Lower Depths

Lower Depths

by Maxim Gorky, Alex Szogyi

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This compelling 1902 play, considered Gorky's masterpiece, centers on a group of wretched souls who congregate to play cards, tell stories, and debate whether it is better to live without illusions or to maintain a romanticized world view. A powerful, influential drama, hailed for its realistic and memorable characterizations.


This compelling 1902 play, considered Gorky's masterpiece, centers on a group of wretched souls who congregate to play cards, tell stories, and debate whether it is better to live without illusions or to maintain a romanticized world view. A powerful, influential drama, hailed for its realistic and memorable characterizations.

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The Lower Depths


Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15925-6


Act I

* * *

A cellar resembling a cave. The ceiling, which merges into stone walls, is low and grimy, and the plaster and paint are peeling off. There is a window, high up on the right wall, from which comes the light. The right corner, which constitutes Pepel's room, is partitioned off by thin boards. Close to the comer of this room is Bubnoff's wooden bunk. In the left corner stands a large Russian stove. In the stone wall, left, is a door leading to the kitchen where live Kvashnya, the Baron, and Nastya. Against the wall, between the stove and the door, is a large bed covered with dirty chintz. Bunks line the walls. In the foreground, by the left wall, is a block of wood with a vise and a small anvil fastened to it, and another smaller block of wood somewhat further towards the back. Kleshtch is seated on the smaller block, trying keys into old locks. At his feet are two large bundles of various keys, wired together, also a battered tin samovar, a hammer, and pincers. In the centre are a large table, two benches, and a stool, all of which are of dirty, unpainted wood. Behind the table Kvashnya is busying herself with the samovar. The Baron sits chewing a piece of black bread, and Nastya occupies the stool, leans her elbows on the table, and reads a tattered book. In the bed, behind curtains, Anna lies coughing. Bubnoff is seated on his bunk, attempting to shape a pair of old trousers with the help of an ancient hat shape, which he holds between his knees. Scattered about him are pieces of buckram, oilcloth, and rags. Satine, just awakened, lies in his bunk, grunting. On top of the stove, the Actor, invisible to the audience, tosses about and coughs.

It is an early spring morning.

The Baron. And then?

Kvashnya. No, my dear, said I, keep away from me with such proposals. I've been through it all, you see — and not for a hundred baked lobsters would I marry again!

Bubnoff [to Satine]. What are you grunting about? [Satine keeps on grunting]

Kvashnya. Why should I, said I, a free woman, my own mistress, enter my name into somebody else's passport and sell myself into slavery — no! Why — I wouldn't marry a man even if he were an American prince!

Kleshtch. You lie!

Kvashnya. Wha-at?

Kleshtch. You lie! You're going to marry Abramka....

The Baron [snatching the book out of Nastya's hand and reading the title]. "Fatal Love" ... [Laughs]

Nastya [stretching out her hand]. Give it back — give it back! Stop fooling!

[The Baron looks at her and waves the book in the air.]

Kvashnya [to Kleshtch]. You crimson goat, you — calling me a liar! How dare you be so rude to me?

The Baron [hitting Nastya on the head with the book]. Nastya, you little fool!

Nastya [reaching for the book]. Give it back!

Kleshtch. Oh — what a great lady ... but you'll marry Abramka just the same — that's all you're waiting for ...

Kvashnya. Sure! Anything else? You nearly beat your wife to death!

Kleshtch. Shut up, you old bitch! It's none of your business!

Kvashnya. Ho-ho! can't stand the truth, can you?

The Baron. They're off again! Nastya, where are you?

Nastya [without lifting her head]. Hey — go away!

Anna [putting her head through the curtains]. The day has started. For God's sake, don't row!

Kleshtch. Whining again!

Anna. Every blessed day ... let me die in peace, can't you?

Bubnoff. Noise won't keep you from dying.

Kvashnya [walking up to Anna]. Little mother, how did you ever manage to live with this wretch?

Anna. Leave me alone — get away from me....

Kvashnya. Well, well! You poor soul ... how's the pain in the chest — any better?

The Baron. Kvashnya! Time to go to market....

Kvashnya. We'll go presently. [To Anna] Like some hot dumplings?

Anna. No, thanks. Why should I eat?

Kvashnya. You must eat. Hot food — good for you! I'll leave you some in a cup. Eat them when you feel like it. Come on, sir! [To Kleshtch] You evil spirit! [Goes into kitchen]

Anna [coughing]. Lord, Lord ...

The Baron [painfully pushing forward Nastya,s head]. Throw it away — little fool!

Nastya [muttering]. Leave me alone — I don't bother you ...

[The Baron follows Kvashnya, whistling.]

Satine [sitting up in his bunk]. Who beat me up yesterday?

Bubnoff. Does it make any difference who?

Satine. Suppose they did — but why did they?

Bubnoff. Were you playing cards?

Satine. Yes!

Bubnoff. That's why they beat you.

Satine. Scoundrels!

The Actor [raising his head from the top of the stove]. One of these days they'll beat you to death!

Satine. You're a jackass!

The Actor. Why?

Satine. Because a man can die only once!

The Actor [after a silence]. I don't understand —

Kleshtch. Say! You crawl from that stove — and start cleaning house! Don't play the delicate primrose!

The Actor. None of your business!

Kleshtch. Wait till Vassilisa comes — she'll show you whose business it is!

The Actor. To hell with Vassilisa! To-day is the Baron's turn to clean. ... Baron!

[The Baron comes from the kitchen.]

The Baron. I've no time to clean ... I'm going to market with Kvashnya.

The Actor. That doesn't concern me. Go to the gallows if you like. It's your turn to sweep the floor just the same — I'm not going to do other people's work ...

The Baron. Go to blazes! Nastya will do it. Hey there — fatal love! Wake up! [Takes the book away from Nastya]

Nastya [getting up]. What do you want? Give it back to me! You scoundrel! And that's a nobleman for you!

The Baron [returning the book to her]. Nastya! Sweep the floor for me — will you?

Nastya [goes to kitchen]. Not so's you'll notice it!

Kvashnya [to the Baron through kitchen door]. Come on — you! They don't need you! Actor! You were asked to do it, and now you go ahead and attend to it — it won't kill you ...

The Actor. It's always I ... I don't understand why....

[The Baron comes from the kitchen, across his shoulders a wooden beam from which hang earthen pots covered with rags.]

The Baron. Heavier than ever!

Satine. It paid you to be born a Baron, eh?

Kvashnya [to Actor]. See to it that you sweep up! [Crosses to outer door, letting the Baron pass ahead]

The Actor [climbing down from the stove]. It's bad for me to inhale dust. [With pride] My organism is poisoned with alcohol. [Sits down on a bunk, meditating]

Satine. Organism — organon....

Anna. Andrei Mitriteli....

Kleshtch. What now?

Anna. Kvashnya left me some dumplings over there — you eat them!

Kleshtch [coming over to her]. And you — don't you want any?

Anna. No. Why should I eat? You're a workman — you need it.

Kleshtch. Frightened, are you? Don't be! You'll get all right!

Anna Go and eat! It's hard on me. ... I suppose very soon ...

Kleshtch [walking away]. Never mind — maybe you'll get well — you can never tell! [Goes into kitchen]

The Actor [loud, as if he had suddenly awakened]. Yesterday the doctor in the hospital said to me: "Your organism," he said, "is entirely poisoned with alcohol ..."

Satine [smiling]. Organon ...

The Actor [stubbornly]. Not organon — organism!

Satine. Sibylline....

The Actor [shaking his fist at him]. Nonsense! I'm telling you seriously ... if the organism is poisoned ... that means it's bad for me to sweep the floor — to inhale the dust ...

Satine. Macrobistic ... hah!

Bubnoff. What are you muttering?

Satine. Words — and here's another one for you — transcendentalistic ...

Bubnoff. What does it mean?

Satine. Don't know — I forgot ...

Bubnoff. Then why did you say it?

Satine. Just so! I'm bored, brother, with human words — all our words. Bored! I've heard each one of them a thousand times surely.

The Actor. In Hamlet they say: "Words, words, words!" If s a good play. I played the grave-digger in it once....

[Kleshtch comes from the kitchen.]

Kleshtch. Will you start playing with the broom?

The Actor. None of your business. [Striking his chest] Ophelia! O — remember me in thy prayers!

[Backstage is heard a dull murmur, cries, and a police whistle. Kleshtch sits down to work, filing screechily.]

Satine. I love unintelligible, obsolete words. When I was a youngster — and worked as a telegraph operator — I read heaps of books....

Bubnoff. Were you really a telegrapher?

Satine. I was. There are some excellent books — and lots of curious words ... Once I was an educated man, do you know?

Bubnoff. I've heard it a hundred times. Well, so you were! That isn't very important! Me — well — once I was a furrier. I had my own shop — what with dyeing the fur all day long, my arms were yellow up to the elbows, brother. I thought I'd never be able ever to get clean again — that I'd go to my grave, all yellow! But look at my hands now — they're plain dirty — that's what!

Satine. Well, and what then?

Bubnoff. That's all!

Satine. What are you trying to prove?

Bubnoff. Oh, well — just matching thoughts — no matter how much dye you get on yourself, it all comes off in the end — yes, yes — Satine. Oh — my bones ache!

The Actor [sits, nursing his knees]. Education is all rot. Talent is the thing. I knew an actor — who read his parts by heart, syllable by syllable — but he played heroes in a way that ... why — the whole theatre would rock with ecstasy!

Satine. Bubnoff, give me five kopecks.

Bubnoff. I only have two —

The ACTOR. I say — talent, that's what you need to play heroes. And talent is nothing but faith in yourself, in your own powers —

Satine. Give me five kopecks and I'll have faith that you're a hero, a crocodile, or a police inspector — Kleshtch, give me five kopecks.

Kleshtch Go to hell! All of you!

Satine. What are you cursing for? I know you haven't a kopeck in the world!

Anna. Andrei Mitritch — I'm suffocating — I can't breathe —

Kleshtch. What shall I do?

Bubnoff. Open the door into the hall.

Kleshtch. All right. You're sitting on the bunk, I on the floor. You change places with me, and I'll let you open the door. I have a cold as it is.

Bubnoff [unconcernedly]. I don't care if you open the door — it's your wife who's asking —

Kleshtch [morosely]. I don't care who's asking —

Satine. My head buzzes — ah — why do people have to hit each other over the heads?

Bubnoff. They don't only hit you over the head, but over the rest of the body as well. [Rises] I must go and buy some thread — our bosses are late to-day — seems as if they've croaked. [Exits]

[Anna coughs; Satine is lying down motionless, his hands folded behind his head.]

The Actor [looks about him morosely, then goes to Anna]. Feeling bad, eh?

Anna. I'm choking —

The Actor. If you wish, I'll take you into the hallway. Get up, then, come! [He helps her to rise, wraps some sort of a rag about her shoulders, and supports her toward the hall] It isn't easy. I'm sick myself — poisoned with alcohol ...

[Kostilyoff appears in the doorway.]

Kostilyoff. Going for a stroll? What a nice couple — the gallant cavalier and the lady fair!

The Actor. Step aside, you — don't you see that we're invalids?

Kostilyoff. Pass on, please! [Hums a religious tune, glances about him suspiciously, and bends his head to the left as if listening to what is happening in Pepel's room. Kleshtch is jangling his keys and scraping away with his file, and looks askance at the other] Filing?

Kleshtch. What?

Kostilyoff. I say, are you filing? [Pause] What did I want to ask? [Quick and low] Hasn't my wife been here?

Kleshtch. I didn't see her.

Kostilyoff [carefully moving toward Pepel's room]. You take up a whole lot of room for your two rubles a month. The bed — and your bench — yes — you take up five rubles' worth of space, so help me God! I'll have to put another half ruble to your rent —

Kleshtch. You'll put a noose around my neck and choke me ... you'll croak soon enough, and still all you think of is half rubles —

Kostilyoff. Why should I choke you? What would be the use? God be with you — live and prosper! But I'll have to raise you half a ruble — I'll buy oil for the ikon lamp, and my offering will atone for my sins, and for yours as well. You don't think much of your sins — not much! Oh, Andrushka, you're a wicked man! Your wife is dying because of your wickedness — no one loves you, no one respects you — your work is squeaky, jarring on every one.

Kleshtch [shouts]. What do you come here for — just to annoy me?

[Satine grunts loudly.]

Kostilyoff [with a start]. God, what a noise!

[The Actor enters.]

The Actor. I've put her down in the hall and wrapped her up.

Kostilyoff. You're a kindly fellow. That's good. Some day you'll be rewarded for it.

The Actor. When?

Kostilyoff. In the Beyond, little brother — there all our deeds will be reckoned up.

The Actor. Suppose you reward me right now?

Kostilyoff. How can I do that?

The Actor. Wipe out half my debt.

Kostilyoff. He-ho! You're always jesting, darling — always poking fun ... can kindliness of heart be repaid with gold? Kindliness — it's above all other qualities. But your debt to me — remains a debt. And so you'll have to pay me back. You ought to be kind to me, an old man, without seeking for reward!

The Actor. You're a swindler, old man! [Goes into kitchen]

[Kleshtch rises and goes into the hall.]

Kostilyoff [to Satine]. See that squeaker —? He ran away — he doesn't like me!

Satine. Does anybody like you besides the Devil?

Kostilyoff [laughing]. Oh — you're so quarrelsome! But I like you all — I understand you all, my unfortunate down-trodden, useless brethren ... [Suddenly, rapidly] Is Vaska home?

Satine. See for yourself —

Kostilyoff [goes to the door and knocks]. Vaska!

[The Actor appears at the kitchen door, chewing something.]

Pepel. Who is it?

Kostilyoff. It's I — I, Vaska!

Pepel. What do you want?

Kostilyoff [stepping aside]. Open!

Satine [without looking at Kostilyoff]. He'll open — and she's there —

[The Actor makes a grimace.]

Kostilyoff [in a low, anxious tone]. Eh? Who's there? What?

Satine. Speaking to me?

Kostilyoff. What did you say?

Satine. Oh — nothing — I was just talking to myself —

Kostilyoff. Take care, brother. Don't carry your joking too far! [Knocks loudly at door] Vassily!

Pepel [opening door]. Well? What are you disturbing me for?

Kostilyoff [peering into room]. I — you see —

Pepel. Did you bring the money?

Kostilyoff I've something to tell you —

Pepel. Did you bring the money?

Kostilyoff. What money? Wait —

Pepel. Why — the seven rubles for the watch — well?

Kostilyoff. What watch, Vaska? Oh, you —

Pepel. Look here. Yesterday, before witnesses, I sold you a watch for ten rubles, you gave me three — now let me have the other seven. What are you blinking for? You hang around here — you disturb people — and don't seem to know yourself what you're after.

Kostilyoff. Sh-sh! Don't be angry, Vaska. The watch — it is —

Satine. Stolen!

Kostilyoff [sternly]. I do not accept stolen goods — how can you imagine —

Pepel [taking him by the shoulder]. What did you disturb me for? What do you want?

Kostilyoff. I don't want — anything. I'll go — if you're in such a state —

Pepel. Be off, and bring the money!


Excerpted from The Lower Depths by MAXIM GORKY, Jennie Covan, JULIE NORD. Copyright © 2000 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Political activist and founder of the socialist realism literary method, Maxim Gorky (1868–1936) was a devoted Bolshevik until the 1917 Revolution, after which he lived in exile until Stalin enticed his return. The first of Russia's great proletarian writers, Gorky wrote short stories and novels that drew upon his own experiences for realistic portrayals of hardship and misery.

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