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The Soviet Union & Gorki’s God

CHRIST & NEIGHBOR

By John C. Cort | October 1986

Looking for some light reading, I picked up My Childhood, the first volume of Maxim Gorki’s autobiography. This may not strike you as light reading, but compared with some of the books du­ty has compelled me to read lately, it was light as thistle-down. And deeply moving.

Long, long ago, when I was a callow teenager, one of the first plays I saw on Broadway was Gor­ki’s The Lower Depths. This too was deeply mov­ing. First staged in Russia in 1902, it was devoted to the loves and hates, sins and virtues, of society’s outcasts — bums, drunks, thieves, pimps, and pros­titutes. Writing in 1906, a critic, James Huneker, confidently stated that it could not “be put on the boards in America without a storm of critical and public censure.” He added, “Americans go to the theatre to be amused and not to have their nerves assaulted.” By the time I saw it, in the 1930s, America was no longer “the happy, sun-smitten land, where poverty and vice abound not” that Huneker imagined it to be in 1906. We were in the midst of the Great Depression, where poverty and vice did much abound, and the theater public was ready to expose its nerves to Gorki’s assaults.

Since that time I had scarcely thought of Gor­ki at all. I knew he was highly revered in the Soviet Union, and probably I had read that the city of Nizhni-Novgorod had been renamed Gorki even during his lifetime.

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