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Mother, by Maxim Gorky
IntroductionIt was a long time ago that I first read Mother, by Maxim Gorky, sixteen or seventeen years; yet I still remember clearly the richness of that experience, the taste of a wine I had never known before. This was a hot, warm, wonderful liquid for someone who had mainly been swilling pap. My reading was not by plan or method; without benefit of school or curriculum, I took anything and everything that came my way, drunk with the magic of what I had discovered in books. And then I came on Mother, the first of Gorky I had ever seen, and much of what I had read before was thin and tasteless by comparison. It was tapestry after cotton and burlap, living, breathing people after cardboard cutouts.
Of course, I talk as a writer. Gorky has had an enormous influence on me--more, I suppose, than any other foreign writer--and more than anything, he made me want to write. This giant of a man, filled with courage and love and hope, and such a great, aching pity, wrote not of princes, pirates and playboys, but of the working class and its own splendid heroes, the organizers and the agitators and the teachers--of those who for a century now have spilled out a river of their own blood so that the hopes and aspirations of all men might come to be.
I read Mother, and the word "Russia" became the embodiment of men and women rather than an idea. Here were the Russian workers who were to make the October Revolution; here was their hope and their zeal, and it was the hope and zeal of all human beings. Here was their unspeakable misery and shame, and it was the misery and shame of all people. Here, for the first time, I saw the following words:
"For all, mother dear, for all! The world is ours! The world is for the workers! For us there is no nation, no race. For us there are only comrades and foes..."
As the New York Times reviewer said in 1907, in a comment on the first American edition of Mother: "We are made to mingle intimately with the little band of revolutionists; we pass from place to place with the mother as she secretly distributes literature which sows truth and stimulates ambition. Through her we know her people."
And reading the book again, now, almost a generation later, I do not find it in any way lessened. It remains a big, beautiful book, written by a big and saintly human being; if anything, it grows in size and importance, a unique record of man's hopes and man's potential.
It is exactly forty years ago that Maxim Gorky wrote Mother. He was thirty-nine-years old then, already a writer of international fame and importance. Young as he was, he had behind him twenty years of work and experience in the Russian revolutionary movement. No ivory tower artist this. Already, he had served four jail sentences; he had been exiled; he had gone through the Revolution of 1903 as an active participant. He had attended the Fifth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in London and had made a special trip to America to collect funds for the revolutionary movement of his own country. Born and nurtured by the Russian Working Class, he never turned his back upon them. Nor was his writing something precious, to be hugged to his bosom and wrapped in cotton batting. He wrote party leaflets, pamphlets and articles for the press.