Exploring the Life and Works of Maksim Gorky, Russian Author and Political Activist


Who was Maksim Gorky? Information on Russian author Maksim Gorky biography, life story, books, novels, plays and works.

Maksim Gorky was a prominent Russian author, playwright, and political activist who lived from 1868 to 1936. He is widely considered one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and was instrumental in shaping the development of socialist realism in Soviet literature.

In this post, we will delve into the life and works of Maksim Gorky, including his early years, literary output, political activities, and enduring legacy. We will also take a closer look at some of his most famous works, including novels such as “Mother” and “The Lower Depths,” as well as his contributions to Soviet literature and politics.

Maksim Gorky

Source: wikipedia.org

Maksim Gorky; (1868-1936), Russian author, who founded the literary doctrine of socialist realism and is widely regarded as the dominant writer of the Soviet period. His work, infused with a spirit of romantic rebellion and a quest for justice, contains vivid scenes of merchant and working-class life.

Gorky was in the center of the active literary and intellectual life of his time. Although some intellectuals attacked the sentimental core and superficial posturing of his world view, and some critics scolded him for overwriting, he achieved wide popularity, and his writings reflected the values and motives of a changing society.


Early Life

Gorky (a pen name meaning “bitter”) was born Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov on March 16 (New Style, March 28), 1868, in Nizhni Novgorod (later renamed “Gorky” in his honor). His father died early in Gorky’s life, and the boy supported himself by working in shops and on Volga River steamers. In 1884 he failed in an attempt to enter Kazan University. Arrested for revolutionary activities in 1889, Gorky thereafter remained under police surveillance.

In 1891, Gorky traveled through the Ukraine, the Caucasus, and the Crimea to Tiflis (now Tbilisi), where in November 1892 he published his first literary work, the short story Makar Chudra. Returning that winter to Nizhni Novgorod, he regularly wrote sketches for newspapers, and in 1895 his stories began appearing in Moscow and St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) journals. His first book, the 3-volume Sketches and Stories (1898-1899), brought him immediate recognition and led to close contacts with Tolstoy and Chekhov, of whom he later wrote moving reminiscences.

Gorky’s success did not end his political activism, however. In 1901 he was exiled to Arzamas, a village south of Nizhni Novgorod, for helping to organize an underground press. In 1902 he was elected to honorary membership in the Academy of Sciences, but the choice was annulled by Emperor Nicholas II, thus provoking the resignation of Gorky’s friends Chekhov and Korolenko. Because he called for the overthrow of autocracy following the massacre of Jan. 9, 1905, Gorky was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress for several months, until a protest by Russian and European intellectuals persuaded the government to release him. That summer he joined the Social Democratic party’s left wing, headed by Lenin, and in December he contributed arms and money to the Moscow insurgents, who used his apartment as a meeting place.

Fearing his arrest, party leaders urged Gorky to leave Russia, and in 1906 he went to the United States to raise funds for the Russian revolutionary movement. However, exposure of the fact that he was not married to his woman traveling companion aroused public indignation, and instead of lecturing widely, Gorky spent his time in the Adirondack Mountains working on essays about the corruption of the bourgeoisie and on a novel. Later in 1906 he settled on Capri, where in 1909, with the literary critics Bogdanov and Lunacharsky, he formed the anti-Leninist Bolshevik faction called “Forward.”

Later Years

Granted amnesty in 1913, Gorky returned to Russia. In 1915, bitterly opposed to World War I, he founded the Chronicle, a magazine designed to coordinate political action against the war. In 1918-1919, after Lenin came to power, Gorky helped found the first Workers’ and Peasants’ University, the Petrograd Theater, and the World Literature Publishing House. During the Civil War (1917-1921) and again in the 1930’s, Gorky’s efforts saved the lives of many intellectuals.

Gorky was tubercular, and in the summer of 1921 his condition worsened and he went abroad for his health, settling in Sorrento in 1924. He revisited Russia in 1928 and 1929, and in 1931 returned there to stay. He founded a number of journals and other publishing ventures, including the Poet’s Library; became head of the newly established Writers’ Union in 1932; and was chairman of the first All-Union Congress of Soviet Writers in 1934. Gorky died at his country home outside Moscow on June 18, 1936, presumably of old age and tuberculosis, but there were subsequent allegations of political assassination. He was buried in Red Square,


Gorky’s first novel, Foma Gordeyev, was published in 1899 and his second, The Three, in 1900-1901. Mother (1907-1908), which he based on actual events, shows the beginnings of the revolutionary movement among factory workers. The Artamonov Business, a story of three generations of a Volga merchant family, was published in 1925, the year he began his unfinished epic, The Life of Klim Samghin, a panorama of social, political, and literary life in Russia in the 40 years preceding the 1917 revolution.



Gorky wrote 15 plays, many of which were produced by the Moscow Art Theater and all of which are considered classics in the Soviet Union. His first play, The Petty Bourgeois (1901), is a bitter picture of middle-class family life. The work for which he is most celebrated in the West is The Lower Depths (1902), a play about the loneliness and futility of the lives of “leftover” people. Lesser-known dramatic works include Summer People (1905), Children of the Sun (1905), The Barbarians (1906), Enemies (1907), The Last (1908), and a number of plays about merchant life, including Vassa Zheleznova (1910) and Yegor Bulychov (1931).

Short Stories

Gorky’s first book, Sketches and Stories, included Chelkash, The Orlovs, Konovalov, and Kirilka—naturalistic, romantic tales celebrating the resilience and inner nobility of a downtrodden, neglected people, the bosyaki (tramps), whose life he knew intimately. The short stories he wrote while on Capri, such as The Confession (1908), show the effect on Gorky of the ideas of Bogdanov, the principal sociological theorist of the revolutionary movement, and in particular, Bogdanov’s theory of “god-building,” which centers on the religious apotheosis of the people. The Life of Matvei Koz-hemyakim (1910-1911) expresses Gorky’s faith in the triumph of the ambitious, courageous peasant and workingman. His Stories About Italy (1911-1913) and Through Old Russia (1912-1916) report the new class consciousness of Western workers and reflect his affection for the moral vigor of his own countrymcn.


Gorky’s Song of the Stormy Petrel, a short paean to revolution, contributed to the suppression of 1901 of Zhizn, the journal in which it appeared. Between 1913 and 1922 he published the three volumes of his autobiography —Childhood, In My World, and My Universities. Gorky’s much-admired reminiscences of the great Russian writers he knew—Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Andreyev—were published in the 1920’s.

1 Comment

  1. Robert Clarence Jastad on

    We’ve just seen an on-line version of a movie said to be based upon Gorky’s work: Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven, which was in color apparently produced in the Soviet Union. We would like any further information about Gorky’s connection to this film, and also any more information about the film itself; which seems very well produced and includes some great cinematography and vivid scenes both for their physical beauty, imagination of the cultures and societies depicted, and which seem of times now gone by of course in the historical sense, though also of times gone by considering the period of production of the movie, and how this could not likely ever be replicated as depicted whenever the film was made. Indeed, to know the date of production would be great, and any other details which could feasibly be provided? Thank you very much for your kind interests..’Bob C.’

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