Nikolai Gogol Biography


(History of the World: The 19th Century)
0111201549-Gogol.jpg Nikolai Gogol (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Gogol made an important contribution to the development of modern comic fiction, particularly short fiction. By combining such disparate narrative elements as oral folklore and literary Romanticism, Gogol paved the way for such modernist writers as Franz Kafka.

Early Life

Nikolai Gogol was born on March 31, 1809, on his family’s country estate in the Ukraine near the small town of Sorochintsy. A sickly child, he was so pampered and idolized by his mother when he was young that he developed an inflated opinion of himself. At the age of twelve, Gogol entered a boarding school in the city of Nezhin, where he stayed for seven years; however, probably because he was bored with the routine of the classroom, he was only an average student. He was, however, enthusiastic about literature and drama, actively taking part in school theatricals in every capacity, from stagehand to actor and director.

By all accounts, Gogol was a skinny, unattractive child with a bad complexion and a long nose; he was often called dwarfish by his schoolmates. Although there is no indication that he gave serious thought to a writing career while in school, Gogol did write one long poem during his adolescence entitled “Hans Küchelgarten” (1829), which he took to St. Petersburg with him after graduation in 1828 and published at his own expense. Yet, as most critics agree, the poem is highly imitative and immature; the derisive reception it received by the few reviewers who noticed it at all probably made Gogol decide to abandon poetry forever and focus instead on drama and prose, in which his talent for mixing traditional styles and genres could best be exhibited.

After his father’s death, Gogol’s mother was unable to manage the family estate profitably; as a result, Gogol found himself without funds and without prospects. Securing a position in the civil service to support himself, he began writing stories in his spare time about the Ukraine and submitting them to a St. Petersburg periodical. By gaining the attention of such influential Russian writers as Baron Anton Delvig and Vasily Zhukovsky with these pieces, Gogol was introduced to the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, who admired Gogol’s fiction. Gogol’s early stories were published in two volumes in 1831 and 1832 as Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki (Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, 1926), and they received an enthusiastic response from critics in Moscow and St. Petersburg; Gogol had thus arrived as an exciting new talent and was admitted to the highest literary circles.

Life’s Work

The stories in Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka introduce readers to Gogol’s major stylistic innovation—the combining of the fanciful and earthy folklore of his native Ukraine with the literary and philosophic imagination of German Romanticism, about which he had learned in school. The hybrid generic form that resulted from the combination of fantastic events and realistic detail not only characterizes Gogol’s short stories in particular but also typifies similar narrative experiments being conducted with the short prose form in the United States, Germany, and France; Gogol’s experimentation with short prose fiction gives him a place in the creation of the short story equal in importance to Edgar Allan Poe, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Prosper Mérimée.

In 1834, Gogol obtained a position as a history professor at the University of St. Petersburg and lectured there for a little more than a year; however, he was so bad at it that the administration gently compelled him to leave. Essays in art, history, and literature on which Gogol had been working while teaching appeared in 1835 under the title Arabeski (Arabesques, 1982). Although these essays were not distinguished in any way, the three new stories that appeared in the collection—“Portret” (“The Portrait”), “Nevsky Prospekti” (“Nevsky Prospect”), and “Zapiski sumasshedshego” (“Diary of a Madman”)—are significant Gogol works. Along with “Nos” (1836; “The Nose”) and “Shinel” (1839; “The Overcoat”), and often referred to as the Petersburg Cycle, these stories are his major contribution to the short story and the novella forms.

Of the three stories that appeared in Arabesques, “Diary of a Madman” is perhaps the best known. Drawing some of his ideas from the German Romantic writer Hoffmann, Gogol has his central character, a minor government official, tell his own story of his hopeless infatuation with the daughter of the chief of his department. The story is an effective combination of social criticism, psychological analysis, and grotesque comedy, for, by intertwining the “mad” perception of the narrator with the supposedly “sane” perception of the bureaucratic world that surrounds the narrator, Gogol manages to underline the relativity of...

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Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Born in the Ukrainian region of the Russian Empire, the youthful Gogol absorbed the images of country life and social classes which he later portrayed in his novels and short stories. Alexander Pushkin, prior to Gogol’s early death, spoke highly of Gogol’s potential as a writer. Gogol’s brief career in teaching was a notable failure; however, residence in St. Petersburg and extensive travel in Europe broadened his knowledge and shaped his literary skills.

Despite Gogol’s success with an early novel, his dramatic and florid style was not widely popular. His later novels and plays often endured public criticism. A hypochondriac, Gogol responded with periodic bouts of depression, and he occasionally destroyed his own manuscripts and contemplated suicide.

Gogol’s writings included a variety of plots, themes, and styles ranging from comedic stories, such as The Inspector- General (1836), to pathos, as in “The Overcoat.” Dead Souls (1842), his novel best known to twentieth century readers, deals with the institution of Russian serfdom. Gogol never thought of himself as a reformer, and his literary characterization of Russian society occasionally evoked opposition among his reform- minded contemporaries. His Correspondence with Friends (1847) portrayed serfdom and the class system sympathetically, leading other writers to accuse Gogol of supporting those repressive social conditions.

Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol was born in the Ukraine on March 31, 1809, to a Ukrainian landowner, Vasily Afanasievich Gogol-Yanovsky, and his young wife, Mariya Ivanovna. Vasily Afanasievich wrote plays in Ukrainian and sponsored artistic evenings at his home. Nikolai would write almost nothing in Ukrainian throughout his life. On his father’s estate, Nikolai would absorb the manner and, significantly, the pace of provincial life, which would flavor his works from his early stories through Dead Souls.

At school and later in the Gymnasium, Nikolai remained something of a loner. He participated in activities, especially in drama performances, where he is said to have excelled. His classmates called him “the mysterious dwarf,” though, for his predilection to aloofness and his unassuming stature.

Gogol’s first work, Hans Kuechelgarten (1829), which he published at his own expense, was received so poorly that he bought all the unsold copies, burned them, and never wrote in verse again. He fled the country (in what was to become a characteristic retreat) and took refuge in Germany for several weeks. When he returned, he occupied a minor post in the civil service in St. Petersburg and began writing the stories that would begin to appear in 1831 and subsequently make him famous. His first collection of stories, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, met with great critical and popular acclaim and set the stage for...

(The entire section is 515 words.)

Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born into a family of Ukrainian gentry, Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol received his earliest education locally. Later, he attended grammar school in Nezhin, where his first literary attempts were contributions to the school magazine. In 1828, he left the Ukraine and headed for St. Petersburg to make a name for himself in the capital but was sadly disillusioned when this goal proved to be impossible without connections and money. Even more disappointing was the failure, in 1829, of his first serious literary work, “Hanz Küchelgarten,” a long, sentimental narrative poem that he published at his own expense. When it was rejected by the critics, Gogol burned all the remaining copies and decided to turn his back on Russia altogether by...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, the son of a country squire, was born and educated in the Ukraine. Russian was to him a foreign language, which he mastered while attending secondary school in Nezhin, also in the Ukraine. After his graduation in 1828, Gogol went to St. Petersburg, where he joined the civil service. His first literary effort, “Hans Küchelgarten” (1829), a sentimental idyll in blank verse, was a failure, but his prose fiction immediately attracted attention. After the success of Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, Gogol decided to devote himself entirely to his literary career. He briefly taught medieval history at St. Petersburg University (1834-1835) and thereafter lived the life of a freelance writer and...

(The entire section is 387 words.)

Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol (GAW-guhl) was born in the village of Sorochintsy, near the town of Dikanka in Ukraine, then a part of the Russian empire, on March 31, 1809. Gogol was the first surviving child of Vasily Afanasievich Gogol-Yanovsky, a landowner of dubious claim to Polish nobility who owned 150 to 200 serfs and was given to arranging plays and pageants for the amusement of the local gentry, and Maria Ivanovna Kosiarovsky, the niece of the wealthy local patriarch, Dmitri Prokofeyevich Troschinsky. At the time that her marriage was arranged, Maria was barely fourteen years old. She was herself a child in a household that she was expected to fill with other children. Maria was an extremely doting mother whose children,...

(The entire section is 1499 words.)

Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nikolai Gogol was a man with more than his share of neuroses. He was confident of his narrative gift yet lived in fear that his inspiration would wane. He was misinterpreted in his lifetime, and he died in mental and spiritual frustration. However, he has given world literature some of its most laughable and yet pathetic prose. In most of his mature works, he laid bare the banality and the pettiness (signifying the manifestation of false values) underlying all human pretense. For Gogol, humor was the most effective way to call for human sincerity. Digressions were the way that he chose to address the central aspects of human life. Trivia was his path to finding what was most important.

(The entire section is 119 words.)

Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol (GAW-guhl), the son of a Cossack landowner, attended the provincial grammar school in Nyezhin from 1821 until 1828. Being naturally withdrawn, Gogol made few friends, and at an early age he turned to writing, actually finishing a boyish tragedy titled The Brigands. After leaving school he went to St. Petersburg. Shortly after his arrival he published under the pseudonym of V. Alov an idyllic poem titled Hanz Kuechelgarten; this work was so harshly ridiculed by the critics that Gogol destroyed as many copies as he could. Deciding to go to America, he traveled as far as Lübeck, Germany. There, his funds exhausted, he changed his mind about emigration and returned to St. Petersburg. He...

(The entire section is 907 words.)

Nikolai Gogol Biography

(Drama for Students)
Nikolai Gogol Published by Gale Cengage

Nikolai Vasilyevich Gogol, named after Saint Nikolai, was born in 1809, in the small town of Velikie Sorochintsy, in the Ukraine, then part...

(The entire section is 465 words.)