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Twenty-six and One and Other Stories   By: (1868-1936)

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E text prepared by Al Haines




From the Vagabond Series

Translated from the Russian

Preface by Ivan Strannik

New York J. F. Taylor & Company




Russian literature, which for half a century has abounded in happy surprises, has again made manifest its wonderful power of innovation. A tramp, Maxime Gorky, lacking in all systematic training, has suddenly forced his way into its sacred domain, and brought thither the fresh spontaneity of his thoughts and character. Nothing as individual or as new has been produced since the first novels of Tolstoy. His work owes nothing to its predecessors; it stands apart and alone. It, therefore, obtains more than an artistic success, it causes a real revolution.

Gorky was born of humble people, at Nizhni Novgorod, in 1868 or 1869, he does not know which and was early left an orphan. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker, but ran away, a sedentary life not being to his taste. He left an engraver's in the same manner, and then went to work with a painter of ikoni , or holy pictures. He is next found to be a cook's boy, then an assistant to a gardener. He tried life in these diverse ways, and not one of them pleased him. Until his fifteenth year, he had only had the time to learn to read a little; his grandfather taught him to read a prayer book in the old Slav dialect. He retained from his first studies only a distaste for anything printed until the time when, cook's boy on board a steam boat, he was initiated by the chief cook into more attractive reading matter. Gogol, Glebe Ouspenski, Dumas pere were revelations to him. His imagination took fire; he was seized with a "fierce desire" for instruction. He set out for Kazan, "as though a poor child could receive instruction gratuitously," but he soon perceived that "it was contrary to custom." Discouraged, he became a baker's boy with the wages of three rubles (about $1.50) a month. In the midst of worse fatigue and ruder privations, he always recalls the bakery of Kazan with peculiar bitterness; later, in his story, "Twenty Six and One," he utilized this painful remembrance: "There were twenty six of us twenty six living machines, locked up in a damp cellar, where we patted dough from morning till night, making biscuits and cakes. The windows of our cellar looked out into a ditch, which was covered with bricks grown green from dampness, the window frames were obstructed from the outside by a dense iron netting, and the light of the sun could not peep in through the panes, which were covered with flour dust. . . ."

Gorky dreamed of the free air. He abandoned the bakery. Always reading, studying feverishly, drinking with vagrants, expending his strength in every possible manner, he is one day at work in a saw mill, another, 'longshoreman on the quays. . . . In 1888, seized with despair, he attempted to kill himself. "I was," said he, "as ill as I could be, and I continued to live to sell apples. . . ." He afterward became a gate keeper and later retailed kvass in the streets. A happy chance brought him to the notice of a lawyer, who interested himself in him, directed his reading and organized his instruction. But his restless disposition drew him back to his wandering life; he traveled over Russia in every direction and tried his hand at every trade, including, henceforth, that of man of letters.

He began by writing a short story, "Makar Tchoudra," which was published by a provincial newspaper. It is a rather interesting work, but its interest lies more, frankly speaking, in what it promises than in what it actually gives. The subject is rather too suggestive of certain pieces of fiction dear to the romantic school.

Gorky's appearance in the world of literature dates from 1893. He had at this time, the acquaintance of the writer Korolenko, and, thanks to him, soon published "Tchelkache," which met with a resounding success... Continue reading book >>

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