Foma Gordeyev is Maxim Gorky’s first novel. Some see in it the ebullience of a young writer flexing his wings, exhibiting shortcomings typical of a novice; others see it as his best novel. Interestingly, this early work harbors both Gorky’s favorite themes and the main characteristics of his style. It can be said that the changes in Gorky’s artistic style after this work were only a matter of degree.
From the outset, Gorky was preoccupied with social themes. At the end of the nineteenth century, Russia found itself in the throes of a rapid rise of the merchant class and of industry, while the huge peasant and working masses sank deeper and deeper into poverty and despair. This development led straight to the revolution of 1917 and to Communist rule for seven decades. Intellectuals played a significant role in this, and Gorky was one of the leading writers with revolutionary and Marxist leanings. He was determined to help right the wrongs and to bring about a better life for all people, especially the downtrodden. He chose the pen name Gorky (“bitter”) to underscore the intensity of his feelings. He was basically an idealist, a humanitarian who wanted to achieve his altruistic goals with love and kindness, not with fire and sword. His moderate attitude often brought him into conflict with the less forgiving revolutionaries, although he remained a supporter of the revolution to the end.
All this was to come later in his life. In 1899, his revolutionary development had just begun. For that reason, Foma Gordeyev lacks the purposefulness of his later works, yet the contours of his ideological profile are discernible already. The novel deals with the rise of the merchant class, embodied in Ignat Gordeyev and his son, Foma. The two will eventually evolve into opposing poles....
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