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.