Nikolai Gogol  

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"In passing, it may be remarked that his fellow tchinovniks were a peculiarly plain, unsightly lot, some of them having faces like badly baked bread, swollen cheeks, receding chins, and cracked and blistered upper lips. Indeed, not a man of them was handsome." --Dead Souls by Gogol

"To-day is a day of splendid triumph. Spain has a king; he has been found, and I am he. I discovered it to-day; all of a sudden it came upon me like a flash of lightning." --Poprishchin in "Diary of a Madman"

“What an intelligent, queer, and sick creature!” —Ivan Turgenev on Gogol, cited in The New Criterion

“I don’t know whether anyone liked Gogol exclusively as a human being. I don’t think so; it was, in fact, impossible. How can you love one whose body and spirit are recovering from self-inflicted torture?” —Sergei Aksakov, cited in The New Criterion

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Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (31 March 1809 – 4 March 1852) was a Russian dramatist of Ukrainian origin.

Although Gogol was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the preeminent figures of the natural school of Russian literary realism, later critics have found in his work a fundamentally romantic sensibility, with strains of surrealism and the grotesque ("The Nose", "Viy", "The Overcoat", "Nevsky Prospekt"). His early works, such as Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, were influenced by his Ukrainian upbringing, Ukrainian culture and folklore. His later writing satirised political corruption in the Russian Empire (The Government Inspector, Dead Souls). The novel Taras Bulba (1835) and the play Marriage (1842), along with the short stories "Diary of a Madman", "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich", "The Portrait" and "The Carriage", are also among his best-known works.


Bibliography of Nikolai Gogol






Even before the publication of Dead Souls, Belinsky recognized Gogol as the first realist writer in the language and the head of the Natural School, to which he also assigned such younger or lesser authors as Goncharov and Turgenev. Gogol himself seemed to be skeptical about the existence of such a literary movement. Although he recognized "several young writers" who "have shown a particular desire to observe real life", he upbraided the deficient composition and style of their works. Nevertheless, subsequent generations of radical critics celebrated Gogol (the author in whose world a nose roams the streets of the Russian capital) as a great realist, a reputation decried by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as "the triumph of Gogolesque irony".

The period of modernism saw a revival of interest in and a change of attitude towards Gogol's work. One of the pioneering works of Russian formalism was Eichenbaum's reappraisal of The Overcoat. In the 1920s, a group of Russian short story writers, known as the Serapion Brothers, placed Gogol among their precursors and consciously sought to imitate his techniques. The leading novelists of the period — notably Yevgeny Zamyatin and Mikhail Bulgakov — also admired Gogol and followed in his footsteps. In 1926, Vsevolod Meyerhold staged The Government Inspector as a "comedy of the absurd situation", revealing to his fascinated spectators a corrupt world of endless self-deception. In 1934, Andrei Bely published the most meticulous study of Gogol's literary techniques up to that date, in which he analyzed the colours prevalent in Gogol's work depending on the period, his impressionistic use of verbs, expressive discontinuity of his syntax, complicated rhythmical patterns of his sentences, and many other secrets of his craft. Based on this work, Vladimir Nabokov published a summary account of Gogol's masterpieces in 1944.

Gogol's impact on Russian literature has been enduring, yet his works have been appreciated differently by various critics. Belinsky, for instance, berated his horror stories as "moribund, monstrous works", while Andrei Bely counted them among his most stylistically daring creations. Nabokov singled out Dead Souls, The Government Inspector, and The Overcoat as the works of genius and dismissed the remainder as puerile essays. The latter story has been traditionally interpreted as a masterpiece of "humanitarian realism", but Nabokov and some other attentive readers argued that "holes in the language" make the story susceptible to another interpretation, as a supernatural tale about a ghostly double of a "small man". (At least this reading of the story seems to have been on Dostoevsky's mind when he wrote The Double. The quote, often apocryphally attributed to him, that "we all [future generations of Russian novelists] emerged from Gogol's Overcoat", actually refers to those few who read The Overcoat as a double-bottom ghost story (as did Aleksey Remizov, judging by his story The Sacrifice).) Of all Gogol's stories, The Nose has stubbornly defied all abstruse interpretations: D.S. Mirsky declared it "a piece of sheer play, almost sheer nonsense".

Gogol's oeuvre has also had a large impact on Russia's non-literary culture, and his stories have been adapted numerous times into opera and film. Russian Composer Alfred Schnittke wrote the eight part Gogol Suite as incidental music to the The Government Inspector performed as a play, and composer Dmitri Shostakovich set The Nose as his first opera in 1930, despite the peculiar choice of subject for what was meant to initiate the great tradition of Soviet opera. Most recently, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Gogol's birth, Vienna's renowned Theater an der Wien commissioned music and libretto for a full length opera on the life of Gogol from Russian composer and writer Lera Auerbach.

In Marathi, P. L. Deshpande adapted his play "The Government Inspector" as "Ammaldar" (literally 'the Government Inspector') in late 1950s, skillfully cladding it with all indigenous politico-cultural robe of Maharashtra, while maintaining the comic satire of the original.

Some attention has also been given to Gogol's apparent anti-Semitism in his writings, as well as those of his contemporary, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Felix Dreizin and David Guaspari, for example, in their The Russian Soul and the Jew: Essays in Literary Ethnocentricis discuss "the significance of the Jewish characters and the negative image of the Ukrainian Jewish community in Gogol's novel "Taras Bulba," pointing out Gogol's attachment to anti-Jewish prejudices prevalent in Russian and Ukrainian culture." In Leon Poliakov's The History of Antisemitism, the author mentions that "The 'Yankel' from Taras Bulba indeed became the archetypal Jew in Russian literature. Gogol painted him as supremely exploitative, cowardly, and repulsive, albeit capable of gratitude. But it seems perfectly natural in the story that he and his cohorts be drowned in the Dniper by the Cossack lords. Above all, Yankel is ridiculous, and the image of the plucked chicken that Gogol used has made the rounds of great Russian authors."

Gogol in popular culture

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