by Leonid Andreyev


Part I

Part II

Fragment the Last


    LEONID ANDREYEV (1871-1919) became the foremost literary figure in Russia between the revolution of 1905 and the communist revolution of 1917. Originally studying and training as a lawyer, he abandoned that career soon after its beginning and dedicated himself wholly to his writing. His first story,“In the Fog,” was published in 1902 and won him immediate critical recognition. His new career, that of an author, had begun.

    A pessimistic, moody man (who had already tried to end his life by shooting in 1894), he soon turned this dark sentiment over to an analysis of the predicament of the existentialistic situation of mankind in a series of socially aware works that included To the Stars, Savva, King-Hunger, and Anathema. Andreyev's works centered on the life of the common man, the gray, humble soul, who in singular represented humanity itself, a humanity confused and bewildered by being caught up in larger forces while suffering in a state of isolation of one individual from the other. Behind it all ran a sort of mysticism, that of a striving towards a higher truth and state of being. Often, the author resorted to fantastic symbolism that represented abstract ideals. His most famous work, He Who Gets Slapped, eventually was adapted by Hollywood as one of the darkest and best film roles for actor Lon Chaney, Sr.

    Andreyev's mind turned to the bizarre, the horrible, and the supernatural from time to time, most famously in his short tale, “Lazarus,” that depicts the strange, eerie homecoming of the famous biblical character. Less celebrated, but superior, is his novella, The Red Laugh, an utterly harrowing and nightmarish depiction of a sort of apocalypse that springs from the chaos, blood, and misery of Russia's humiliating defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, in language that prophetically echoes the horrors to come during the First World War. Centered on two nameless characters, the first a soldier narrator and then later his civilian brother, The Red Laugh presents themes of violence, war, madness, ghosts, and even the quite literal return of the dead. From time to time, we meet the indescribably horrible Red Laugh itself...

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All text contents of these pages copyright © 2008 by R.J. Warren, all rights reserved.

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