Biography of Nikolai Gogol

Nikolai Gogol is one of Russia’s most famous writers, renowned for his short stories, novels, and drama. Vladimir Nabokov called him “the strangest prose-poet Russia ever produced.” Scholars Dmytro Chyzhevsky and Danylo Husar Struk say of his writing, “Gogol's works display different variations of the Romantic style and a masterly use of metaphor, hyperbole, and ironic grotesque. His language is exceptionally rhythmic and euphonic. He was the first writer of the so-called Ukrainian school in Russian literature to employ a host of lexical and syntactic Ukrainianisms, primarily to play with various stylistic levels from the vulgar to the pathetic.”

Gogol was born on March 31, 1809 in the Poltava province in Ukraine. While his family name was Ianovskii, his grandfather took “Gogol” to connect him to his Cossack ancestry. His father was a minor Ukrainian noble who also wrote, and his mother was a religious woman who passed such spiritual concerns down to her son.

An unpopular child who was nicknamed “the mysterious dwarf,” Nikolai attended a boarding school and Nezhin secondary school. After he graduated, he went to St. Petersburg hoping to make it as a writer and actor. He took a few low-level government jobs to support himself and eventually realized he would not be able to make acting his career. His first poem, "Hans Kuechelgarten," was eviscerated by critics. During this time, he also wrote for a few periodicals about his memories of Ukraine, but he did not achieve fame.

In 1831, Gogol met Aleksandr Pushkin, perhaps Russia’s most famous novelist. Pushkin later helped get him a position teaching at the Patriotic Institute and then the University of St. Petersburg. Pushkin also urged Gogol to look to Ukrainian folktales for inspiration for his short stories, which led to the successful Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka (1831).

By 1835, Gogol had published two more collections of stories and essays, including the famous “Diary of a Madman.” The following year, he published “The Carriage” and “The Nose." Gogol published his only play, The Inspector General (or The Government Inspector) in 1835, but he was so distressed by its staging and the way the audience and critics received it that he left Russia. He traveled around Europe for twelve years, spending most of it in Rome.

While he was in Rome, he wrote Dead Souls, or what he intended to be its first part. Published in 1842, it was received well by critics and the public. Unfortunately, Gogol struggled with the second part of the novel and did not receive approbation for his nonfiction work, Selected Passages from Correspondence with Friends (1847), which was deemed to be too reactionary.

Gogol most likely suffered from depression, which he tried to alleviate by embarking on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Ivan Turgenev thought Gogol was suffering from “some secret sorrow, preoccupation, or morbid anxiety.” When Gogol returned to Moscow, he fell under the sway of a fanatical priest, Father Konstantinovski. Because of the priest's view that all fiction was a lie, Gogol burned what he had of the second part of Dead Souls. He also apparently starved himself and may have gone insane. Doctors tried numerous awful remedies to help him, but none worked. Gogol died on March 4, 1852, at the age of 42. He left no family and no estate.

The tsarist government forbade the mention of Gogol’s death in national publications. In 1931, his body was exhumed, and since the corpse was facedown, rumors abounded that he was buried alive.


Study Guides on Works by Nikolai Gogol

At the beginning of 1843 was published (with a note - 1842), the third volume of the Gogol’s works, which contained placed seven novels, one of which was the story "Carriage", that has been written in 1835. Thus, Gogol himself brought together...

M. Gogol started to write “Dead souls” in 1835 and continued to work on it till the end of his life. Most likely, in the very beginning еру writer highlighted for himself a fun side of his novel and created a plot of “Dead souls” as a much larger...

Diary of a Madman is a short story written by Nikolai Gogol in 1834. The novel was published for the first time in the collected stories Arabesques with the title Shreds of Notes of a Madman in 1835. Later, it was included in the St. Petersburg...

The Government Inspector is one of the most famous Russian plays, renowned for its satirical portrayal of government officials and laced with apocalyptic, absurd overtones. Vladimir Nabokov praised the play, stating “The play begins with a...

"Marriage" is a play by Nikolai Gogol was written in 1833-1835 years, and published in 1842.

Gogol began work on the comedy, originally named "Grooms" in 1833. In May 1835 he gave Pogodin excerpts from the play "Provincial bride" (the action took...

"Nevsky Prospect" is the story of Nikolai Gogol, written in 1833-1834. "Nevsky Prospect" was first published in the collection "Arabesque" (1835), and was highly praised by critics. Gogol began working on the story during the creation of "Evenings...

"The Nose" is a satirical, absurdist short story written by Nikolai Gogol between 1832 and 1833.

In "The Nose," Gogol seeks to show the image of an empty and bombastic man, Kovalev, who loves appearances, high social status, and favor from his...

“The Overcoat”, published in 1842, is a short story by Nikolai Gogol, a Ukrainian-born Russian writer of plays, short stories and novels. Though Gogol is sometimes described as a realist writer, “The Overcoat” contains surreal, exaggerated and...

“The Portrait” is a short story by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. This narrative was initially published in 1835 by the author in Part I of his collection Arabesques. After significant revising, it was republished in 1842 in a magazine called The...

Nikolai Gogol was born in Poltava province. He spent his young years there, and later moved to St. Petersburg. But he was interested in the history and customs of his native land during all his life. In the narrative Taras Bulba the history of...

Viy is a mystical novel written by Nikolai Gogol, first published in his stories collection "Mirgorod" in 1835. The name of the story is the name of the Slavic demonic male creature with which the plot is associated.

In a footnote to the book...