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Lower Depths


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AT: A Night's Lodging; Submerged; At the Bottom (of Life); Down and Out A: Maxim Gorky Pf: 1902, Moscow Pb: 1903 Tr: 1905 G: Drama in 4 acts; Russian prose S: A lodging house in a Volga town, 1900s C: 12m, 5fThe basement of Mikhail Kostyliov's lodging house is full of down-and-outs. The thief Vasily Pepel is having an affair with Kostyliov's wife Vasilisa but now turns his attention to her younger sister Natasha. There are also a brutal locksmith Kleshch and his ailing wife; a Baron; an embittered cap-maker; a failed and now drunken Actor; a dumpling-seller wooed by a corrupt policeman; a cobbler; a card-sharp named Satin; two porters; and Nastya, a prostitute who dreams of genuine romance. This motley crew is joined by a 60-year-old pilgrim Luka, who brings comfort to these unhappy and destitute beings. He consoles Kleshch's dying wife with promises of peace after death and tells the Actor of a free clinic that will cure alcoholics. Vasilisa encourages Pepel to murder her husband, but Luka arrives in time to prevent him, urging Pepel to leave with Natasha. Vasilisa retaliates by scalding her sister's feet and causing a fight between Pepel and Kostyliov. Pepel accidentally kills Kostyliov and is to be tried for murder. Luka leaves during the brawl, and while the others discuss him over drinks and cards, the Actor, disappointed that Luka never gave him the address of the clinic, quietly goes into the yard and hangs himself.

AT: A Night's Lodging; Submerged; At the Bottom (of Life); Down and Out A: Maxim Gorky Pf: 1902, Moscow Pb: 1903 Tr: 1905 G: Drama in 4 acts; Russian prose S: A lodging house in a Volga town, 1900s C: 12m, 5f

The Lower Depths is one of the major texts of naturalist theatre. In Lukács's terms, it does not ‘narrate’ but ‘describes’. The description is of a group, skilfully individualized by Gorky, living at the bottom of society, whose only comfort comes from their dreams, fed by the gentle but ultimately mendacious Luka. There is little plot and no central figure. The death of the Actor does not proceed from necessity as in conventional tragedy but is arbitrary and meaningless, provoking Satin's response: ‘he spoiled our song – the fool!’

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Maxim Gorky (1868—1936) Russian writer and revolutionary


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