Critical Context

Leonid Andreyev first came to fame as a fiction writer, and in the early years of the twentieth century he was ranked alongside Anton Chekhov and Maxim Gorky. His short stories dealt with controversial social issues, which placed him more or less in the camp of nineteenth century crusading realism—on its scandalous side, since he favored taboo subjects such as rape, venereal disease, and criminal insanity. He himself tended to associate with the realists and their concern for political and social improvement, but at the same time, Andreyev’s fascination with the pathological side of human nature and with grandiose metaphysical schemes links him with the Decadents and the Symbolists.

These latter alliances were part of the general renaissance of Russian high culture known as the Silver Age, and their “reevaluation of values,” for good or ill, embraced all the arts. What this meant for theater was, in part, a rejection of realist conventions and a return to conscious artifice and even ritual, be it commedia dell’arte, puppet theater, circus, or Greek tragedy.

Andreyev did write a number of plays in a realistic vein, including K zvezdam (pb. 1905, pr. 1906; To the Stars, 1907) and Yekaterina Ivanovna (pb. 1912; Katerina, 1923). Early in his career, he declared his intention to reform Russian drama, and The Life of Man was to be the introduction “both in form and content” to an...

(The entire section is 459 words.)