Discord Over the Abyss: Leonid Andreev's Reappropriation of Schopenhauer from Lev Tolstoj

Frederick H. White, University of Southern California

In this paper, I will discuss Leonid Andreev's short story, "The Abyss" (Bezdna) in the context of Arthur Schopenhauer's "Will to Live." I will examine the way in which Andreev presents the disturbing events of the story in Schopenhauerian language and how Andreev's abyss, or the final moment at which the main character loses self-control, is in fact the same as Schopenhauer's will, which drives man's sexual function, devoid of social conventions.

The paper follows a close reading of "The Abyss" and attempts to clarify moments of Schopenhauerian influence. This reading supports the premise that Andreev's text is not simply Boulevard literature but rather an attempt at turning philosophical ideas regarding sexual paradigms into literary form.

Once the connection has been made between "The Abyss" and Schopenhauer's "Will to Live," I will turn my attention to how Andreev entered into a meta-literary dialogue with Lev Tolstoy. Tolstoy uses Schopenhauer's philosophical system in his "Kreutzer Sonata" but revises the "Will to Live" by adding a tone of moral indignation and repentance. By examining "The Abyss" and a "letter to the editor" that Andreev wrote, using his main character--Nemovetskij--as the "author" of the letter, I will show how Andreev rejects Tolstoj's revision of Schopenhauer's philosophical system. Andreev understood his story to be an off-spring of "Kreutzer Sonata" and clearly reasserts the "Will to Live" without any Tolstoian trappings.

This approach not only indicates the influence of Schopenhauer on Russian literature but it elucidates two literary works, using the same philosophical system, and the tensions that exist between them.