Maxim Gorki



  • (Alexei Maximovich Pyeshkov; 1868 - 1936) Russian playwright,novelist, short-story writer, and poet, who championed the cause ofthe socially outcast. Gorki, whose pen name means 'bitter', was oneof the few Russian dramatists to find success in both the Tsaristand Soviet eras.

    An orphan, Gorki was brought up by his grandparents and spent muchof his youth living as a vagrant and working in menial jobs. Theseexperiences provided material for his early writings, whichbrought him sudden celebrity in the late 1890s. His first play Scenes inthe House of Bersemenov was staged at the Moscow Art Theatre in1902 at the behest of Chekhov. Later that year Stanislavsky directedthe same company in The Lower Depths, Gorki's most influential work.It is a masterpiece of naturalism set amongst derelicts ina Moscow flop house. The Lower Depths opened in 1903 in Londonand in Berlin, where Max Reinhardt's production ran for over 500 performances.That same year, Chekhov wrote:

    Gorki is the first in Russia and in the world at large tohave expressed contempt and loathing for the petty bourgeoisie andhe has done it at the precise moment when society is ready for protest.
    Between 1902 and 1915 Gorki wrote another 13 plays, including Summerfolk(1904), Children of the Sun (1905), Enemies (1906),which was not produced in Russia until 1933, and The Zykovs(1913), which enjoyed a successful revival at the Aldwych Theatrein 1976, starring Mia Farrow and David Jones.

    An ardent reformer, Gorki took a prominent role in the abortiverevolution of 1905 and was briefly imprisoned after its failure. On hisrelease, he spent several years in exile in Italy. Although initially asupporter of the Bolshevik Revolution, he soon came to distrust the new regimeand from 1921 he again chose to live abroad. When he finally returned in 1931,at the personal invitation of Stalin, he was feted as a national hero and becamea leading apologist for the dictator's rule. His last major work for the stagewas a trilogy about the fall of the Russian bourgeoisie comprisingYegor Bulychov and Others (1932), Dostigayev and Others (1933),and the uncompleted Somov and Others. Having incurred Stalin'ssuspicion, Gorki spent his last years living under a form of unofficial housearrest and many have concluded that his death was caused by poison; both Stalinand Molotov were pallbearers at his funeral. The Grand Gorki Theatre inSt Petersburg, which opened in 1919, is named in his honour. Gorki's birthplace,Nizhny-Novgorod, was also renamed after him in 1932 but reverted to its originalname in 1991.