, edited by Nina Froud and James Hanley, 1967.

The City of the Yellow Devil: Pamplets, Articles, and Letters about America. 1972.

Rasskazy i povesti 1892-1917 (selection). 1976.

Nesvoevremennye mysli. 1971; as Untimely Thoughts, edited by Herman Ermolaev, 1968.

Perepiska Gor'kogo (selected correspondence). 2 vols., 1986.



Gorky in English: A Bibliography 1868-1986 by Garth M. Terry, 1986; Gorky: A Reference Guide by Edith W. Clowes, 1987.

Critical Studies:

Gorky and His Russia by Alexander Kaun, 1931; Gorky: Romantic Realist and Conservative Revolutionary by Richard Hare, 1962; Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Gorky by Dan Levin, 1965; Gorky: His Literary Development and Influence on Soviet Intellectual Life by I. Weil, 1966; The Bridge and the Abyss: The Troubled Friendship of Gorky and V. I. Lenin by Bertram D. Wolfe, 1967; Gorky, The Writer: An Interpretation by F. M. Borras, 1967; Three Russians Consider America: America in the Works of Gor'kii, Aleksandr Bick, and Vladimir Majakovskii by Charles Rougle, 1976; Gorky (biography) by Henri Troyat, 1986, translated by Lowell Blair, 1989; Gorky by Barry P. Scherr, 1988; Gorky and His Contemporaries: Memoirs and Letters edited by Galina Belaya, 1989.

* * *

While Maksim Gor'kii is best known today for such works as his play Na dne (The Lower Depths) and his autobiographical trilogy, he first gained fame as a writer of short stories, and his reputation in Russia is based in no small part on his achievements in that genre, which he continued to practice throughout his career. His early stories in particular played an important role in the history of Russian literature, for they introduced characters from a part of society that had previously been virtually ignored by writers: the rootless wanderers, or vagabonds (the Russian word, "bosiaki," means literally "the barefoot ones"), whom he had come to know during his own wanderings and then romanticized in his fiction.

From 1892, when Gor'kii published his first story, "Makar Chudra," until the 1899 appearance of his novel Foma Gordeev, Gor'kii was exclusively a writer of short fiction, and the bulk of his best-known stories date from this period. Many of his early works employ folklore or at least folklore-like elements for their effect ("Makar Chudra," "Old Izergil," "Song of the Falcon," "Song of the Stormy Petrel"). Thus "Old Izergil," which was to remain one of Gor'kii's favorite stories, comments upon the mundane life of Izergil, a woman who has failed to instill her own life with any lasting meaning by surrounding it with two legends—one of which, the story of Danko, who rips his own burning heart from his body and leads his people to freedom by its light, is among Gor'kii's most famous creations.

Gor'kii's first detailed portrayal of the vagabond is found in "Chelkash," where the title character already exhibits all the chief traits of such figures. A professional thief in a large port city, Chelkash takes on as his accomplice a young peasant who has just arrived from the country. The story ultimately focuses less on the actual robbery than on the two men's quarrel over the money afterward; the point is that the peasant—whose actions are both greedy and cowardly—comes off much worse than the free-spirited Chelkash. Typically, the vagabonds prefer to live on their own and to be beholden to no one. They reject both what they see as the docile poverty of the peasantry and the social conventions of the better-educated classes. They are not necessarily people to emulate: here, as well as in "A Rolling Stone" and "Konovalov," the vagabonds may be admirable for their ability to break away from the norm, but even the strongest among them are still misfits and seem doomed to a life apart from other human beings.

In these latter two works a first-person narrator imparts a strong autobiographical element, and indeed "Konovalov," like such tales from the period as "Twenty-Six Men and a Girl" or the later "The Boss," uses Gor'kii's own experiences during his Kazan years to provide an authentic background. Typical in this regard is "Creatures that Once Were Men" (whose Russian title actually means "ex-people"), which depicts a group of people who inhabit a cheap lodging house. In the course of the story the inhabitants lose both their unofficial leader and support, the manager of the lodging house who is arrested after a fight, and their spiritual inspiration, a person known only as the "teacher," who dies from the effects of his alcoholism. With its setting, its motley cast of down-and-outers, and its emphasis on the futility of relying on others to better one's situation in life, the story offers a preview of Gor'kii's greatest play, The Lower Depths.

While the semiautobiographical works are sometimes marred by the narrator's tendency to philosophize and to state the story's moral too directly, Gor'kii also composed a generous handful of unadorned tales that bring out the harshness of the life he knew simply through the events: "Cain and Artyom," "Malva," "On a Raft," "In the Steppe." The latter two were cited by Chekhov as among his favorites; in both, the efficient action and spare dialogue take the place of extensive description, offering brutal examples of the cruelty that people can show toward one another. "Malva" provides a strikingly unsentimental portrayal of a female vagabond, who lets men fight over her, only to assert her freedom and to show an independence far greater than that of the male figures in the story.

Many of Gor'kii's stories from the 1910s and 1920s invoke the autobiographical framework that he occasionally used earlier. Indeed, his major collection in English of stories from the 1910s, Through Russia, is united by the consistent presence of a narrator who bears some resemblance to Gor'kii, even if the individual pieces clearly contain numerous fictional elements. Vagabonds again appear, but, like the title figures in "Kalinin" and "A Woman," they seem less attractive, often desperate, and at times simply defeated by all that life has done to them. Meanwhile the narrator, who previously was often just an observer or, at an even greater remove, the person to whom a story was being told, now takes more of a role in the action; this is particularly true of "Birth of a Man" and "The Deceased," the stories that open and conclude the original group of works in the collection. As the very titles of the two works indicate, Gor'kii begins with a birth and ends with a death: now he is far more concerned than before with grouping his stories into cycles. Human nature has hardly improved from the earlier tales, but little by little the narrator, depicted as a transient and an outsider at first, comes to establish ties to those around him, until in the last story he breaks his journey to read the prayers over a dead man and comes to feel a link with people whom he barely knows.

Among Gor'kii's last stories are several that mark a new direction, including "The Story of a Novel," "The Hermit," "A Sky-Blue Life," and "Karamora." Here the narrator plays a reduced role (if he appears at all), and Gor'kii allows his figures to speak directly. The social themes recede somewhat; attention is drawn instead to the psychological complexities of his chief figures, who may descend into madness (Mironov in "A Sky-Blue Life") or exhibit such a profound inner void that they are indifferent to the distinction between good and evil (Karamora). Fittingly, then, Gor'kii's final short stories, with their claustrophobic narratives and often purposeful confusion between the real and the imagined, turn out to be among his most accomplished.

—Barry P. Scherr

See the essay on "Twenty-Six Men and a Girl."