Leonid Andreyev’s The Red Laugh is an antiwar horror story about Russia’s war in Manchuria. The novel is constantly downbeat, and each of its chapters is a fragment, the first of which begins “Horror and Madness.”
The picnic happens after soldiers on the front lines drag a dead comrade to safety. “That same evening,” the narrator says, “we got up an entertainment — a sad and strange entertainment, at which, amongst the guests, the shadows of the dead assisted. We decided to gather in the evening and have tea, as if we were at home, at a picnic. We got a samovar, we even got a lemon and glasses, and established ourselves under a tree, as if we were at home, at a picnic. Our companions arrived noisily in twos and threes, talking, joking and full of gleeful expectation — but soon grew silent, avoiding to look at each other, for there was something fearful in this meeting of spared men. In tatters, dirty, itching as if we were covered by dreadful ringworm, with hair neglected, thin and worn, having lost all familiar and habitual aspect, we seemed to see each other for the first time as we gathered around the samovar, and seeing each other, we grew terrified.”
Andreyev was never a soldier, and it’s likely the universal horror of war is also a personal metaphor of his constant bouts of depression and his struggle for sanity. The Red Laugh takes its name from the narrator’s sardonic joke that war is a “red laugh,” a joke that falls flat. The Red Laugh brings to mind Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, published five years earlier (1895), but there seems to be no connection.
Featured Image: The title page of the English translation of the Red Laugh (1905).
See Leonid Andreyev. The Red Laugh [Красный смех] 1904. Translated by Alexandra Linden. Fisher Unwin: London, 1905