Leonid Andreyev Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Leonid Nikolayevich Andreyev was born about two hundred miles south of Moscow in the provincial city of Orel on August 9, 1871. His father, a land surveyor, died in Andreyev’s early childhood, and Andreyev was reared in poverty and loneliness. Perhaps in part as a result of these deprivations, he was subject to fits of depression that led eventually to three unsuccessful suicide attempts. Many aspects of Andreyev’s personality are highlighted in Max Beerbohm’s parodic portrait, “Kolnijatsch” in And Even Now (1920), of the Russian writer who so intrigued the English at the turn of the century. According to Beerbohm, the writers of Andreyev’s generation led lives “not void of those sensational details” that so interested the reading public: early alcoholism, streaks of madness, rash acts, and defiant rejection of all norms and fundamental conditions of life. This view is reinforced by the label “Decadents,” popularly applied to a group of writers whose “message,” according to Beerbohm, was “too elemental, too near to very naked Nature for exact definition.” More than any other writer of the day, Andreyev fits this image generally held in the West of a Russian writer. Often behaviorally outside the norm, Andreyev at times seemed a savage somber soul, whose wild, barbarous, even animalistic tendencies came out in his creative heroes. With his mane of black hair, burning eyes, pale handsome face, and proud mouth, he looked and played the part of his own dark, turbulent protagonists. One characteristically sensational episode in Andreyev’s life was his childhood flirtation with sudden death, when he lay down between the tracks to let an approaching train pass over him.

An insatiable reader,...

(The entire section is 710 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Leonid Nikolayevich Andreyev (uhn-DRYAY-yuhf), called by one critic a morbid pessimist and mournful humanist, was born into turbulent times in 1871. Born and educated in Orel, he continued his training for law in Moscow, where he was awarded a university degree in 1896. Depressed by his background and poverty and uncertain of his future, he was said to have attempted suicide on three occasions.

Andreyev’s training for the law gave him his first writing job as a court reporter, and he later worked on the staff of the Moscow Courier. His first story, “They Lived,” was published in Zhizn (life), a monthly magazine, in 1899, arousing the interest of the public and critics alike. Maxim Gorky befriended the young writer and urged publication of a series of short stories, which appeared in 1901. Some of these caught the eye of the critic Michailovsky. Andreyev also came to the attention of Sophia, the Countess Tolstoy, with a story called “In the Fog,” which she labeled indecent in 1902. Because of censure he lived for a time in Finland, a country to which he fled later for quite different reasons. He also served a short prison term with his friend Gorky in 1905 for anticzarist activities. He opposed war, dictatorship, and capital punishment. Later he supported the Kerensky faction rather than the Bolsheviks, advocating the cause of democracy during World War I.

In his plays he vacillated between realism and symbolism, achieving a greater degree of success in the latter because he could find a wider range for his expression of the deterioration and bitterness he observed at every hand. His two...

(The entire section is 670 words.)