Essays on Russian Novelists/Gorki

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Gorki went up like the sky-rocket, and seems to have had the traditional descent. From 1900 to 1906 everybody was talking about him; since 1906 one scarcely hears mention of his name. He was ridiculously overpraised, but he ought not to be forgotten. As an artist, he will not bear a moment's comparison with Andreev; but some of his short stories and his play, The Night Asylum, have the genuine Russian note of reality, and a rude strength much too great for its owner's control. He has never written a successful long novel, and his plays have no coherence; but, after all, the man has the real thing—vitality.

Just at the moment when Chekhov appeared to stand at the head of young Russian writers, Gorki appeared, and his fame swept from one end of the world to the other. In Russia, his public was second in numbers only to Tolstoi's; Kuprin and Andreev both dedicated books to him; in Germany, France, England, and America, he became literally a household word. It is probable that there were a thousand foreigners who knew his name, to one who had heard of Chekhov. Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/232 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/233 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/234 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/235 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/236 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/237 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/238 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/239 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/240 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/241 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/242 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/243 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/244 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/245 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/246 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/247 Page:Phelps - Essays on Russian Novelists.djvu/248 "In the glittering gossamer of its fantastic buildings, tens of thousands of grey people, like patches on the ragged clothes of a beggar, creep along with weary faces and colourless eyes. . . .

"But the precaution has been taken to blind the people, and they drink in the vile poison with silent rapture. The poison contaminates their souls. Boredom whirls about in an idle dance, expiring in the agony of its inanition.

"One thing alone is good in the garish city: you can drink in hatred to your soul's content, hatred sufficient to last throughout life, hatred of the power of stupidity!"

This sketch is valuable not merely because of the impression of a distinguished foreign writer of one of the sights of America, but because it raises in our minds an obstinate doubt of his capacity to tell the truth about life in general. Suppose a person who had never seen Coney Island should read Gorki's vivid description of it, would he really know anything about Coney Island? Of course not. The crowds at Coney Island are as different from Gorki's description of them as anything could well be. Now then, we who know the dregs of Russian life only through Gorki's pictures, can we be certain that his representations are accurate? Are they reliable history of fact, or are they the revelations of a heart that knoweth its own bitterness?