“Two Souls”: Čukovskij and Gor′kij

Barry P. Scherr, Dartmouth College

In 1924 Kornej Čukovskij published “Dve duši M. Gor′kogo”, the title an unsubtle reference to an article that Gor′kij himself had published nearly a decade earlier. Čukovskij’s essay recalls his pre-revolutionary writings on Gor′kij, which at the best were mixed in their evaluation of the writer and at times quite negative. It was the fate of “Dve duši” to become as unmentionable a work in the Soviet Union as Gor′kij’s own “Nesvoevremennye mysli.” Both, in somewhat different ways, presented an image that was hardly in keeping with the official view of Gor′kij: if his “Untimely Thoughts” revealed him as hardly an unquestioning supporter of the Bol′ševik regime, then Čukovskij’s work insisted that Gor′kij was not the literary giant that he appeared to be in Soviet literary histories of the following decades. However, unlike the “Nesvoevremennye mysli”, which were published in the West and have been quite familiar to literary scholars for some time, Čukovskij’s essay has largely disappeared from the scholarly consciousness in both East and West, albeit a few references to it have started to appear during the post-Soviet era.

My contention in this paper is three-fold. First, the essay itself is worth rediscovering; it, along with Xodasevič’s far better-known piece, represents perhaps the most penetrating study of Gor′kij the man and Gor′kij the writer to be published by one of his contemporaries. Second, the essay turns out to be difficult to reconcile with the Gor′kij-Čukovsky correspondence, which has been published in full in Russia only during the last few years and which “sandwiches” the date of the essay: the first group of letters covers the years 1917–21, and then there is a break of several years before the correspondence resumes in 1926. Here we get a quite different picture of the relationship between the two men, where Gor′kij’s support for literature, both as an organizer of publishing endeavors and as a defender of writers under the Bol′ševik regime, comes to the fore. Third, I would suggest that this contradiction oddly mirrors the duality that Čukovskij expresses in “Dve duši”: just as there are two Gor′kijs—on the one hand a spontaneous, natural writer and keen observer of the human condition; on the other a person with a political and social agenda, which, whenever it appears in his fiction, tends to undercut its effectiveness—so too does the relationship between the two men differ, depending on whether literature or politics appears at the fore. In this case, though, the positive and negative values of the two activities are inverted: if the two find themselves in opposing camps when literary values are the issue, they nonetheless emerge as frequent, albeit uneasy, allies when faced with the real-life agenda of survival under the Bol′ševik regime.

Čukovskij, K., “Dve duši M. Gor′kogo” (Leningrad: A. F. Marks, 1924).

Čukovskij, K., Dnevnik 1901–1929 (Moscow: Sovetskij pisatel′ 1991).

Čukovskij, K., Dnevnik 1930–1969 (Moscow: Sovetskij pisatel′ 1994).

Gor′kij, M., Nesvoevremennye mysli: Zametki o revoljucii i kul′ture (Moscow: Sovremennik, 1991).

“Perepiska M. Gor′kogo s K. I. Čukovskim.” Neizvestnyj Gor′kij (Gor′kij i ego èpoxa: Materialy i issledovanija), vyp. 3 (1994), pp. 97–132 and vyp. 4 (1995), pp. 228–60.