Georg Lukács called Maxim Gorky "the greatest writer of our time." Delo Artamonovykh, published in 1925 and translated into English in 1927 as Decadence, is his greatest historical novel. Until now, it has not been widely available to Western readers.
Decadence is a family saga, an intricate character study, and a picture of Russia in the years between the serf’s emancipation and the Bolshevik Revolution. It chronicles the fortunes of three generations of merchants who, in themselves, represent the tensions of the changing social order. In 1863, Ilya Artamonov founds a linen factory by the Oka River. In time the factory prospers and his children, inspired by his passion for labor, make improvements. A grandnephew even adds a library and organizes a football team. But one grandson is lazy and another is a socialist. Already on the scene and biding his time is Tikhon, the new proletarian. The decline, or "decadence," of the Artamonov family, and by extension the Russian middle class, is a result of personality clashes and of social revolution in the wind.
Neither a lament for the old order nor a cheer for revolution, Decadence depicts the beginnings of a bourgeois class that gave way to two wars and two revolutions. It describes Russia's capitalist episode, when the developmentof factory labor and the accumulation of wealth transformed a feudal societ into a nation of workers. "Everyone lives for work, but whether men live for anything beyond their work, we can't see."
This edition of Decadence includes a foreword by Irwin Weil, professor of Slavic languages at Northwestern University.