Gor′kij on Andreev: A Bittersweet Relationship

A large body of literary criticism debates the “documentary” value of the memoir as a genre. Most critics agree that a creative process is involved. Using Maksim Gor′kij’s memoir of Leonid Andreev (1871–1919), this paper examines the way in which memoir writing may reveal as much (or more) about the writer than his subject.

In 1922 Maksim Gor′kij oversaw the publication of recollections of Andreev by famous Russian literary figures. This book, Kniga o Leonide Andreeve, developed out of a memorial evening for Andreev in November 1919 (Andreev had died of a heart attack some two months earlier). The Kniga is important both for the immediacy of the remembrances and for being the literary establishment’s first attempt at “codifying” the official image of Andreev.

Of particular academic interest is Gor′kij’s own memoir of Andreev in the Kniga. The authenticity, distance, and chosen focus of Gor′kij’s memoir is challenged by the fact that Gor′kij and Andreev were very close friends for many years, until personal differences led to the demise of their friendship.

In this paper I will examine Gor′kij’s memoir in detail and argue that the break in their relationship and the resulting memoir have less to do with differing political and literary views (as usually suggested) and more to do with a basic incompatibility as individuals and friends. Therefore, the memoir is filtered through Gor′kij’s personal expectations and his inability to accept Andreev “as is,” resulting in an overall negative presentation of his former friend. This approach will both elucidate the complex relationship between these two major figures and add to our knowledge of how literary iconographies develop.