Places: Foma Gordeyev

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1899 (English translation, 1901)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedGordeyevs’ town

Gordeyevs’ Foma Gordeyevtown. Unnamed Russian town in which the novel’s protagonists, the Gordeyevs, live and work. Situated on the Volga River, the town is probably Nizhny Novgorod, Maxim Gorky’s birthplace (later renamed Gorky). As a native of that area, Gorky manifested everlasting love for it and allegiance to it.

Foma Gordeyev offers a vivid picture of Russian life at the turn of the twentieth century and of the merchant class, the backbone of the Russian society before the Russian Revolution. The novel traces the rise and fall of the merchant class, embodied in the fortunes of Ignat Gordeyev and his son Foma. An owner of boats and barges on the Volga, Ignat is a powerful and ruthless businessman who brutally mistreats the people under him; however, his harsh methods bring him great wealth. He explains to his young son that life is not a loving mother but a stern taskmaster. The father and son eventually find themselves at opposing ends. Although Foma admires his father’s success, he also feels sorry for him because success has not brought him happiness. Foma becomes a reserved, taciturn young man, self-confident, upright, with a strong sense of justice. After his father’s death, he gradually brings the family fortunes to ruin. What prevents him from preserving his father’s fortune is his idealization of the working class and his desire to look for a heart in a man. He becomes a displaced, superfluous man, who is declared insane and who spends the rest of his life roaming the streets in rags.

Gorky uses this plot to point out the injustice and the inhumane character of Russia’s social order at the time. He also uses the beautiful and bountiful nature of the region, the heart of Russia, to contrast the gifts of nature with the insensitivity of human beings. Although tendentious, as many of Gorky’s works are, Foma Gordeyev depicts an important aspect of nineteenth century Russia.

*Volga River

*Volga River. Longest river in Europe and the most important commercial waterway in Russia; the river rises northwest of Moscow and flows generally southeast to the Caspian Sea. The river is dotted with towns and villages in which most of the business of central Russia takes place. Boats and barges loaded with various merchandise float up and down the river. Southward, they go all the way to Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea, and northward, to the large towns of Kazan and Perm. The Gordeyevs’ fortunes rise and fall with their ability to run business on the river.

Business is only one part of the importance of the Volga in the novel. The river provides a special way of life for the inhabitants along its banks. The Volga is so much like a human creature that the people living around it call it “Mother Volga.” Gorky waxes poetic describing its charms. The river’s left bank is flat, stretching all the way to the horizon, covered with a thick green carpet drenched with sunlight. Its right bank is stiff and craggy, with wooded cliffs reaching high into the sky and couched in stern tranquility. The broad-breasted Volga flows between them, in a majestic sweep, silently, solemnly, unhurriedly, decorated on the right by the dark shadows of the cliffs and, on the left, by the green and golden velvet of water-meadows and sandy shores. Occasionally, villages come into sight, on the cliffs or in the meadows. Ever-present sunlight glistens on the glass windows of huts, on the gold and velvet of thatched roofs, and on the gold crosses of churches half hidden among the trees. There are also the gray arms of the windmills revolving slowly in the breeze and factory chimneys emitting smoke into the sky.

The pastorale river scenes are enlivened by shouts of children along the river’s banks as they greet passing steamboats and occasionally jump into the river to swim in the boats’ wakes. The river is also energized by the workers along its banks pulling barges in the rhythm of the famous Russian chant “eeey ukhnyem.” The lyrical depiction of the river scene complements the rough, dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the novel, making it tolerable and worth living.

BibliographyBorras, F. M. Maxim Gorky the Writer: An Interpretation. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1967. One of the more astute interpretations of Gorky’s works, especially his novels and plays. Unlike many other books which concentrate either on biography or political issues, Borras emphasizes Gorky’s artistic achievements. Foma Gordeyev is discussed in passing.Hare, Richard. Maxim Gorky: Romantic Realist and Conservative Revolutionary. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. A substantial study of Gorky, including some interesting observations obtained from people who knew Gorky well. Foma Gordeyev is also discussed.Holtzman, Filia. The Young Maxim Gorky, 1868-1902. New York: Columbia University Press, 1948. A detailed survey of the first half of Gorky’s life, describing his formation as a writer. Reliable but of limited coverage.Levin, Dan. Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Maxim Gorky. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1965. Another general book, covering Gorky’s entire life. Written in a lively manner. Foma Gordeyev is discussed.Muchnic, Helen. “Maxim Gorky.” In From Gorky to Pasternak. New York: Random House, 1961. An extensive study of Gorky the man and the writer. Discusses his works, including Foma Gordeyev.Weil, Irwin. Gorky: His Literary Development and Influence on Soviet Intellectual Life. New York: Random House, 1966. The most scholarly book on Gorky in English, skillfully combining biography with critical analysis, including Foma Gordeyev. Valuable especially for the discussion of Soviet literary life and Gorky’s connection with, and influence on, younger Soviet writers.
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