Authors: Leonid Andreyev

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Russian playwright

August 21, 1871

Orel, Russia

September 12, 1919

Kuokkala, Finland


Leonid Nikolayevich Andreyev (uhn-DRYAY-yuhf), called by one critic a morbid pessimist and mournful humanist, was born into turbulent times in 1871. Born and educated in Orel, he continued his training for law in Moscow, where he was awarded a university degree in 1896. Depressed by his background and poverty and uncertain of his future, he was said to have attempted suicide on three occasions. {$I[AN]9810001514} {$I[A]Andreyev, Leonid} {$I[geo]RUSSIA;Andreyev, Leonid} {$I[tim]1871;Andreyev, Leonid}

Leonid Andreyev.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Andreyev’s training for the law gave him his first writing job as a court reporter, and he later worked on the staff of the Moscow Courier. His first story, “They Lived,” was published in Zhizn (life), a monthly magazine, in 1899, arousing the interest of the public and critics alike. Maxim Gorky befriended the young writer and urged publication of a series of short stories, which appeared in 1901. Some of these caught the eye of the critic Michailovsky. Andreyev also came to the attention of Sophia, the Countess Tolstoy, with a story called “In the Fog,” which she labeled indecent in 1902. Because of censure he lived for a time in Finland, a country to which he fled later for quite different reasons. He also served a short prison term with Gorky in 1905 for anticzarist activities. He opposed war, dictatorship, and capital punishment. Later he supported the Kerensky faction rather than the Bolsheviks, advocating the cause of democracy during World War I.

In his plays he vacillated between realism and symbolism, achieving a greater degree of success in the latter because he could find a wider range for his expression of the deterioration and bitterness he observed at every hand. His two earliest plays, To the Stars and Savva, are realistic in technique. The former tells of an astronomer who assuages his grief over the execution of his revolutionist son by remarking that his troubles are as nothing in the face of all eternity. In Savva, Andreyev’s most successful early play, he opposes the hold of the Church over the people. Katerina presages a theme of Luigi Pirandello, for the title character allows herself to become the symbol of the fallen woman her husband erroneously thinks her to be. The Waltz of the Dogs, more expressionistic than realistic, shows the defeat of a man at the hands of a brother, who schemes for his life insurance, and his fiancé, who proves disloyal.

This unrelieved gloom, powerful in its mordant irony, is lightened by a Shavian-like comedy called The Pretty Sabine Women, in which the Sabine men attempt to rescue their spouses from the ravaging Romans by moderate means, law books, and careful footing—one step back for two forward. He Who Gets Slapped, a seemingly flippant play, tells of a man who leaves his unfaithful wife and best friend to become a clown in a circus; he finally kills himself and his beloved circus rider friend to relieve them both of the restrictions imposed on them by society. One of Andreyev’s early symbolic plays, The Life of Man, was thought by many to be a travesty.

When Anathema was produced, many thought the production so far outran the inherent worth of the play that critically it was difficult to evaluate. Certainly the Faust-Mephistopheles theme is not original, nor is the final resolution of the play noteworthy: Faust dies when he finds he cannot help suffering humankind sufficiently, while the devil looks on sympathetically but without power. As in many of his other plays, Andreyev advanced interesting hypotheses without convincing proof.

Regarding his two greatest stories, however, critical opinion is undivided. “The Red Laugh,” published in 1905, proved prophetic of the Russian Revolution to come; here Andreyev wrote one of the strongest indictments of war ever composed. In the preface to an English translation of “The Seven Who Were Hanged” (also “Seven That Were Hanged”), he says that the story is intended to castigate capital punishment, and the unrelieved anguish of these seven creates an effect of powerful revulsion.

Unlike Gorky, Andreyev rejected Bolshevism and left his native Russia. Disillusioned, he died in exile in Finland in 1919.

Author Works Drama: Mysl, pb. 1902 Tot, kto poluchayet poshchechiny, pb. 1902 (He Who Gets Slapped, 1921) K zvezdam, pb. 1905 (To the Stars, 1907) Savva, pr., pb. 1906 (English translation, 1914) Zhizn cheloveko, pr., pb. 1907 (The Life of Man, 1914) Tsar golod, pb. 1907 (King Hunger, 1911) Chyornye maski, pb. 1907 (Chernyia maski, 1910; The Black Maskers, 1915) Dni nashey zhizni, pr., pb. 1908 Lyubov k Hizhmemu, pb. 1908 (Love of One’s Neighbor, 1914) Anatema, pr., pb. 1909 (Anathema, 1910) Anfisa, pb. 1909 Gaudeamus, pb. 1910 Prekrasnye sabinyanki, pb. 1911 (The Pretty Sabine Women, 1914) Okean, pb. 1911 (The Ocean, 1916) Chest, pb. 1912 Professor Storisyn, pb. 1912 (English translation, 1933) Yekaterina Ivanovna, pb. 1912 (Katerina, 1923) Ne ubey, pb. 1914 Korol, zakon i svoboda, pr., pb. 1914 Belʹgīĭt︠s︡am, 1914 (The Sorrows of Belgium, 1915) Sobachy vals, wr. 1914, pb. 1922 (The Waltz of the Dogs, 1922) Samson v okovakh, pb. 1915 (Samson in Chains, 1923) Long Fiction: Iuda Iskariot, 1900s Sashka Zhegulev, 1911 (Sashka Jiguleff, 1925) Dnevnik Satany, 1921 (Satan’s Diary, 1920) Short Fiction: Rasskazy, 1901 V tumane, 1902 Bezdna S statʹeĭ Lʹva Tolstogo i polemicheskoĭ literaturoĭ, 1903 Gostinet︠s︡: razkaz, 1904 Zhiznʹ Vasilīi︠a︡ Ḟiveĭskago, 1904 Gubernator: povi︠e︡stʹ, 1905 Eleazar: Razskaz, 1906 Moi zipisky, 1908 Razskaz o semi povi︠e︡shennykh, 1909 (The Seven Who Were Hanged, 1909?; Seven That Were Hanged, and Other Stories, 1958) Ironicheskīe razskazy, 1916? The Crushed Flower, and Other Stories, 1916 The Little Angel, and Other Stories, 1916 When the King Loses His Head, and Other Stories, 1920 The Dark, 1922 Nonfiction: Pami︠a︡ti Vladimīra Mazurina, 1906 “Pisma o teatre,” 1912–13 S.O.S., 1919 Pis'ma Leonida Andreeva, 1924 Miscellaneous: Sobranie sochinenii, 1910–15 (16 volumes) Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 1913 (8 volumes) Bibliography Carlisle, Olga. “My Grandfather, Leonid Andreyev: Heard Again, Loud and Clear.” New York Times Book Review, October 4, 1987, p. 15. Andreyev’s granddaughter writes of the reemergence of her grandfather’s works, which were suppressed after the October Revolution. Carlisle, Olga. “Russian Portraits: Leonid Andreyev.” The Paris Review 37, no. 137 (Winter, 1995): 130. Andreyev’s granddaughter presents a profile of the famous writer, who was being rediscovered in the 1990s. Gorky, Maxim. Reminiscences of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Andreev. Translated by Katherine Mansfield, S. S. Koteliansky, and Leonard Woolf. 1949. Reprint. New York: Howard Fertig, 2001. Gorky’s reminiscence of Andreyev in this work is longer than that of Tolstoy or Chekhov. Gorky was genuinely fond of Andreyev and admired his intellect as well as his talent. Hutchings, Stephen. A Semiotic Analysis of the Short Stories of Leonid Andreev, 1900-1909. London: Modern Humanities Research Association, 1990. An extensive discussion of some of Andreyev’s stories from a semiotic point of view. Particularly authoritative and extensive. Kaun, Alexander. Leonid Andreyev: A Critical Study. 1924. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1969. The secondary literature on Andreyev has never been copious. This is an early (and, for a long time, the only) study. The biography covers all aspects of Andreyev’s works and is adequately reliable, considering that not very much material was available at the time. Mihajlov, Mihajlo. Russian Themes. Translated by Marija Mihajlov. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1968. Devotes about twenty pages to Andreyev. Newcombe, Josephine M. Leonid Andreyev. New York: Ungar, 1972. A basic biography of Andreyev that presents his life and works. Bibliography and index. “Rare Originality, Rare Talent.” Moscow News, August 29-September 4, 2001, p. 6. This article, written in celebration of what would have been Andreyev’s 130th birthday, discusses his life and works. Segel, Harold B. Twentieth-Century Russian Drama: From Gorky to the Present. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1993. A survey of Russian drama since Chekhov, in other words, beginning with works of Maxim Gorky. Senelick, Laurence, ed. and trans. Russian Dramatic Theory from Pushkin to the Symbolists: An Anthology. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981. Includes indexes and bibliography. Woodward, James B. Leonid Andreyev: A Study. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1969. A general study, particularly authoritative and extensive. Includes bibliographical references.

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