Gogol (Ianovskii), Nikolai (Vasil'evich)

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GOGOL (Ianovskii), Nikolai (Vasil'evich)

Nationality: Russian. Born: Sorochintsii, 19 March 1809. Education: Nezhin high school, 1821-28. Career: Civil servant, 1828-31; history teacher, Patriotic Institute, St. Petersburg, 1831-34; private tutor, 1831-34; assistant lecturer in history, University of St. Petersburg, 1834-36. Lived in Western Europe, 1836-39, 1842-48. Died: 21 February 1852.



Works. 6 vols., 1922-27.

Polnoe sobranie sochinenii [Complete Works]. 14 vols., 1937-52.

The Collected Plays and Tales, edited by Leonard J. Kent. 1969.

The Theatre of Gogol: Plays and Selected Writings, edited by Milton Ehre. 1980.

Selection. 1980.

The Complete Tales, edited by Leonard J. Kent. 2 vols., 1985.

Gogol: Plays and Selected Writings, translated by Milton Ehre and Fruma Gottschalk, 1994.

Petersburg Tales, Marriage, The Government Inspector, translated by Christopher English, 1995.

Short Stories

Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki [Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka]. 1831-32.

Mirgorod. 1835; as Mirgorod, Being a Continuation of Evenings in a Village near Dikanka, 1928; as Evenings Near Dikana and Mirgorod, translated by Christopher English, 1994.

Arabeski. 1835; as Arabesques, 1982.

Cossack Tales. 1860.

St. John's Eve and Other Stories from "Evenings at the Farm" and "St. Petersburg Stories." 1886.

Taras Bulba, also St. John's Eve and Other Stories. 1887.

Tales. 1945.


Mertvye dushi. 1842; as Home Life in Russia, 1854; as Tchitchikoff's Journeys, 1886; as Dead Souls, 1887.


Revizor (produced 1836). 1836; as The Inspector-General, 1892; as The Government Inspector, in Works, 1927; as Revizor-The Government Inspector: A Comedy in Five Acts, edited by M. Beresford, 1996.

Zhenitba (produced 1842). 1841; as The Marriage, in Works, 1927.

Igroki. 1842; as The Gamblers, in Works, 1927.


Sochineniia. 2 vols., 1842.

Vybrannye mesta iz perepiski s druz'iami [Selected Passages fromCorrespondence with Friends]. 1847.

Meditations on the Divine Liturgy. 1913; as The Divine Liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church, 1960.

Letters, edited by Carl R. Proffer. 1967.



Gogol: A Bibliography by Philip E. Frantz, 1989.

Critical Studies:

Gogol by Vladimir Nabokov, 1944; Gogol as a Short Story Writer by F. C. Driessen, 1965; Gogol: His Life and Works by Vsevolod Setchkarev, 1965; Gogol: The Biography of a Divided Soul by Henri Troyat, 1974; Gogol from the Twentieth Century edited by Robert A. Maguire, 1974, revised edition, 1976; The Sexual Labyrinth of Gogol by Simon Karlinsky, 1976; Through Gogol's Looking Glass: Reverse Vision, False Focus, and Precarious Logic by William Woodin Rowe, 1976; Gogol's Dead Souls, 1978, and The Symbolic Art of Gogol: Essays on His Short Fiction, 1982, both by James B. Woodward; The Creation of Gogol by Donald Fanger, 1979; Out from under Gogol's "Overcoat": A Psychoanalytical Study by Daniel Rancour-Laferriere, 1982; The Enigma of Gogol by Richard Peace, 1981; Such Things Happen in the World!: Something Deixis in Three Short Stories by Gogol by P. M. Vaszink, 1988; Gogol: Text and Context edited by Jane Grayson and Faith Wigzell, 1989; The Pragmatics of Insignificance: Chekhov, Zoshchenko, Gogol by Cathy Popkin, 1993; Exploring Gogol by Robert A. Maguire, 1994; Gogol's Aesthetics Compared to Major Elements of German Romanticism by Rosemarie K. Jenness, 1995.

* * *

Nikolai Gogol occupies a unique place in Russian literature as a nineteenth-century writer whose vision of the world, while in essence a moral one, nonetheless defies any conventional categorization and is preoccupied mainly with realms of fantasy that at times seem extraordinarily modern and surrealistic. In general it may be said that Gogol's universe, though decidedly grounded in the physical and material, is in a constant state of change and transformation that carry it towards concerns that are spiritual and metaphysical. As a short story writer, Gogol developed and extended the tradition that was established by Pushkin in his Tales ofBelkin (1830), preserving the concision and irony of Pushkin's prose style, while allowing a freer play of imaginative resources.

Gogol's earliest mature work of fiction, the story cycle Vechera na Khutore bliz Dikanki (Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka), though still largely rooted in an essentially realistic narrative mode, is characterized by a sunny humor that derives from eighteenth-century literary models, in particular the novels of Sterne. The stories, which portray life and legend in the rural depths of the Ukraine, are full of an almost Rabelaisian earthiness and vitality. Yet several of the tales—"Christmas Eve" and "May Night" among them—have the night as their background, and dramatic and tragic narratives alternate with cheerful, lyrical ones. In most of them there is a sense of fate guiding the lives and fortunes of men and women, and there is frequent intervention by demons and devils, even in the farce-like "Sorochinsky Fair." The story "A Terrible Vengeance" shows the influence not only of Ukrainian heroic poetry, but also of German romantic writing, in particular that of Tieck and Hoffman, and also of the French "frenetic school," with its central elements of incest, daughter-murder, and descriptions of blood and horror.

The tales of Mirgorod, written as a sequel to Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki, show a retreat from the themes of love and sexuality that play a prominent role in the early stories. Hugh Maclean has suggested that Gogol established a connection between sexuality and death that brought about this change in his attitude. Perhaps the most immediately striking and memorable story in the second group of tales is "The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich," which points the way towards a more general critique of human existence. The tale, which describes a futile and banal dispute between two equally boneheaded protagonists, develops the theme of poshlost, an almost untranslatable concept that contains the notions of vulgarity and complacent blindness to higher values. "It's tedious in this world, ladies and gentlemen," the narrator concludes.

In his fantastic stories, which were originally published as part of Arabeski (Arabesques), a collection of historical and philosophical essays interspersed with short narratives, Gogol changed the scene of action from the countryside of the Ukraine to St. Petersburg. The model here was once again a foreign one: the French urban chronicle, in which a correspondent provides his readers with reports from the streets and side-lanes of the great city. The genre, as it developed in Russia, had a vaguely philanthropic and socially critical tendency, and the writers who practiced it were sometimes referred to as the "natural school" (natural'naya shkola). Gogol, however, used the genre in his own way, as a vehicle for sharply delineated reflections on the purpose and significance of human life in general. The central themes of the stories are loneliness and loss, and the narrator gives an impression of being thoroughly alienated and repelled by the urban reality he describes, refusing to see in St. Petersburg's majestic prospects and facades anything but human misery—a place that is half a hell and half a madhouse, in the words of one critic. Perhaps the most typical story of the collection is "The Nevsky Prospect," which gives an account of the pursuit by two friends of two women. Lieutenant Piskarev romantically woos a woman who turns out to be a prostitute and eventually brings about his death, while the painter Pirogov—the name suggests boundless materialism and is derived from the Russian word for "pie"—finds happiness with a female German artisan. At the end of the story the narrator warns his readers against the Nevsky Prospect, calling it a place of shifting illusions where the devil himself lights the lamps in order to make everything appear in a false illumination.

—David McDuff

See the essays on "The Nose" and "The Overcoat."