Was Nikolai Gogol a Romantic or a Realist?

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The literary critic Donald Fanger once wrote a book in which he coined the expression "romantic realism." As the name would suggest, this concept was intended to be a synthesis of Romanticism and Realism. Fanger applies it to the works of Dostoevsky, Balzac, Dickens, and Gogol.

In relation to the latter, one could say that Gogol routinely crosses the boundaries between Realism and Romanticism in his work. For example, in his short story "The Viy," Gogol combines traditional Romantic elements such as witches, demons, and horror with an unsparingly realistic portrayal of ordinary people's lives. Here, as elsewhere, Gogol's approach captures the spirit of romantic realism as defined by Fanger in that it represents an attempt to articulate the response of ordinary people to the irruption of modernity into traditional societies and the disorder it creates.

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Nikolai Gogol has been defined as both a Romantic and a Realist. Romantics tended to focus upon the individual, imagination, the power of nature, and dreams. Realists, on the other hand, tended to depict life as it was (without sugarcoating life's trials and tribulations). Realists desired to show life from an objective point of view, as it was without interference.

Gogol's writings tended to be a mix of the two. Although illustrating life in a very realistic way, his works leaned toward a desire to change life as its characters knew it. Essentially, character's lives, portrayed in a realistic way (realism), needed to be refocused in order for them to find what they needed in life to succeed or be happy (romantic).  

One main point to bring up is that Gogol's works have been defined as Realistic by other writers of his period and Romantic by critics who followed him. This contradiction can be illustrated by the fact that other writers of the period (like Alexander Pushkin and Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy) were defined as Russian "Golden Era" writers. These writers focused upon life as it was, not as it could be beautified. Although realistic, the language of authors, such as Gogol, tended to be image ridden and romantic. 

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