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Nikolai Gogol only spent a short period of time – around one year – employed as a civil servant, but the experience heavily influenced his most successful stories for the remainder of his brief life. Not only the short stories The Overcoat and The Nose, but the play The Inspector General and the unfinished novel Dead Souls were all shaped in no small part by the author’s experience working as a minor government bureaucrat. Authoritative biographical information on Gogol is difficult to find, but one Russian source described this formative period of his life as follows:
“In November 1829 he managed to get a job in the department of state property and public buildings of the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. For the next year he served in this office. The paperwork caused great disappointment in Gogol, but provided plenty of material for his future literary works that depicted the lives of officials and the functioning of the wheels of state.”
From what information is available on Gogol’s brief stint with a government agency, one can easily and logically conclude that his was a relatively minor position with little or no responsibility. In many governments, there are rating systems that provide for equivalent rankings between civil servants and military personnel. This educator frequently traveled on “military orders” while employed as a civilian with the Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government, during which I was, for purposes of military protocol, considered to carry a rank equivalent to commissioned military officers, often, depending upon my level of seniority and official job title, anywhere from major to one-star general. Similarly, during the era of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R., or Soviet Union), officers in the Ministry of Internal Security and in the foreign intelligence service, most commonly known as the K.G.B. (Committee for State Security) were technically civilians, but carried military ranks. I mention this in order to provide an answer to the student’s question regarding Gogol’s equivalent ranking. As a low-level clerk, the closest equivalent military ranking would probably be a junior-level noncommissioned officer, probably a corporal or, in navy terms, a petty officer third class. Such individuals tend to be vested with responsibility but little or no authority, and often are employed performing clerical duties. The best estimate of Nikolai Gogol’s equivalent military rating, therefore, would be E-4, Army corporal or Navy petty officer.
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