TARAS BULBA, a tribute to the Cossack way of life and the Cossack code of honor, is a prose poem that reveals a nostalgic longing for the verities of the past, outdated even in the author’s own time. The novel takes its romantic flavor from such nostalgia, for Nikolai Gogol depicts the acts and beliefs of the Cossacks as heroic. Neither is cruelty condemned nor prejudice decried. The twentieth century reader may thus find some aspects of TARAS BULBA shocking: the way of life in the Setch, the pogrom, Taras’ execution of Andrii and Taras’ fiery crucifixion, to name only a few. Gogol, however, made no pretense at historical authenticity. Indeed, the story is highly fanciful and even contradictory at times. On the one hand, for example, Taras is described as a character who could have lived only in the fifteenth century. On the other hand, Taras’ sons, at the very beginning of the story, are returning home from a Kiev college, which was not founded until the early seventeenth century. Thus, however shocking the story might seem, the shock is mitigated by inconsistencies, which remind the reader that the story is a product less of the conventional historical romance tradition than of Gogol’s unfettered imagination.
In fact, Taras himself was a larger-than-life hero, an incarnation of the ideal Cossack. Unswervingly loyal to the Cossack cause, he accepted the rules and punishments of the Setch and the Cossack’s code of honor...
(The entire section is 476 words.)