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Gogol, Nikolay Vasilyevich.

Gogol, Nikolay Vasilyevich

(1809 - 1852) Russian novelist, playwright, and short - story writer. Gogol was born in the province of Poltava in the Ukraine. His father, a member of the petty nobility, had a small estate and was an amateur playwright. Gogol used some lines from his father 's plays as epigraphs for his early stories in the collection Vechera ne khutore bliz Dikanki ( Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, 1831 - 32). After attending school in the Ukraine, Gogol went to St. Petersburg, where he worked as a government clerk and as a teacher, for a short while lecturing in history at St. Petersburg University. His first attempt at a literary work, a short poem called " Italia " (1829), was mildly successful. This encouraged Gogol to try a long narrative poem, Hanz Keuchelgarten (1829), which turned out to be a disaster. In 1831 Gogol met Pushkin and established a friendship that lasted until the great poet's death. Pushkin was impressed with Gogol 's Dikanka tales, which were largely based on Ukrainian folklore with an admixture of Gogol's own fantasy. Even these early tales reveal some features characteristic of Gogol's mature style: a rich mixture of vulgarisms and high - flown rhythmical rhetoric with frequent juxtapositions of the two levels.

Gogol's next published work was Arabeski ( Arabesques, 1835), containing a collection of essays and three of his St. Petersburg stories: " Nevsky Prospekt " ( " Nevsky Prospect " ), " Portret " ( " The Portrait " ), and " Zapiski sumashedskogo " ( " Diary of a Madman " ). The last story is a remarkable depiction of the mind of the lunatic Poprishchin, a civil servant who comes to believe that he is the king of Spain. In the same year Gogol published a collection of Ukrainian stories entitled Mirgorod, including " Starosvetskiye pomeshchiki " ( " Old - World Landowners " ), Taras Bulba, " Vii," and " Povest o tom, kak possorilsya Ivan Ivanovich's Ivanom Nikiforovichem " ( " The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich. " Two more stories, " Kolyaska " ( " The Carriage " ) and " Nos " ( " The Nose " ), appeared in 1836. " The Nose " is another example of Gogol's predilection for fantasy, a story about a man whose nose abruptly leaves him and gads about town, wearing clothes and riding in a fine carriage. In April 1836, the first performance of Gogol's satiric comedy The Inspector General was given. The mixed reaction to the play upset Gogol, who was always extremely sensitive about the attitude of the public toward his work. He left Russia for Europe, and traveled in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and France, finally settling in Rome. Except for short visits to Russia in 1839 - 40 and 1841 - 42, he was abroad for twelve years. Gogol had taken with him from Russia a few chapters of his novel Dead Souls, which was completed in Rome and published in 1842 in a four - volume edition of his works. Also in the edition was his famous story The Overcoat and all of his previously published work.

After the publication of the first part of Dead Souls, which was well received in Russia, Gogol began to write to friends and to publish requests for material to use in the planned second part of the novel. Whether he felt his creative power failing or he really believed that accounts of daily life from amateur correspondents would be useful is obscure. In ill health and increasingly obsessed with a religious mania, Gogol aimlessly traveled about Europe, took a pilgrimage to Palestine, and eventually returned to Russia in 1848. His reception in his homeland was cool, at least among the radical intelligentsia. Two years before his return, Gogol had published a didactic work entitled Vybrannye mesta iz perepiski c druzyami ( Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends, 1846), in which he upheld the autocratic tsarist regime and the patriarchal Russian way of life and advised landowners to allow their peasants to read only the Bible lest they pick up dangerous ideas. The book stirred up a storm of protest among the radicals and elicited a violent letter from the critic Vissarion Belinsky, which became at least as well known in Russia, though it was banned from print, as was the book that caused it to be written. What Belinsky and the other radicals failed to notice was that Gogol himself had never explicitly criticized the social system in Russia. His critics merely assumed that such was the implication of his writings.

From 1848 until his death, Gogol fell more and more into melancholia, aggravated by his fears of damnation. Shortly after burning some of his manuscripts, including the second part of Dead Souls, he took to his bed and died.

Gogol is recognized as one of the greatest writers in Russian literature from the point of view of the imaginativeness and stylistic richness of his work. No Russian author has handled the wealth of the Russian language so well. Gogol's choice of everyday life as the basis of much of his work had a profound effect on the future of Russian literature, although the degree and the purposes of his realism, as interpreted by Belinsky and later radical critics, are doubtful. Whether he intended it or not, Gogol's work was held up as a model for later Russian writers, who turned their attention to a sympathetic observation and realistic description of the lower levels of Russian society.

Despite his later evidences of conservatism and religiosity, Gogol is viewed by the Soviet critics, as he was early in his career by Belinsky, as a realist who used his work to point out social evils wit the aim of bringing about reform. His development in the last years of his life, including the Selected Passages, is regarded officially as the result of mental aberration.
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Publication:Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia, 3rd ed.
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1987
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