Titles by the Author
Nicolai V. Gogol
Nicolai Gogol, hailed by Dostoyevsky as a the father of realism in Russian literature, was born in the Ukraine in 1809. His father was a small landowner and an amateur playwright. Even as a child, Gogol was obsessed with the idea of becoming famous. He expressed contempt for his schoolmates whom he accused of "vegetating." As a relief from his unhappy schooldays he turned to writing while still a boy.
When Gogol was sixteen his father died, and soon thereafter he went to Petersburg to seek the literary life he thought would be his means to fame. In 1828 his first published work, the poem Hans Kuechelgarten, was ravaged by the critics and Gogol decided to move to America. He had only reached Germany when his money ran out, and returning to Russia, he found a low-level job in the government as a translator.
While he worked in the bureaucracy he continued to write. With the publication of Evenings on a Farm near Dikana in 1831 he achieved a measure of the fame that he felt was his destiny. The work was a great success and at the age of twenty-two Gogol became a well-known literary figure and a friend of Alexander Pushkin.
In 1834, however, he decided that his true calling was to be an historian. He proposed to write an eight-volume history of Russia and on the strength of this proposal he secured a position as Assistant Professor of Medieval History at the University of Petersburg. His academic career became a humiliating failure when it became apparent that he knew little about history. To forget his misery he wrote in his spare time, and during this period produced Taras Bulba, a prose poem glorifying the Cossacks; and Arabeski, a collection of short stories which included "Nevsky Avenue" and "Notes of a Madman." He left the University in 1835, and the great historical work was never written.
The publication of The Government Inspector in 1836 enhanced Gogol's reputation as a great author. Tsar Nicholas I personally guided the work past the censors who, as part of the bureaucracy, were threatened by Gogol's satirical treatment of bureaucrats.
With his literary success Gogol was able to travel, and spent several years in Rome. While in Rome he finished The Overcoat, perhpas the most famous story, and Dead Souls. The story of a con man who bought the names of dead serfs in order to sell their labor to the government. Dead Souls was hailed by radicals as a blow against the government, but Gogol was a conservative monarchist, and he had been attacking moral, not political evil. Disturbed at the way in which his work had been interpreted, he began the task of writing a second part of Dead Souls, in which the evil characters would undergo a moral regeneration.
By this time, though, writing had become torture and his health was failing. He struggled with the book, at the same time starving himself and further weakening his condition. In 1847, in despair over his inability to recapture his literary gifts, he burned the manuscript.
During this period of decline Gogol became convinced that through his writings he could bring about the moral regeneration not only of his characters, but of all of Russia. His mental and physical condition continued to deteriorate, and when he died at the age of forty-three in 1852 he had sunk deeply into paranoia and self-delusion.