Leonov, Leonid Maksimovich
Born May 19 (31), 1899, in Moscow. Russian Soviet writer. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1972), Honored Art Worker of the RSFSR (1949), and Hero of Socialist Labor (1967).
Leonov was raised by his grandfather, a small merchant. He first appeared in print in 1915 in the newspapers of Arkhangel’sk, where his father, the poet M. L. Leonov, had been exiled. In 1920 he served in the Red Army, fighting in battles on the southern front and writing for military newspapers. In 1922 he published his prose fairy tale “Buryga,” soon to be followed by a book of short stories (1923) and the novellas Breakthrough at Petushikha (1923) and The End of a Little Man (1924).
In 1924, Leonov’s first novel, The Badgers, appeared, an epic portrayal of the prerevolutionary Moscow petite bourgeoisie and the drama of the revolutionary struggle in the countryside. Leonov’s profound understanding of the old Russian way of life enabled him to create vivid portraits of village seekers after the truth and urban merchants and artisans. The novel’s theme is the inevitable victory of socialist forces in the countryside. The realism and skill of the author of The Badgers were highly praised by M. Gorky and A. V. Lunacharskii.
The philosophical novel The Thief (1927), based on observations of the dregs of urban society during the NEP period, the novellas A Provincial Tale and White Night (both written in 1928), the stories in Unusual Tales About Muzhiks (1928), and the plays Untilovsk (1928) and The Pacification of Badadoshkin (1929) develop the antibourgeois themes of The Badgers. Simultaneously, Leonov began working on the novel Sot’ (1930), one of the first works in Soviet literature to depict the heroic labor of a people building socialism and the transformation of remote regions of Russia into industrially developed areas. The protagonist of the novel is the Communist Uvad’ev, an energetic organizer of construction projects. In the novels Skutarevskii (1932) and Road to the Ocean (1935), Leonov examines the ideological and psychological transformation of members of the old intelligentsia who took part in the revolutionary transformation of the country and depicts the sharp ideological and class struggle among its members. In Road to the Ocean the chief protagonist is a communist organizer, a philosopher and dreamer who devotes his life to the building of a communist future.
In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s Leonov wrote mostly plays, including The Gardens of Polovchansk (1938), The Wolf (1938), The Blizzard (1939), and An Ordinary Man (1941). His first work to deal with the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) was the play Invasion (1942; State Prize of the USSR, 1943); it was followed by the play Lenushka (1943) and the novella The Taking of Velikoshumsk (1944). During the war years his patriotic journalistic writings became well known.
After the war Leonov began work on his best novel, Russian Forest (1953; Lenin Prize, 1957), portraying the Soviet people’s struggle against fascism and exploring complex contemporary moral problems. In this multilayered novel, the long conflict among Russian forestry scientists and the portrayal of two types of scientists become a passionate confession of the author’s ideas about life and art, particularly the concept of active and responsible patriotism based on a profound understanding of the national culture and strengthened by participation in the national life. The novel is the culmination of Leonov’s long quest for a new novel form combining realistic and accurate portrayal of motivation with an epic depiction of national life and narrative lyricism. In Russian Forest the traditional aspects of Leonov’s style, closely linked with the realism and humanism of classical Russian literature, are fully integrated with his original use of the artistic innovations of the 20th century. Realistic symbols and metaphors are especially important.
In the second half of the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, Leonov returned to his earlier works, twice revising the play The Golden Carriage (1946; 2nd ed., 1955; 3rd ed., 1964), completely reworking the novel The Thief (1952), and bringing out new editions of the play The Blizzard in 1963 and of Invasion in 1964. In 1963 he completed Evgenia Ivanovna, a novella about Russian émigrées that he had begun in 1938. Themes from his antiwar journalistic writings appear in his satirical screenplay The Flight of Mister McKinley (1961). Leonov is an activist in the struggle for peace. He advocates protection of the natural environment and is active in the Society for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments. His works have been translated into many languages. He was a deputy to the second through seventh convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Leonov has been awarded four Orders of Lenin, three other orders, and medals.
WORKSSobr. sock, vols. 1–5. Kharkov-Moscow-Leningrad, 1928–30. (Introduction by D. Gorbov.)
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–6. Moscow, 1953–55. (Foreword by V. Kovalev.)
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–9. Moscow, 1960–62. (Foreword by E. Starikova.)
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–10. Moscow, 1969–72. (Introduction by E. Surkov.)
REFERENCESBoguslavskaia, Z. Leonid Leonov. Moscow, 1960.
Vlasov, F. Poeziia zhizni. Moscow, 1961.
Fink, L. Dramaturgiia Leonida Leonova. Moscow, 1962.
Kovalev, V. Realizm Leonova. Leningrad, 1969.
Kovalev, V. “Novye zarubezhnye trudy o Leonove.” Russkaia literatura, 1973, no. 1.
Tvorchestvo L. Leonova: Sb. st. Leningrad, 1969.
Shcheglov, M. ”Russkii les Leonida Leonova.” In his anthology Literaturno-kriticheskie stat’i. Moscow, 1971.
Starikova, E. Leonid Leonov. Moscow, 1972.
Russkie sovetskie pisateli-prozaiki: Bibliograficheskii ukazatel’, vol. 2. Leningrad, 1964.
E. V. STARIKOVA