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.
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