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,...
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