Sunday, January 31, 2010

Year 2 Unit 6 Blog

Question: Who inspired writers such as Dostoevsky and Kafka, wrote short stories that mixed fantasy and realism, spent most of his life in Italy, was seen as a radical, and died before he turned forty?

Answer: One of the most unusually writers in the Russian tradition - Ukrainian born Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol.


Gogol was part of the minor nobility in Greater Sorochintsy, Mirigorod, Ukraine.

Very little information is available about his childhood except for anecdotes about Gogol being artistically inclined and mimicking the behaviors of others for amusement.

His father introduced Gogol to play writing at an early age in their home village; unfortunately, when Gogol was fourteen, his father passed away while Gogol is at the Nezhin Lycum.

While still a student, one of his first works is finished, "Hans Kuchelgarten,".

1829 found twenty-four year old Gogol publishing a five stanza poem "Italy" in a magazine and "Hans Kuchelgarten" published at his own expense.

Many critics harshly mocked the latter and Gogol in shame bought up every copy to burn it.

However, later that same year he began working on a collection of short stories, "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka" based on experiences and village life in his hometown which would become his first major success.

After various failed jobs as a scribe, assistant history teacher, and actor, he met one of his literary idols, Alexander Sergeivch Pushkin.

Pushkin saw the talent and started publishing parts of "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka" in Literary Gazette which he was co-founder of.

This early support helped Gogol continue writing as various civil service jobs at the time had failed and he had made himself a laughingstock as an history professor as his lectures were mumbled or never even occurred.

The next several years were filled with producing the last of his lighter pieces: the sequel to "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka"and "The Story of how Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikovich".

His year long job as a history instructor ended - to the relief of the faculty, his students, and Gogol himself - and a change in his writing style appeared.

Gogol had found early fame with his witty pieces set in his homeland, but as he began to support himself with his own writings more, a more cynical and more Russian aspect to his writing emerged.

"Notes of a Madman" was published and work began on his play "The Inspector General" which would be one of his more cynical works.

Locals have heard that an inspector has been sent by the government to root out corruption; when a lowly governmental worker arrives they mistake him for the inspector that has been sent to end their under the table deals and illegal activities.

In the play appears at first to be a play about mistaken identity and the hi jinx that ensue, but through out the story runs the idea of corruption and bribery of officials.

What made it so unique was the lack of love interests or deep spiritual meaning; Gogol had written a play about human avarice that was at first glance a comedy of errors.

Some of his opponents may have hated it, but the play was a great success.

Gogol spent more time abroad as his dissatisfaction with Russian life continued and he began searching for outside influence.

1842 Gogol published "The Overcoat" which was one of his more cynical and fantasy style pieces.

A lowly government worker saves up for a new coat and is killed for it the first day he wears it, the spirit of the governmental worker kills the thief.

Gogol returned to a more light heart style with another work published that same year "The Nose" where another governmental employee loses his nose and the nose becomes even more powerful than his owner, even being elected mayor.

It was during this time that Gogol began work on "Dead Souls" which is now synonymous with Gogol.

Inspired by the "Inferno" by Dante, Gogol was convinced another trilogy of human vices was needed.

"Dead Souls" was the first leg of the journey for the corrupt characters; originally Gogol had planned to make it a trilogy, but his health and outside influences prevented that.

Intestinal problems - he believed it was caused by an upside down stomach and many doctors were convinced stomach acid was the culprit - from childhood grew steadily worse and slowly he fell under the influence of a corrupt monk much like a minor Rasputin.

Convinced he was a sinner headed straight for hell, Gogol began an extreme fast in 1851; he refused all nourishment and starved himself to the point where doctors could feel his spine when they went to check his heart rate.

On March 4th 1852, Gogol was dead and the second part of "Dead Souls" had been burn in his fireplace ten days before.


Gogol did not write deep pieces concerned with how to improve society; he wanted to write stories that made people laugh at their own foibles and vices.

Gogol was convinced that Russia needed to fix itself, but left others to do it.

His works blended fantasy with drama to hold up a mirror to Russia and Ukraine to show what he saw and knew about.

"We all came out of Gogol's Overcoat" -- attributed to Dostoevsky or Turgenev. this quote reveals why Gogol matters - he touched something in the soul of Russian art no one else had.

He may have vengeful ghosts and noses running around Russia, but he walked the fine line between absurdity and realism perfectly and became one of the most beloved Russian authors ever.


Many of his stories have become or inspired films; throughout Russian cinematography Gogol has enjoyed enduring popularity as a long awaited animated version of "The Nose" is in the works and a new release of one of his most controversial works "Taras Bulba" has been made into a film last April, shortly after the two hundredth anniversary of his birth.

Unfortunately, his homeland has almost abandoned him.

Gogol has been been "kicked out" of Ukrainian schools for being a foreigner, accused of turning to Italian and Russian culture instead of his Ukrainian upbringing.

While this is unfortunate, Gogol himself would smirk and laugh as he has survived two hundred years and an unfortunate early death; he will endure and win.

No comments: