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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Leonid Andreyev (1871–1919)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Fred Newton Scott (1860–1931)
 
LEONID NIKOLAIVICH ANDREYEV, one of the most original and versatile of the men-of-letters of his generation, was born August 9th, 1871, in Orel (pronounced Ahr-yōl'), a commercial city of central Russia. From his father, an unimaginative and not very successful surveyor, he seems to have derived but little. His most characteristic traits came to him, as so often has been the case with Russian artists, from a Polish mother. His early education he obtained partly at home, where his mother taught him drawing, and partly in the public schools of Orel. By his own confession, he was not an apt scholar. In the lower grades he was usually at the foot of the class, and even in the high school, where he seems to have passed the happiest days of his life, his most profitable hours were spent roaming about the corridors, listening to the hum of voices in the class-rooms and watching the play of sunlight on the walls. At the age of seventeen he began to suffer from fits of depression and three times attempted suicide.  1
  He was at this early period a voracious reader, being especially fond, in poetry and fiction, of Jules Verne, Dickens, Poe, Victor Hugo, Gogol, Tolstoy, and the Scandinavian realist, Hamsun; and in philosophy, of von Hartmann, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. The two books which in his own opinion influenced him most were Schopenhauer’s ‘The World as Will and Idea,’ and the Bible.  2
  From the city high school he went to the University of Petrograd and later to the University of Moscow, graduating from the law department of the latter in 1897. Like most Russian students, his funds were usually at low ebb and he knew what it was to go hungry. Indeed, his first literary composition, written to relieve his own dire necessity, was entitled ‘The Hungry Student.’ He offered the manuscript to the editor of The Week, but it was returned with smiles.  3
  The practice of the law proving unremunerative—he tried but one case, and lost that—Andreyev turned first to journalism and then to literature. His first stories attracted almost immediately the attention of leading authors and critics, more particularly, and fortunately, the attention of Maksim Gorky and the celebrated critic Merezhkovsky. The public was not less appreciative, and within two years he was fairly launched upon his literary career. This he has since pursued with avidity and with great industry. Andreyev is a prolific writer. Between 1898 and 1916 he published sixteen dramas and dramatic pieces, and more than seventy short stories and novels. Many of the latter writings have enjoyed great popularity, not only in Russia, but in France, Germany, England, and America. His dramas, though brilliantly successful in Russia, have, for obvious reasons, been slow in gaining a foothold in the theatres of other countries.  4
  Andreyev’s contribution to Russian literature is in some respects similar to that of the writers who have preceded him; in other respects it is a wide departure. Speaking at large, one may say that the dominant traits of Russian literature of the past half century have been two: first, a grim, uncompromising realism, such as that of Dostoyevsky, in which the author contemplates nature and human nature with the eyes of a child and the intelligence of a Mephistopheles, and second, an all-embracing, all-tolerating sympathy for the sad lot of humankind. Both of these traits Andreyev possesses in generous measure. In many of his stories he has blended them skillfully, as for example, in ‘The Seven who were Hanged’ (1908)—a masterpiece of pathos and realistic description. But to these two leading characteristics Andreyev has added two others, dramatic symbolism and the fantastic,—neither of them unknown to Russian literature, though no one before him had developed them in so great measure.  5
  Andreyev’s symbolic dramas are a return to the mediæval morality plays. ‘The Life of Man’ (1906) is a modern and scientific ’Everyman.’ God is displaced by a cold, indifferent Being in Gray, who, without pity and without malice, watches the candle of life burn to the socket. Man is represented as a talented architect who becomes rich and famous and then falls into poverty. His end is utter annihilation. In ‘King Hunger’ (1907), screws, bolts, hammers, and furnaces have speaking parts, and the workingmen pray to the machine as to their god. ‘Anathema’ (1909), the most grandiose of his dramas, is in effect the story of Satan and Job in a modern dress.  6
  Powerful as these dramas, and other, non-symbolic dramas, are, they are uneven in quality, now exhibiting a rude, Æschylean strength, now sinking into mere stage-carpentry. Their purport also is frequently so clouded that it is hard to say whether the mystifying passages are veiled hints of things too profound, too subtle, or perhaps too horrible, to be seen face to face, or are merely discrepant ideas that the author’s imagination has failed to weld into an artistic unity. The truth seems to be that Andreyev has a taint of Victor-Hugoish theatricality, which often leads him to substitute the cleverness of the accomplished playwright for the insight of the dramatist.  7
  Andreyev’s use of the fantastic and the horrible is closely akin to that of Poe, by whom he is greatly influenced, and suggests the early dramas of Maeterlinck, whom Andreyev professes not to admire. But whatever the literary influences may have been, the blending of the uncanny with the symbolic, as in ‘The Black Maskers’ (1908) and ‘The Life of Man,’ or with unsparing realism, as in the short stories ‘Lazarus’ and ‘The Red Laugh,’ is a new thing. For sheer ingenuity of invention few writers have surpassed him. In this field perhaps the short story ‘Thought’ (1902), translated under the title ‘A Dilemma,’ marks his highest reach.  8
  Though the scope of Andreyev’s genius is remarkably wide, ranging from the airiest fancies to a hideous and even morbid naturalism, the prevailing tone, like that of most Russian literature, is somber. To such an attitude of mind it is customary to apply the term pessimism, but if Andreyev is a pessimist his type is unique. He himself rejects the appellation. “Pessimism,” he once said, “rings false in the performance of a great artist. The pessimism I hold to is not scientific pessimism, far removed from life, but household pessimism, of which the flies perish.” “Hope through despair” seems to be his doctrine, in as far as he professes one. Face the worst, he would say; have it out with fate; something may lie beyond. “Pass through your unbelief,” he is reported to have said; “master it in order that you may live” and believe. Like the dying man in Tolstoy’s “Ivan Ilüch” he gives the light at the moment when the darkness is complete. “He was tortured by a feeling that he was being pushed into a black hole, and yet more by the feeling that he could not enter it…. Suddenly some force struck him on the chest and flank, stifling him; he was thrust down the black hole, and there at the bottom he espied a ray of light.” The ray of light in Andreyev’s writings is, it must be confessed, often very dim and very remote, but that it should be there at all is significant, and distinguishes Andreyev from many, perhaps most, of his Russian contemporaries.  9
  A fairly complete bibliography both of Andreyev’s writings and of criticisms of them forms the supplement to ‘Plays by Leonid Andreyef’ (New York, Chas. Scribner’s Sons, 1915). A readable essay on Andreyev is included in W. L. Phelps’s ‘Russian Novelists.’ Those who read Russian will find in L’vov-Rogachevskii’s ‘Dve Pravdy’ (Two Truths) a profusion of biographical details and an exhaustive bibliography.  10
 
 
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