Places: The Lower Depths

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1902 as Na dne (English translation, 1912)

First produced: 1902

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Naturalism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Places DiscussedTenement basement

Tenement Lower Depths, Thebasement. Cellarlike rooming house accommodating a varied group of inhabitants, located in an unspecified Russian town along the Volga River. Representative of the kind of living conditions for a large percentage of Russia’s population in the early twentieth century, the setting of the play is a further statement in protest against inequalities.

The play’s stage set represented a combination of elements actually present in slum apartments, of which there were many. Russia was not a nation of great wealth, natural resources, or manufacturing, and its short growing season further increased its poverty. Many citizens considered themselves fortunate to find shelter even in such conditions as those depicted in the play’s damp, dim, sooty, cavernlike communal living area. Privacy, such as it was, occurred only when residents hung blankets or curtains to form cubicles. The setting reminds the audience of a den or a lair where harried and exhausted animals hole up to regain their strength. The setting has the impact of a purgatory in which the denizens wait, caught between life and death, for whatever happens next. At the same time, the residents must pay dearly for their shelter, so that nearly every penny that they make must go to pay their greedy landlords, leaving little money for anything else.

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 of his novels and plays, including The Lower Depths. Borras emphasizes Gorky’s artistic achievements rather than focusing on biographical or political issues.Hare, Richard. Maxim Gorky: Romantic Realist and Conservative Revolutionary. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. The first substantial study of Gorky in English since Alexander Kaun’s 1932 book. Hare combines the political aspects of Gorky’s biography with critical analysis of his works. Includes an analysis of The Lower Depths (pp. 56-61).Kaun, Alexander. Maxim Gorky and His Russia. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1931. This first book on Gorky in English is supported by firsthand knowledge of the writer. Covers literary and nonliterary aspects of Russia’s literary life and of the atmosphere in Gorky’s time.Levin, Dan. Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Maxim Gorky. East Norwalk, Conn.: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1965. A general source that covers his entire life, thus completing Kaun’s study. Levin discusses The Lower Depths on pages 86-95.Muchnic, Helen. “Circe’s Swine: Plays by Gorky and O’Neill.” Russian Writers: Notes and Essays. New York: Random House, 1971. A comparative study of Gorky’s The Lower Depths and O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, with some keen insights.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. The Lower Depths is discussed on pages 37-43.
Categories: Places