LEONID ANDREYEV as a literary figure was born in the gloomy atmosphere of depression of the 'nineties. He thus appeared upon the literary stage at a period when the old and splendid generation of Turgenev and Dostoevsky had already passed away and when Chekhov had begun to demonstrate before the reader the gloom and colourlessness of Russia life.
This was a period when the socialforces of Russia were half destroyed by the reaction under Alexander III, and when the young generation was trying to rest and to get away from the strain of social hopes and despair. This period, briefly speaking, was a period of melancholy, of commonplace, every-day preoccupations, and of dull terre à terre philosophy.
It must be borne in mind that literature was the only outlet for the moraland intellectual forces of Russia. Political reaction, censorship, complete absence of civil liberties, and the cult of popular ignorance upon which Czardom based its power, all these made the written artistic word almost the sole expression of Russian social longings and idealistic expectations.
It is therefore only natural that Russian literature in its general development is closely interwovenwith the political and social conditions of Russia at the given moment. The 'nineties were a period of depression. After the assassination of Alexander II (1881) and the subsequent tightening of the chain of reaction, combined with a general débâcle in progressive and radical circles, the Russian intellectual fell into a state of pessimism. His faith in an early liberation was shattered, his hopeof recovery was broken. Chekhov is the most characteristic representative of that period; he himself called his heroes "the dull-grey people."
Maxim Gorki and Leonid Andreyev appeared almost simultaneously at that time. The former brought the message of a rebel spirit which forecast a new moral upheaval, a new social protest; the latter appeared clad in the gloom of his time, which he strangelycombined with a spirit of almost anarchistic revolt. From the point of view of historical completeness Leonid Andreyev is more representative of the epoch, demonstrating at once two contradictory elements of the Russia of the 'nineties: lack or even absence of faith interwoven with protest and mutiny.
Andreyev is symbolic and romantic. Her Majesty Fate and His Excellency Accident, these are thetwo dark, unknown, at times brutal forces which dwelt ever before the mind's eye. His symbols are full of horror and at times unbending atrocity. Beginning with his short stories, In Fog, The Life of Basil of Thebes, through his dramas, The Life of Man, and Anathema, until his last writings, he saw human beings in the form of ghosts and ghosts in the form of human beings dominating every step,every breath of life. Still his gruesome symbolism, despite his genius for rendering his images in a clear-cut, almost crystalline manner, did not appeal to many of his contemporaries because the dark shroud in which Andreyev enveloped life was impenetrable and at times it was impossible to discern in that gloom the few values which Andreyev still found in life. Leo Tolstoy said once: "Leonid Andreyevtries to frighten me, but I am not afraid."
Even in his splendid realistic dramas it is difficult for Andreyev to rid himself of the habit of symbolizing and dimming the few rays of light which try to filter through.
There was nevertheless a little corner in Andreyev's artistic heart where there appeared some indefinite hope which never acquired a specific artistic form, but which was alludedto many times in his writings. In his short story, Thought, he makes fragmentary allusions to his half-hope, half-idea: "If the lot of the Man be to become a God, his throne will be the Book," says the hero.
But the red laugh of the Russo-Japanese war, the abortive revolution of 1905, the general ignorance and darkness of the masses, the strain of the last war, the depreciation of human life as...
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