Savva by Leonid N. Andreyev
For the last twenty years Leonid Andreyev and Maxim Gorky have by turns occupied the centre of the stage of Russian literature. Prophetic vision is no longer required for an estimate of their permanent contribution to the intellectual and literary development of Russia. It represents the highest ideal expression of a period in Russian history that was pregnant with stirring and far-reaching events--the period of revolution and counter-revolution. It was a period when Russian society passed from mood to mood at an extremely rapid tempo: from energetic aggressiveness, exultation, high hope, and confident trust in the triumph of the people's cause to apathetic inaction, gloom, despair, frivolity, and religious mysticism. This important dramatic epoch in the national life of Russia Andreyev and Gorky wrote down with such force and passion that they became recognized at once as the leading exponents of their time.

Despite this close external association, their work differs essentially in character. In fact, it is scarcely possible to conceive of greater artistic contrasts. Gorky is plain, direct, broad, realistic, elemental. His art is native, not acquired. Civilization and what learning he obtained later through the reading of books have influenced, not the manner or method of his writing, but only its purpose and occasionally its subject matter. It is significant to watch the dismal failure Gorky makes of it whenever, in concession to the modern literary fashion, he attempts the mystical. Symbolism is foreign to him except in its broadest aspects. His characters, though hailing from a world but little known, and often extreme and extremely peculiar, are on the whole normal.

Andreyev, on the other hand, is a child of civilization, steeped in its culture, and while as rebellious against some of the things of civilization as Gorky, he reacts to them in quite a different way. He is wondrously sensitive to every development, quickly appropriates what is new, and always keeps in the vanguard. His art is the resultant of all that the past ages have given us, of the things that we have learned in our own day, and of what we are just now learning. With this art Andreyev succeeds in communicating ideas, thoughts, and feelings so fine, so tenuous, so indefinite as to appear to transcend human expression. He does not care whether the things he writes about are true, whether his characters are real. What he aims to give is a true impression. And to convey this impression he does not scorn to use mysticism, symbolism, or even plain realism. His favorite characters are degenerates, psychopaths, abnormal eccentrics, or just creatures of fancy corresponding to no reality. Frequently, however, the characters, whether real or unreal, are as such of merely secondary importance, the chief aim being the interpretation of an idea or set of ideas, and the characters functioning primarily only as a medium for the embodiment of those ideas.

In one respect Gorky and Andreyev are completely at one--in their bold aggressiveness. The emphatic tone, the attitude of attack, first introduced into Russian literature by Gorky, was soon adopted by most of his young contemporaries, and became the characteristic mark of the literature of the Revolution. By that token the literature of Young Russia of that day is as easily recognized as is the English literature of the Dryden and Pope epoch by its sententiousness. It contrasts sharply with the tone of passive resignation and hopelessness of the preceding period. Even Chekhov, the greatest representative of what may be called the period of despondence, was caught by the new spirit of optimism and activism, so that he reflected clearly the new influence in his later works. But while in Gorky the revolt is chiefly social--manifesting itself through the world of the submerged tenth, the disinherited masses, les misérables, who, becoming conscious of their wrongs, hurl defiance at their oppressors, make mock of their civilization, and threaten the very foundations of the old order--Andreyev transfers his rebellion to the higher regions of thought and philosophy, to problems that go beyond the merely better or worse social existence, and asks the larger, much more difficult questions concerning the general destiny of man, the meaning of life and the reason for death.

Social problems, it is true, also interest Andreyev. "The Red Laugh" is an attack on war through a portrayal of the ghastly horrors of the Russo-Japanese War; "Savva," one of the plays of this volume, is taken bodily (with a poet's license, of course) from the actual revolutionary life of Russia; "King Hunger" is the tragedy of the uprising of the hungry masses and the underworld. Indeed, of the works written during the conflict and for some time afterward, all centre more or less upon the social problems which then agitated Russia. But with Andreyev the treatment of all questions tends to assume a universal aspect. He envisages phenomena from a broad, cosmic point of view; he beholds things sub specie aeternitatis. The philosophical tendency of his mind, though amply displayed even in works like "Savva"--which is purely a character and social drama--manifests itself chiefly by his strong propensity for such subjects as those treated in "To the Stars," "The Life of Man," and "Anathema." In these plays Andreyev plunges into the deepest problems of existence, and seeks to posit once more and, if possible, to solve in accordance with the modern spirit and modern knowledge those questions over which the mightiest brains of man have labored for centuries: Whence? Whither? What is the significance of man's life? Why is death?

If Spinoza's dictum be true, that "a wise man's meditation is not of death but of life," then Andreyev is surely not a wise man. Some philosophers might have written their works even without a guarantee against immortality, though Schopenhauer, who exercised a influence on the young Andreyev, was of the opinion that "without death there would hardly be any philosophy"; but of Andreyev it is certain that the bulk of his works would not have been written, and could not be what they are, were it not for the fact of death. If there is one idea that can be said to dominate the author of "The Life of Man," it is the idea of death. Constantly he keeps asking: Why all this struggling, all this pain, all this misery in the world, if it must end in nothing? The suffering of the great mass of mankind makes life meaningless while it lasts, and death puts an end even to this life. Again and again Andreyev harks back to the one thought from which all his other thoughts seem to flow as from their fountain-head. Lazarus, in the story by that name, is but the embodiment of death. All who behold him, who look into his eyes, are never again the same as they were; indeed, most of them are utterly ruined. "The Seven Who Were Hanged" tells how differently different persons take death. Grim death lurks in the background of almost every work, casting a fearful gloom, mocking the life of man, laughing to scorn his joys and his sorrows, propounding, sphinx-like, the big riddle that no Oedipus will ever be able to solve.

For it is not merely the destructive power of death, not merely its negation of life, that terrifies our author. The pitchy darkness that stretches beyond, the impossibility of penetrating the veil that separates existence from non-existence--in a word, the riddle of the universe--is, to a mind constituted like Andreyev's, a source of perhaps even greater disquiet. Never was a man hungrier than he with "the insatiable hunger for Eternity"; never was a man more eager to pierce the mystery of life and catch a glimpse of the beyond while yet alive.

Combined with the perplexing darkness that so pitifully limits man's vision is the indifference of the forces that govern his destiny. The wrongs he suffers may cry aloud to heaven, but heaven does not hear him. Whether he writhe in agony or be prostrated in the dust (against all reason and justice), he has no appeal, societies, the bulk of mankind, may be plunged in misery--who or what cares? Man is surrounded by indifference as well as by darkness.

Often, when an idea has gained a powerful hold on Andreyev, he pursues it a long time, presenting it under various aspects, until at last it assumes its final form, rounded and completed, as it were, in some figure or symbol. As such it appears either as the leading theme of an entire story or drama, or as an important subordinate theme. Thus we have seen that the idea of death finds concrete expression in the character of Lazarus. The idea of loneliness, of the isolation of the individual from all other human beings, even though he be physically surrounded by large numbers, is embodied in the story of "The City." Similarly the conception of the mystery and the indifference by which man finds himself confronted is definitely set forth in the figure of Someone in Gray in "The Life of Man."

The riddle, the indifference--these are the two characteristics of human destiny that loom large in Andreyev's conception of it as set forth in that figure. Someone in Gray--who is he? No one knows. No definite name can be given him, for no one knows. He is mysterious in "The Life of Man," where he is Man's constant companion; he is mysterious in "Anathema," where he guards the gate leading from this finite world to eternity. And as Man's companion he looks on indifferently, apparently unconcerned whether Man meets with good or bad fortune. Man's prayers do not move him. Man's curses leave him calm.

It is Andreyev's gloomy philosophy, no doubt, that so often causes him to make his heroes lonely, so that loneliness is developed into a principle of human existence, in some cases, as in "The City," becoming the dominant influence over a man's life. Particularly the men whom life has treated senselessly and cruelly, whom it has dealt blow after blow until their spirits are crushed out--it is such men in particular who become lonely, seek isolation and retirement, and slink away into some hole to die alone. This is the significance of the saloon scene in "The Life of Man." The environment of the drunkards who are withdrawn from life, and therefore lonely themselves, accentuates the loneliness of Man in the last scene. It is his loneliness that Andreyev desired to bring into relief. His frequenting the saloon is but an immaterial detail, one of the means of emphasizing this idea. To remove all possible misunderstanding on this point, Andreyev wrote a variant of the last scene, "The Death of Man," in which, instead of dying in a saloon surrounded by drunkards, Man dies in his own house surrounded by his heirs. "The loneliness of the dying and unhappy man," Andreyev wrote in a prefatory note to this variant, "may just as fully be characterized by the presence of the Heirs."

However, for all the gloom of his works, Andreyev is not a pessimist. Under one of his pictures he has written: "Though it destroys individuals, the truth saves mankind." The misery in the world may be ever so great; the problems that force themselves upon man's mind may seem unanswerable; the happenings in the external world may fill his soul with utter darkness, so that he despairs of finding any meaning, any justification in life. And yet, though his reason deny it, his soul tells him: "The truth saves mankind." After all, Man is not a failure. For though misfortunes crowd upon him, he remains intact in soul, unbroken in spirit. He carries off the victory because he does not surrender. He dies as a superman, big in his defiance of destiny. This must be the meaning Andreyev attached to Man's life. We find an interpretation of it, as it were, in "Anathema," in which Someone sums up the fate of David--who lived an even sadder life than Man and died a more horrible death--in these words: "David has achieved immortality, and he lives immortal in the deathlessness of fire. David has achieved immortality, and he lives immortal in the deathlessness of light which is life."

Andreyev was born at Orel in 1871 and was graduated from the gymnasium there. According to his own testimony, he never seems to have been a promising student. "In the seventh form," he tells us, "I was always at the bottom of my class." He lost his father early, and often went hungry while studying law at the University of St. Petersburg. In the University of Moscow, to which he went next, he fared better. One of the means that he used to eke out a livelihood was portrait painting to order, and in this work he finally attained such proficiency that his price rose from $1.50 apiece to $6.00.

In 1897 he began to practise law, but he gave most of his time to reporting court cases for the "Courier," a Moscow newspaper, and later to writing feuilletons and stories. He tried only one civil case, and that one he lost. His work in the "Courier" attracted Gorky's attention, and the older writer zealously interested himself in Andreyev's behalf.

In 1902 his story named "The Abyss" appeared and created a sensation immediately. Even Countess Tolstoy joined in the dispute which raged over this story, attacking it as matter unfit for literature. But the verdict of Andreyev's generation was in his favor. Since then nearly every new work of his has been received as an important event in Russia and has sent the critics scurrying to his attack or defence. His first drama, "To the Stars," appeared while the Russians were engaged in fighting for liberty (1905), and, naturally enough, it reflects that struggle. "Savva" was published early the next year, and "The Life of Man" later in the same year. The production of "Savva" is prohibited in Russia. It has been played in Vienna and Berlin, and recently it was staged again in Berlin by "Die Freie Bühne," meeting with signal success.

A CHRONOLOGICAL LIST OF PLAYS

By LEONID ANDREYEV

To the Stars (K Zviezdam), 1905;
Savva (Savva), 1906;
The Life of Man (Zhizn Chelovieka), 1906;
King Hunger (Tzar Golod), 1907;
The Black Masks (Chiorniya Maski), 1908;
The Days of Our Life (Dni Nashey Zhizni), 1908;
Anathema (Anatema), 1909;
Anfissa (Anfissa), 1909;
Gaudeamus (Gaudeamus), 1910;
The Ocean (Okean), 1911;
"Honor" ("Chest"), 1911;
The Pretty Sabine Women (Prekrasniya Sabinianki), 1911;
Professor Storitzyn (Professor Storitzyn), 1912;
Catherine (Yekaterina Ivanovna), 1913;
Thou Shalt Not Kill (Ne Ubi), 1914.

PERSONS OF THE PLAY

YEGOR IVANOVICH TROPININ, innkeeper in a monastic suburb. An elderly man of about fifty, with an important manner and a item, dignified way of speaking.

ANTON (Tony), anywhere from thirty-five to thirty-eight, bloated from drinking and always under the influence of alcohol. His face is bloodless, sad, and sleepy. He has a sparse beard, speaks slowly and painfully, and never laughs.

OLYMPIADA (Lipa), twenty-eight years old. She is fair and rather good-looking. There is a touch of monastic severity in her dress.

SAVVA, twenty-three, large, broad-shouldered, with a suggestion of the peasant in his looks. He walks with a slight stoop, elbows out, feet in. The motions of his hands are rounded and graceful, his palms being turned up as if he were carrying something. His features are large and rough-hewn, and his cheeks and chin are covered with a soft light down. When agitated or angry, he turns gray as dust, his movements become quick and agile, and his stoop disappears. He wears the blouse and boots of a workingman.

PELAGUEYA, a freckled, colorless woman, of about thirty, wearing the ordinary dress of her class. She is dirty and untidy.

SPERANSKY GRIGORY PETROVICH, an ex-seminarist; tall, very lean, with a pale, long face, and a tuft of dark hair on his chin. He has long, smooth hair parted in the middle and falling on each side of his face. He is dressed either in a long, dark overcoat or in a dark frock-coat.

FATHER KONDRATY, a friar, forty-two years old, ugly, narrow-chested, with swollen, animated eyes.

VASSYA, a novice, a strong and athletic youth of nineteen. He has a round, cheerful, smiling face, and curly, lustrous hair.

KING HEROD, a pilgrim, about fifty. He has a dry, emaciated face, black from sunburn and road dust. His gray, dishevelled hair and beard give him a savage appearance. He has only one arm, the left. He is as tall as Savva.

A FAT MONK.

A GRAY MONK.

A MAN IN PEASANT OVERCOAT. Monks, pilgrims, cripples, beggars, blind men and women, monstrosities.

The action takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century in a rich monastery celebrated for its wonder-working ikon of the Saviour. There is an interval of about two weeks between the first and the last act.
 
 
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