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Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852)


Born in the town of Sorochintsy in Ukraine, Nikolai Gogol attended schools in Poltava and Nezhin before moving to St. Petersburg in 1828. In May 1829 he published (at his own expense) a long narrative poem called "Hanz Kuechelgarten," using the pseudonym V. Alov to conceal his identity. The poem was panned by the press, and Gogol was so mortified by the criticism that he bought up the remaining copies of his work and burned them. He then fled to Germany for a few weeks.

Returning to Petersburg, Gogol again tried his hand at literature, and in September 1831 he published the first volume of Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, a collection of stories, both comic and horrific, set in Gogol's homeland. These tales were a breath of fresh air to the Russian reader, and Gogol's career was launched. In May 1832, he published a second volume of stories.

After the Dikanka stories, Gogol went on to write a series of original works, including the short story collection entitled Mirgorod (1835), an anthology of essays and stories entitled Arabesques (1835), and a remarkable comic play, The Inspector General (1836). The peculiar story "The Nose" appeared in the journal The Contemporary, which was edited by Gogol's idol, Alexander Pushkin. A few years later (in 1842), "The Overcoat" was published in an collection of Gogol's works, but this story, which subsequently became one of the most famous stories in Russian literature, was overshadowed at the time of its publication by the release of Gogol's novel Dead Souls (1842) a mordant portrayal of provincial Russian society that triggered a strong reaction in its readers.

After the release of Dead Souls Gogol increasingly felt compelled to write a work that would edify and transform Russia, but his insecurities and obsessions prevented him from realizing his goal. His didactic work Selected Letters from Correspondence with Friends (1847) was criticized by former admirers, and Gogol became ever more tormented by inner doubts and anxieties. He was living in Rome when, in mid-February, 1852, in a state of great agitation, he burned the manuscript of the second part of Dead Souls. He allegedly blamed the devil for leading him astray at that moment. Just a few days later, on February 21, the great writer died an agonizing death.

  

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