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 Maxim Gorky

Born:   16 March 1868
Deceased:   18 June 1936

Russian writer, playwright and political activist


Maxim Gorky, also known as Alexey Maximovich Peshkov, is a famous Russian writer, playwright, a founder of the Socialist Realism literary method and a political activist. One of the most popular authors at the turn of XIX-XX centuries, he was a master of creation of the image of classical Russian "bosyak"("tramp"). Gorky, being a revolutionary writer, always was in the opposition to the tsarism, and close to Social Democrats. Throughout his life, he was repeatedly disillusioned about different political ideas and tendencies. However, he always considered the benefit of the Russian people as the highest good for the country's authorities.

  Gorky was born in Nizhny Novgorod on 16th March, 1868 and learnt early the harsh lessons of life. His father, Maxim Peshkov, worked as a shipping agent, but when the boy was only five years old, his father died. Later his mother remarried, and little Maxim was sent to live with his maternal grandparents. Forced by his grandfather, he worked as a dishwasher, a shoemaker and an icon painter and also was taught to read and write. But the conditions in grandfather's house were poor and often violent, so, in 1879, at the age of of twelve, Gorky ran away from home and barely survived, half starving, moving from one small job to the next. The bitterness of these early experiences led him to choose the name Maxim Gorky (which means "the bitter one") as his pseudonym.

Gorky's teenage years were spent working in Kazan as a baker, docker, and night watchman. At the age of 21, Gorky attempted suicide, shooting a bullet through his lung. Although he survived, his lungs never fully recovered. In 1884 he tried to enter Kazan Univercity, without success. The same time he got acquainted with Marxist ideology and propagandistic literature and even was arrested in 1888 for the connections with the N.E. Fedoseev's circle. 
In 1891 Maxim Gorky left Kazan and tramped around the country to the southern Caucasus and back again.
 During the course of this two-year journey, he became acquainted with the lowest members of society, the derelicts, theives, and prostitutes. In 1892 his first short-story, "Makar Chudra", appeared in the Tiflis newspaper, Kavkaz.

At the age of 24, he decided to rejoin society and took a job as a reporter for a provincial newspaper, where he wrote under the pseudonym Jehudiel Khlamida. Then Gorky managed to publish a few short stories, mostly about the tramps and derelicts he had met on his journeys. These short stories soon became very popular, touching the imagination of the Russian people. Gorky became a kind of folk hero and his reputation as a unique literary voice from the bottom strata of society grew. No wonder, that by 1899, he was openly associating with the emerging Marxist social-democratic movement, which helped Gorky to meet many interesting people and gain the reputation as the voice of revolution. He publicly opposed the Tsarist regime and was arrested many times. He donated money to party funds and helped with the distribution of radical newspapers, such as Iskra ("Spark"). Gorky wrote many articles for newspaper where he criticized many aspects of Russian life, as well as Russian authorities and their political decisions. 

In 1902 Gorky was elected to the Imperial Academy of Literature, but, by order of Nicholas II, that decision was annulled. In protest, several writers, including Anton Chekhov and Vladimir Korolenko, left the Academy.
 In 1901-1902 Maxim Gorky worked at two big plays. The first to appear on the stage was "The Smug Citizen" (1902) which portrayed the worker as superior to the average intellectual. The play was produced by the Moscow Art Theatre in 1902, but only in a censored version. The majority of that play's success was provoked by the public demonstrations against Gorky's oppression by the police. Without these disoders the play lost much of people's interest.
 Gorky's second play, The Lower Depths (1902), however, had far more successful life. Produced by the Moscow Art Theatre in 1902, the play was full of striking characterizations, based mostly on outcasts Gorky had met during his travels. Gorky wrote not only about the injustices of his society, but also continued to explain some revolutionary ideas. 

Being a financially-successful author and playwright, Maxim Gorky supported the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) and some other liberal activities. The brutal shooting of workers marching to the Tsar with a petition for reform on January 9, 1905 (known as the "Bloody Sunday") convinced Gorky in the necessity of the Revolution. As a result of Gorky's activities, he also continued to be in and out of jail. During one prison sentence, he composed The Children of the Sun (1905). After the abortive revolution of 1905, in which he was involved, Gorky was sent by the Bolsheviks on a fund-raising trip to the United States, where in the Adirondack Mountains Gorky wrote his famous novel of revolutionary conversion and struggle - The Mother. During this period, he also wrote Summer Folk (1903), Barbarians (1906), and Enemies (1906), The Last Ones (1908), Queer People (1910), Vassa Zheleznova (1910)

He arrived in New York on 28th March, 1906. His campaign tour was organized by a group of writers that included Ernest Poole, William Dean Howells, Jack London, Mark Twain, Charles Beard, and Upton Sinclair. American press decided to run a smear campaign against Gorky, accusing him of travelling with a woman who was not his wife. That scandal complicated Gorky's work, several people changed their mind about supporting his campaign. But the majority of people continued to support him.

Gorky returned to Russia in 1914, just in time for World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. Although he agreed with the Bolsheviks in opposing Russia's involvement in the war, he opposed their seizure of power in 1917 and publicly criticized Lenin's methods, calling him a tyrant for his senseless arrests and repressions and compared him to the Tsar.
Gorky wrote in the New Life that the Bolsheviks had betrayed the ideals of generations of reformers. The Bolshevik government controlled the distribution of newsprint and in July, 1918, it cut off supplies to New Life and Gorky was forced to close his newspaper.

During the terrible famine of 1921, Gorky used his world fame to appeal for funds to provide food for the people starving in Russia. One of those who responded was Herbert Hoover, head of the American Relief Administration (ARA).
After the October Revolution the new government got Joseph Stalin to begin the attack on Gorky. In 1921, the famous Russian poet and Gorky's friend, Nikolai Gumilyov was arrested by the Petrograd Cheka for his monarchist views and later was shot, in spite of Gorky's attempts to rescue him. Totally disillusioned with post-revolutionairy life, he went
abroad, first to Germany, then to Italy, where he remained from 1922 to 1930.

Joseph Stalin attempted to bring an end to Gorky's exile by inviting him back to his homeland to celebrate the author's sixtieth birthday. Gorky accepted the invitation and returned on 20th May, 1928, but later left again. He visited the USSR several times after 1929, mainly for Josef Stalin's invitations. Stalin wanted Gorky to write a biography of him. He refused but did take the opportunity to seek help for those writers being persecuted in the Soviet Union. In return, Gorky agreed to publicly support some of Stalin's policies. For example, in 1929 he wrote a positive article about the Gulag, which had already gained ill fame in the West. Later Gorky admitted that everything he had written was under the control of censors.

Stalin openly used Gorky and his return to the Soviet Union as an important weapon of his propaganda. Gorky was decorated with the Order of Lenin and given a mansion. Many streets, theatres, towns, villages, universities, libraries were named in his honour. But later, with the increase of Stalinist repressions and especially after the assassination of Sergey Kirov in December 1934, Gorky was placed under unannounced house arrest in his house near Moscow. He suddenly died of a heart attack on 18th June, 1936, two years after the death of Gorky's son Maxim Peshkov in May 1934. The circumstances of Gorky's death aren't revealed in full yet. There were rumours that Stalin had arranged for him to be murdered. These rumours were given some support when Genrikh Yagoda, the head of the NKVD at the time of his death,
was successfully convicted of Gorky's murder in 1938.

Gorky left behind a body of work that helped to found socialist realism. His other plays include The Zykovs (1914), The Old Man (1919), The Counterfeit Coin (1926), Yegor Bulychov (1931), and Dostegayev and Others (1933). In addition to his plays, novels, and short stories, he also wrote an autobiographical trilogy consisting of My Childhood (1914), In the World (1916), and My Universities (1923).



  • 1899 — Foma Gordeev
  • 1900—1901 — Three of Them
  • 1906 — The Mother
  • 1925 — The Artamonov Business
  • 1925—1936— Life of Klim Samgin 


  • 1908 — The Life of a Useless Man
  • 1908 — A Confession
  • 1909 — Summer
  • 1909 — Okurov Town, The Life of Matvei Kozhemyakin 
  • 1913—1914 — My Childhood
  • 1915—1916 — In the World
  • 1923 — My Universities 

Stories, essays

  • 1892 — A Girl and Death
  • 1892 — Makar Chudra
  • 1895 — Chelkash, Old Woman Izergil
  • 1897 — Ex-people, Orlov Spouses, Malva, Konovalov
  • 1898 — Sketches and Stories
  • 1899 — The Song of the a Falcon, Twenty six and one
  • 1901 — The Song of the Stormy Petrel
  • 1903 — A Man
  • 1906 — Comrade!
  • 1911 —  Tales of Italy
  • 1912-1917 — Through Russia
  • 1924 — Stories of 1922—1924 years
  • 1924 — The Notes from my Dictionary


  • 1901 — The Smug Citizens
  • 1902 — The Lower Depths
  • 1904 — Summerfolk
  • 1905 — Children of the Sun, Barbarians
  • 1906 — Enemies
  • 1910 — Vassa Zheleznova
  • 1915 — The Old Man
  • 1930-1931 — Somov and Others
  • 1932 — Yegor Bulychov and Others
  • 1933 — Dostigayev and Others,


  • 1906 — My Interviews, In America
  • 1917—1918 — My Inopportune Thoughts (series of articles)
  • 1922 — About Russian Peasantry

Sources: Wikipedia (eng), (rus) Imagi-Nation Spartacus Classical Literature

Julia Alieva

Tags: Maxim Gorky Russian Writers Russian Literature   

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