Nikolai Gogol’s first collection of short stories, Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki (1831, 1832; Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, 1926), made him famous, and his second collection, Mirgorod (1835; English translation, 1928), highlighted by the story “Taras Bulba,” established his reputation as Russia’s leading prose writer. While Gogol’s early stories, set in the Ukraine, are for the most part conventionally Romantic, his later Petersburg cycle of short stories, among which “Zapiski sumasshedshego” (“Diary of a Madman”) and “Shinel” (“The Overcoat”) are two of the best known, marks the beginning of Russian critical realism. Gogol’s comedic plays are classics and are as popular on the stage (and screen) today as they were in Gogol’s lifetime.
Gogol’s novel Dead Souls is rivaled only by Leo Tolstoy’s Voyna i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace, 1886) as the greatest prose work of Russian literature. Russian prose fiction is routinely divided into two schools: the Pushkinian, which is objective, matter-of-fact, and sparing in its use of verbal devices; and the Gogolian, which is artful, ornamental, and exuberant in its use of ambiguity, irony, pathos, and a variety of figures and tropes usually associated with poetry. Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev belong to the Pushkinian school; Fyodor Dostoevski, to the Gogolian. In his historical, critical, and moral essays, but especially in Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends, Gogol established many of the principles of Russian conservative thought, anticipating the ideas of such writers as Dostoevski and Apollon Grigoryev.