Maxim Gorki - Encyclopedia

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MAXIM GORKI (1868-), the pen-name of the Russian novelist Alexei Maximovich Pyeshkov, who was born at NizhniNovgorod on the 26th of March 1868. His father was a dyer, but he lost both his parents in childhood, and in his ninth year was sent to assist in a boot-shop. We find him afterwards in a variety of callings, but devouring books of all sorts greedily, whenever they fell into his hands. He ran away from the bootshop and went to help a land-surveyor. He was then a cook on board a steamer and afterwards a gardener. In his fifteenth year he tried to enter a school at Kazan, but was obliged to betake himself again to his drudgery. He became a baker, than hawked about kvas, and helped the barefooted tramps and labourers at the docks. From these he drew some of his most striking pictures, and learned to give sketches of humble life generally with the fidelity of a Defoe. After a long course of drudgery he had the good fortune to obtain the place of secretary to a barrister at Nizhni-Novgorod. This was the turning-point of his fortunes, as he found a sympathetic master who helped him. He also became acquainted with the novelist Korolenko, who assisted him in his literary efforts. His first story was Makar Chudra, which was published in the journal Kavkaz. He contributed to many periodicals and finally attracted attention by his tale called Chelkash, which appeared in Ricsskoe Bogatsvo (" Russian wealth"). This was followed by a series of tales in which he drew with extraordinary vigour the life of the bosniaki, or tramps. He has sometimes described other classes of society, tradesmen and the educated classes, but not with equal success. There are some vigorous pictures, however, of the trading class in his Foma Gordeyev. But his favourite type is the rebel, the man in revolt against society, and him he describes from personal knowledge, and enlists our sympathies with him. We get such a type completely in Konovalov. Gorki is always preaching that we must have ideals - something better than everyday life, and this view is brought out in his play At the Lowest Depths, which had great success at Moscow, but was coldly received at St Petersburg.

For a good criticism of Gorki see Ideas and Realities in Russian Literature, by Prince Kropotkin. Many of his works have been translated into English.

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