Gogol, Nikolai (1809-1852)
Born in the Ukraine
, Gogol was a writer
of short stories that were based on tales
from Ukranian folklore
. Gogol has sometimes been compared to Kafka
because of his love of the absurd
, and his tendency to write without explanations or reasons. Imagine Hansel and Gretel (Brothers Grimm
), only instead of getting eaten by a witch
, they decide to go into town and open a small business which subsequently goes bust because they weren't able to find the right forms to fill out. That's how Gogol would write it.
Gogol was born in 1809 to upper-middle class Cossacks
, his father a writer of plays and poems. After high-school, Gogol worked at minor governmental jobs and wrote for periodicals, though his early works were far from successful. He became a teacher in 1831 at the Patriotic Institute, in 1834 he moved up to assistant lecturer of world history at the University of St. Petersburg
. When this did not work out for him, he decided to stick with writing full-time.
In 1831 Gogol met Aleksandr Pushkin
, who remained his friend until the poet's death. Pushkin would be Gogol's primary influence in choosing to write tales from the "old world". His early protagonist
s were strong and dedicated, later on after he fled Russia his hero
es became somewhat crazy
His first major work was "St. Petersburg Stories" (1835), a compilation of some of his most beloved short stories, including "The Nose
" (about a man whose nose leaves and starts parading around town and trying to climb the social ladder), "Nevsky Prospect" (about an artist who falls in love with a beautiful girl who turns out to be a prostitute
), "The Diary
of a Madman
" (a criticism on social order), and "The Overcoat" (about a man whose overcoat
is stolen and tries to get it back).
In 1836 Gogol published his famous play, "The Inspector General", about a civil servant
who finds himself stranded in a small town whose inhabitants mistake him for a government inspector
. The civil servant exploit
s the situation but is revealed later when the real inspector arrives. The Czar
apparently didn't think too highly of the play, and Gogol fled the country soon after, settling down in Rome
In Rome Gogol wrote his major work, "The Dead Souls
", about the adventures of Pavel Ivanovich Chichicov, who purchases the "deed
s" on the dead souls of serfs, then aquires some cheap land and attempts to sell the land (with serfs) to make huge profit
Later in his life, Gogol became more and more crazy, eventually becoming a fanatical religious
nut and burning his copies of the sequel
to "The Dead Souls" just 10 days before he died. Specifics are unavailable as to the direct cause of death; while Gogol had been starving himself in the last few weeks of his life, some think he was in fact buried alive.
A few nice quotes:
"Everywhere in life, whether among its coarse, rough, poor and untidy mouldering lower orders or among its monotonously frigid and tediously tidy higher orders, everywhere a man will be sure to meet at least once in his life something that is unlike anything he had happened to see before, something that for once will awaken in him a feeling that is unlike any feeling he is destined to experience for the rest of his life. Everywhere across whatever sorrows of which our life is woven, some radiant joy will gaily flash past, just as sometimes a magnificent carriage with golden harness, gorgeous steeds, and brilliantly sparkling windows suddenly flashes by unheralded past some poor village in the wilds of the country, a village which till then has seen nothing but country carts."
"'If one were to plant woods here,' Chichikov said, 'the view would be more beautiful than-'
'Oh, so you're an admirer of fine views, are you?' said Kostanjoglo with a sudden stern look at him. 'Let me warn you, if you start chasing after views, you'll be left without bread and without views. Always think of what is useful and not what is beautiful. Beauty will come of its own accord. Let the towns serve you as an example: so far the best and most beautiful towns are those which have grown up naturally, where everyone built according to his needs and according to his taste. Those which have been constructed in straight lines look like barracks... Never mind beauty! Concentrate on the things that matter.'"
"He felt very tired after his journey. Ordering a very light supper, consisting only of sucking pig, he undressed immediately after it, and getting under the bedclothes fell fast asleep, fell into a sound sleep, into that wonderful sleep which only happy mortals enjoy who know nothing of hemorrhoids, or fleas, or stongly developed intellectual faculties."