Degeneration, decadence and disease in the Russian fin de siècle
Neurasthenia in the life and work of Leonid Andreev
Publication Year: 2015
Published by: Manchester University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication
After publishing two articles on Leonid Andreev and mental illness in the Russian academic journals Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie and Voprosy literatury, six Soviet-trained scholars decided that they would publish a polemic against my scholarly work in yet a third academic journal (Russkaia Literatura), breaking the usual code of scholarly conduct. At no point did these scholars attempt to dialogue with me and must have thought that their harsh rebuke would silence the ‘young Canadian’ (sic) on this topic. The first to offer me their assistance with this polemic were...
Notes on Russian terms, images and abbreviations
Leonid Andreev (1871–1919) was Russia’s leading literary and cultural figure from roughly 1902 to 1914. He and Feodor Sologub (1863–1927) were the best selling authors during much of that time, and Andreev was equal to Maksim Gor’kii (1868–1936) in terms of topical relevance. His name was spoken in the same breath as Lev Tolstoi (1828–1910), Feodor Dostoevskii (1821–1881) and Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) during his lifetime. Yet, because he had both supported revolution in his early years and reviled the Bolsheviks at...
2. Degeneration and decadence
In order to understand Andreev’s illness experience, we must first gain insights into what it meant to be an acute neurasthenic in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. Medical science believed that neurasthenia was just one of the early indications of a much larger problem negatively impacting civilized society. This new science was concerned with degeneration theory, which argued that if a species could evolve, then it could also devolve. Simply stated neurasthenia was one of the signs of an individual’s physical, moral and psychological...
3. Diaries and diagnosis
Typically scholars focus on several main themes when describing Leonid Andreev’s childhood. The death of his father in 1889 meant that Andreev assumed complete responsibility for his family at an early age. The author’s tumultuous relationship with Zinaida Nikolaevna Sibeleva exacerbated many of the usual growing pains of adolescence. An intense interest in the philosophies of Schopenhauer and Hartmann influenced Andreev’s perception of the world around him. Each of these factors are...
4. Controversy and success
Andreev’s rise to literary fame reached dizzying heights in a short amount of time. There were, unquestionably, many factors that contributed to his success. Yet, this chapter will mainly concentrate on the development of Andreev’s particular illness narrative and how it contributed to the author’s cultural relevancy. Stories about sexual deviance and criminal madness propelled Andreev beyond literary discussions and into larger debates about the health of the Russian nation. His works were used by scientists, journalists and scholars alike...
5. Loss and rebellion
In June 1904, Courier ceased to exist after a prolonged period of financial difficulties. This meant that Andreev now had to earn his livelihood solely as a creative writer. The heady times of his initial success gave way to a period of significant political upheaval and personal loss. Andreev’s life was turned upside down by the deaths of both his youngest sister and his wife, while his works began to reflect his own political ruminations, if not vacillations. This chapter concentrates on the ways in which madness interacts with Andreev’s personal and fictional narratives of...
6. Feigned and performed
As Andreev began to rebuild his life around his new family in Vammelsuu, various ideas from his earlier works started to coalesce in coherent and consistent ways. In dramatic and literary works of this period the performance is a way of interacting with madness in an attempt to hide its effects from the public, because there exists the threat of incarceration for those deemed abnormal or dangerous (including the insane), therefore verisimilitude (giving a truth that the public wants to see) is necessary to avoid the stigma of madness....
7. Diaries and death
For most of 1912–13, Andreev suffered from constant migraines, insomnia and a pain in his arm. Finally in 1914, he decided to go to Rome with Anna and Savva to convalesce.2 The final act of Andreev’s life was one of failing health and diminished artistic abilities. These problems were complicated further by war and revolution, which monopolized a great amount of Andreev’s attention. This chapter concentrates on the author’s Finnish diary, where the illness experience is once again at the fore, as well as Andreev’s own pursuit of treatment....
By reopening the fourth line of critical discourse, I have attempted to reexamine Andreev’s literary output in light of his personal and medical history. In doing this, the primary goal was to confront, and possibly refute, the Soviet biography of the author that has dominated discussions of Andreev since the 1960s. Specifically, in addressing why it might be that Andreev was so interested in the theme of madness and how this influenced his literary career, I have touched upon many of the issues that have remained unanswered by scholars. Although there will always...
Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2015
OCLC Number: 900090510
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