Last updated
I 005.jpg
1928 illustration, watercolour by Arkady Plastov
Author Maxim Gorky
Original title"Челкаш"
Country Russia
Language Russian
Published in Russkoye Bogatstvo magazine
Publication dateJune 1895

"Chelkash" (Russian : Челкаш) is a short story by Maxim Gorky, written in August 1894 and first published by Russkoye Bogatstvo in June 1895. The first of the numerous Gorky stories to appear in this magazine, it made the author well known in Russia and was included in all editions of the Complete Works by Maxim Gorky. [1]

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Maxim Gorky 19th and 20th-century Russian and Soviet writer

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, primarily known as Maxim Gorky, was a Russian and Soviet writer, a founder of the socialist realism literary method, and a political activist. He was also a five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Around fifteen years before success as a writer, he frequently changed jobs and roamed across the Russian Empire; these experiences would later influence his writing. Gorky's most famous works were The Lower Depths (1902), Twenty-six Men and a Girl (1899), The Song of the Stormy Petrel (1901), My Childhood (1913–1914), Mother (1906), Summerfolk (1904) and Children of the Sun (1905). He had an association with fellow Russian writers Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov; Gorky would later mention them in his memoirs.

<i>Russkoye Bogatstvo</i> magazine

Russkoye Bogatstvo was a monthly magazine published in St. Petersburg, Russia, from 1876 to mid-1918. In the early 1890s, it was an organ of the liberal Narodniks. Beginning in 1906, it became an organ of the Popular Socialists.


Background and publication

The story was written in August 1894 in Nizhny Novgorod, after Vladimir Korolenko's request to "do something substational for the journal." "I came home, sat down and started at once to write the story related to me by this bosyak [note 1] from Odessa, whom I found myself in a hospital ward with, in Nikolayev... In two days' time it was finished and I sent the rough copy to V.G.", Gorky remembered later. In his 1926 memoirs Gorky described the prototype as "... a raklo [petty thief] from Odessa, a former soldier, an army grenadier." "[I] was surprised by the good, whimsical humor of this Odessa tramp as he was telling me about the incident which became the foundation for my story, Chelkash... I remember so well his smile, baring his fine white teeth, the smile with which he concluded his tale about the treacherous young man he'd hired for work," Gorky wrote in another piece. [2]

Nizhny Novgorod City in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Russia

Nizhny Novgorod, colloquially shortened to Nizhny, is a city in Russia and the administrative center (capital) of Volga Federal District and Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. From 1932 to 1990, it was known as Gorky, after the writer Maxim Gorky, who was born there.

Vladimir Korolenko Russian writer

Vladimir Galaktionovich Korolenko was a Russian short story writer, journalist, human rights activist and humanitarian of Ukrainian and Polish origin. His best-known work include the short novel The Blind Musician (1886), as well as numerous short stories based upon his experience of exile in Siberia. Korolenko was a strong critic of the Tsarist regime and in his final years of the Bolsheviks.

Odessa Place in Odessa Oblast, Ukraine

Odessa is the third most populous city of Ukraine and a major tourism center, seaport and transport hub located on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea. It is also the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast and a multiethnic cultural center. Odessa is sometimes called the "pearl of the Black Sea", the "South Capital", and "Southern Palmyra". Before the Tsarist establishment of Odessa, an ancient Greek settlement existed at its location as elsewhere along the northwestern Black Sea coast. A more recent Tatar settlement was also founded at the location by Hacı I Giray, the Khan of Crimea in 1440 that was named after him as "Hacıbey". After a period of Lithuanian Grand Duchy control, Hacibey and surroundings became part of the domain of the Ottomans in 1529 and remained there until the empire's defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792.

Korolenko, who rated the story very high, later tried to play down his own role in Gorky's professional progress. "Many think that it was due to my patronage that he became a writer. That's a myth. He did that thanks to his huge talent. I only read his early stories and gave him my frank opinions," he wrote. Gorky, in his later essay on Korolenko, quoted the latter: "In the rough copy [of Chelkash] there are places where you clash with grammar to great disadvantage for the latter, so I corrected these. Apart from that I changed nothing". [3] In another piece of memoirs Gorky noted: "I think Kor[olenko] edited nothing in Chelkash, he just advised me to get rid of one scene, when Chelkash watches the street children playing, which I did." [4] [2]


Grigory Chelkash, a hard-drinking but shrewd thief who is involved in smuggling business, looks for Mishka, his partner in crime, and learns that he had got injured and is now in the hospital. Badly in need for somebody who'd row his boat for the night, in the port he approaches Gavrila, a young peasant man who seems to be badly in need of money.

Initially thinking he'd been commissioned for a routine night fishing trip, the boy starts to panic amidst the sea, realizing he's let himself into something dangerous and against the law. After a risky, but successful voyage, the two finally transport the load to the smugglers' boat, then fall asleep in a cabin inside. In the morning Gavrila receives his advance, forty rubles. For him this is a huge sum, but it starts to look meager as he learns that Chelkash left himself five hundred.

Overpowered by the desire to get rich overnight and leave all his troubles behind, he falls on his knees and implores the older man to give him the whole sum. Disgusted with the way the money's made the young man lose his dignity, Chelkash hands him down everything he's got. Gavrila, delirious with joy, confesses he'd had this of killing him, while in a boat. Outraged, Chelkash grabs all the money and walks away. He gets hit by stone from behind and falls down, bleeding from the back of his head. Mad now with fear and remorse, the boy is again on his knees, begging for forgiveness. Full of anger and disdain, Chelkash throws to Gavrila most of the money and staggers away, never to see him again. Satisfied with his gain, Gavrila steadily walks in the opposite direction.


  1. Literally: 'barefooted one'. A poor tramp, belonging to a large community of unemployed, homeless and marginalized men in Russia of the time. Gorky in his youth travelled a lot, met many such men and his early works earned him the (not entirely justified) reputation of 'a bosyak writer'.

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  1. Commentaries to Челкаш. The Works by M.Gorky in 30 volumes. Vol.1. Khudozhestvennaya Literatura // На базе Собрания сочинений в 30-ти томах. ГИХЛ, 1949-1956.
  2. 1 2 Maksimova, V.A. Commentaries. Примечания // М. Горький. Собрание сочинений в 16 томах. — М.: Правда, 1979. — Т. 1. — С. 413—414.
  3. «В рукописи у вас есть несколько столкновений с грамматикой, очень невыгодных для нее, я это поправил. Больше ничего не трогал...»
  4. «...кажется мне, что Кор<оленко> не правил Челкаша, а только посоветовал мне выбросить сцену: Челкаш наблюдает игру уличных детей, что я и сделал».