Maxim Gorky (1868 to 1936-Russia) was the "pet" writer of Joseph Stalin. For many years to criticize the work of Gorky in public in Russia would get you a trip to Siberia or worse. Not really surprisingly, many say Gorky was murdered at the order of the director of the secret police. The great Russian writers had written about the peasants in a romantic way. There were millions of people in late Czarist Russia so poor that they wished they were serfs on the estate of a Turgenev or Tolstoy. (There is some background information on Gorky in my prior post on two of his short stories.) Some say Gorky invented as an important literary figure the character of "The tramp". (A tramp was basically a displaced serf or peasant forced out of his ancestral position of slavery and security and forced to roam Russia looking for food and work.) If this is right, then Gorky paved the way for Waiting for Godot, among many other works.
|Tolstoy and Gorky
"Twenty-Six and One" (sometimes it is translated as "Twenty-Six Men and a Girl" ) is one of the most famous of Gorky's stories. The story is set in a large bakery factory. The twenty six men made biscuits. They are kept locked in their work place as virtual prisoners. Their lives are never ending toil and unrelieved tedium. They have been together so long they have run out of anything to say to each other than to pursue endless petty quarrels. Of course there are no women in their grim lives. They have one joy they all share. A beautiful sixteen year old girl Tanya visits them every morning and they give her six free biscuits. They idolize her for her purity and goodness and beauty. (It seems from this and his other stories, Gorky may have wanted to set the poor of Russia free but women were judged by their looks mostly.) One day a handsome soldier, a blond, stops by the bakery. He tells the bakers he knows that men like them cannot attract any women but as he is so handsome and bold and manly he can get any woman he wants. Some of the bakers foolishly tell him "No you cannot get our pure Tanya". A bet is quickly made. The soldier has thirty days to "capture" Tanya. I will leave the rest of the plot untold. Gorky knows a great deal about what extreme poverty can do to people. If ever there was writer who spoke for those without a voice, Gorky is it.
Gorky lets us see exactly how the bakers lives. We feel their misery. These are not the idolized poor in a Victorian serial written for ladies to read over tea.
I think a lot of potential readers of Gorky are kind of turned off by his status as a Soviet icon. Gorky for sure let himself be used by the state in return for wealth as well as great fame. At one time in the USA or UK liking Gorky would have been almost like proclaiming your self a communist. His work was required reading for generations of Russia school children.
I really have enjoyed reading the three Gorky short stories I have read so far. I endorse them to all and see them as near must reading for those into Russian literature and those who want to learn more about life among the "real people" in late Czarist Russia.
You can download this and other works by Gorky at Manybooks.
I have two more of his short stories to read soon. I have so far found five of his thirty short stories online. Some of his short stories are still as English works under copyright due to the date of translation. (I have no translator credit for "Twenty-Six and One").
Please share your experience with Gorky and if you have no experience yet, give the stories I have posted on a chance.
One of the very great things about short stories is they let us "try out" a new to us writer without a huge amount of time invested.