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Leonid Leonov : biography

1899 - 1994

Leonid Maximovich Leonov ( May 19 (May 31) 1899 — 8 August 1994) was a Soviet novelist and playwright. He has been dubbed the 20th-century Dostoyevsky for the deep psychological torment of his prose.

Early life

Leonid was born in Moscow in 1899. His father, Maxim Leonov, was a self-educated peasant poet who was at one time the chairman of the Surikov Literary and Musical circle (Surikov was also of peasant origin). Maxim Leonov later joined the Sreda literary group of Moscow, which counted Maxim Gorky, Leonid Andreyev, and Ivan Bunin among its members.

Leonid's earliest memory was of 1905, when Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia was assassinated by the terrorist Kalyayev. In the same year Leonid's father was arrested for two pamphlets that he had published. Leonid was taken twice by his grandmother to visit his father in prison. After serving 20 months, Maxim Leonov was exiled to Arkhangelsk. Leonid visited him there several times, and his impressions and observations were later reflected in many of his works, especially Sot.

He attended the Moscow Third gymnasium from 1910 to 1918. His first poems, reviews, and news reports were published in 1915 in the journal Severnoe Utro. He had intended to study medicine at Moscow State University, but his plans were disrupted by the outbreak of the Russian Civil War. Reference Guide to Russian Literature, Taylor & Francis, 1998.


During the Russian Civil War, he worked as a reporter with the Red Army. He was released from the Red Army in 1921 in order to continue his education. At that time he planned to study painting. Upon returning to Moscow he was unable to find any of his close relatives and acquaintances, but he was eventually accepted into the home of his uncle, a locksmith named Vasilyev. Leonid worked in his uncle's shop voluntarily in order to repay his uncle for taking him in. Later the famous graphic artist Falilyev took an interest in him. Falilyev introduced him to some well-known literary figures and artists of the early 20s, including the publishers Koppleman (of the Shipovnik Publishing House), and Sergey Saposhnikov. After seeing some of his early stories they both offered to publish them. This was the beginning of Leonov's professional literary career. Among his first stories were Buryga and The Wooden Queen (1923).

His first (and perhaps best) novel, The Badgers (1924), employs a fairly conventional style but is filled with peasant speech; it "deals with the impact on the village and the peasantry of the Revolution and symbolically pits brother against brother in the struggle."Edward James Brown, Russian Literature Since the Revolution: Revised and Enlarged Edition (Harvard University Press, 1982: ISBN 0-674-78204-6), p. 101. His dark novel The Thief (1927), set in the criminal underworld of the Russian capital, was warmly welcomed by critics in Russia and abroad, but Brown considers it "spoiled in execution by the self-conscious literary poses of the author and his transparent derivation of himself from the irrationalist Dostoyevsky. Leonov nonetheless performs a shrewd psychological dissection upon his main character, a disillusioned commissar who has become a member of a gang of thieves. He produced a thoroughly reworked version of this novel in 1959."Brown, Russian Literature Since the Revolution, p. 101.

He married Tatayana Mikhailovna Sabashnikova in 1926; the couple had 2 daughters. He visited Maxim Gorky in Sorrento in 1927. The Moscow Art Theatre under the direction of Constantin Stanislavski staged Leonov's play Untilovsk, which was set in a remote Siberian community. The production opened on 17 February 1928, having given a preview to the theatre's management committee three days earlier. Both the committee and the wider press disapproved of the play's ideological stance; Anatoly Lunacharsky, writing in the Leningrad journal Krasnaia, described it as a step backwards for the theatre.Benedetti, Stanislavski, pp. 314-315.

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