Maxim Gorky was born Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov on March 28, 1868, in a central Russian town, Nizhniy-Novgorod, into a small-merchant family. The family became impoverished in his childhood, and when Gorky was three, his father died and his mother remarried. After she died, he went to live with his grandparents but left home at fifteen, looking for work. He wandered through Russia for several years. At one time, he attempted suicide because of his hard life. Then, he met one of the leading Russian writers, Vladimir Korolenko, and his life was changed forever, as he discovered an ability and urge to write. He published his first story, “Makar Chudra,” in 1892, under the pseudonym of Maxim Gorky (“Maxim the Bitter”), a name that he kept throughout his career. He continued to write at a steady pace for the rest of his life.
He was arrested as a political activist in 1898, an event that foreshadowed a lifetime of revolutionary activity. The publication in 1899 of his first novel, Foma Gordeyev, established him as a leading younger writer and brought him the friendship of Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and other well-known writers. He was arrested again but released at Tolstoy’s intervention. He fled to Finland, visited the United States in 1906, and settled on the Italian island of Capri, where he met Vladimir Ilich Lenin and other Russian luminaries, who flocked to him as on a pilgrimage. He returned to Russian in 1913, continued the...
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Maxim Gorky presents the would-be biographer with a paradox. On one hand, vast amounts of information exist about certain periods in his life. Gorky himself composed, in addition to his autobiographical trilogy, numerous memoirs as well as sketches and stories that are directly based on his life. In 1930, replying to a questionnaire that had been sent to a group of prominent writers, he noted that autobiographical material served as the basis for most of his works. Further, from the late 1890’s on, he lived an extremely public life. As a literary celebrity his every pronouncement was recorded, his letters saved by his correspondents, his deeds recalled and described by countless memoirists. On the other hand, not all the material is reliable. Memoirists can be self-serving. Gorky himself treated his autobiographical writings as literary rather than purely factual works, and even the correspondence sometimes reveals contradictory information. Also, several aspects of Gorky’s biography—his activities just after the 1917 revolution, his life in the Soviet Union following his return, and the circumstances of his death—remain clouded by a paucity of factual records and obfuscation caused by efforts to make him a sacred figure within the Soviet literary establishment.
Aleksey Maksimovich Peshkov (Gorky, his nom de plume, means “bitter”) was born in 1868 in Nizhny-Novgorod, a major trading and manufacturing center on the Volga River, famous for its annual fair. When he was three years old, the Peshkovs moved to Astrakhan, another town on the Volga. The young Aleksey contracted cholera during an epidemic. Although he recovered, his father caught the disease and died. The mother and son returned to Nizhny-Novgorod and moved in with her parents, the Kashirins. Vasily Kashirin owned a dye-works in the town and was stern with both his workers and his family. Aleksey, however, became extremely close to his grandmother, Akulina, who instilled in him a fondness for folktales that remained with him all his life and had a great influence on his work. After his mother’s death in 1879, the eleven-year-old Aleksey worked as an apprentice in various shops and began his education, which consisted largely of reading works of fiction. In 1884, he went to Kazan, where he hoped to enter the university. Lacking sufficient knowledge or funds, however, he worked instead at a number of different jobs and, in 1887,...
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