David Stuart Davies looks at Nikolai Gogol's comic masterpiece ...
"Countless as the sands of the sea are human passions."
Nikolai Gogol was born on 31st March 1809 in Sorochintsi, Ukraine. As a child he grew up on his parent’s country estate and in 1819 he began Poltava boarding school. After finishing high school in 1821 Gogol settled in St. Petersburg, supporting himself by working at minor governmental jobs and occasionally writing for periodicals.
He published his first poem in 1829, but this early narrative poem was ridiculed universally, leaving Gogol swearing never to write poetry again. In the years that followed he taught history at the Patrotic Institute and tutored in his spare time. In 1831 Gogol met Aleksandr Pushkin, a great romantic author and poet of the Romantic era, who greatly influenced Gogol's works, particularly the first volume of his Ukrainian stories, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. When the story was published in 1831 it was an instant success and soon after the works Mirgord and Arabesques were also published.
In 1836 Gogol published several stories in the journal, Sovremennik, and later that year performed in his comedy The Government Inspector, subsequently giving him hope to believe in his literary vocation. From 1836 to 1848 Gogol travelled abroad, staying in Germany, Switzerland and Paris where he frequently met the polish poets Adam Mickiewicz and Bohdan Zaleski.
In the latter years he settled in Rome where he fell in love with the nobleman Losif Vielhorski, this being the only documented love affair of his life. The death of Pushkin in 1837 devastated him, and while in Rome he wrote the satirical epic Dead Souls which appeared in Moscow in 1842 under the title The Adventures of Chichikov.
In 1848 Gogol made a pilgrimage to the Holy land. Upon his return to Russia he was afflicted by intense nervous depression and died on 21st February 1852. He was buried at the Danilov Monastery, close to his fellow Slavophile Aleksey Khomyakov.
TITLES BY NIKOLAI GOGOL