Gogol, Nikolai Vasilyevich

Gogol, Nikolai Vasilyevich nyĭkəlīˈ vəsēˈlyəvĭch gôˈgəl [key], 1809–52, Russian short-story writer, novelist, and playwright, sometimes considered the father of Russian realism. Of Ukrainian origin, he first won literary success with fanciful and romantic tales of his native Ukraine in Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (1831–32). His next stories, in Mirgorod (1835), contained elements of romance, humor, and the supernatural. “Taras Bulba,” part of the collection, is a vigorous description of the adventures of a 17th-century Cossack. Gogol then wrote several tales set in St. Petersburg. The most famous of these is The Overcoat (1842), about a downtrodden clerk who sacrifices much to buy a new overcoat that is stolen the first time he wears it. As a dramatist Gogol's fame rests on The Inspector-General (1836), a satire on provincial officials. Petty vice and human folly are caricatured in this as in all his mature work. His picaresque novel Dead Souls (1842) concerns the rogue Chichikov who buys the names of dead serfs from landowners in order to mortgage them as property. This work is the culmination of Gogol's gift for caricature, imagery, and invention. Haunted throughout his life by moral and religious problems, and adverse criticism from his contemporaries, his powers declined as he attempted to write a second part to his novel, embodying positive spiritual values. In a frenzy he destroyed the manuscript; greatly depressed, his health ruined by fanatical fasting, he died shortly thereafter. Gogol's work is realistic in its concern for rich detail, but he is famed primarily for creating a fantastic world of the imagination. Most of his works have been translated into English.

See his letters, ed. by C. R. Proffer (1968); his Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (tr. 1969); biographies by J. Lavrin (1926, repr. 1973) and H. Troyat (tr. 1973); studies by V. Erlich (1969), T. S. Lindstrom (1974), and D. Fanger (1979).

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