Leonid Andreyev was born in Orel, the capital of the Russian province of the same name, on August 21, 1871. He was ten years younger than his future patron and friend Maxim Gorki. He died on September 12, 1919, in Finland, an exile from his beloved chaos-ridden fatherland.
His father, a Russian of pure blood, by profession a surveyor, was a man of extraordinary physical vigor. He died at the early age of 42 as the result of a brain-stroke. His mother, a woman of much refinement and culture, was of Polish ancestry.
The earliest years of Andreyev's life were spent in close affiliation with the stage, through the personal acquaintance of his parents with the leading stage folks of the province.
He was a poor scholar and loved to play "hookey," preferring the great outdoors to the crowded class-room. His marks were very poor as the result. But he was a voracious reader of literature. His latter years in high school (gymnasium) were influenced by Tolstoy's works on non-resistance, by Schopenhauer, and by the first works of Maxim Gorki. The death of his father and the seeds of the pessimistic philosophy gave the inner life of the budding novelist a morose and pessimistic direction. In his teens Leonid Andreyev made three unsuccessful attempts at suicide.
It has been the fate of Leonid Andreyev to live through four distinct phases of Russian history, each of which has contributed to the shaping of his art.
In the latter eighties and the early nineties he had passed through one of the most disheartening periods in the life of the Russian people, when under the crushing heel of the despotic Tsar Alexander III all initiative and all aspirations of the mind were ruthlessly stifled. It was the period of shameful and soulless years, with miserable people, relentless persecutors, obedient slaves and a few hunted rebels.
The horror of this era of nightmare weighed heavily on the sensitive soul of young Andreyev and he attempted suicide in 1894 by shooting himself near the heart. The attempt was unsuccessful, but left behind an affliction of the heart, of which he died twenty-five years later.
In his student years (Andreyev took up the study of law in the University of Moscow) he fell under the influence of Tchekhov and of Gorki. Andreyev did not in his earlier years dream of becoming a writer. His interest in art led him to painting and his pictures were exhibited in the independent salons and much praised. His early stories were printed in the newspapers of Moscow under the nom-de-plume of James Lynch.
Andreyev's first story printed under that nom-de-plume in 1898 aroused the interest of Maxim Gorki, who sought out the future novelist and aided him greatly with advice and suggestions.
But between the two-between the singer of the people, the singer of humanity-Gorki, on the one hand, and the artist of individuality, the painter of thought, Andreyev, there is a vast difference and divergence. One is the captive of the realities of life, in which he loses himself, the other is the captive of fancies, of ever new problems of the soul, which he endeavors to illustrate by abstract schematism, but which he ultimately fails to solve.