"Everyone talks about their love of nature. Any dacha-dweller in white trousers will maintain that there is nothing in the world to compete with nature. I remember seeing someone like that sitting on the sea-shore reading a book. It was sunset, one of the most beautiful sunsets that you could get on the shores of the Gulf of Finland - and he was reading, In the sky the clouds were engaged in a monumental battle, crashing into one another, changing their shapes and colors every minute, dying and coming back to life again, lit by a sunray which would unexpectedly break through them - and he carried on reading."
There is nothing idyllic in the writings of the Russian Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919). Censorship and the absence of civil liberties that we take for granted was pervasive under the Czars. By default the arts provided the only conduit for moral and intellectual impulses. political activity being foreclosed by a repressive regime. What is especially characteristic of Andreyev's works is the oscillation between exuberance and depression, the corrosive wit and sense of the superiority of his vision, and not just applied to himself. "He wished to be enormous - not for his own sake: he wished to reflect in his transitory tread as a writer - the march of the Century.." - Andrei Bielyi. To that end, Andreyev wrote not only the stories and plays he is remembered for, but painted and sketched and photographed.
Andreyev's temperament led him to predict the disasters of world war, revolution, and even something akin to nuclear weapons. Born in the country, Andreyev moved to Moscow to study law, becoming instead a court reporter for a Moscow newspaper. His first collection of stories was published to great effect in 1901, attracting the attention of Maxim Gorki. He careened through women and vodka until his marriage to Alexksandra provided him with as much stability as he could tolerate
Two sons were born, Vadim and Daniil, before Aleksandra died of puerperal fever in 1906. Andreyev married Anna Denisevich in 1908, and made the quixotic decision to separate his two little boys, keeping Vadim with him and sending Daniil to live with Aleksandra's sister. Vadim has written about the boys' alienation from their father, visible in photographs.
Andreyev, whose connections with the revolutionaries of 1905, led to his exile after he published The Seven Who Were Hanged in 1909, built a large wooden house on the Gulf of Finland at Vammasluu. The house was impractical from the start, in need of constant repair, and after Andreyev's death Anna sold it for demolition. But it was only forty miles from St. Petersburg.
The Seven That Were Hanged (1909) was Andreyev's protest against the executions the Russian government used to destroy the 1905 revolution. Through harrowing interior monologues we follow five revolutionaries and two ordinary criminals as they come to terms with their fates. He turned away from the expansiveness of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in depictions of confusion, distortion and hallucination are something we recognize as distinctly modern.
"It was as if he himself were a whole factory, working ceaselessly in shifts, preparing all those masses of large and small photographs which were stacked up in his study, contained in special boxes and chests, overflwoing on every table, mounted on the window panes. There was no cnroner in his house which he had not photographed several tiems over. Some photographs were extremely successful, for instance spring landscapes. It was jard to believe that they were photographs at all, they were suffused with success elegiac musicality, reminding one of Levitan." - Kornei Chukovsky, scholar and children's author, was a frequent visitor to Vammasluu. He refers here to the painter Isaac Levitan.
Andreyev died in 1919 as he was preparing for a speaking tour of the United States, to warn about the dangers of the Bolshevism. At age forty-eight. he was dead of a brain hemorrhage.
Andreyev's American connection came in 1924 when MGM's first feature film was He Who Gets Slapped based one of his plays. The film starred Lon Chaney and Norma Shearer and was produced by Lous B. Mayer himself.
For further reading:
Stories And Photographs by Leonid Andreyev, translated from the Russian by Olga Andreyev Carlisle, San Diego, Harcourt Brace & Jovanoich: 1987.
Photographs of a Russian Writer by Richard Davies, London, Thames & Hudson: 1989.
Images: Autochreme photographs by Leonid Andreyev are in the collection of the Leeds Russian Archive, UK.
1. Sunset at Vammasluu - Finland.
2. Leonid and the Devils - Andreyev in front of copies he made of Goya sketches in his study at Vammasluu.
3. Vadim Andreyev, c. 1909.
4. Daniil Andreyev, c. 1912.
5 Anna Andreyeva - Leonid Andreyev, Filip Dobrov & Daniil Andreyev at Vammasluu, c. 1912.
6. A Road near Vammasluu.
7. Anna Andreyeva in Marseilles, 1910.