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Gorky's Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences

Gorky's Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences: Key Writings by and about Maxim Gorky

Maxim Gorky
Translated, Edited, and Introduced by Donald Fanger
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Gorky's Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences
    Book Description:

    Maxim Gorky (1868-1936) enjoyed worldwide fame of a kind unmatched by that of any other writer in the first half of the twentieth century. Prodigiously gifted and prolific, riddled with contradictions, praised increasingly for political rather than literary reasons, he left a vast body of writing that contains acknowledged masterpieces alongside many currently neglected works that still await impartial assessment.

    Taken together, the pieces in this book (many of them based on fuller texts than those of previously published translations) present a surprising and unfamiliar Gorky-a figure who, once the clichés are stripped away from him, becomes ever more fascinating and enigmatic as man, as writer, and as historical figure. Among the volume's selections are portraits of Gorky by four particularly astute observers: poet Vladislav Khodasevich, critics Boris Eikhenbaum and Georgy Adamovich, and novelist Evgeny Zamiatin.

    Fanger's generous annotations and brilliant introduction will make this book indispensable to every reader with an interest in Tolstoy, Gorky, modern Russian literature and politics, or the art of the memoir.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15254-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. Transliteration, Annotation, and Russian Names
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction: The Singularity of M. Gorky
    (pp. 1-12)

    “‘Man!’—it has a proud ring!”

    Who today could repeat Maxim Gorky’s most famous line without embarrassment? The temptation is strong to lump him with his coevals Wells and Galsworthy as a writer whose popularity was once immense but whose moment is long past; whose esthetic and political vocabularies have dated disastrously; a figure not simply too productive but too familiar, too much praised by the wrong people, too compromised. More dead than alive.

    His singularity, for all that, remains absolute. It brought him an unprecedented celebrity, first in Russia, then throughout the world, which he retained through four violently...

  7. PART ONE Gorky:: Memoirs

    • 1 Lev Tolstoy
      (pp. 15-82)

      Since their first publication in 1919, Gorky’s reminiscences of Tolstoy have attracted superlatives. In a letter to the author, the critic Kornei Chukovsky praised them as “the fairest and truest of all the things that have been written about [Tolstoy],” adding parenthetically: “And I have now read a whole bookcase full.”¹ The great theoretician and historian of Russian literature Boris Eikhenbaum—himself a brilliant analyst of Tolstoy’s writings—concurred, stressing the importance of Gorky’s integral image of Tolstoy, his rejection of the common tendency to approach Tolstoy in Tolstoy’s own terms (the pre-crisis artist, the post-crisis saint). His conclusion: “Gorky...

    • 2 Anton Chekhov
      (pp. 83-105)

      In the fall of 1898, in the first flush of sudden celebrity, the thirty-year-old Gorky sent Anton Chekhov the two volumes of hisSketches and Stories,which he asked the older writer—Chekhov was eight years his senior and at the peak of his powers—to accept as a token “of the most sincere and ardent admiration.” “How many divine moments,” he wrote, “have I spent with your books! How many times have I wept over them, or raged like a trapped wolf, or laughed long and sadly.”¹ Thus began a cordial correspondence based on high mutual regard and characterized...

    • 3 L. A. Sulerzhitsky
      (pp. 106-114)

      The third and least-known of the figures around Tolstoy in Gorky’s memoir, Sulerzhitsky, was memorialized by Gorky soon after his death in December 1916 at the age of forty-two. This sketch explains a good deal about Tolstoy’s attitude toward the man—and, as always in these reminiscences, it reveals the memoirist himself in a new light.¹

      Leopold Sulerzhitsky, or Suler, as L. N. Tolstoy nicknamed him, was the son of a Kiev bookbinder, born in a cellar and educated on the street.

      “The street is the best of all academies,” he used to say cheerfully … “The street can give...

    • 4 Leonid Andreyev
      (pp. 115-163)

      Leonid Nikolayevich Andreyev (1871–1919) was, with Chekhov and Gorky, one of the most popular prose writers of the early twentieth century in Russia. His fiction, expressionist in manner, centers on the objectification of inner states; it orchestrates emotional and philosophical abstractions, and has at its best (as in “The Red Laugh” andThe Seven That Were Hanged) a genuine and unsettling hypnotic power. In its time it spoke to a widespread mood of enervation and foreboding in Russia and led Western readers to regard him as the latest incarnation of the Slavic soul, passionate and extreme, grappling portentously with...

    • 5 Alexander Blok
      (pp. 164-174)

      Alexander Alexandrovich Blok (1880–1921) was one of the great poets of his time and place, a symbolist, mystically inclined, attuned to questions of Russia’s destiny and prophetic in his premonitions about the cultural consequences of revolution. In terms of background, temperament, life experience, and artistic method, he and Gorky were polar opposites. That fact, acknowledged by both, is crucial to an understanding of Gorky’s memoir.

      Still, they fascinated each other, and what Anna Akhmatova said of Blok—that he was “a monument to the beginning of a century”—might with equal justice be said of Gorky. Each embodied—and...

  8. PART TWO Gorky:: Fragments from My Diary (Selections)

    • 6 Introduction
      (pp. 177-183)

      Gorky began work on the items that were to make up his bookFragments from My Diary. Reminiscencessoon after leaving Russia in 1921 for protracted expatriation in Germany and Italy. The project builds on his recently published memoirs of Tolstoy and Andreyev, taking its fragmentary structure from those works (and some of its impetus from the final volume of his autobiographical trilogy,My Universities[1923], on which he was working at the same time).

      Many factors led him to produce these sketches from memory. Leaving Russia, he was writing finis to five years of unremitting activity, all of it...

    • 7 The Town
      (pp. 184-193)

      This sketch introduces the volume.⁷ It reflects Gorky’s impressions from 1902, when he was exiled to Arzamas under police surveillance after being released from jail in Nizhnii (with Tolstoy’s help). In May of that year he characterized the town in a letter: “A splendid town. Thirty-six churches—and not a single library. Down the streets, which are paved with enormous chunks of gray rock, walk pigs, policemen, and ordinary folks. They walk slowly with the look of creatures utterly devoid of any active intentions. Street life is on a high level: the locals beat their wives on the sidewalks.”


    • 8 The Spider
      (pp. 194-197)

      Yermolai Makov, an old man who dealt in “antiquities,” was tall and thin and straight as a post. He walked the earth like a soldier on parade, inspecting everything with his huge bull’s eyes, whose dull, grayish-blue gleam suggested something morose and dim. I took him to be stupid, particularly because of one capricious and high-handed trait he had. He’d be offering you a scrivener’s inkwell, or a tavern-keeper’s prize ladle, or some ancient coin, and after bargaining hard and finally agreeing on the price, he would suddenly say in a funereal voice:

      “No, I don’t want to.”

      “Why not?”...

    • 9 The Executioner
      (pp. 198-200)

      Greshner, chief of the political investigation department of the Nizhnii Novgorod police, was a poet whose verses were published in conservative magazines and, I think, inNivaandRodina.

      I remember a few lines from them:

      Heartache comes crawling up from the floors

      And in through each one of the doors.

      It can cripple you, no doubt about it,

      Still, it’s worse to be living without it.

      Without it I’d feel so alone,

      Like the earth without people or beasts …

      He wrote an erotic poem in the album of a certain lady:

      There at the front door of the...

    • 10 People When They Think They’re Alone
      (pp. 201-206)

      Today I observed a diminutive blond lady with the unformed face of a girl, wearing gray gloves and cream-colored stockings, standing on the Trinity Bridge and gripping the railing as if about to jump into the river, and noticed that she was sticking out her little red tongue at the moon. The sly old moon was stealing into the sky through a cloud of dirty smoke; it was very large and red-faced, like a drunkard. The lady was taunting it in all seriousness—vindictively even, or so it seemed to me.

      That lady called to mind certain “oddities” that that...

    • 11 A Good Laugh
      (pp. 207-207)

      Funny things happen in war, too. For instance, five of us go into the forest for firewood when all of a sudden a shell from the Jerries lands—BAM! I’m knocked into the crater, covered with dirt, stones raining down on me. When I come to, I lie there and think: “Well, this is it! You’ve had it! You’ve kicked the bucket, Semyon!” But I come to a little more, I wipe my eyes, and—no buddies! The trees are all torn to pieces and I see that guts are hanging on some of the twigs. And I burst out...

    • 12 The Gardener
      (pp. 208-210)

      Splattering mud on the walls of buildings and on pedestrians, motorcars race down the street, rattling and roaring. Soldiers and sailors are packed tight in them, the steel needles of their bayonets looking like the bristles of gigantic enraged hedgehogs. From time to time the dry crackling of rifle shots can be heard. The revolution has started and the Russian people are in motion, rushing around as if trying to catch hold of freedom, as if freedom were to be found somewhere outside of themselves. In the Alexander Gardens a man who looks to be about fifty is working alone;...

    • 13 Instead of an Afterword
      (pp. 211-213)

      It is strange the way opinions sometimes coincide: In 1901, in the town of Arzamas, the archpriest Fyodor Vladimirsky declared:

      “Every people possesses a spiritual vision, a vision of aims and goals. Certain thinkers call this trait ‘the instinct of the nation,’ but as I understand it an instinct raises the question of how to live, whereas I am speaking of a vague uneasiness of mind and spirit about the question of what one should livefor. So, for instance, although the setting of practical goals is not much developed in us Russians because we haven’t yet built up our...

    • 14 Appendix: Gorky on Gorky
      (pp. 214-220)

      Introspection was never Gorky’s forte; a doer by nature, he was impatient with the merely personal. And of course the biography, which he was so concerned not to “spoil,” was so much more than the life (inner or outer) of the man, Alexei Peshkov; it was, as Gorky all but admitted and as countless commentators have insisted, a complex phenomenon with a life of its own.

      But that very fact makes one want to know—even after we understand that Peshkov achieved his selfhood by transcending it—who was there beneath the legend, behind the mask. And however doomed the...

  9. PART THREE Others on Gorky

    • 15 Khodasevich: “Gorky”
      (pp. 223-259)

      Vladislav Khodasevich (1886–1939), hailed by Vladimir Nabokov as “the greatest Russian poet of our time,” was also a critic, historian of literature, biographer, and—as this article shows—an extraordinarily gifted memoirist. Eighteen years Gorky’s junior and his polar opposite in temperament and esthetic views, he shared with Gorky a reverence for Russian literature and, during the time of their close association, an active concern for its future which found expression in their work together editing the journalBeseda(Colloquy). Conceived as a bimonthly meeting ground for Russian writers in emigration and in Soviet Russia, as well as for...

    • 16 Zamiatin: “M. Gorky”
      (pp. 260-272)

      One of the most brilliant and original writers of the early Soviet period, Evgeny Zamiatin (1884–1937) is best known outside Russia as the author ofWe(1920), a dystopian satire whose influence can be seen in Aldous Huxley’sBrave New Worldand George Orwell’s1984. His many stories, essays, and plays, though less known, are in no way no less remarkable.¹ His belief in writing as heresy inevitably got Zamiatin into trouble with Soviet censors and literary authorities. By the late 1920s he had to relinquish his post as leader of the All-Russian Union of Writers; soon after, his...

    • 17 Eikhenbaum: “Gorky as a Russian Writer”
      (pp. 273-279)

      Boris Mikhailovich Eikhenbaum (1886–1959), a leading historian, theoretician, and critic of Russian literature (and the preeminent interpreter of Tolstoy in his generation), wrote this piece for a Leningrad conference devoted to Gorky in December 1927, shortly before the writer’s first return to Russia from his seven-year expatriation in Germany and Italy. At this time Eikhenbaum was turning away from text-centered study to the larger questions of literature’s functioning in society—and to the ways in which the writer’s “behavior” and public image join (and may even on occasion outweigh) his texts themselves in the public’s sense of him. The...

    • 18 Adamovich: “Maxim Gorky”
      (pp. 280-286)

      Georgy Viktorovich Adamovich (1894–1972) left the Soviet Union in 1922; from 1923 on he lived in Paris, where his articles and reviews in the Russian-language press quickly established him as one of the most influential émigré critics of the interwar period. It is from the point of view of a Russian living abroad and contemplating Gorky’s apparently unqualified embrace of Stalin’s regime that Adamovich writes, with a directness, a balance (refusing to reduce Gorky to the sum of his weaknesses), an independence, and a literary acumen that make this obituary a document of lasting value.¹

      It would be natural...

  10. Afterword: The Presence of M. Gorky
    (pp. 287-290)

    After sketching some of the parameters of Gorky’s historical singularity, the introduction to this book ended by suggesting that the time might be ripe for separating the writing from the writer, and the writer from the legend that went by his name, acted in that name, and for four decades led an evolving life of its own.

    A trial separation of that sort is more than legitimate, it is overdue. But it entails unusual difficulties. One reason is indicated by Adamovich when he writes: “What is important in Gorky is the wellspring, the deep source of the writing. Behind his...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 291-297)