The first of Russia's great proletarian writers, Alexey Maximovich Peshkov (1868-1936) adopted the pen name of Gorky, meaning bitter. Drawing on his own experiences in the lowest social echelon, Gorky portrayed the wretched lives of down-and-outers, instilling his tales with heartfelt protest against a world that both tolerated and fostered the miseries of the underclass. In The Lower Depths, his dramatic masterpiece of 1902, Gorky presents a grimly realistic view of a desperate circle of lost souls. The play unfolds in a derelict boarding house, where a cast of despairing characters argue, play cards, tell stories, and debate the merits of two opposite worldviews: a self-reliant existence free of illusions, or a romanticized outlook that softens the pain of daily life. A revealing look at the atmosphere that led to the 1917 Russian Revolution, the drama abounds in shrewd observations, lifelike characters, and compelling dialog that make it a work of enduring vitality.