Other Literary Forms

0111206323-Gorky.jpg Maxim Gorky (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Maxim Gorky wrote in many genres, including several novels, of which Foma Gordeyev (1899; English translation, 1901), Mat (1906; Mother, 1906), Delo Artamonovykh (1925; Decadence, 1927; also known as The Artamonov Business (1927), and Zhizn Klima Samgina (1927-1936; The Life of Klim Samgin, 1930-1938) are the best known. He also wrote several plays, among which the most acclaimed is Na dne (pr., pb. 1902; The Lower Depths, 1912). His three-part autobiography, Detstvo (1913; My Childhood, 1915), V lyudyakh (1916; In the World, 1917), and Moi universitety (1923; My Universities, 1923), is perhaps his most moving work. His reminiscences of literary friends, as well as his letters, are valuable documents for the literary history and atmosphere of his time.


Maxim Gorky appeared at the end of the nineteenth century and of the Golden Age of Russian literature. Thus he spent most of his career writing in the shadow of the giants. Caught in the revolutionary spirit, he spent his entire life fighting for a better lot for his people, mostly through his writings. He was the founder of the new realistic trend best suited for that purpose. To that end he wrote many works, depicting the depth of social injustice and poverty of his people, as best illustrated in his play The Lower Depths. During the revolution, he strove to preserve Russian culture threatened by the wanton destruction, and he did his best to help young writers. In the last years of his life, he was revered as the doyen of Soviet literature, even though he distanced himself from the excesses of the revolution. Some of his stories, novels, and plays are considered to belong to the best works in Russian literature of the twentieth century.

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Maxim Gorky began his career as a short-story writer and originally gained renown for his works in that genre. In 1898, a two-volume collection called Ocherki i rasskazy (sketches and stories) appeared in St. Petersburg. A third volume came out the following year. Although Gorky is today perhaps better known for his work within other genres, he continued to write stories regularly into the 1920’s, and several of his short works are among his finest achievements: “Chelkash” (1895; English translation, 1901), “Byvshye lyudi” (1897; “Creatures That Once Were Men,” 1905), and “Dvadtsat’ shest’ i odna” (1899; “Twenty-six Men and a Girl,” 1902). Gorky’s first published novel was Foma Gordeyev (1899; English translation, 1901), which, like many of his plays and subsequent novels, describes the life and mores of the merchant class in provincial Russia. His novel Mat (1906; Mother, 1906), which was written in the United States, deals with the emerging revolutionary forces in Russia. It achieved enormous popular success and, after the Bolshevik revolution, served as a model for the definition of socialist realism. After working intensively in this genre throughout the first decade of the twentieth century, Gorky published only two more novels during the last twenty-five years of his career. Of these, Zhizn Klima Samgina (1927-1936; The Life of Klim Samgin, 1930-1938), while left unfinished at his death, is a massive four-volume work that offers virtually an encyclopedia of Russia’s social and intellectual currents during the forty years that led up to the revolution.

Gorky’s nonfiction is also an important part of his achievement. Indeed, many would rank his autobiographical trilogy—Detstvo (1913; My Childhood, 1915), V lyudyakh (1916; In the World, 1917), and Moi universitety (1923; My Universities, 1923)—as the crowning work of his career. Also receiving much critical acclaim are his memoirs of writers, notably those devoted to Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, and Leonid Andreyev. In each case, Gorky manages to create a powerful living portrait out of a few seemingly insignificant details. Finally, Gorky also wrote many literary reviews and essays, as well as writings on social and political topics.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Maxim Gorky was one of the most prominent figures in Russian literature from the late 1890’s until his death. His importance extended well beyond his purely literary accomplishments. In 1899, he became a member of the Sreda (“Wednesday”) Circle, a group of realistic writers who met to discuss their ongoing work. He rapidly emerged as the leading figure in the group, and in 1903 he began to put out the Znanie anthologies, which published the work of the group’s members and achieved great popularity in subsequent years. Throughout his career, Gorky continued his efforts as editor, publisher, and organizer. After the 1917 revolution, he was instrumental in establishing projects that would give writers both outlets for publishing and an established income. To take care of their material needs, he helped set up several “houses” that provided shelter, food rations, and a place to meet. After leaving Russia in 1921, he continued his journalistic efforts abroad, and during his final years in the Soviet Union, he helped formulate the doctrine of socialist realism, which, for better or worse, became the guiding credo of Soviet literature for at least the next two decades.

Gorky was also deeply involved in politics from the start of his literary career. Although his relationship with Vladimir Ilich Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders was not always smooth, his early support helped give him much authority when they took power. Gorky provided editorial guidance and material aid to countless writers; for that alone his service was of immeasurable importance for Russian literature.

Gorky’s plays, like much of his fiction, are notable first of all for broadening the thematic scope of Russian literature. Most famous in this regard is The Lower Depths. In treating...

(The entire section is 732 words.)

Other literary forms

Maxim Gorky (GAWR-kee) wrote a total of fifteen plays, only three of which were staged during his lifetime: Na dne (pr., pb. 1902; The Lower Depths, 1912), Vassa Zheleznova (pb. 1910; English translation, 1945), and Yegor Bulychov i drugiye (pr., pb. 1932; Yegor Bulychov and Others, 1937). His other plays include Meshchane (pr., pb. 1902; Smug Citizen, 1906), Dachniki (pr., pb. 1904; Summer Folk, 1905), Deti solntsa (pr., pb. 1905; Children of the Sun, 1906), Varvary (pr., pb. 1906; Barbarians, 1906), Vragi (pb. 1906; Enemies, 1945), Chudake (pr., pb. 1910; Queer People, 1945), Falshivaya moneta (pr., pb. 1927, wr. 1913; the counterfeit coin), Zykovy (pb. 1914; The Zykovs, 1945), Starik (pr. 1919, wr. 1915; Old Man, 1924), and Dostigayev i drugiye (pr., pb. 1933; Dostigayev and Others, 1937). All are available in Russian in the thirty-volume Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (1949-1955; complete works), in the twenty-five-volume Polnoe sobranie sochinenii (1968-1976), and in English in Seven Plays (1945), Five Plays (1956), and Plays (1975). The eight-volume Collected Works of Maxim Gorky (1979-1981), is also available.

Gorky wrote about three hundred short stories. Among the most important are “Makar Chudra” (1892; English translation, 1901), “Chelkash” (1895; English translation, 1901), “Starukha Izergil” (1895; “The Old Woman Izergil”), “Malva” (1897; English translation), “V stepi” (1897; “In the Steppe”), “Dvadtsat’ shest’ i odna” (1899; “Twenty-six Men and a Girl,” 1902), “Pesnya o burevestnike” (1901; “Song of the Stormy Petrel”), “Pesnya o sokole” (1908; “Song of the Falcon”), and the collections Po Rusi (1915; Through Russia, 1921) and Skazki ob Italii (1911-1913; Tales of Italy, 1958?). A three-volume collection of his stories, Ocherki i rasskazy, was first published in Russian in 1898-1899. The short stories are available in the collected works; some of the best of them are available in English in Selected Short Stories (1959), introduced by Stefan Zweig.

Among Gorky’s numerous essays, articles, and nonfiction books, the most important are “O Karamazovshchine” (1913; “On Karamazovism”), “Revolyutsia i kultura” (1917; “Revolution and Culture”), Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1924; V. I. Lenin, 1931), and “O meshchanstve” (1929; “On the Petty Bourgeois Mentality”). The collection Untimely Thoughts: Essays on Revolution, Culture, and the Bolsheviks (1968) includes many of these essays in English translation.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Hailed by Soviet critics as a true proletarian writer and the model of Socialist Realism, Maxim Gorky is one of few authors to see their native towns renamed in their honor. Many schools, institutes, universities, and theaters bear his name, as does one of the main streets in Moscow. These honors, says Helen Muchnic, resulted from the fact that Gorky, along with Vladimir Ilich Lenin and Joseph Stalin, “shaped and disseminated the country’s official philosophy.” Stalin admired Gorky greatly, awarding him the coveted Order of Lenin. As chair of the All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934, Gorky delivered an address in which he defined Socialist Realism, a doctrine that was to be interpreted in a manner different from what...

(The entire section is 576 words.)


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Barratt, Andrew. The Early Fiction of Maksim Gorky: Six Essays in Interpretation. Nottingham, England: Astra Press, 1993. Excellent essays on Gorky’s early works. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Borras, F. M. Maxim Gorky the Writer: An Interpretation. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1962. One of the more astute interpretations of Gorky’s works, especially his novels and plays. Unlike many other books that concentrate either on biography or political issues, Borras’s book emphasizes Gorky’s artistic achievements. Chapter 2 analyzes his short stories.

Figes, Orlando. “Maxim Gorky and the Russian Revolution.” History Today 46 (June, 1996): 16-22. Argues...

(The entire section is 670 words.)