The picnic in Leonid Andreyev’s The Red Laugh is a nightmarish description of soldiers on the front lines dragging a comrade who is already dead to safety. Their universe the narrator says says is “red” and making a sardonic joke that no one else understands he says that war is a “red laugh.” The picnic is almost a momentary relief—but not quite:That same evening 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 a 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 round the samovar, and seeing each other, we grew terrified.

Though Andreyev was never a soldier, but his vivid imagination is adept at conjuring the war’s horror. As autobiography, the novel is a complex revelation of Andreyev’s constant bouts of depression that always left his struggling for sanity.

Photograph of Leonid Andreyev and title page of the English translation of The Red Laugh (1905).

Photograph of Leonid Andreyev and title page of the English translation of The Red Laugh (1905). Andreyev’s vacant gaze suggests his inner turmoil.

Featured Image: It’s not Andreyev’s war, but Edward Ardizzone’s Battle in an Orchard of Almond Trees in Sicily: Morning of July 21st 1943  is a first-hand representation of what Ardizzone saw. The irony of the battle and the otherwise peaceful orchard intensifies the horrible violence. The image is part of the collection of the Imperial War Museum, London.

See: Leonid Andreyev. The Red Laugh [Красный смех] 1904. Translated by Alexandra Linden. Fisher Unwin: London, 1905

PS: The Red Laugh (1904) is an experimental novel told in a series of fragments the subject of which is Russia’s war with Japan war in Manchuria. The novel is a constantly downbeat, and the first words of the Fragment 1 are “Horror and Madness.”