Nikolay Gogol - Biography

Nikolay Vasilyevich Gogol was a Ukrainian-born writer, playwright, poet, critic and publicist.

Gogol was born in Sorochitsy, in the Poltava Region (central Ukraine) into the family of a modest landlord. He was named Nikolay after the miracle-working icon of Saint Nicholas that was kept in the church of the nearby village of Dikanka. He spent his childhood on his parents’ estate Vasil’evka near Dikanka, which was a place of legends, superstitions and fables.

A considerable role in the future writer’s education was played by his father, Vasily Afanasyevich, an avid connoisseur of the arts. After receiving home education, Gogol spent two years in the Poltava District College before entering the Nizhyn Pedagogical University (then a Gymnasium of High Sciences). Here he learned to play the violin and paint, took part in plays both as a decorator and an actor and was especially successful in comic roles.

He also tried his hand at various literature genres, writing elegiacs, tragedies, historic poetry and prose. He wrote the satire “Something About Nizhyn, or There’s no Law for Fools” (“Nechto o Nezhine, ili durakam zakon ne pisan”), which didn’t survive for future generations. However, at the time Gogol didn’t think of writing as a serious occupation. His aspirations were in the field of state service, namely law.

After graduating from the Nizhyn Gymnasium in June 1828, he set off for St. Petersburg in hopes of starting broader work in December of that same year. He didn’t manage to get a job though and his literary attempts were also unsuccessful. In disappointment, he went abroad, but soon came back. 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.

In 1830 in the “Native Notes” (“Otechestvennye zapiski”) magazine, Gogol’s first novella appeared under the title “Basavryuk.” It was later reworked into the novella “Night Before Ivan Kupala Day” (“Vecher nakanune Ivana Kupala”). In December, a chapter from his historic novel “The Hetman” was printed in Delvig’s almanac “The Northern Flowers” (“Severnye Tsvety”). Thus, he became close with the literary figures of the time, like Delvig, Zhukovsky and Pushkin, whose friendship was key for the development of young Gogol’s social position and literary talent. Pushkin introduced him to his circles, which were often visited by the likes of Krylov, Vyzemsky, Odoyevsky and the artist Bryullov, who gave him the idea for the plots of “The Government Inspector” (“Revizor”) and “The Dead Souls” (“Mertvye dushi”).

Gogol soon received acclaim for his “Evenings At a Farm Near Dikanka” (“Vechera na khutore bliz Dikanki”), “The Sorochino Fair” (“Sorochinskaya yarmarka”), “The May Night” (“Mayskaya noch”) and other works.

In 1833 Gogol decided to dedicate his life to scientific and pedagogic work and in 1834 he was appointed assistant professor of the World History Department of the St. Petersburg University. His studies of Ukraine’s history laid the foundations for the plot of “Taras Bulba.” In 1835 he left university and dedicated himself wholly to literature. That same year, the “Mirgorod” novella collection came out, including “Old-world Landlords” (“Starosvetskie pomeshchiki”), “Taras Bulba,” “Viy,” and others, along with the collection “Arabesques” depicting themes of St. Petersburg life. The novella “The Greatcoat” (“Shinel”) was the most significant work of his St. Petersburg cycle; Gogol read the rough drafts to Pushkin in 1836 and finished the novella in 1842.

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