Nikolay (Vasilyevich) Gogol (1809-1852)

Great Russian novelist, dramatist, satirist, founder of the so-called critical realism in Russian literature, best-known for his novel MERTVYE DUSHI I-II (1842, Dead Souls). Gogol's prose is characterized by imaginative power and linguistic playfulness. As an exposer of grotesque in human nature, Gogol could be called the Hieronymus Bosch of Russian literature.

"The moon is made by some lame cooper, and you can see the idiot has no idea about moons at all. He put in a creosoted rope and some wood oil; and this has led to such a terrible stink all over the earth that you have to hold your nose. Another reason the moon is such a tender globe it that people just cannot live on it any more, and all that's left alive there are noses. This is also why we cannot see our own noses - they're all on the moon." (from Diary of a Madman, 1835)
Nikolay Gogol was born in Sorochintsi, Ukraine, and grew up on his parents' country estate. His real surname was Ianovskii, but the writer's grandfather had taken the name 'Gogol' to claim a noble Cossack ancestry. Gogol's father was an educated and gifted man, who wrote plays, poems, and sketches in Ukrainian.
Gogol started write while in high school. He attended Poltava boarding school (1819-21) and then Nezhin high school (1821-28). In 1828 Gogol, an aspiring writer, settled in St. Petersburg, with a certificate attesting his right to 'the rank of the 14th class'. To support himself. Gogol worked at minor governmental jobs and wrote occasionally for periodicals. Although he was interested in literature, he also dreamed of becoming an actor. However, the capital of Russia did not welcome him with open arms and his early narrative poem, Hans Küchelgarten (1829), turned out to be a disaster.
Between the years 1831 and 1834 Gogol taught history at the Patriotic Institute and worked as a private tutor. In 1831 he met Aleksandr Pushkin who greatly influenced his choice of literary material, especially his "Dikinka tales", which were based on Ukrainian folklore. Their friendship lasted until the great poet's death. Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka from 1831-32 was Gogol's breakthrough work, showed his skill in mixing fantastic with macabre, and at the same say something very essential about the Russian character.
After failure as an assistant lecturer of world history at the University of St. Petersburg (1834-35), Gogol became a full-time writer. Under the title Mirgorod (1835) Gogol published a new collection of stories, beginning with 'Old-World Landowners', which described the decay of the old way of life. The book also included the famous historical tale 'Taras Bulba', which showed the influence of Walter Scott. The protagonist is a strong, heroic character, not very typical for the author's later cavalcade of bureaucrats, lunatics, swindlers, and humiliated losers. One hostile critic descibed his city dwellers as the "scum of Petersburg". In his short stories, Gogol fully utilized the Petersburg mythology, in which the city was treated "both as 'paradise', a utopian ideal city of the future, the embodiment of Reason, and as the terrible masquerade of Antichrist." (Yuri Lotman in Universe of the Mind, 1990) Gogol was also the first to publish an extended literary comparison between Moscow and Petersburg, concluding, "Russia needs Moscow; Petersburg needs Russia."
"I am destined by the mysterious powers to walk hand in hand with my strange heroes," wrote Gogol once, "viewing life in all its immensity as it rushes past me, viewing it through laughter seen by the world and tears unseen and unknown by it." St. Petersburg Stories (1835) examined social relationships and disorders of mind; Gogol's influence can be seen among others in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground (1864) and The Crime and the Punishment (1866). Gogolian tradition continued also among others in the stories of Franz Kafka.
'The Nose' from this period was about a man who loses his nose, which tries to live its own life. Gogol himself had a long nose, but the motifs in the story were borrowed from other writers. According to V. Vinograd's study (1987), these kind of surrealistic images were popular the 1820-1830s. It is still a puzzle: no key has been found to explain, why Collegiate Assessor Kovalev's nose transforms into civil servant and back into nose. The central plot circles around Kovalev's quest to recapture his runaway organ – he has arrived in Moscow to climb up the social ladder but without proper face it is impossible. Without an arm or leg it is not unbearable, thinks Major, but without a nose a man is, the devil knows what...'In the outwardly crazy story lurks a serious idea: what matters is not the person but one's rank.
In 'Nevsky Prospect' a talented artist falls in love with a tender poetic beauty. She turns out to be a prostitute and the artist commits suicide when his romantic illusions are shattered. 'The Diary of a Madman' asked why is it that "all the best things in life, they all go to the Equerries or the generals?" 'Shinel' (1842, The Overcoat), one of Gogol's most famous short stories, contrasted humility and meekness with the rudeness of the 'important personage'. The central character is Akakii Akakievich, a lowly government clerk. When winter begins he notices that his old overcoat is beyond repairing. He manages to save money for a new, luxurious coat. His colleagues at the office arrange a party for his acquisition. But his happiness proves to be short-lived. On the way home he is attacked by thieves and robbed of his coat. To recover his lost possession, Akakievich asks help from an Important Person, a director of a department with the rank of general. He treats Akakievich harshly and Akakievich dies of fright within three days. One night when the Important Person is returning home, he is attacked by a ghost, the late Akakii, who steals his overcoat. The stealing of outer garments continue, even though now the ghost is a big man with a moustache and enormous fists.
Gogol published in 1836 several stories in Pushkin's journal Sovremennik, and in the same year appeared his famous play, The Inspector General. It told a simple tale of a young civil servant, Khlestakov, who finds himself stranded in a small provincial town. By mistake, he is taken by the local officials to be a government inspector, who is visiting their province incognito. Khlestakov happily adapts to his new role and exploits the situation. His true identity is revealed but then arrives the real inspector. Gogol masterfully creates with a few words people, places, things, and lets them disappear in the flow of the story. Vladimir Nabokov wrote: "Who is that unfortunate bather, steadily and uncannily growing, adding weight, fattening himself on the marrow of a metaphor? We never shall know – but he almost managed to gain a footing."
Its first stage production was in St Petersburg, given in the presence of the tsar. The tsar, as he left his box after the première, dropped the comment: "Hmm, what a play! Gets at everyone, and most of all at me!" Gogol, who was always sensitive about reaction to his work, fled Russia for Western Europe. He visited Germany, Switzerland, and France and settled then in Rome. He also made a pilgrimage to Palestine in 1848.
In Rome Gogol wrote his major work, The Dead Souls. "The prophet finds no honor in his homeland," he said. Gogol claimed that the story was suggested by Pushkin in a conversation in 1835. Wishing to embrace the whole Russian society in the work, Gogol regarded the first volume merely as 'a pale introduction to the great epic poem which is taking shape in my mind and will finally solve the riddle of my existence'. The story depicted the adventures Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, who arrives in a provincial town to buy 'dead souls', dead serfs. As a character, he is the opposite of starving Akakii Akakievich. By selling these 'souls' with a cheaply-bought lands, Chichikov planned to make a huge profit. He meets local landowners and departs the in a hurry, when rumors start spread about him. During the last decade of his life, Gogol struggled to continue the story and depict Chichikov's fall and redemption.
Except for a short visits to Russia in 1839-40 and 1841-42, Gogol was abroad for twelve years. The first edition of Gogol's collected works was published in 1842 . It made him one of the most popular Russian writers. Two years before his return, Gogol had published Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (1847), in which he upheld the autocratic tsarist regime and the patriarchal Russian way of life. The book arose disappointment among radicals who had seen Gogol's works as examples of social criticism. In the play ZHENITBA (1842) nearly everybody lies and the protagomist, Podgolesin, cannot make up his mind about marriage. He hesitates, agrees, then withdraws his promise, the life is full of cheating, but when people jeer at each other, they actually tell the truth. IGROGI (The Gamblers), about professional card-sharps, was first staged in 1843; Dmitri Shostakovich based his unfinished opera on the comedy.
In his later life Gogol came under influence of a fanatical priest, Father Konstantinovskii, and burned sequels for Dead Souls, just 10 days before he died on the verge of madness on the 4th of March 1852. Gogol had refused to take any food and various remedies were employed to make him eat – spirits were poured over his head, hot loaves applied to his person and leeches attached to his nose. Rumors arise from time to time that Gogol was buried alive, a situation familiar from the story 'The Premature Burial', of the contemporary writer Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).
For further reading: Nikolai Gogol by Vladimir Nabokov (1944); Gogol: A Life by David Magarshack (1957); Gogol: His Life and Works by Vsevolod Setchkarev (1965); The Smile and Gogol's Death Souls by Carl R. Proffer (1967); The Sexual Labyrinth of Nikolai Gogol by Simon Karlinsky (1976); Gogol's Dead Souls by James B. Woodward (1978); Out from under Gogol's Overcoat by Daniel Rancour-Laferriére (1982); Gogol and the Natural School by Victor V. Vinograd (1987); Nikolay Gogol: Text and Context, ed. by Jane Grayson and Faith Wigzell (1989); Exploring Gogol by Robert A. Maguire (1994); Gogol's 'The Government Inspector' by Michael Beresford (1997) - Suomeksi kirjailijalta on julkaistu myös Kertomus siitä miten Ivan Ivanovits ja Ivan Nikiforovits riitaantuivat keskenään, Muotokuva, Naimapuuhat sekä Valitut teokset I-II. - See also: Lu Xun ; Arkady Strugatski
Selected works:
  • GANTS KYUHELGARTEN, 1829 (publishend under the pseudonym V. Alov) - Hans Küchelgarten / Hanz Kuechelgarten, Leaving the Theater, & Other Works (edited by Ronald Meyer, 1990)
  • VECHERA NA KHUTORE BLIZ DIKAN'KI, 1831-32 (2 vols.) - Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (tr. Constance Garnett, in Collected Works, 1926) / Village Evenings near Dikanka (translated and edited by Christopher English, in Village Evenings Near Dikanka and Mirgorod, 1994) - Dikankan iltoja (suom. Irma Grönroos, Maija Pellikka & Margit Salmenoja, 1972) / Kadonnut kirje (suom. Jukka Mallinen, 2004)
  • MIRGOROD, 1835 (includes 'Viy') - Mirgorod (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1928; Leonard J. Kent, 1985; Christopher English, 1994; tr. also by David Magarshack) - Demonien ruhtinatar (suom. K. Repo, 1914) / Maahisten valtiatar (suom. Juhani Konkka) - films: 1960, La Maschera del demonio, dir. by Mario Bava, starring Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi; 1967, Viy, dir. by Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov; 1990, Sveto mesto, dir. by Djordje Kadijevic; 2009, Vij, dir. by Robert Englund
  • ARABESKI, 1835 - Arabesques (tr. Alexander Tulloch)
  • TARAS BULBA, 1835 (appeared in MIRGOROD) - Taras Bulba (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1922-27; Leonard J. Kent, 1985; Christopher English, 1995; tr. also by Jeremiah Curtin; Isabel F. Hapgood; David Magarshack) - Taras Bulba (suom. Samuli S., 1878; J. A. Halonen, 1913; Gunvor ja Kaarlo Salo, 1946; Juhani Konkka, 1940; Ulla-Liisa Heino, 1959) - films: 1909, dir. by Aleksandr Drankov; 1924, dir. by Vladimir Strizhevsky & Joseph N. Ermolieff, starring J.N. Douvan-Tarzow, 1936, dir. by Alexis Granowsky, starring Harry Baur; 1962, dir. by J. Lee Thompson, starring Yul Brynner, Tony Curtis; 1963, dir. by Ferdinando Baldi, starring Vladimir Medar; 2009, dir. by Vladimir Bortko
  • ZAPISKI SUMASSEDSHEGO, 1835 (appeared in story collection ARABESKI) - The Diary of a Madman (tr. by Prince Mirsky, 1929; Constance Garnett, Ronald Wilks; Priscilla Meyer and Andrew R. MacAndrew) - Mielipuolen päiväkirja / Hullun päiväkirja (suom. Esa Adrian, in Pietarilaisnovelleja, 1972; Ulla-Liisa Heino, 1971) - film 1987, Le Journal d'un fou, dir. by Roger Coggio
  • NEVSKI PROSPEKT, 1835 (among others The Nose, Diary of a Madman, The Overcoat) - St. Petersburg Stories / Petersburg tales (translated and edited by Christopher English ) - Nevan valtakatu (suom. Juhani Konkka, 1954) / Pietarilaisnovelleja (suom. Esa Adrian, 1972)
  • 'Nos', 1836 (in Sovremennik) - The Nose (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1922-27; Robert Daglish, 1984; Leonard J. Kent, 1985; Ronald Wilks, in Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, 1972, Christopher English, 1995; also tr. by Andrew R McAndrew; John Cournos) - 'Nenä' (suom. Juhani Konkka, Esa Adrian, Ulla-Liisa Heino; katso myös Pentti Saarikoski=nimimerkki Nenä) - film: 1963 Le Nez (animation), dir. by Alexandre Alexeieff
  • REVIZOR, 1836 (play) - The Government Inspector (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1927; John Byrne, 1997) / The Inspector General (tr. by John Anderson, 1931; Leonard J. Kent, 1964; Christopher English, 1995) / The Inspector (tr. by John Laurence Seymour and George Rapall Noyes, 1933; Joshua Cooper, in Four Russian Plays, 1972) - Reviisori (suom. At Ht, 1882; Eino ja Jalo Kalima, 1922) - films: 1933, Eine Stadt steht kopf, dir. by Gustaf Gründgens; 1933, Revizor, dir. by Martin Fric, starring Vlasta Burian; 1946, The Inspector General, dir. by Henry Koster, starring Danny Kaye; 1950, Afsar, dir. by Chetan Anand; 1952, dir. by Vladimir Petrov, starring Igor Gorbachyov; 1974, Calzonzin Inspector, dir. by Alfonso Arau; 1977, Inkognito iz Peterburga, dir. by Leonid Gaidai
  • 'Koliaska', 1836 (in Sovremennik) - The Coach (tr. Constance Garnett, in Collected Works, 1922-1927; Leonard J. Kent, 1985) / as The Carriage (tr. by Christopher English, 1995)
  • SHINEL, 1842 - The Overcoat (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1923; Leonard J. Kent, 1985; Christopher English, 1995) / The Greatcoat (tr. Zlata Shoenberg and Jesse Domb, 1944) / The Mantel and Other Stories (tr. by Claud Field) / The Overcoat, and Other Tales of Good and Evil (tr. by David Magarshack) - Viitta (suom. Huugo Jalkanen, 1908) / Päällystakki (suom. Huugo Jalkanen, 3. p. 1958; Ulla-Liisa Heino, 1971) / Päällysviitta (suom. Juhani Konkka, 1965) - films: 1926, dir. by Grigori Kozintsev & Leonid Trauberg, starring Andrei Kostrichkin, Emil Gal; 1952, Il Cappotto, dir. by Alberto Lattuada; 1956, The Bespoke Overcoat, dir. by Jack Clayton; 1959, dir. by Aleksei Batalov, starring Rolan Bykov
  • SOCHINENII, 1842 (4 vols.)
  • 'Portret', 1842 (in Sovremennik) - The Portrait (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1922-27; Leonard J. Kent, 1985; Christopher English, 1995) / The Portrait / Portret=The Portrait (edited with introd. and notes by Arian Kiriloff) - Muotokuva (suom. Eila Salminen, 1980)
  • 'Rim', 1842 - Rome (tr. Constance Garnett, 1923; Leonard J. Kent, 1985)
  • ZHENITBA, 1842 (play) - The Marriage (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1927; Leonard J. Kent, 1994; also tr. by Alexander Berkman; Bella Costello) / Marriage (tr. Milton Ehre, in The Theatre of Nikolay Gogol, 1980; Christopher English, 1995) - Naimahommat (suom. Arthur Järnefelt, 1905) / Naimapuuhat (suom. K. Repo, 1911) - films: 1936, dir. by Erast Garin & Khesya Lokshina; 1977, dir. by Vitali Melnikov
  • SOCHINENIIA, 1842 (4 vols.)
  • MERTVYE DUSHI I-II, 1841-46 - Dead Souls (tr. by Constance Garnett, 1922-27; David Mararshack, 1961; George Reavey, 1985; Christopher English, 1987; G.B. Guerney, 1996; tr. also by Stephen Graham; Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky; Robert A. Maguire) / Chichikov’s Journeys; or, Home life in Old Russia (tr. by Bernard Guilbert Guerney) - Kuolleet sielut (suom. Samuli S., 1882; Juhani Konkka, 1939; Jalo Kalima ja Juhani Konkka, 1945) - films 1909, dir. by Pjotr Tshardynin; TV film 1968, dir. by Aleksandr Belinsky, starring Igor Gorbachyov; 1984, TV series, dir. by Mikhail Shvejtser, starring Aleksandr Kalyagin, Aleksandr Trofimov, Yuri Bogatyryov
  • IGROGI, 1843 (play) - The Gamblers (translated by Constance Garnett, 1927; Leonard J. Kent, 1964; Milton Ehre, in The Theatre of Nikolay Gogol, 1980; also tr. by Alexander Berkman) - films: 1970, dir. by Ron Winston, starring Suzy Kendall, Don Gordon, Pierre Olaf, Kenneth Griffith; 2007, dir. by Pavel Chukhraj
  • VYBRANNYYE MESTA IZ PEREPISKI S DRUZYAMI, 1847 - Selected Passages from Correspondence with My Friends (tr. by Jesse Zeldin) - see also Vissarion Belinsky
  • RAZMYSHLENIIA O BOZHESTVENNOI LITYRGII, 1913 - The Divine Liturgia of the Eastrn Orthodox Church (tr. by Rosemary Edmonds) - Ajatuksia jumalallisesta liturgiasta (suom. Leena Sivonen, 1997)
  • Collected Works, 1922-27 (6 vols., tr. by Constance Garnett)
  • POLNOE SOBRANIE SOCHINENII, 1937-52 (14 vols.)
  • The Collected Tales and Plays, 1964 (tr. Constance Garnett, ed. by Leonard J. Kent)
  • Letters of Nikolai Gogol, 1967 (tr. by Carl R. Proffer in collaboration with Vera Krivoshein)
  • The Diary of a Madman and Other Stories, 1972 (tr. by Ronald Wilks)
  • AVTORSKAIA ISPOVED, 1974 - An Author's Confession (tr. by David Lapeza, in Russian Literature Triquarterly)
  • SOBRANIE SOCHINENI, 1977 (7 vols.)
  • The Theater of Nikolay Gogol, 1980 (ed. by Milton Ehre, tr. by Milton Ehre and Fruma Gottschalk)
  • SOBRANIE SOCHINENII, 1984-86 (8 vols.)
  • The Complete Tales of Nikolai Gogol, 1985 (2 vols., edited by Leonard J. Kent)
  • Hanz Kuechelgarten, Leaving the Theater and Other Works, 1990 (edited and translated by Ronald Meyer)
  • Village Evenings Near Dikanka and Mirgorod, 1994 (tr. Christopher English)
  • Plays and Peterburg Tales, 1995 (tr. Christopher English)


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The Russian film directed by Egor Baranov, starring Sergey Badyuk, Yuliya Frants and Oleg Menshikov. A dark force kidnaps and kills young girls in the remote village of Dikanka. A sorcerer from the city of Saint Petersburg came to investigate and discovered that the killer was Dark Knight. To destroy this evil, the magician needs the help of Khoma Brutus - the witch hunter and the theologian.

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