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Gogol, Nikolai

(Russian, 1809–52)

Born at Sorochintsy in the Ukraine, Gogol worked as a civil servant and lecturer in St Petersburg before devoting himself to writing. His work's ethical seriousness, together with its stark realism and imaginative power, made a major contribution to the nineteenth-century renaissance in Russian literature. Begin with Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka (2 vols., 1831–32), a collection of stories reflecting his deep familiarity with Ukrainian folklore. Fluctuating between comic and horrific effects, the narratives bizarrely blend the everyday and the supernatural. Ukrainian settings are retained in Mirograd (1935), which consists of four stories, each parodying a conventional literary genre. They emphasize the decay of the old rural order in their focus on moral decline and treachery. Arabesques (1835) contains the stories set in St Petersburg which are the most striking of his shorter works. Pieces like ‘Nevsky Prospect’ evoke the sterile respectability and grotesque social pretensions of the bureaucrats among whom Gogol had worked. Originally planned in three parts, Dead Souls (1842), his savage comic masterpiece, satirizes corruption and self-deception. The plot centres on the mysterious Chichikov's bartering for possession of dead peasants with provincial landowners. They are happy to do business with him, as taxes are levied on their dead serfs until the next census officially recognizes their non-existence. Gogol completed a second part, in which he wished to suggest possibilities of moral regeneration, but destroyed it during the spiritual crisis preceding his death.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev.


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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Fl-Ha)