Diary of a Madman: Leonid Andreev’s Melancholic Moods

Frederick H. White, Memorial University

Leonid Andreev (1871-1919) was diagnosed and treated in 1901 as an acute neurasthenic; a condition that today would be associated with depression, fatigue and/or anxiety. During his life-time, he kept a more or less regular diary at two stages in his life: from 1890, when he was in school in Orel, Russia, to 1901, when his first collection of stories was published; and from the outbreak of the First World War to his death in 1919. This paper will explore how Andreev described his own illness experience in his early un/published diaries within the critical framework of illness narrative (Couser; Frank; Hawkins; Kleinman).

The tendency of scholars, in examining Andreev’s formative years prior to literary success, is to connect his pessimistic outlook to an early interest in the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer and Eduard von Hartmann: to suggest that his chronic drinking was a reaction to his poverty and failed romances; to understand his attempts at suicide as a culmination of philosophical Pessimism, poverty, excessive drinking, and romantic failures. Little has been made of his bouts of depression as the possible source of all of these problems. This paper, via an investigation of his un/published diaries, offers the alternative possibility that Andreev’s reading of Schopenhauer and his desperate desire to find love were in reaction to his mental illness, but not the cause of it as is often argued.

This distinction is important for understanding how Andreev interpreted and gave meaning to his own life because, in turn, these constructs influenced the depiction of madness found in many of his literary works. These narratives (both in his diaries and literary works) offer further insight into how illness informed Andreev’s perception and depiction of reality. This paper concentrates on only the first stage of this development – prior to literary success – in order to understand his initial construction and narrativization of illness. Once these reactions to illness are recognized, it is then just a further few steps to consider how this perception of reality, which was mediated by depression, informed Andreev’s works and life.

Primary texts:
Leeds Russian Archive, MS. 606 \ E. 1 12 March – 30 June 1890; 21 September 1898.
LRA, MS. 606 \ E. 2 3 July 1890 – 18 February 1891
LRA, MS. 606 \ E. 3 27 February – 13 April 1891; 5 October 1891; 26 September 1892.
LRA, MS. 606 \ E. 4 15 May – 17 August 1891.
Generalova, N.P. “Leonid Andreev, Dnevnik 1891-1892” in Ezhegodnik rukopisnogo
otdela Pushkinskogo doma na 1991 god.
Edited by T. Tsar’kova. St. Petersburg:
Akademicheskii proekt, 1994.
Generalova, N.P., ed., “Dnevnik Leonida Andreeva” in Literaturnyi arkhiv: Materialy po
istorii russkoi literatury i obshchestvennoi mysli.
Edited by K. Grigor’ian.
St. Petersburg: Nauka, 1994.
LRA, MS. 606 \ E. 7 5 March – 9 September 1893.
LRA, MS. 606 \ E. 8 27 March 1897 – 23 April 1901; 1 January 1903; 9 October 1907.

Selected Bibliography:
Couser, Thomas G. Recovering Bodies: Illness, Disability, Life-Writing. Madison,
Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.
Frank, Arthur W. At the will of the body: Reflections on illness. Boston; New York;
London: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1991.
--------. “Reclaiming an Orphan Genre: The First-Person Narrative of Illness,” Literature
and Medicine.
Narrative and Medical Knowledge, vol. 13, no. 1, Spring (1994).
--------. The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics. Chicago; London: The
University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Hawkins, Anne Hunsaker. Reconstructing Illness: Studies in Pathography. West
Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1993.
Kleinman, Arthur. The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing and the Human Condition.
New York: Basic Books, 1988.
Morris, David B. The Culture of Pain. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of
California Press, 1991.
--------. “Narrative, Ethics, and Pain: Thinking With Stories,” Narrative, vol. 9, no. 1,
January (2001).
White, Frederick H. “«Tainaia zhizn’» Leonida Andreeva: Istorii? bolezni.” In Voprosy
no. 1 (2005).
White, Hayden. Tropics of Discourse, Essays in Cultural Criticism. Baltimore: John
Hopkins Press, 1978.