Innocents At Home




That evening, while Gorky was still annoyed at Wilshire’s manner of playing host, someone knocked at the door of his suite and, when Gorky opened, handed him a note written in Russian. The note stated that the bearer was a reporter from the World, and in prim and stilted words it asked Gorky to say whether Madame was his wife or his mistress. “The novelist read it without visible surprise,” the reporter wrote next day, “shrugged his shoulders expressively, and returned the note with a shake of his head which … was intended to mean: ‘Nothing to say.’ ” The reporter folded up his note and departed, and Gorky left to attend a dinner which the Russian Social Democratic League was giving for him at the Murray Hill Lyceum. He arrived late, said he felt tired, and made a short, modest speech, mostly disclaiming the chairman’s flattering comparisons of Gorky with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev. The audience was more political than literary; when Gorky announced that he had an appointment to meet John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers, they shouted with approval. As he left, women showered him with rose petals.

On Saturday, while most New York newspapers were speculating on the damage done to Gorky by Wilshire’s telegram—the impression was that he had lost much general support by allowing himself to become aligned, even unwittingly, with extreme Socialists —the World came out with a front-page story headlined: GORKY BRINGS ACTRESS HERE AS …MME. GORKY.’

The story was lavishly illustrated. There was a picture of Gorky’s travelling companion—already identified as the actress Maria Federovna Andreyeva—and another of Gorky together with his wife, Katharine Pavlovna Volzhina, and their sons, aged five and eight, back in Russia. “The New York admirers of Maxim Gorky,” the article began, “have been divided into two camps by an embarrassing discovery which was made on the novelist’s arrival and was then whispered around among the circle of Socialists, revolutionists, and literary folk who flocked to his company.” Conservative Socialists, the World said, were “disconcerted” at the liaison, while “extreme Socialists regarded the situation calmly.” The article described Mme. Andreyeva as being “a sweet-faced, intensely feminine and intensely vivacious little woman … with a bubbling flow of conversation and high spirits,” and went on to say that Gorky had lived with her for the past few years, that he was amicably separated from his wife, and that, at least for a rebel in Russia, divorce was impossible—“the cost is great, and the church … would have refused any favors to an agitator like Gorky.”

Mr. Milton Roblee, manager of the Belleclaire, was upset by this news. After reading the World story, Roblee telephoned Wilshire and told him Gorky must leave the Belleclaire immediately. “My hotel is a family hotel,” he explained to the reporters milling around the lobby, “and in justice to my other guests I cannot possibly tolerate the presence of any persons whose characters are questioned in the slightest manner.” Wilshire arrived, bringing Mr. Mandelkern along as translator, and after a fruitless discussion with Roblee, who was furious at Wilshire for having brought the couple into his family hotel in the first place, they proceeded upstairs to Gorky’s suite. There, Wilshire invited the whole group to come to live at his home on West Ninety-third Street. Gorky declined. Wilshire also wanted to pay the bill at the Belleclaire. Gorky wouldn’t hear of it. Wilshire left, feeling he had been treated rather roughly for a host, but downstairs, confronting the reporters, he supported Gorky, in a way. “I knew that Gorky was not married to the lady,” he said. “I thought everybody else knew it. You have to make allowances for genius. … When Bernhardt came here with a trail of scandal behind her, she was allowed to live as she pleased in American hotels.”

Leroy Scott and his wife came up from Club A to help with the packing. On his way out of the hotel, stopping to speak to the crowd of newsmen, Gorky insisted that Mme. Andreyeva was, as far as he was concerned, his wife. “My wife is my wife—the wife of Maxim Gorky. She and I both consider it below us to go into any explanation”; then, in a Slavic crescendo, he mused: “It is in the great and tragic moments of life that I find the real Maxim Gorky. I am always strongest when I stand alone. The bitter cup contains the noblest wine of life, and I am not afraid to drain it. All is harmony in my soul. There is music in the air and an atmosphere of poetry all about.”